Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Olusegun Obasanjo: The Serial Letter Writer and Critic Since 1983

By Israel Ugochukwu Usulor

Yesterday, Olusegun Obasanjo released a “special press statement” in which he criticised the Buhari administration in several fronts, and asked him to dismount the horse.
However, what many do not know is that since 1983, Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has consistently assumed the position of a political moralist who has serially penned scathing letters to those who occupies Nigeria’s topmost chair. Although, himself a former leader who many thinks lacks the moral competence to criticise his predecessors or successors, Obasanjo has never failed to draw his pen whenever he sees the need to speak-up.
In 1983, Obasanjo had  scathing letter for Shehu Shagari whom he had handed over to in 1979. Recall that Chief Obasanjo was Military Head of State between 1976 and 1979 when he earned international applause for voluntarily handing over to civilians.
Olusegun Obasanjo did the same thing to the military administration of Muhammadu Buhari in 1985. In August of that year, Chief Obasanjo lashed out on the Buhari government for running a “tilted federalism”. This criticism was contained in a lecture he gave to the Agriculture Society in Ibadan, Oyo State. He had however sent an advance copy of the same lecture to Buhari. That was particulary interesting. Buhari himself acknowledged thus some years later:
“He (Obasanjo) sent an advance copy of the address to me. Indeed, he criticised my administration but I could recall that he visited me several times. In my own case, there was never an attempt to stop him from coming to see me. I expected him really to be coming to discuss with me.
“Before he wrote the address, I sat with him to discuss the issue and I explained to him what he perceived as my administration being rather partisan in a way. I asked him for such incidents and I was given the example of NEPA, where senior officers were retired….
“So, I pointed out that really, there was no question of one section of the country being punished at that time. There was no incident to prove this but as you know General Obasanjo like everybody else had to be susceptible to the pressures of his locality.
“I tried to explain but the General still went ahead to read the address. Of course, by coincidence, I was removed the same month”, Buhari recalled.
During the Ibrahim Babangida administration, Obasanjo also criticised the administration’s policies including the Structural Adjustment Programme which he said the government had failed to give a human face. He was said to have written several letters the President on issues he felt should be addressed, but the letters were unatteded to.
His anger and criticisms reached a crescendo in 1993 when he convened a submit on May 25, 1993. Formerly scheduled to hold at the Gateway Hotel, Ota, the submit letter held at Obasanjo’s Ota farm because the Babangida junta had made efforts to scuttle it at the initial venue. As expected, the meeting was well attended by past military and political leaders including Muhammadu Buhari; his former deputy, Tunde Idiagbon; former Army Chief of Staff, Theophilus Danjuma; former Chief of General Staff, Ebitu Ukiwe; former External Affairs Commissioner, Joe Garba, and another former Chief of Army Staff, Alani Akinrinade.
Others in attendance were Olusola Saraki, Adekunle Ajasin, Datti Ahmed, Margaret Ekpo, Lateef Jakande, Mahmud Waziri, Onyemobi Onuoha, Rufus Mohammed, Olu Akinfosile, Abubakar Rimi, Proferssors Adebayo Adedeji, Bolanle Awe and David Iornem.
In a strong opening address, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo expressed concern on issues he said threatened Nigeria’s unity one of which he said was “theory of break up”
He had said: “You can probably understand any personal anguish as a man who had fought for the unity of Nigeria with men who lost their limbs and lives when I hear people propound the theory of break up,”
“Brothers and sisters, we will not be twice lucky. The world has changed somewhat since 1960s. There are so many forces and interests out there that will successfully militate against Nigeria surviving a second secessionist attempt.”
The submit lasted for 6-hours during which those in attendance expressed concern on Bababangida’s style of leadership and were worried that the gap-toothed general was never going to hand over at the scheduled date. They collectively set up a body called Association for Democracy and Good Governance in Nigeria, ADGN to tackle IBB. Four months after that submit, Babangida “stepped aside” after the controversial June 12 election won by MKO Abiola.
The Earnest Shonekan Interim National Government lasted only 82 days, a time considered too short to attract Obasanjo’s criticism or letter. But Obasanjo had harsh words for the subsequent regime headed by General Sani Abacha. Of that inglorious era, he said “General Babangida is the main architect of the state in which the nation finds itself today and General Sani was his eminent disciple, faithful supporter and beneficiary.” He paid dearly for this as he was subsequently arrested and confined in prison on coup allegations.
The Abdulsalami Abubakar regime freed Obansanjo from prison and he was subsequently enthroned as Nigeria’s President in 1999.
Obasanjo returned to his critical self during the Umar Musa Yar’Adua administration which he helped to enthrone in 2007. He was said to have been uncomfortable with Yar’Adua’s reversal of his policies. At the heat Yar’Adua’s health saga, Obasanjo, at the 7th Annual Trust Dialogue organised by Media Trust Limited, publishers of Daily Trust in 2010, advised Yar’Adua to toe the “path of honour and morality” and resign if he was not fit to rule the nation.
In 2013, Obasanjo penned a powerful 18-page letter to then President Goodluck Jonathan in which he had very harsh words for the administration. In that letter titled “Before It Is Too Late” Obasanjo advised Jonathan to “learn the lesson of history and please do not take Nigerians or Nigeria for granted. Move away from culture of denials, cover-ups, and proxies and deal honestly, sincerely and transparently with Nigerians to regain their trust and confidence.”

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