With Oke Epia
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Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s unsparing diatribe against President Muhammadu Buhari has been celebrated as a classic elixir for a nation cascading a steep descent into definite doom. Well, anything to lighten the pall of gloom stalking the land would have been equally welcome by weary citizens cringing from imposed hardship. Obasanjo literarily set the polity on fire with the release of his well-crafted missive to Aso Rock last Tuesday. The flame is still blazing and will certainly leave behind scars that will be difficult to erase. But while the reviews, recriminations and rejoinders to the scathing rebuke of a sitting president by a predecessor in office continue, a salient point that should not be lost on all is that Obasanjo simply did the predictable, populist as it is.
And my take is that he did that not totally out of altruism but as part of a grand plot to stake a claim in the post-2019 destiny of Nigeria. I will explain this conclusion shortly but first let me drive home the point about predictability: that the former president would pull off such fractious falling-out with the incumbent was predicted in this column on November 26, 2016 when I wrote under the title, ‘Obasanjo: Is the honeymoon over for Buhari?’
That piece, prophetic as it now seems, chronicled the roles played by Obasanjo in the emergence of Buhari as president in 2015; the several tete-a-tete between them in the Presidential Villa; and how things had started to go awry in the romance between both ex-military rulers. I will take the liberty to quote portions of that piece for easy understanding of my eventual submission today. Following widespread media reports of how Buhari received a reprimand from his political benefactor, I had written: “Last Wednesday’s tirade follows a pattern of Obasanjo’s wars of attrition waged with friends-turned-foes in the past.
Such subtle nudges and knocks get to escalate into open rebukes and then ascend a crescendo of letter-writing. In the moderated outburst, Obasanjo told his arch rival-turned-chummy buddy to stop the blame game and fix the country that is fast collapsing under his watch.” In clarifying the background of the rebuke, I had stated: “To be honest, Obasanjo did not quite say anything new nor did his intervention make the anguish in the land more painful. The ex-president merely re-echoed what has since become a tale of lamentation across the land. Hear him: “Businesses are closing, jobs are being lost and people are suffering. I know that President Buhari has always expressed concern for the plight of the common people but that concern must be translated to workable and result-oriented socio-economic policies and programmes that will turn the economy round at the shortest time possible.” He then warned that “if we do not fix the economy to relieve the pain and anguish of many Nigerians, the gains of fighting the insurgency and corruption will pale into insignificance.” I had stressed that those harsh words were “enough tell-tale signs that things have begun to fall apart between Obasanjo and Buhari.
And the centre may not hold for much longer.”
Fast forward to Tuesday this week: The ‘special press statement’ released by Obasanjo fulfills the falling apart predicted in that piece. As he is wont to do, the former president presented the acoustic epistle as ‘a clarion call’ to rally what is left of a nation’s diminished hope hitherto seized in a sustained spasm of governance failure. But here lies the paradox of Obasanjo’s quirk intervention: he is amply to blame in the current mess the country finds itself. I dare say that Obasanjo’s contemplative resort to messianic meddling in the extant Buhari misadventure oozes a self-seeking and inherently opportunistic smell. Was it not Obasanjo, who being fully aware of who Buhari is, sold his candidacy to Nigerians as the best thing since slice bread? Was it not same Obasanjo who upped the ante of the APC propaganda machine by dramatizing his exit from the PDP in such gratuitous theatrics of childish card-shredding? He can crucify Buhari as much as he wants and that is just fine. He can enjoy the populist flavor that comes with such as well.
But the Ota farmer should desist from assuming the role of a canvasser or convener or mobilizer of another nebulous coalition that would tomorrow become strangulation on the necks of Nigerians. The redeeming feature for him- and which is why the message cannot in this circumstance be dismissed because of the apparent unfitness of the messenger- is that he has come out to bell the cat at a time rudderless hawks are running riot in the kingdom while the lion king kowtows in profound incompetence compounded by a disturbing aloofness. A man who musters the courage to speak truth to power at the risk of great personal sacrifice is an asset to society no matter his foibles and failings.
But that should be where it ends. Obasanjo is on a familiar route- he seeks like he always does, to direct the minds of citizens on their choice of leaders. Obasanjo wants to remain the kingmaker, the ultimate decider of our collective fate. This is where many, especially the younger generation vehemently disagree with him. It is fine that the ex-president has fully joined the wailers’ wing of disenchanted and disillusioned citizens; he should back off on his crusading charade and allow Nigerians to decide freely in 2019. Any mass movement or so-called third force anchored on or promoted by Obasanjo fails the first test of genuine populism. Nigeria needs urgent liberation no doubt but folks will no longer dance to hollow redemption songs sounding from gongs of eternal godfathers masquerading as liberators. Enough is enough.
CORRENGENDUM: In the last edition of this column, I credited the ‘fantastically corrupt’ comment to Tony Blair instead of David Cameron, both of whom are former Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom. Error is regretted.
––Epia, Publisher of OrderPaper NG, tweets @resourceme.