Open Letter to Olusegun Obasanjo,
A Dance of Four Presidents: Obasanjo As Strongman Drummer
May I start this communication also by wishing you well in 2018 – good health, sound memory, better conscience and a repentant heart.
After reading Your Excellency’s recent letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, and ruminated on the content, your national engagements since commencement of the 4th Republic, particularly from 2006 to date; the reactions of Nigerians to your letter and your most recent response to the reactions, I am constrained to write you, sir, through this medium, to draw your kind attention to some salient issues Nigerians are raising at this point that you may not have grasped, hence the reactions. I write out of a heart deeply laden with four burdens that require you to thoroughly discharge before many Nigerians can take your intervention on national leadership seriously again.
These burdens are: The Burden of Conscience, the Burden of History, the Burden of Foundations, and the Burden of Trust. The Burden of Conscience because there are serious issues my generation and, perhaps the generations following, would need explanation from you; the Burden of History because it does appear that history is set to repeat itself in the way you and a few in your special class have consistently manipulated the affairs of our nation; the Burden of Foundations bordering on the implication of your actions and inactions at critical moments which impacted negatively on Nigeria’s weak foundations, hence, “If the foundations be destroyed what can the righteous do;” and the Burden of Trust because the way you have often goaded, and, sometimes, intimidated the citizens of Nigeria onto more wrong paths demand that you give justification for why we should continue to trust you. I will digress a bit at this point to give some needful backgrounds with the hope to return later, sir.
I acknowledge your status and respect your authority as twice a former leader of Nigeria, both as Military Head of State and civilian President at very challenging junctures of our nationhood. I also respect your position as an elder and a man of influence in Nigeria whom God has blessed tremendously in knowledge and wisdom. Sir, my elders cautioned us when we were growing up that it is not always appropriate for a ‘child’ to address an elder in the public space, but that if it must be done on the basis of raising issues of common good, the child will need to cover his or her face with a basket or any other appropriate covering as a sign of respect before speaking to the elder. It is against this background that I take the liberty of placing a fitting basket over my face respectfully as a son to speak to a father figure when things are fast going awry.
Your Excellency, I wish to briefly introduce myself. I have had the opportunity of serving my country, diligently, in public and private capacities, under different administrations in the last 27 years. I will soon turn 51, which means I started working for Nigeria fairly early at 24. I have had the privilege of serving at vantage levels under different administrations, climbing through the rungs of leadership and governance in the country. I understand to a good extent the character of our nation and her peoples. Also, I have a fair measure of international exposure through the different assignments I have undertaken across different continents in those 27 years. This exposure enables me to understand when and how foreign interests waddle into and through internal affairs of nation states. By the grace of God, who has helped me, I have also seen a bit of why leaders succeed and others fail in Nigeria and elsewhere, as well as why some leaders fail where others succeeded and vice versa.
I love Nigeria and will not give it up for another no matter the attraction. I believe Nigeria is great and there is no nation like her on earth! At present, I head two national organisations – Initiative for Dialogue and Development (IDD) and Issachar Centre for Research and Development (ICRD). Along with very well meaning Nigerians, we are using these platforms to seek to identify the challenges that face our nation and not only recommend appropriate solutions but, where applicable, take measured and strategic steps to address such matters. This we do to contribute to the process of reinventing our nationhood – a task, I believe must be performed by Nigerians – for which we are well endowed, if greedy and mischievous elite would allow. This introduction is nothing more than to assure of our collective effort for genuine progress in Nigeria. There are numerous others like me across the North and South of Nigeria.
After all I have seen so far, I arrived at the conclusion that leadership and governance anywhere, especially in our continent and particularly in Nigeria, are driven by conspiracy, with interest as its live wire. The only difference is that whereas in other climes, like the West, the extent of manipulative conspiracy is highly checked by well established systems and institutions. Sometimes, though in the minority, these systems and institutions can be abused but in the main they are always there to maintain an appreciable balancing between the greed of the elite and the needs of the citizens. In our territory, however, the majority of the elite parades in an exclusive market square to promote their parochial and primordial interests on the strand of ‘me, I and myself’ syndrome while the hapless citizens are left in utter confusion and ignorance. The people scavenge and wallow in abject poverty, without hope or justice, tortured with the wicked denial of a fair distribution of their God-given abundance, by those who ought to protect them. To these innocent ones, the right to decent living or even struggle for survival has become a privilege while an expression of asking for their rights is considered anathematic.
Before writing this letter, I sought a simple perception audit of you by some Nigerians. While many acknowledged that you love Nigeria, fought to keep Nigeria one and have been used of God, alongside others, to intervene at very critical moments to pull Nigeria from the brink. Sadly, sir, most believe that you have, in the course of your many interventions, actually ended up becoming more of a bigger burden, tougher problem, harder nut, and a clog in the progress of the nation you assert to love. They believe sir, that your adventures or misadventures, particularly in the last 12 years have been less than progressive, objective and not in the best interest of Nigeria. I will illustrate with four misfortunes you have walked us into in these 12 years.
The Yar’Adua Presidency
Sir, you will recall how you ‘forced’ your way, produced and foisted on Nigeria and her citizens a then unhealthy Governor Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to succeed you as President and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as his Vice in 2007. As a strongman and sitting President at the time you were in a position, more than any other Nigerian, to know the state of health or frailty of President Yar’Adua to realise that it was a no-no option to install him as your successor. There were many other better choices at the time, but you chose to act your way because it was in your best interest and, of course, those you represented. The nation followed your leading and voted Yar’Adua to be president, and he became. It was entirely your decision sir and you deserve to keep the ‘credit.’ Nigerians already know a lot of that saga with its concomitant misfortune. Unfortunately, many allude that but for the pressure he was exposed to during campaigns and in office as President, Alhaji Yar’Adua may have still been alive living peacefully in his retirement as a former governor of Katsina State. Not a few presume that the Yar’Adua debacle was a punishment to the nation for denying you a third term presidency, an experience that, if allowed, may have continued today into a life presidency as other strongmen leaders of Africa.
Enter President Goodluck Jonathan
Following the demise of President Yar’Adua the constitution provides that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, his Vice, be sworn in as President of Nigeria, and he became. You were very happy and it was not hidden. Things went according to your plan and you were still in charge. By 2011, another round of presidential election was due and you boldly encouraged President Jonathan to contest as an incumbent. The nation followed your lead, voted for Jonathan to be returned as elected President, and he became. By 2013, you were already having issues with President Jonathan, culminating in your December 2, 2013 letter to him. You proceeded to tear your PDP membership card signifying a clear departure and change of your dance steps, thereby setting the stage for the nation to follow another path.
President Buhari in the Saddle
Nigerians again trusted your judgment, followed your lead, and voted General Muhammadu Buhari as their President, and he became. As you admitted in your January 2018 letter, you knew the areas President Buhari is weak but thought that he would make use of good Nigerians to help in such areas – economy and foreign affairs. Today President Buhari is our President, facilitated by you and other members of your orchestra, and you sir, on behalf of your Group, have openly admitted in your letter, “I believe the situation we are in today is akin to what and where we were in at the beginning of this democratic dispensation in 1999. The nation was tottering. People became hopeless and saw no bright future in the horizon. It was all dark clouds politically, economically and socially.” Wow! After 19 years?
I will now return to the four burdens you need to discharge. In all conscience sir, do you really believe deep down in your inner man that you have done all you did especially in the last 20 years only in the best interest of Nigeria? Or was it a conjugation of two interests peaking at the same point, that is, a skillful manipulation of Nigeria’s situation to deploy solutions that promote your interest? The recent history of Nigeria is virtually dominated by you. You were president from 1999 to 2003, you ‘danced’ for Presidents Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Buhari and they followed your dance steps and became Nigeria’s presidents. And none should ever reject your advice, else they would run into bad weather. My opinion is that it is unfair for you to have been president from 1999 and influenced or dictated or facilitated your choice of who became presidents after you since then; and after 19 years after, you present us with a verdict that “. . . the situation we are in today is akin to what and where we were in at the beginning of this democratic dispensation in 1999”. Wouldn’t you really think that you have actually become the problem? If the three paths you have led us through were unsuccessful, why should we rely on you again for direction?
For your information sir, history has been restored to basic and secondary schools curricular in Nigeria. This implies that our children will read these things and make up their minds who was for Nigeria and who was against her. They will look at every aspect of this history against the backdrop of who helped, positively, to make a better nation for them. There is need to look at this burden and correct it before it is too late.
The foundation of any house determines the weight of the structure it would carry. This implies that in many instances that designing and laying the right foundation is more important than the ‘edifice’ we intend to build. From the way things have gone in Nigeria from 1999 to date, it does appear that those we looked up to as leaders from 1999 to date misunderstood and misinterpreted our needs and have, therefore, laid a wrong foundation that can never be sustainable. This explains why things have continued to fall apart with the centre not holding and may, sadly, never hold unless the fundamental issues of our nationhood are addressed.
Trust is a scarce commodity with serious attribute of social capital in any society. Like a bank account, when integrity account is in red urgent intervention is needed. The way things have gone, the way you have provided leadership, influenced political outcomes and given direction in Nigeria, in and out of leadership in the last 19 years, and the fact that we have not made the expected progress under four presidents, call to question why we should ever look up to you and accept your judgments again. Sir, with the record before us, it is very difficult for us to trust any direction you point us to. It will therefore be difficult to follow your lead of building a coalition for the nation. A coalition is, indeed, very necessary and may work to save the nation. The joy I have is that it has been in the minds of many Nigerians who have been working very hard at the grassroots to reinvent our nationhood. It, therefore, did not start because you called for it, else it may fail since we do not trust if, indeed, your own tranche of coalition is tendentiously headed toward another misfortune. The citizens are tired and weary of actions they are not sure of what the termination point would be.
As quoted in your letter, “Einstein made it clear to us that doing the same thing and expecting a different result is the height of folly.” Nigerians, especially my generation and those below, feel that we have done the same thing too many times and, of course, failed woefully, therefore we are no longer careful to answer you on this matter, sir. We will not follow the version of coalition as you have prescribed because we cannot trust where it is coming from, the motive and where it is headed.
To avoid being misunderstood, the issue here is not about whether you are right or wrong about the contents of your letter. Those issues are already marketplace knowledge. Happily, steps are being taken at various levels to set a new foundation for our country on the right path to progress. The major challenge, for emphasis, is that with your trajectory under immediate scrutiny, we do not know the real source of your recent intervention, nor the intent and where again you will be leading us. Is it another Yar’Adua, Jonathan, or Buhari which you would start and realise midway that it has not worked and, therefore, must be changed? We cannot continue on this road forever. It is for this burden that we cannot trust the source of your coalition. Who again is it being packaged for?
In conclusion sir, you have done your best for the nation. You helped Nigeria exit her debt burden at a time it was most critical and desirable. It is time to now set Nigeria and Nigerians free. Concentrate on your international commitments as an African father figure and a global citizen that you strongly merit. But if you must engage further in our domestic politics, then ask God for mercy and seek Him genuinely and truthfully to show you what is His heartbeat for Nigeria; follow His prescription for the rebirth of Nigeria in your time. Being a merciful and forgiving God, it is a privilege He reserves for those who genuinely seek to do His will. He may not deny you such favour and grace.
Finally sir, in God’s affairs, repentance and judgment are options.
May God continue to bless Nigeria.
Respectfully submitted, sir.
Ike Neliaku, Ph.D, FNIPR, FAPRA