The latest round of bickering and mudslinging between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Goodluck Jonathan took a new twist when the former chose the auspicious occasion of a CNN interview to criticise Jonathan’s approach to the Boko Haram insurgency.
He said, “To deal with a group like that, you need a carrot and stick. The carrot is finding out how to reach out to them. When you try to reach out to them and they are not amenable to being reached out to, you have to use the stick”.
Prior to Obasanjo’s recent comment, he had stunned his audience, at a gathering to review the unemployment situation in the West African sub-region tagged, the West African Regional Conference on Youth Employment, held in Dakar, Senegal, as he fired salvos at his protégé. The ex-President as a guest speaker predicted a revolution was looming in Nigeria if the high rate of youth unemployment which he put at 72 per cent remained unchecked and should the Jonathan government fail to create employment, the attendant catastrophe would consume the elite, himself included.
Still smarting from his Dakar outburst, he continued his barrage at Jonathan, this time around in Warri, at an event marking the 40th anniversary calling to ministry in the vineyard of God of the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, where he described the President as a weak leader pointing to the government’s lukewarm approach to the Boko Haram crisis and the pervading insecurity in the country that could have been effectively tackled if decisive action had been taken by the Jonathan administration.
November last year, President Jonathan broke his silence in a televised media chat as he responded to Obasanjo’s prescription, describing the military invasion (to fish out militants who killed some security men) and brute use of force on the people of Odi as futile as it only resulted in bloodshed and loss of innocent lives.
Not long ago, Obasanjo also took another swipe at Jonathan’s administration for waste of the country’s foreign reserves, put at about $35bn in 2007. Obasanjo said, “We left what we call excess crude, let’s build it for the rainy day, up to $35bn; within three years, the $35bn disappeared. Whether the money disappeared or it was shared, the fact remains that $35bn disappeared from the foreign reserves I left behind in office. When we left that money, we thought we were leaving it for the rainy day…”
Meanwhile, as a strategy to check Obasanjo’s overbearing influence on the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, loyalists to Jonathan have been mounting pressure on government to petition Obasanjo to the International Criminal Court at the Hague on the invasion of Odi by the military which left civilians dead. By any standard, this equates to crimes against humanity. Another ploy to tame the rampaging former president are plans to expose some of his misdeeds during his 8-year tenure.
The postponement of the BoT chairman (s)election can easily be linked to the face-off between President Jonathan and Obasanjo as loyalists of both men came to a stand-off in their bid to elect a new chairman, which interestingly was the only agenda of the meeting. Delegates were torn in two minds as to whom to pick amid intense lobbying for the former president’s candidate, Ahmadu Alli, a former chairman of the party, and President Jonathan’s preferred choice — the newly appointed chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority — Tony Anenih, with the sobriquet, ‘Mr Fix It’.
As events unfolded, it became crystal clear that the battle for the BoT chairmanship had a direct bearing on the tussle for the presidential ticket of the PDP in 2015 and whoever emerges as chairman is crucial to that agenda. Jonathan’s group opposed the election of Obasanjo’s anointed candidate, Alli. His group convinced other members that it won’t augur well for Anenih to be the chairman of NPA and the BoT, as others should be given the opportunity to serve the party. Apparently, the Jonathan camp opposed the Pro-Obasanjo’s choice of Alli, arguing that such would be detrimental to the President’s second term ambition. On the other hand, Anenih’s emergence as BoT chairman might hinder the choice of Obasanjo’s candidate for the presidential race in 2015. Therein lies the stand-off.
Obasanjo is getting tacit support from northern political figures in the PDP, especially those eyeing the 2015 presidential ticket. They consider his feud with Jonathan as capable of withering his powers and ultimately truncate his ambition to contest the 2015 election. These northerners still feel shortchanged that the two terms of Umaru Yar’Adua’s administration which began in 2007 was not completed before Jonathan came onboard, shoving aside the zoning arrangement of the PDP. They reason power should return to the north in 2015 and any role Obasanjo can play to rejig would be welcome. This much Obasanjo displayed when he invited politicians from the north to the launch of a “political” mosque project. A good number of northern governors and politicians were present at the fund-raiser at Abeokuta. They made generous donations to the project.
Obasanjo in the past was instrumental to Jonathan’s meteoric rise from a deputy governor in Bayelsa State to governor, then vice-president, Acting President, substantive President and later elected as President in the aftermath of Yar’Adua’s death in 2010. The Ota farmer is believed to be peeved by his exclusion from Jonathan’s administration as the President now seemingly prefers his kinsmen and hangers-on as members of his inner caucus rather than seeking his benefactor’s opinion on key national issues. More so, his disaffection with Jonathan can easily be traced to the elections in the South-West states of Ondo, Osun and Ekiti where the PDP lost to the ACN and Labour Party. Against this backdrop, if Chief Olusegun Obasanjo now finds everything wrong with the man he installed as president, then it must be nothing more than an agitation for the 2015 polls.
That the former president is building bridges across the country ahead of the 2015 elections and picking holes at Jonathan’s government is a strong indication that he has pitched tents with those opposed to Jonathan running the 2015 election. Awkwardly, the President is up against his benefactor. Indeed, Jonathan is fighting the battle of his political soul as he now seems to have reneged on the promise he made to Nigerians that he won’t seek a second term in office and Obasanjo is at the front of the queue to stop his re-election.
In the event of Obasanjo’s inability to clinch the PDP ticket for whoever becomes his anointed candidate in the BoT, his ties with the members of the PDP who have defected, and are now part of the planned merger among the ANPP, CPC and the ACN will prove invaluable as his anti-Jonathan rhetoric has already won him support from the north, a majority of whom are still angry at the PDP’s zoning arrangement that was allegedly breached by Jonathan.
However, as the incumbent, Jonathan can swing major decisions in his favour. He has enough resources, as some recent appointments and contracts awarded have shown, at his disposal to deploy in a desperate bid to ensure he returns, but he must first slug it out with a strong northern candidate from the PDP in the primaries and another from the possible merger of some opposition parties in the election proper.
It is not happenstance that Obasanjo has come out unscathed from tough political battles; ask the likes of Atiku Abubakar, his former vice-president; former governor of Ogun State, Gbenga Daniel; former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim; former Speaker of House of Representatives, Umar Ghali Na’Abbah and a host of others, the ex-president has always had his way in the end. He sure wields a lot of influence politically in spite of his resignation as the chairman of the BoT of the PDP sometime ago. It has been an herculean task replacing him and now it seems President Jonathan might be stretching his good luck rather too far should he decide to contest in 2015.