2015: Jonathan, Obasanjo and the Creeping Feud

09 Dec 2012

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Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s decision to take a different stance from President Goodluck Jonathan in respect of 2015 may be behind the raging feud between the two leaders, but the row is introducing lessons that may change the way politics is perceived and played in the country, writes Vincent Obia

It is a paradox that the person most committed to President Goodluck Jonathan’s ascension to the presidency can be the most aggressive opponent of his second term bid. Former President Obasanjo had put his trust in Jonathan and invested significant amounts of time and energy in making him the president. 

The former president’s investment in Jonathan dates back to 2005, during the travails of the former Bayelsa State governor, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. Alamieyeseigha was swept away from office on December 9, 2005 by an Abuja-instigated storm, which also charted the way to the top for Jonathan, who was then deputy governor. Obasanjo did his best to ensure that Jonathan was insulated from the crisis of Alamieyeseigha in preparation for higher political roles, first as governor and then as vice president to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.

Even after his eight-year tenure, and as the Peoples Democratic Party Board of Trustees chairman from June 27, 2007, Obasanjo continued to put effort into the making of Jonathan’s ascendancy. He was a key factor in Jonathan’s assumption of the role of acting president after the death of Yar’Adua in 2010, and also crucial to his election as president in April last year.

But the honeymoon did not last. No sooner had Jonathan started asserting himself in power than their relationship started straining. Such short spells of harmony between godfather and godson at the beginning of the latter’s walk of the power path come as standard in Nigerian politics these days. In this day and age it’s difficult to find a godson and a godfather that maintain cordiality long into the tenure of the godson.

One significant lesson to pick up here is that it is becoming increasingly futile for incumbents to invest more than is meet, usually at the expense of societal and democratic values, to fix successors in office in the hope of retaining control.

Obasanjo is a politician vast in suspense and tactic. Where he really comes into his own is summoning schemes and resources to influence political outcomes. Though, that quality of his failed in his attempt to secure a third term towards the end of his eight years presidency, it did succeed in making him the most powerful BoT chairman PDP has ever produced.

Obasanjo not only ensured the emergence of Yar’Adua and Jonathan as presidents, but also paved the way for his own post-presidency politics by influencing the amendment of the PDP constitution to reserve the BoT chairmanship for only former presidents and ex-national chairmen. The board was made the highest decision making organ of the party. So when on June 27, 2007 Obasanjo romped all over the other members to become the BoT chairman, he had absolutely no difficulty pulling the strings.

But overtime, since the Jonathan presidency, there were attempts to extensively cut down on the powers of the BoT and make it mainly advisory. Obasanjo seemed to be the target of the attempt to weaken the BoT, which had culminated in an alleged plot to sack him in September last year. Many believe Obasanjo’s resignation as BoT chairman on April 3 was partly a fallout of the pressure to weaken the board, and by extension himself.

He said in a statement, “By relieving myself of the responsibility for chairmanship of BoT of the PDP, I will have a bit more time to devote to the international demand on me,” adding that his resignation would give him time “to give some attention to mentoring across the board nationally and internationally in those areas that I have acquired some experience, expertise and in which I have something to share.”

In reality, resignation from the BoT chairmanship seems to offer Obasanjo ample time to fight to keep his political influence.   The strategy this time is to get Jonathan to abide by an oft-iterated promise to do only one term as president, in what analysts see as an apparent effort to right some of the wrongs Obasanjo was alleged to have done during the Yar’Adua succession politics. A section of the elite in Northern Nigeria had vehemently opposed Jonathan’s election last year, as they saw it as a usurpation of part of the region’s eight-year tenure under PDP’s rotation arrangement, which Yar’Adua could not complete. Obasanjo was a critical factor in the sidestepping of that arrangement to elect Jonathan.

Indeed, Jonathan had on several occasions while campaigning for the presidency pledged to stop at one term. He appears currently bent on defying that promise and many Nigerians are trying to bring it back. Obasanjo leads the pack of those opposing Jonathan’s second term and this does not go down well with the president.

The war of nerves between Jonathan and Obasanjo had been waged in hushed tones over the past months. But things seemed to come to a head on November 18 during a media chat, when the president openly disparaged the Obasanjo administration’s bloody invasion of Odi, in the president’s native Bayelsa State, in 1999 in an effort to rid the place of militants. Jonathan said the Odi invasion was a futile exercise that merely killed innocent locals. He was, apparently, responding to insinuations about his handling of the Boko Haram insurgency.

Obasanjo responded swiftly through Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, rejecting Jonathan’s condemnation of the Odi invasion and insisting that the move actually achieved its purpose of minimising militant activities in the area.

That public spat seemed to erase any doubts about the strained relations between Jonathan and Obasanjo.   
The former president has been traversing the country and building alignments and realignments for what looks set to be a two-stage fight against Jonathan’s ambition. The first stage would be at the BoT chairmanship election on January 8 next year, and the second, at the PDP presidential election primary.

With Obasanjo now in the camp of those opposed to Jonathan’s election bid, the president is certainly up against a much more formidable opposition than he met last year. The implication is undeniably horrendous.

The disagreement between the two leaders surely holds unpleasant prospects for the country. A lot more resources and effort than was committed last year would be invested into any successful second term bid by Jonathan, of course, at the expense of society. The result, definitely, would be a quality of governance that is worse than any other the country has seen before.

But in all these things, the futility of godfatherism would not be lost on the country’s politicians. Perhaps, more incumbents and political heavyweights would begin to learn to allow the democratic process run uninhibited, and herein, it would seem, lies the gain of the current feud for democracy.

Tags: Politics, Nigeria, Featured, OBJ VS GOODLUCK

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