Between OBJ and Jonathan

In recent times, I have, like many Nigerians, found myself having to debate the rift between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. No matter how hard one tries to avoid the subject, it often shoots up in discussions with family members, friends or people of like minds. Although both men may deny that there is no quarrel between them, as in the recent case where Obasanjo told some market leaders that he had nothing personal against Jonathan, many might consider that as glib, as even on that day, Obasanjo still made reference to a “rotten head” which I interpret to mean Jonathan.

Both men are at war, no matter how much they deny it, and not even the appearance of Obasanjo at Jonathan’s daughter’s wedding a week ago, and the subsequent meeting between both men days later, make me think otherwise.

The impression one gets from the cold war is that Obasanjo is unhappy with Jonathan for Nigeria’s many problems, such as corruption and insecurity or that he failed to improve on the good examples he set in power.

I have had to ponder over this a number of times and the question bears repeating. If Obasanjo is so disappointed with Jonathan’s performance in office as president, is it because he performed better than the incumbent or that the values he set during his tenure have all been trampled upon?

The following examples might tell the story better.

In 2007, as a staff of Newswatch magazine, I, like some other staff, was deployed outside Lagos to cover the presidential elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, under Maurice Iwu, was about conducting the presidential election that would produce a successor for Obasanjo whose tenure was about to expire. My duty post was Abeokuta, the home state of Obasanjo. It was the second time I would cover an election that year, having previously travelled to Kano to observe the governorship election.

But to say nothing of my Kano experience, what I witnessed in Abeokuta, in the name of election, was horrifying. In one of the voting centres, shortly after voting had ended, some thugs invaded the place and chased everyone around away. I, like some journalists, stood from a distance watching. The invaders got hold of the ballot bag and upturned it, such that many of the ballot papers were flying around and the daredevils dared the journalists around to challenge them. It was clear daylight robbery and this scene, including violence, was repeated in many parts of Ogun State that day and around Nigeria, as the reports of my colleagues in other parts of the country showed. So damning were the reports turned in that the editor, Bala Dan Abu, in his editorial suite wrote: “On the eve of the presidential election, our reporters returned to their election coverage duty posts around the country. They first went there during the governorship elections. They saw as they did the previous week the criminality that produced the results that INEC announced to the world. They were not alone. Many observer groups were also there…. they saw the theft of ballot papers and the illegal thumb-printing that went on. They saw the arrest and detention of agents of opposing political parties in order to allow ample room for the PDP to commit its illegalities unchecked…”

To cut a long story short, the title of that Newswatch cover was “Democrasham,” a coinage that possibly tells the situation better.

A month after that sham election, Obasanjo, with just five days to the end of his tenure, travelled to Onitsha to flag off the contract for the second Niger Bridge. It was, at the time, seen as probably his last gift to the nation. But days soon began to give way to months and even years and no sign of construction was seen. The Anambra State government began to cry foul, saying that the flag off was a ruse. By way of investigating the matter, the Newswatch management, in February 2010, asked me to travel to Onitsha to find out the true position of things. Anza Philips, Newswatch’s Abuja correspondent, was asked to interview the minister of works, Hassan Muhammad Lawal on the issue.

The finding of our investigation showed that there was no award of contract. In the story titled “The Dummy Sold by Obasanjo on Second Niger Bridge,” Lawal confirmed that no contract was awarded for the construction of the second Nigeria Bridge and that besides the ceremony; there was no contractual agreement between the federal government and any contractor for the project. Prior to that interview, Lawal, on a visit to Anambra State to inspect repair work on the existing Niger Bridge, said: ”I’ve gone through the records but I’m yet to be convinced that there’s a contract for a second Niger Bridge. We have to face reality. Let’s get to the drawing board and see what we can do.”

How could Obasanjo do this? A government source who spoke to me in Awka insisted that the flag off was part of the scheme to shore up support for Andy Ubah, his preferred political candidate in the state’s governorship election. That is the kind of chicanery one saw in Obasanjo’s government, and which, in relation to the current feud, reminds me of Chinua Achebe’s often quoted line: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership…. the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example, which are hallmarks of true leadership.”

Did Goodluck Jonathan replicate Obasanjo’s example, given that he flagged off the construction of the second Niger Bridge last year? Only time will tell. It is too early in the day to know the true position of things although the last time I asked those I feel should know, I was told that work is ongoing at the site. And about election? I feel that one of the reasons the opposition is today upbeat about winning the February 14 presidential elections is because the electoral process is a lot better than it used to be.

So, in terms of personal example, and as far as the two administrations are concerned, Obasanjo cannot lay claim to any moral rectitude.

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