Bayo Akinloye

In this report, BAYO AKINLOYE examines how former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s relentless condemnations of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration likely contributed to the latter’s loss at the presidential pollJonathan-and-Obasanjo

For many years since President Goodluck Jonathan took over the reins of power, apart from the vociferous major opposition party, the All Progressives Congress, he has had to endure the unwavering litany of censures from former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo had written scathing letters and a book targeting the incumbent President.

Besides, Obasanjo had also featured on various interview programmes in international media, where he expressed his displeasure with the current government. Observers of his stance on Jonathan’s administration have said he was the president’s biggest critic.

In a Cable News Network (based in the United States) interview the ex-president criticised Jonathan’s approach to the Boko Haram insurgency, saying that the incumbent’s method of fighting the insurgents was inadequate.

“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,” Obasanjo had said.

Prior to that comment, he had stunned his audience at the West African Regional Conference on Youth Employment held in Dakar, Senegal, to review the unemployment crisis in the West African sub-region. While delivering his speech as a guest speaker, Obasanjo predicted that a revolution was looming in Nigeria if the high rate of youth unemployment (which he put at 72 per cent) remained unchecked, the attendant misfortune would consume even the nation’s leaders.

At a different forum, Obasanjo chided Jonathan’s administration for waste of the country’s foreign reserve, put at about $35bn in 2007. “We left what we call excess crude, let’s build it for rainy day, up to $35bn; within three years, the $35bn disappeared. Whether the money disappeared or it was shared, the fact remains that $35 billion disappeared from the foreign reserve I left behind in office. When we left that money, we thought we were leaving it for the rainy day,” he said.

Many political observers consider Obasanjo as 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 the death of his predecessor, Umaru Yar’Adua in 2010.

Obasanjo, however, stated that he was not responsible for Jonathan’s failure as a president.

He said, “I always tell the President that ‘if God doesn’t want you to be there, you won’t be there.’ On instrumentality of people, yes, because God wants him to be there. But having been there, you have to perform. That is what I believe. When you get there, no matter how, just perform and keep on performing. I don’t believe he has performed up to the expectations of many Nigerians, not just me.”

When almost more than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped from the Government Secondary School, in Chibok, Borno State, by Boko Haram, Obasanjo had accused Jonathan of failing to react promptly to the abduction. In an interview with Bloomberg TV in 2014, he claimed that the President’s failure to immediately order the rescue of the girls bungled the chances of freeing them.

Obasanjo said, “On the kidnapping or abduction, the President did not believe that those girls were abducted for almost 18 days. If the President got the information within 12 hours of the act and he reacted immediately, I believe those girls would have been rescued within 24 hours, maximum, 48 hours. Don’t forget, they are almost 300 girls.

“The logistics of moving them is something (delay the sect would have encountered). Unfortunately, the President had doubts; ‘Is this true? Is this a ploy by some people who don’t want me to be President again, who is doing this?’ I think that was (the most) unfortunate aspect of the whole exercise or situation.”

When asked why he chose to write an open letter to Jonathan, when he should have visited him in Aso Rock to express his feelings about the goings-on in the country during the presentation of his controversial three-part autobiography, ‘My Watch’, on December 9, 2014 (the book in which he called out Jonathan and several other Nigerians), Obasanjo said he sought avenues to air his observations and positions with Jonathan but had to resort to writing open letters because his efforts were frustrated.

“I opened communication channels with my predecessors. You will see a few letters I put in the book, how I described my frustrations,” he said.

During the launch of his autobiography in Nairobi, Kenya, in January this year, Obasanjo again lambasted Jonathan for leaving many things undone in the fight against the insurgents, which included the non-implementation of the recommendations he made in a report concerning Boko Haram that he said he submitted to the Presidency.

Obasanjo told the audience at the book presentation, which included a Kenyan opposition leader, Raila Odinga, that there was nothing he said in the book about Jonathan that he had not told the president personally.

He said, “One of the things that I reproduced in the book is a letter that I wrote to Goodluck Jonathan, about 15 months ago and Goodluck Jonathan replied. I put in the book the letter and its reply, so there is nothing in the book that is new about what I have been saying to Jonathan for over three and a half years, nothing.”

According to some political watchers, Obasanjo’s relentless criticisms of Jonathan especially in the public glare of international media served as a cul-de-sac for the president’s re-election.

Professor Jonah Onuoha, the Head of Department of Political Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, told SUNDAY PUNCH that Obasanjo’s incessant public condemnations of Jonathan’s administration style and performance created a big dent in the overall prospect of the incumbent being re-elected. He noted that the former president was unforgiving in assailing Jonathan’s administration both home and abroad.

“Former President Olusegun Obasanjo played a fundamental role in the emergence of the President-elect, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) President Goodluck Jonathan began to suffer a major setback the moment Obasanjo picked on him. At the expense of the Peoples Democratic Party, Obasanjo’s fervent excoriation of Jonathan at international fora was telling.

“Severally, he admitted the fact that he made a mistake in supporting Jonathan to the point of becoming a president. He said it repeatedly and openly — even to foreign media — that Jonathan’s performance in running the nation was unacceptable to him. And when someone of Obasanjo’s stature begins to rap you both home and abroad then you should hear the death-knell sounding. He’s an elder statesman; well respected. The international community respects his opinion,” Onuoha said.

Speaking in the same vein, Dr. Idowu Johnson, the Head of Department of Political Science at the University of Ibadan, noted that Obasanjo’s role — through letter-writing, public speeches and interviews (especially in international media) — in wrecking Jonathan’s re-election bid at the last presidential election could not be underestimated.

Johnson told SUNDAY PUNCH that the defeat at the poll of the incumbent president was “unfortunate but inevitable,” describing Obasanjo as a nail in Jonathan’s coffin.

“First and foremost, the level of corruption under President Jonathan became a serious issue. Even the international community attested to it via editorial comments in various newspapers. As for the role played by Obasanjo in ensuring Jonathan’s defeat in the just concluded presidential election, it was an unfortunate but inevitable outcome. But be that as it may, the former president could not sit down and watch on while Nigeria is ruined.

“Put simply, Obasanjo’s campaigns against Jonathan were born out of negative reports received outside Nigeria concerning the lackadaisical attitude of the incumbent president towards corrupt practices. Even though there was corruption under Obasanjo’s watch, it became a national disaster and international embarrassment for Nigeria with Jonathan at the helm,” Johnson pointed out.

Not all political observers though agree with Onuoha and Johnson.

One of such analysts is Professor Sheriffdeen Tella, a Professor of Economics at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State.

According to Tella, Obasanjo’s far-reaching influence to the extent that Jonathan failed to win the March 28 presidential election is not a true reflection of circumstances that led to the electoral failure of the incumbent president.

He said, “I don’t think Obasanjo’s actions had a significant influence on the electorate in Nigeria given that the majority of voters are not elites. Corruption, unemployment, glaring inequality and general incompetence with respect to insecurity are the President’s undoing. Obasanjo’s actions could only have influenced some elites and the international communities.”

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