Grave symptoms of ill-health appear in the relationship between President Goodluck Jonathan and former president Olusegun Obasanjo, raising the possibility of the two men squaring up to each other in 2015
Early last week, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, National Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, moved to dispel the notion that a feud is raging between President Goodluck Jonathan and former president, Olusegun Obasanjo. Oyinlola accused the media of creating smoke where there is no fire.
“There is no friction between the President and Chief Obasanjo. The issue of Odi killings will not cause hostility between the two leaders of our party. I think the media blew the issue out of proportion. President Jonathan and Chief Obasanjo are both working for the betterment of this great nation and for the good of the entire citizenry,” he told journalists in Okuku, Osun State.
The PDP National Secretary’s charge against the media is one that has little chance of sticking, as the men “working for the betterment” of the country are currently not singing from the same hymn book. Oyinlola’s allegation against the media arose from what could hardly be described as an exchange of friendly fire between Obasanjo and Jonathan.
In Warri, at an event hosted by the Christian Association of Nigeria President, Ayo Oritsejafor, on 10 November, Obasanjo expressed a dim view of Jonathan’s handling of the Boko Haram menace. “They (Boko Haram) stated their grievances and I promised to relay them to the authorities in power, because that was the best I could do. I did report. But my fear at that time is still my fear till today. When you have a sore and fail to attend to it quickly, it festers and grows to become something else. Whichever way, you just have to attend to it. Don’t leave it unattended to,” the former president shot a barely hidden dart at Jonathan.
He did not stop there. What followed was a statement inflected with a desire to cast himself as a model Jonathan should copy. “On two occasions, I had to attend to the problem I faced at that time. I sent soldiers to a place and 19 of them were killed. If I had allowed that to continue, I would not have the authority to send security agents, whether police, soldier or any force anywhere again. So, I had to nip it in the bud and that was the end of that particular problem,” Obasanjo said with evangelical conviction. At the same forum, he also sneered at claims that the current administration is tackling corruption, saying only a deranged person will claim that there is no high level corruption in the country.
Eight days later, Jonathan shot back, with the Presidential Media Chat of 18 November offering him a shooting range. “The peak of the activities of the militancy in Niger Delta was when 12 police officers were killed in a cold-blooded murder. That made the federal government to invade Odi. And after that invasion, the governor and I visited Odi…And we saw some dead people, mainly old men and women and also children. None of those militants was killed. None was killed. So, bombarding Odi was to solve the problem but it never solved it. If the attack on Odi had solved the issue of militancy in the Niger Delta, the Yar’Adua government, in which I had the privilege of being the Vice-President, wouldn’t have come up with the amnesty programme. So that should tell you that the attack on Odi never solved the militancy problems,” retorted the President, who was Bayelsa State Deputy Governor at the time.
Obasanjo would counter-attack through Femi Fani-Kayode, Minister of Aviation in his administration. In a statement the former minister claimed was authorised by Obasanjo, Fani-Kayode said: “When President Obasanjo was in power he handled such matters decisively, with vigour and with the utmost urgency. He brought justice to the perpetrators, quickly and promptly, and he did whatever he had to do to protect the lives and property of the Nigerian people. The truth is that the strategy that he adopted to fight terrorism and mass murder worked very well and it was very effective. For President Goodluck Jonathan to suggest otherwise is regrettable.”
Support for Jonathan came from former head of state, General Yakubu Gowon (retd.), who condemned Obasanjo in strong terms. “Obasanjo is highly irresponsible to have made such comments about the present government. Many people have condemned what he did in Odi and Zaki Biam. So, it was irresponsible of him to defend it or accuse the present administration,” said the usually measured former head of state.
More support came from Second Republic Petroleum Resources Minister, Alhaji Shettima Ali Monguno and Alhaji Buruji Kashamu, a PDP chieftain in Ogun State. On Obasanjo’s prescription of the use of force against Boko Haram, Monguno said: “Somebody who wanted to extend his tenure beyond the constitutional term, tried his very best to extend but was rejected, is now advising government to do the wrong thing.”
Kashamu was less measured. In a statement signed by him, he accused Obasanjo of manuring the ground for many of the country’s current challenges. “Perhaps, the point should be made – and poignantly too – that the earlier Obasanjo purges himself of his messianic postures, the better it would be for him and the nation at large. He is quick to recount his exploits while in office. But the truth is: the foundation of some of the challenges that we are grappling with today were laid during his last years in office,” the statement read.
The Odi issue later assumed the colour of a crusade, with Ijaw groups calling on the International Criminal Court to try Obasanjo for genocide. Two weeks ago, a newspaper advertorial sponsored by the Odi community announced the readiness to bring the former president to book. “We are dragging Obasanjo before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity… Our people are seeking two things: conviction of the former president for crimes against humanity and compensation from the federal government for the destruction of Odi. The details are ready with pictures, but we don’t want to pre-empt the International Court,” read the advertorial. Since then, there have been more of such calls.
An Obasanjo source told this medium that the President is behind the push for the former president’s trial. “They have been running adverts and sponsoring stories in newspapers. One story appeared in the Nigerian Tribune and I can tell you that they are being paid for by the Presidency. The adverts and stories also have inputs from the Director-General of the State Security Service,” he alleged.
Before Jonathan’s response to the baiting on the unfortunate Odi incident, Obasanjo had fired another fusillade. On 11 November at a forum organised by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the African Development Bank in Dakar, capital of Senegal, the former president – an exponent of self-promotion – accused the Jonathan government of reversing the gains of his own regime in employment creation. According to him, when he became president, youth unemployment stood at 72 per cent, which he reduced to about 52 per cent. Now, he claimed, it has grown exponentially. “I am afraid. And when a General says he is afraid, that means the danger ahead is real and potent. Despite the imminent threat to Nigeria’s nationhood, there is no serious, realistic short or long term solution to youth unemployment,” he told his audience.
After letting rip in Dakar, Obasanjo returned home to deliver an unflattering assessment of the Jonathan administration’s management of the country’s finances. Speaking at his investiture as the first Grand Patron of the Nigeria-China Business Council in Lagos on 20 November, the former president predictably awarded his administration a pass mark before hurling a grenade at the Jonathan administration. “We left what we call excess crude. Let’s build it for rainy day, up to $35 billion. Within three years, the $35 billion disappeared. Whether the money disappeared or, like the governor said, 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… But my brother said the rain is not falling now. But the fact is that when the rain is falling, we will have nothing to cover our heads with because we have blown it off. The Chinese do not think that way,” he said. There was no doubt that the target of his words was the Jonathan administration, under which both foreign reserve and the Excess Crude Account experienced depletion after last year’s elections.
Sources close to Obasanjo said his relationship with Jonathan started growing cold shortly after the latter won last year’s election. A minister in Obasanjo’s government told TheNEWS that Obasanjo advised the President to draw the duo of General Ibrahim Babangida and Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, his main challenger for the PDP presidential ticket, closer to heal the wounds inflicted by his victory at the fractious presidential primaries. To the advice, the source quoted Jonathan as saying: “I only look forward, not backwards.”
The rejection of the advice, said the source, upset the former president, who had believed that he would be the conductor of the Jonathan presidential orchestra. Worse would follow, when the man who desires to be the star of the show discovered that he would have to share Jonathan’s heart with some other important political figures, especially from the South-South geo-political zone, who quickly formed a ring around the President.
Among these are powerful figures from the President’s Ijaw ethnic group, led by Chief Edwin Kaigbodo Clark. There is also Chief Tony Anenih, former chairman, PDP Board of Trustees, BoT.
Anenih, for long, was viewed as invincible. But in the duel for the chairmanship of the BoT with Obasanjo, he was outmanoeuvred in a dismissive fashion, a development that left him sore. Another member of the anti-Obasanjo tribe is Anyim Pius Anyim, who was appointed Secretary to the Government of the Federation by Jonathan. Anyim’s feud with Obasanjo dates back to his days as Senate president (2000-2003), when the former president, working through Senator Arthur Nzeribe, attempted to impeach him from the Presidency of the Senate. According to the former Senate president, his opposition to Obasanjo’s plot to elongate his presidency poisoned the relationship between them.
With such a ring around the President, Obasanjo’s influence was reduced. The implication was that many of his nominees for appointments, even from the South-West geo-political zone, were overlooked by Jonathan.
Last April, Obasanjo quit his position as BoT Chairman, ostensibly to have “a bit more time to devote to the international demand on me”. But sources close to the former president claim that he was very upset about the influence of the South-South zone on the President. As a result of this influence, Obasanjo’s desire to be consulted on major policy decisions and implementation has gone unfulfilled.
Those in the President’s camp deny that there is a dominance of South-South influence. According to them, the President is more interested in the legacy he would leave behind and consistently says that if things go wrong, he, and not Obasanjo, would get the blame.
Another source of the former president’s irritation with Jonathan, said one of his associates, is PDP’s loss of the South-West to the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, in last year’s elections.
Before the elections, Obasanjo, said the associate, had requested Jonathan to use his presidential muscle to ensure PDP’s victories in the legal tussles over the 2007 governorship election results in Ondo, Osun and Ekiti states. Jonathan, however, turned down the request, telling Obasanjo he had no interest in muscling the judiciary to bend outcomes. The PDP lost the Ondo State to the Labour Party at the tribunal, while Osun and Ekiti went to the ACN, which eventually gained the required momentum to finish off the PDP when the elections came. Ogun, Obasanjo’s home state, which had been ruled by the PDP for eight years, went to the ACN.
Obasanjo, said his associate, believed that Jonathan rejected his request because he did not want to upset leaders of the ACN, who had promised to deliver South-West votes to him in the presidential election.
Jonathan won every state in the South-West but Osun, which was won by the ACN. In the other elections in the zone, the PDP was reduced to the status of an also-ran, a development that cast Obasanjo, whose daughter lost her senatorial seat, as a pariah at home.
Yet another cause of animosity, a source close to Jonathan told this magazine, was the request by the former president that the Haliburton bribery saga be swept under the carpet. The source told TheNEWS that when Obasanjo raised the matter of the Haliburton saga (in which he was thought involved) with the President, the response he got was that the matter should allowed to run its course. The President was also said to have explained that the saga had started running before he became president and would not want to meddle in it.
Signs that the relationship between the two men is injured have grown bolder in recent weeks. On 23 November in Abeokuta, where the former president held a fund-raising event for a N350 million mosque within the Obasanjo Presidential Library, Jonathan was not in attendance. Neither did he send a representative.
In attendance, however, was former vice-president Atiku Abubakar, a serial victim of Obasanjo’s politics, who donated the sum of N5 million. Also at the occasion were Governor of Sokoto State, Alhaji Aliyu Magatarkada Wamakko, the occasion’s chairman; Kano State governor, Dr. Musa Rabiu Kwakwanso and Alhaji Saidu Dakingari, governor of Kebbi State.
Two weeks ago, when the President lost his brother, there was, at least publicly, no condolence message from Obasanjo, who is said to have been avoiding the Presidential Villa in the last few months.
On both sides, there is a suspicion that a head-on collision is a possibility, especially as regards the 2015 presidential race.
Given Obasanjo’s legendary capability to remember perceived slights and avenge such, Jonathan is likely to have a formidable foe when the race for 2015 kicks off. A former Minister of Culture and Tourism in Obasanjo’s government told this magazine that Obasanjo is well placed to avenge the perceived injuries Jonathan has caused him. “Baba (Obasanjo) will sort them out. They think only Niger Deltans matter in Nigeria. He’ll tell them that others matter,” the former minister said. He also disclosed that Obasanjo has decided to support a northern candidate for the presidency as recompense to the zone, which missed out on having two terms when former president Umaru Yar’Adua died.
When reminded that an incumbent is difficult to dislodge, especially through an intra-party contest, the former minister said: “Governors are the ones with real power when it comes to the primaries. Baba has many of them with him. Many of them from the North want power to return to the zone. Some of them harbour presidential dreams. Babangida Aliyu of Niger State is keen. So is Sule Lamido of Jigawa,” he said.
At the fund-raiser for the mosque in Abeokuta, many of the Northern governors were in attendance and made donations. But in the event of failure to nick the PDP ticket from Jonathan, Obasanjo is said to be planning to weld his raft of disaffected PDP members to the alliance being planned by the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP; the ACN and the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC.
Obasanjo’s anti-Jonathan gospel will have no difficulty spreading in the North, which has been fizzing with anger since the President breached the PDP zoning arrangement to contest the presidency last year. In fact, a source close to Jonathan said the former president is already winning converts among northern businessmen who are most affected by the Jonathan administration’s decision to eliminate fertiliser subsidy regime, from which politically-connected fertiliser distributors and importers benefited.
Analysts reckon that the consequences of the feud have already started manifesting among people loyal to Obasanjo. The termination of the concession agreement on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway between the federal government and Dr. Wale Babalakin’s Bi-Courtney Highway Services Limited is thought to be one of such. Babalakin is an Obasanjo ally. And apart from cancelling the multi-billion naira contract, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has shown interest in Babalakin over an alleged laundering of N2 billion for the jailed former governor of Delta State, Mr. James Ibori. Another is thought to be that case of Femi Fani-Kayode. For the fourth time, the judges handling the case of an alleged N240 million corruption charge against the former Aviation Minister have been changed. The new judge for the case, which began in 2008, is Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia.
The former president is also unlikely to be giggling at the sacking of UC Rusal, the company that took over the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria, ALSCON, in Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom State. It was under Obasanjo’s administration in 2006 that UC Rusal’s bid of $250 million for ALSCON was accepted. A legal challenge to Rusal’s claim as the rightful winner of the bid by BFI Group, a Nigerian-American, went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that BFIG won the bid.
Sources close to Jonathan continue to maintain that the cause of the dispute with the former president is his desire to control every aspect of the Presidency. And given Obasanjo’s overbearing personality, it is not unlikely.
Second Republic President, Aliyu Sheu Shagari claimed that Obasanjo attempted to do a similar thing to him. In Beckoned To Serve, his autobiography, Shagari accused Obasanjo of baiting the coupists who toppled his government in 1983, with lacerating criticisms of his administration. “I understand from someone close to him, however, that he had expected me to be constantly consulting him on all matters of government since he had an obsession of being a super-administrator, super-diplomat and of course, a military genius,” Shagari wrote.
The Second Republic president also said his invitations to Obasanjo to come and discuss issues, especially on the national economy, with him were turned down. “For example, he never agreed to grace my usual luncheon at the State House, Marina, with members of the National Council of State (of which he was a member), after each sitting of the Council,” alleged Shagari in his book.
Obasanjo evidently had a low opinion of Shagari. This could be gleaned from his book, Not My Will, in which he wrote that Shagari “was pushed into power by those who wanted to make use of him and was unfortunately too weak and somewhat ill-prepared for the trappings of political power to check the abuse of his power by those who made use of him”. His evaluation of Jonathan is unlikely to be less unflattering.
—BAMIDELE JOHNSON/TheNEWS magazine