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Adverse response to Obasanjo’s endorsement of Obi repudiates a habitual tendency to dubiously appropriate the people’s discontent, writes Bolaji Adebiyi    

Never wanting to lie low at moments of national distress, Olusegun Obasanjo, former president of Nigeria, stole the show on New Year’s Day with a letter to Nigerians, particularly the youth, asking them to take back their country.  

“The last seven and a half years have no doubt been eventful and stressful years for many Nigerians,” the man also called Ebora Owu told distressed Nigerians who just had the driest Xmas in living memory, adding, “We have moved from frying pan to fire and from mountain top to the valley.”  

Saying the sorry state of the nation requires that citizens seize the opportunity of the 25 February presidential ballot to redress the situation, the former president x-rayed the four leading candidates in the race and settled for the Labour Party’s Peter Obi, a two-term governor of Anambra State.  

Naturally, the others, Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress; Atiku Abubakar’s Peoples Democratic Party; and Rabiu Kwankwaso’s New Nigerian Peoples Party, were bound to be unhappy and the first two have come out smoking while the third has so far ignored the endorsement. The presidency too, which received searing attacks from the former president also responded with equal measure, excoriating Obasanjo as an irresponsible erstwhile national leader who is now motivated to criticise the Muhammadu Buhari administration by his personal frustration.  

As usual, the reactions from the aggrieved party have been vicious, hardly addressing the issues raised by Obasanjo in his letter. “Our leaders have done their best, but their best had turned out to be not the best for Nigeria and Nigerians at home and abroad. For most Nigerians, it was hell on earth,” he had said.  

“The endorsement is actually worthless because the former president does not possess any political goodwill or leverage anywhere in Nigeria to make anyone win a councillorship election let alone win a presidential election,” Bayo Onanuga, a director of media in the APC presidential campaign, said while dismissing it.  

Hear Kola Ologbondiyan, a PDP Campaign spokesman, “It will be extremely difficult for Nigerians, particularly the youth demography, to accept Chief Obasanjo’s opinion as the solution to the myriad of challenges facing the nation today because the last candidate he introduced, by his own estimation, failed Nigerians.”  

On the face of it, both Onanuga and Ologbondiyan are correct to the extent that given Obasanjo’s political choices and intervention in the last 16 years, his sense of political judgment must be questioned having got it wrong at least twice. More important is the former president’s lack of grace in abdicating responsibility for the current sorry situation that Nigeria is experiencing.  

Obasanjo speaks of Nigerians jumping from frying pan to fire. He, however, conveniently refuses to take part of the responsibility for this debacle having not only procured the frying pan but also stoke the fire that Nigerians jumped into. The former president was part of the leadership recruitment process that headhunted Goodluck Jonathan, a virtual deputy governor, as the vice president to Umaru Yar’Adua in 2007. By 2011, Obasanjo actively backed Jonathan to pick the PDP presidential ticket and went on to win the general election.  

Mid-way into that administration, Obasanjo quarrelled with Jonathan and joined the grand conspiracy that not only demonised the former but also brought Buhari. Jonathan was said to have performed badly but Buhari is now regarded as a monumental disaster even by the assertion of their erstwhile principal. Not a few social critics think that it is irresponsible of Obasanjo not to have share responsibility for helping to prop these leaders before mounting the rostrum to preach about the need for the restoration of good governance.  

Although it might be unfair to hold Obasanjo entirely responsible for the perceived underperformance of the duo since he could not have done their job for them, the point that stands out is that he ought to have accessed their capacity and competence to deliver before presenting them for engagement. For instance, how could the intellectual hollowness of Buhari that had been on public display for decades have escaped his attention when the president was brought to him as a replacement for Jonathan?  

If Obasanjo’s sense of political judgment is now questionable, Tinubu’s and Atiku’s complaints could be viewed as coming too late having at various times presented the former president to the public as a man of consequence. Sometime in 2014 or so, Tinubu led a delegation to the Abeokuta home of Obasanjo and spoke glowing of his erstwhile foe in a bid to get him behind the emerging political conspiracy that became APC. “You are the nation’s pathfinder,” he told the former president who eventually supported Buhari’s bid for the presidency.  

By the mid-term of the Buhari administration, the Ebora Owu had fallen out and had written a scathing letter to his erstwhile surrogate. At a colloquium organised to commemorate his birthday, Tinubu threw jibes at Obasanjo, “He is a bad belle letter writer.” That did not prevent the APC candidate from visiting the former president in Abeokuta mid-last year to ask for his support for his presidential bid.  

Atiku too had been to Ota and Abeokuta a couple of times. Despite Obasanjo’s serial attacks that practically sent Atiku’s reputation to the cleaners, the PDP candidate had to make a humiliating trip to Abeokuta in 2019 to seek the endorsement of his former boss. He got it but lost the general election to Buhari. To be fair to the former vice-president though, he has avoided his former boss in this electioneering circle.  

While it is true that Obasanjo is not a run-of-the-mill politician that can by himself mobilise massive votes behind even a councillor, as Onanuga derisively puts it, he has without a doubt, garnered considerable influence across the length and breadth of the country having served three times as head of state. He is, therefore, in a position to mobilise critical sectors of the Nigerian power blocs for specific political objectives. This perhaps explains his relevance in the political terrain, an advantage he tends to exploit for mischievous purposes at times.  

Already, his endorsement appears to have opened the space for others to step forward. Edwin Clark, a major voice in the Niger Delta has thumped up for Obi just as Samuel Ortom, governor of Benue State and a member of the rebelling G5 PDP governors, has tacitly concurred. Some more may come in the days ahead.  

What is important to note, however, is whether those endorsements would amount to votes on 25 February. The indications are not affirmative even when they have a dissimilar impact on the electioneering efforts of the two leading candidates, Tinubu and Atiku. For the former, nothing much to worry about because his support base is not likely to be badly impacted as he retains, at least on the surface, his voting bloc. It is the latter that is likely to get hit more as Obi is ebbing away his personal and party stronghold.  

Adebiyi, the managing editor of THISDAY Newspapers, writes from  

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