How Buhari Lost Obasanjo [Special Report]

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s hard knocks for President Muhammadu Buhari, whom he assisted to become president in 2015, signals a massive loss of support for the president, raising questions over why the Generals parted ways

The dust raised by the recent letter written by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to President Muhammadu Buhari may not settle until after the 2019 general elections. The letter came barely one year after Obasanjo fired the first salvo in January 2018, which indicated a major crack in their relationship. The letter which called for a coalition against a Buhari candidacy in the 2019 presidential election also signalled Obasanjo’s disappointment in Buhari. From the days of the General Ibrahim Babangida, Obasanjo has been known to be a rabid critic of bad governance. He was even more daring during the regime of late General Sani Abacha. It was for that reason Abacha threw him into jail from where he emerged by divine intervention to become President in 1999. While being inaugurated on May 29, 1999, Obasanjo recounted that he ‘passed through the valley of the shadow of death’. He narrowly escaped death. His era was not turbulent free. But it served as a foundation for Nigeria’s fledgling democracy.

Soon after the unfortunate death of his successor, Umaru Yar’Adua on May 5, 2010, the northern political elite began to demand that a northerner be allowed to completethe tenure of the late president but given that the constitution provides that the Vice President takes over, then Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan emerged as president to complete the tenure after an initial period of political intrigues. Upon the completion of that tenure, Jonathan also offered himself to contest the next presidential election, just to serve for only one term. Obasanjo who was at the centre of the negotiation and agreement backed Jonathan and went further to suggest that it was a rare opportunity for the South-south region to produce a president for the country. When that agreement was reached, Jonathan subsequently contested in 2011 and won. But by 2013, when Obasanjo began to get hint that Jonathan was planning to go for a second term, thereby reneging on his alleged promise to serve for only one term, he began to re-align with the northerners.

By then, Obasanjo who had become emboldened by circumstances of his past, confronted Jonathan with a historic 18-page letter titled ‘Before It Is Too Late’. In the letter, he brazenly accused the president of lying, destroying Nigeria and promoting corruption among others. Precisely, accusing fingers were pointed at some of the ministers in Jonathan’s government. An instance was the then Aviation Minister’s N255 million bulletproof car saga, in which she was accused of compelling the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, one of the agencies under her ministry to purchase for her oversight functions. With Obasanjo’s popularity within the country and his towering stature in the international community, his letter to Jonathan became a political weapon against Jonathan’s re-election bid and his then ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, on whose ticket Obasanjo also became president. The mainstream opposition party at the time, the All Progressives Congress, APC celebrated what was largely perceived as the declining fortunes of the Jonathan administration. Obasanjo, it was, who launched a campaign of ‘Anyone but Jonathan’. A search for a credible candidate from the north later resulted in the choice for Buhari due to his large followership in the north at the time. Subsequently, Obasanjo campaigned for him, and given his strong voice, the international community also gave their support to Buhari.

Ever since the Obasanjo letter was made public, on Sunday, January 20, 2019 the political space has never remained the same as Obasanjo touched on many contentious areas ranging from Buhari’s near intolerable competence level and nepotism to allegations of intent to rig the 2019 general elections. However, what has remained unexplained is what actually led to the parting of ways between the former political allies who were once united against the previous administration.

TELL’s investigation reveal that after the emergence of Buhari as president, Obasanjo was frequently visiting the Presidential Villa. But not long afterwards, many Nigerians, including those that voted for Buhari started complaining about his poor performance. Buhari is said to be surrounded by a handful of presidency officials who are determined to line their pockets with public funds more so, when the president is said to be unaware of their antics.  Despite the obvious lapses, Obasanjo still defended him, admitting that he knew that Buhari was not sufficiently knowledgeable about the economy and foreign relations but that he would expect him to do well in security. Subsequently, Obasanjo was said to have advised Buhari during one of his visits to the Presidential Villa to convene a meeting of past leaders, not necessarily the Council of States meeting, so that he could tell them what his challenges were at the time in order that they may offer him some useful advice. Obasanjo also advised that in order to achieve geopolitical balance and spread, former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme and former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Emeka Anyaoku be invited to the meeting since the only two past heads of government from the South-east zone, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Aguiyi Ironsi had died. He also advised that General Theophilus Danjuma be invited to the meeting despite that he did not occupy any of those positions.   That was shortly before Buhari’s first official visit to China in April 2016. Buhari promised to convene the meeting upon his return from China.

Obasanjo did not stop at that. Before he returned to his Ota Farm house, he met with a retired general of northern extraction , intimating him of his mission to Aso Rock. In response, the General, with an obvious sinister motive, inquired of him, what Obasanjowould do if Buhari failed to abide by his pledge. Obasanjo said he would stop going to the Villa. And upon his return, Buhari did not convene the meeting, and that was the last straw that broke the Camel’s back. Obasanjo had earlier called on Buhari to retire and stay by the sideline like an elder statesman, having achieved his heart desire to rule the country under a democratic dispensation. A similar call had gone to him from General Ibrahim Babangida who suggested that a younger person should be given the opportunity to lead the country. But those advice only attracted condemnation by presidency officials.

Beginning with the upcoming elections, Obasanjo in his second letter to Buhari expressed doubt over the integrity of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, wondering if the ruling party and government allow it to function like an independent umpire. He tries to pre-empt INEC on allegations of plot to rig the election, citing the last governorship election in Osun State, which was characterized by large scale irregularities and what the major opposition party and independent observers believed to be signs of obvious bias on the part of the electoral umpire.

“From what we saw and knew about Osun State gubernatorial election, what was conclusive was declared inconclusive despite all advice to the contrary,” Obasanjo declared, while recommending to the international community, possible sanctions that could be meted out to Nigerian electoral official who may engage in acts that are capable of derailing the nation’s democracy.

Apparently disgusted, Obasanjo did not spare Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, in whom many Nigerians have expressed disappointment in recent times. The Trader Monicontroversy and the timing of the handout to market women concentrated mainly in the cities , like Lagos and Abuja is one area the former president did not overlook in his letter.  “It is no use, at this juncture, to keep lamenting about the failure, incompetence, divisiveness, nepotism and encouragement of corruption by Buhari administration as there is neither redeeming feature nor personality to salvage the situation within that hierarchy.  You cannot give what you don’t have,” he lamented.

The Amina Zakari saga brought Obasanjo to level even more weighty allegations of plot to rig election against INEC.He recalled thatthere had been “reports of INEC sponsored rigging in the past, and also with INEC officials through collation and with officials being put in party coordinators’ dresses and working for the political party favoured by INEC and also putting the dresses of other parties on INEC-favoured parties and police uniforms on INEC-favoured parties to rig all the elections for the favoured party.” 

Obasanjo also touched on the travails of the CJN, accusing the presidency of a plot to set him aside and put a Buhari man ahead of the election. He said, “President Buhari and his hatchet men in the coming election think that the judiciary must be primed in their favour. Hence, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, has been harassed and prosecuted for non-declaration of his assets without following the Constitution and the law, just to make him conform or set him aside for a Buhari man to take over or act, as President Buhari and his people believe no stone should be left unturned to rig Buhari in.  It seems to be a ploy to intimidate the judiciary as a whole in preparation for all election cases that will go before them.”

Through the CJN’s case, Obasanjo goes back to Osinbajo, recalling how he told Nigerians that the presidency did not know about the prosecution of the CJN and that the president only got to know about it on a Saturday night before the Monday morning when he was to appear before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT.  “Haba VP!” Obasanjo exclaimed in utter dismay at Osinbajo’s defence. Speaking from the perspective of someone who has been military Head of State and an elected president for eight years, Obasanjo admonishes Osinbajo that it doesn’t work like that.

Armed with very strong words, Obasanjo delved into Buhari’s character analysis, quoting Buba Galadimawho he said knows Buhari very well as a confidant and National Secretary of Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, Buhari’s party before he joined in forming the APC. Galadima, Obasanjo said, has warned that no matter what Buhari promises, he cannot change his character and attitude.  “He describes him as inflexible, insincere, dubious, intolerant, never accepts responsibility when things go wrong and impervious to reason and advice for change.   Even when figures, facts and statistics are made clear to Buhari, he keeps repeating what is untrue, either because he cannot understand or for mischief purposes and that places him on the level of a pathological liar.”  

Obasanjo also goes back in time to recall APC national leader,Bola Tinubu’s statement about Buhari in 2003, describing it as fairly prophetic. He quoted Tinubu as having said: “Muhammadu Buhari is an agent of destabilisation, ethnic bigot and religious fanatic who, if given the chance, would ensure the disintegration of the country.  His ethnocentrism would jeopardise Nigeria’s national unity.” Expectedly, Tinubu, who now heads Buhari’s campaign council, has since fired back, accusing Obasanjo of being an election rigger without peer, and plotting to return to the seat of power by dubious means.Similarly,Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the president on media described the former president as a sick man who needs a doctor’s attention and further accused him of “being jealous of Buhari’s achievements.” However, the reactions coming from the president’s quarters don’t seem to address the issues raised by Obasanjo most of which are of serious concern to Nigerians, rather, they seem to be targeted at discrediting the former president.

Conversely, INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu’s response to the allegations of rigging the 2019 elections appears to be a radical departure from what is coming from the presidency. In a rather more constructive way, he said this is to be expected in an election year when people make all sorts of insinuations. “We as a commission have never been under pressure to do what is wrong. We will never compromise our integrity to do what the law says that we shouldn’t and for the 2019 general elections, I want to assure and reassure Nigerians that votes, and nothing but votes will count.”   

Obasanjo drew inference between what is happening under Buhari’s watch and what happened under the dreaded Gen. Abacha. President Buhari came to power promising among other things, to secure lives in the country, with the menace of Boko Haram as the most disturbing security issue in the country. Many people including the international community believed him. Sadly, many Nigerians agree that between 2015 when he became president and 2019 when he is seeking re-election, the terror group has upped the ante, graduating from attacking soft targets like markets and other crowded locations to launching attacks on military formations, killing Nigerian soldiers in the most brutal manner.

Obasanjo pointed out that “with the teaming up of Boko Haram and Islamic State’s West Africa Province, ISWAP, Boko Haram is stronger today militarily than they have ever been.  Boko Haram has also been empowered by the Nigerian government through payment of ransom of millions of dollars which each administration disingenuously always denies.” For this reason and several others he concludes that: “This administration has reached the end of its wit even in handling all security issues, but particularly Boko Haram issue, partly due to misuse of security apparatus and poor equipment, deployment, coordination and cooperation.” In the weeks to come, Obasanjo’s second latest to Buhari will continue to dominate discussions, if he does not write another one before the election.

Reactions to Obasanjo’s Letter to Buhari.

All Progressive Congress, APC: “For eight years of President Obasanjo, all the elections he held…in fact government policies were determined by whatever mood he found himself. All the institutions of government were heavily influenced by Obasanjo. What he did for those eight years is what is haunting him. He cannot imagine it is possible for a government to allow INEC the statutory independence that it has.”

Peoples Democratic Party, PDP: “Obasanjo’s submission has also reinforced our position that President Buhari, and his party, the APC, having realized that there is no way he can win in a free and fair election, is now besieging all democratic institutions, including the Judiciary, the Legislature, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, while engaging in acts that threaten the unity, peace and corporate existence of our dear nation.”

OHANAEZE: “Every indication testifies to Obasanjo’s vindication. Obasanjo appointed a South-Easterner (as INEC chairman), Jonathan appointed a northerner, but apparently, owing to his (Buhari) ulterior motives seemingly playing out now, he appointed a northerner as lNEC Chairman. The bleeding issues are the latest appointment of Amina Zakari who has been an age long close confidant of Buhari and the callous and blatant move to remove the Chief Justice of Nigeria. The fear is that the presidency wants to remove the CJN and plant a northerner, as usual, who would play to the political gallery and instruct appointed judges to make electoral decisions favourable to the APC.”

AFENIFERE: “We have a civilian dictatorship. Nigeria is experiencing a civilian dictatorship. We are already in another Abacha regime. We have seen disobedience of court orders, the decimation of every perceived opponent, and absence of freedom of speech. We have seen the hounding of people. What we are in today is worse than Abacha. We knew what we had under Abacha. So, we have a civilian dictatorship in Nigeria”

AREWA: “Given the fact that we do not know the alleged plans by the present regime to rig the elections, it would be wrong for any group to be worried. This is because any worry would amount to vote of no confidence on our democratic institutions like INEC which has assured the nation of the commission’s readiness to conduct free and fair elections by improving on the performance recorded in the previous elections in 2015. Even though the former president is fully partisan and may go any length to cast aspersions on the ruling party and the democratic institutions under her watch, it would be worthy of him to note that he cannot plough off his status as a statesman who is expected to help build and not to run them down without suggestion on how best to improve them”

PANDEFF: “President Buhari is resorting to the tactics of (Gen.) Abacha because he wants to tamper the 2019 presidential elections. The truth of the matter is that the country is more aware now. PANDEF is saying that if there is any form of rigging, the people will resist it because Nigerians are tired of the present regime. The issue of rigging is a matter everybody should put his eyes on and ensure that it does not repeat itself like what happened in Osun State during the gubernatorial election where there ought to have been a clear winner, but the course of victory was reordered to suit the ruling party.”

Femi Falana, SAN: “The statement is a clarion call on President Buhari to remove the incompetent and corrupt cabal of power mongers that has hijacked political power from him. Through sheer nepotism and cronyism, the regime has lost the massive goodwill that heralded it to power.”

Shehu Sani, Senatorrepresenting Kaduna Central: “When Baba fired missiles to the National Assembly and called its members unarmed robbers you celebrated him; today his missiles landed on the Rock of Aso and you want to demonize him.”

AREWA Youths Consultative Forum: “Obasanjo is saying what people like us saw from inception. We saw it coming earlier than now. We felt patriotism does not mean if government favours you, you cannot be objective. Being objective means even if it is your father that is doing something strong, you should summon courage to say it is right or wrong.”

Additional report by Adedolapo Abimbola

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