How Buhari Lost Obasanjo [Special Report]

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s hard knocks for President Muhammadu Buhari, whom he assisted to become president in 2015, signals a massive loss of support for the president, raising questions over why the Generals parted ways

The dust raised by the recent letter written by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to President Muhammadu Buhari may not settle until after the 2019 general elections. The letter came barely one year after Obasanjo fired the first salvo in January 2018, which indicated a major crack in their relationship. The letter which called for a coalition against a Buhari candidacy in the 2019 presidential election also signalled Obasanjo’s disappointment in Buhari. From the days of the General Ibrahim Babangida, Obasanjo has been known to be a rabid critic of bad governance. He was even more daring during the regime of late General Sani Abacha. It was for that reason Abacha threw him into jail from where he emerged by divine intervention to become President in 1999. While being inaugurated on May 29, 1999, Obasanjo recounted that he ‘passed through the valley of the shadow of death’. He narrowly escaped death. His era was not turbulent free. But it served as a foundation for Nigeria’s fledgling democracy.

Soon after the unfortunate death of his successor, Umaru Yar’Aduaon May 5, 2010, the northern political elite began to demand that a northernerbe allowed to completethe tenure of the late president but giventhat the constitution provides that the Vice President takes over, then VicePresident, Goodluck Jonathan emerged as president to complete the tenure afteran initial period of political intrigues. Upon the completion of that tenure,Jonathan also offered himself to contest the next presidential election, justto serve for only one term. Obasanjo who was at the centre of the negotiationand agreement backed Jonathan and went further to suggest that it was a rareopportunity for the South-south region to produce a president for the country.When that agreement was reached, Jonathan subsequently contested in 2011 andwon. But by 2013, when Obasanjo began to get hint that Jonathan was planning togo for a second term, thereby reneging on his alleged promise toserve for only one term, he began to re-align with the northerners.

By then, Obasanjo who had become emboldened by circumstances ofhis past, confronted Jonathan with a historic 18-page letter titled ‘Before ItIs Too Late’. In the letter, he brazenly accused the president of lying,destroying Nigeria and promoting corruption among others. Precisely, accusingfingers were pointed at some of the ministers in Jonathan’s government. Aninstance was the then Aviation Minister’s N255 million bulletproof car saga, inwhich she was accused of compelling the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority,NCAA, one of the agencies under her ministry to purchase for her oversightfunctions. With Obasanjo’s popularity within the country and his toweringstature in the international community, his letter to Jonathan became apolitical weapon against Jonathan’s re-election bid and his then rulingPeoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, on whose ticket Obasanjo also became president.The mainstream opposition party at the time, the All Progressives Congress, APCcelebrated what was largely perceived as the declining fortunes of the Jonathanadministration. Obasanjo, it was, who launched a campaign of ‘Anyone butJonathan’. A search for a credible candidate from the north later resulted inthe choice for Buhari due to his large followership in the north at the time.Subsequently, Obasanjo campaigned for him, and given his strong voice, theinternational community also gave their support to Buhari.

Ever since the Obasanjo letter was made public, on Sunday, January20, 2019 the political space has never remained the same as Obasanjo touched onmany contentious areas ranging from Buhari’s near intolerable competence leveland nepotism to allegations of intent to rig the 2019 general elections.However, what has remained unexplained is what actually led to the parting ofways between the former political allies who were once united against theprevious administration.

TELL’s investigation reveal that after the emergence of Buhari aspresident, Obasanjo was frequently visiting the Presidential Villa. But notlong afterwards, many Nigerians, including those that voted for Buhari startedcomplaining about his poor performance. Buhari is said to be surrounded by ahandful of presidency officials who are determined to line their pockets withpublic funds more so, when the president is said to be unaware of their antics. Despite the obvious lapses, Obasanjo still defended him, admitting thathe knew that Buhari was not sufficiently knowledgeable about the economy andforeign relations but that he would expect him to do well in security.Subsequently, Obasanjo was said to have advised Buhari during one of his visitsto the Presidential Villa to convene a meeting of past leaders, not necessarilythe Council of States meeting, so that he could tell them what his challengeswere at the time in order that they may offer him some useful advice. Obasanjoalso advised that in order to achieve geopolitical balance and spread, formerVice President, Alex Ekwueme and former Secretary General of the Commonwealth,Emeka Anyaoku be invited to the meeting since the only two past heads ofgovernment from the South-east zone, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Aguiyi Ironsi had died.He also advised that General Theophilus Danjuma be invited to the meetingdespite that he did not occupy any of those positions.   That wasshortly before Buhari’s first official visit to China in April 2016. Buharipromised to convene the meeting upon his return from China.

Obasanjo did not stop at that. Before he returned to his OtaFarm house, he met with a retired general of northern extraction ,intimating him of his mission to Aso Rock. In response, the General,with an obvious sinister motive, inquired of him, what Obasanjowould do ifBuhari failed to abide by his pledge. Obasanjo said he would stop going to theVilla. And upon his return, Buhari did not convene the meeting, and that wasthe last straw that broke the Camel’s back. Obasanjo had earlier called onBuhari to retire and stay by the sideline like an elder statesman, havingachieved his heart desire to rule the country under a democratic dispensation.A similar call had gone to him from General Ibrahim Babangida who suggestedthat a younger person should be given the opportunity to lead the country. Butthose advice only attracted condemnation by presidency officials.

Beginning with the upcoming elections, Obasanjo in his secondletter to Buhari expressed doubt over the integrity of the Independent NationalElectoral Commission, INEC, wondering if the ruling party and government allowit to function like an independent umpire. He tries to pre-empt INEC onallegations of plot to rig the election, citing the last governorship electionin Osun State, which was characterized by large scale irregularities and whatthe major opposition party and independent observers believed to be signs ofobvious bias on the part of the electoral umpire.

“From what we saw and knew about Osun State gubernatorialelection, what was conclusive was declared inconclusive despite all advice tothe contrary,” Obasanjo declared, while recommending to the internationalcommunity, possible sanctions that could be meted out to Nigerian electoralofficial who may engage in acts that are capable of derailing the nation’sdemocracy.

Apparently disgusted, Obasanjo did not spare Vice President YemiOsinbajo, in whom many Nigerians have expressed disappointment in recent times.The Trader Monicontroversy and the timing of the handout to marketwomen concentrated mainly in the cities , like Lagos and Abuja is onearea the former president did not overlook in his letter.  “It isno use, at this juncture, to keep lamenting about the failure, incompetence,divisiveness, nepotism and encouragement of corruption by Buhari administrationas there is neither redeeming feature nor personality to salvage the situationwithin that hierarchy.  You cannot give what you don’t have,” he lamented.

The Amina Zakari saga brought Obasanjo to level even more weightyallegations of plot to rig election against INEC.He recalled thattherehad been “reports of INEC sponsored rigging in the past, and also with INECofficials through collation and with officials being put in party coordinators’dresses and working for the political party favoured by INEC and also puttingthe dresses of other parties on INEC-favoured parties and police uniforms onINEC-favoured parties to rig all the elections for the favoured party.” 

Obasanjo also touched on the travails of the CJN, accusing the presidency of a plot to set him aside and put a Buhari man ahead of the election. He said, “President Buhari and his hatchet men in the coming election think that the judiciary must be primed in their favour. Hence, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, has been harassed and prosecuted for non-declaration of his assets without following the Constitution and the law, just to make him conform or set him aside for a Buhari man to take over or act, as President Buhari and his people believe no stone should be left unturned to rig Buhari in.  It seems to be a ploy to intimidate the judiciary as a whole in preparation for all election cases that will go before them.”

Through the CJN’s case, Obasanjo goes back to Osinbajo, recallinghow he told Nigerians that the presidency did not know about the prosecution ofthe CJN and that the president only got to know about it on a Saturday nightbefore the Monday morning when he was to appear before the Code of ConductTribunal, CCT.  “Haba VP!” Obasanjo exclaimed in utter dismay atOsinbajo’s defence. Speaking from the perspective of someone who has beenmilitary Head of State and an elected president for eight years, Obasanjoadmonishes Osinbajo that it doesn’t work like that.

Armed with very strong words, Obasanjo delved into Buhari’scharacter analysis, quoting Buba Galadimawho he said knows Buharivery well as a confidant and National Secretary of Congress for ProgressiveChange, CPC, Buhari’s party before he joined in forming the APC. Galadima,Obasanjo said, has warned that no matter what Buhari promises, he cannot changehis character and attitude.  “He describes him as inflexible, insincere,dubious, intolerant, never accepts responsibility when things go wrong andimpervious to reason and advice for change.   Even when figures, facts and statistics are made clear to Buhari,he keeps repeating what is untrue, either because he cannot understand or formischief purposes and that places him on the level of a pathological liar.” 

Obasanjo also goes back in time to recall APC national leader,BolaTinubu’s statement about Buhari in 2003, describing it as fairly prophetic. Hequoted Tinubu as having said: “Muhammadu Buhari is an agent of destabilisation,ethnic bigot and religious fanatic who, if given the chance, would ensure thedisintegration of the country.  His ethnocentrism would jeopardiseNigeria’s national unity.” Expectedly, Tinubu, who now heads Buhari’s campaigncouncil, has since fired back, accusing Obasanjo of being an election riggerwithout peer, and plotting to return to the seat of power by dubious means.Similarly,Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to thepresident on media described the former president as a sick man who needs adoctor’s attention and further accused him of “being jealous of Buhari’sachievements.” However, the reactions coming from the president’s quartersdon’t seem to address the issues raised by Obasanjo most of which are ofserious concern to Nigerians, rather, they seem to be targeted at discreditingthe former president.

Conversely, INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu’s response tothe allegations of rigging the 2019 elections appears to be a radical departurefrom what is coming from the presidency. In a rather more constructive way, hesaid this is to be expected in an election year when people make all sorts ofinsinuations. “We as a commission have never been under pressure to do what iswrong. We will never compromise our integrity to do what the law says that weshouldn’t and for the 2019 general elections, I want to assure and reassureNigerians that votes, and nothing but votes will count.”   

Obasanjo drewinference between what is happening under Buhari’s watch and what happenedunder the dreaded Gen. Abacha. President Buhari came to power promising amongother things, to secure lives in the country, with the menace of Boko Haram asthe most disturbing security issue in the country. Many people including the internationalcommunity believed him. Sadly, many Nigerians agree that between 2015 whenhe became president and 2019 when he is seeking re-election, the terror grouphas upped the ante, graduating from attacking soft targets like markets andother crowded locations to launching attacks on military formations, killingNigerian soldiers in the most brutal manner.

Obasanjo pointed out that “with the teaming up of Boko Haram andIslamic State’s West Africa Province, ISWAP, Boko Haram is stronger todaymilitarily than they have ever been.  Boko Haram has also been empoweredby the Nigerian government through payment of ransom of millions of dollarswhich each administration disingenuously always denies.” For this reason andseveral others he concludes that: “This administration has reached the end ofits wit even in handling all security issues, but particularly Boko Haramissue, partly due to misuse of security apparatus and poor equipment,deployment, coordination and cooperation.” In the weeks to come, Obasanjo’ssecond latest to Buhari will continue to dominate discussions, ifhe does not write another one before the election.

Reactionsto Obasanjo’s Letter to Buhari.

AllProgressive Congress, APC: “For eight years of President Obasanjo, all theelections he held…in fact government policies were determined by whatevermood he found himself. All the institutions of government were heavilyinfluenced by Obasanjo. What he did for those eight years is what is hauntinghim. He cannot imagine it is possible for a government to allow INEC thestatutory independence that it has.”

PeoplesDemocratic Party, PDP: “Obasanjo’ssubmission has also reinforced our position that President Buhari, and hisparty, the APC, having realized that there is no way he can win in a free andfair election, is now besieging all democratic institutions, including theJudiciary, the Legislature, the Independent National Electoral Commission,INEC, while engaging in acts that threaten the unity, peace and corporateexistence of our dear nation.”

OHANAEZE:“Every indicationtestifies to Obasanjo’s vindication. Obasanjo appointed a South-Easterner (asINEC chairman), Jonathan appointed a northerner, but apparently, owing to his(Buhari) ulterior motives seemingly playing out now, he appointed a northerneras lNEC Chairman. The bleeding issues are the latest appointment of AminaZakari who has been an age long close confidant of Buhari and the callous andblatant move to remove the Chief Justice of Nigeria. The fear is that thepresidency wants to remove the CJN and plant a northerner, as usual, who wouldplay to the political gallery and instruct appointed judges to make electoraldecisions favourable to the APC.”

AFENIFERE: “Wehave a civilian dictatorship. Nigeria is experiencing a civilian dictatorship.We are already in another Abacha regime. We have seen disobedience of courtorders, the decimation of every perceived opponent, and absence of freedom ofspeech. We have seen the hounding of people. What we are in today is worse thanAbacha. We knew what we had under Abacha. So, we have a civilian dictatorshipin Nigeria”

AREWA: “Giventhe fact that we do not know the alleged plans by the present regime to rig theelections, it would be wrong for any group to be worried. This is because anyworry would amount to vote of no confidence on our democratic institutions likeINEC which has assured the nation of the commission’s readiness to conduct freeand fair elections by improving on the performance recorded in the previouselections in 2015. Even though the former president is fully partisan and maygo any length to cast aspersions on the ruling party and the democraticinstitutions under her watch, it would be worthy of him to note that he cannotplough off his status as a statesman who is expected to help build and not torun them down without suggestion on how best to improve them”

PANDEFF: “PresidentBuhari is resorting to the tactics of (Gen.) Abacha because he wants to tamperthe 2019 presidential elections. The truth of the matter is that the country ismore aware now. PANDEF is saying that if there is any form of rigging, thepeople will resist it because Nigerians are tired of the present regime. Theissue of rigging is a matter everybody should put his eyes on and ensure thatit does not repeat itself like what happened in Osun State during thegubernatorial election where there ought to have been a clear winner, but thecourse of victory was reordered to suit the ruling party.”

Femi Falana, SAN: “The statement is a clarion call on President Buharito remove the incompetent and corrupt cabal of power mongers that has hijackedpolitical power from him. Through sheer nepotism and cronyism, the regime haslost the massive goodwill that heralded it to power.”

Shehu Sani, SenatorrepresentingKaduna Central: “When Baba fired missiles to the National Assembly andcalled its members unarmed robbers you celebrated him; today his missileslanded on the Rock of Aso and you want to demonize him.”

AREWA Youths Consultative Forum: “Obasanjo is saying what people like us saw frominception. We saw it coming earlier than now. We felt patriotism does not meanif government favours you, you cannot be objective. Being objective means evenif it is your father that is doing something strong, you should summon courageto say it is right or wrong.”

Additional report by Adedolapo Abimbola

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