Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s “special press statement” that went out last week stood on three pillars. One, he asked incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari not to go for a second term in 2019 because his first term, now 3 years old, is a monumental, unmitigated disaster. He accused Buhari of nepotism, clanishness and inability to discipline errant subordinates. Two, the two major political parties – Buhari’s APC and the opposition PDP – do not have the stuff to take Nigeria to the Promised Land. And, three, the country needs a ‘Third Force’. He called this a “Coalition for Nigeria”.
Official reaction to the ‘Obasanjo letter’ was one of studied silence. In fact, a Presidency media apokesman said an official reaction would take time to appear. And when it did come over the weekend, it avoided, understandably, a verbal matchup with the former president. Rather, it was a long list of “achievements” on the economic front where Obasanjo believed Buhari has fared abyssmally.
However, on their own, Buhari’s ministers have taken the war of rhetorics to Obasanjo. Mr. Adebayo Shittu, communications minister, for instance, turned Obasanjo’s accusation of clanishness against Buhari the other way round. He said there are persons out there “who, for reason of clanishness, for reason of tribalism, for reasons of religious bigotry and intolerance, have decided to see and not to ask questions about what is going on in the country”. He did not hide it, Obasanjo was one of them.
The response of APC, the ruling party, was much more restrained and dignified, in comparison. A statement by National Publicity Secretary, Bolaji Abdullahi, said: “As a father of the nation, we understand that the former president would feel obliged to intervene if certain things are not being done or are not being done in a particular way. However, we believe that such interventions should be for the sole purpose of improving the system and encouraging the relevant institutions to work harder in improving certain situations.
“It is for this reason that we disagree with the former president in what appears like a wholesale dismissal of the entire political system in the country. We acknowledge our challenges as a new political party, even as we believe that APC remains the best option at this time for all Nigerians who are genuinely committed to the progress and development of the country.”
The opposition PDP, on its own part, has not taken an official position yet, either for or against. But it is easy to tell which side of the political fence the party will climb down on. It will certainly try to make much political capital from the APC’s present discomfiture.
Two questions must be answered first to decide whether Obasanjo was right to dismiss Buhari as a failure. First, is he entitled to an opinion on the way in which Nigeria is being run? Yes, he is. Citizenship gives him a constitutional right to free speech. His position as a former president gives him a respectable voice. Second, does he have the moral high ground? Certainly no. We all know that Obasanjo’s 8- year tenure was one mirred in a massive heap of corruption allegations.
Recall the infamous $16 bn power project scandal that the National Assembly started to investigate but could not finish. Then there followed the Halliburton and Siemens bribery scams. All these happened under his presidency. Not to be forgotten is Obasanjo’s attempt to join the diminishing rank of life presidents in Africa. His term elongation bid was nipped in the bud, luckily. Again, Obasanjo has gained notoriety for complaining publicly against all his successsors. This is someone who does not want to come to terms with the reality of his position as an ex-president. He is not the one in power now. This is a fact.
Does this mean we should throw the baby away with the bath water? Or dismiss the messenger and the message? Surely, no. We think the right attitude is what APC has adopted. “…we cannot afford to react to public criticism with any form of emotionalism. We are the ruling party. We must take responsibility. Take valuable lessons on board and continue to improve.”