As far back as December 2013, when former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote a letter to President Goodluck Jonathan, expressing concern about the direction of the latter’s administration, it was clear the former president was on a familiar mission.
In the 18-page letter dated December 2, the unmistakably angry Mr. Obasanjo expressed irritation at the way the Jonathan administration was handling the affairs of the Nigerian state. He spoke of an alleged threat to the unity of Nigeria and complained about the president’s renege on a promise he made in 2011 to spend only one term of four years in office.
He also lambasted the administration over what he described as the increasing cases of corruption in government and the alleged training of snipers ahead of the 2015 general elections, among others.
Expectedly, multiple criticisms and praises greeted the letter. Some individuals and groups expressed deep anger over the leaked letter and even called for Mr. Obasanjo’s head. The opposition National Conscience Party, NCP, accused the former president of treason, alleging that he was inciting Nigerians against the government. The Presidency also joined the fray in a noticeable bout of anger. In a letter dated December 20, Mr. Jonathan described Mr. Obasanjo’s letter as a threat to national security.” The president denied all allegations levelled against him by the former President.
On the flip side, a few organisations came to Mr. Obasanjo’s rescue. The All Progressives Congress asked the National Assembly to commence investigation into the allegations. The party specifically asked the parliament to initiate impeachment process against Mr. Jonathan. A non-government organisation, SERAP, internationalized the issue when it requested a UN agency to probe the allegations made in the letter.
Mr. Obasanjo was not one to be swayed by such criticisms or praises. In November 2014, at a book launch in honour of the pioneer Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, Mustapha Akanbi, the former president rated Mr. Jonathan’s performance as “below average.” He also said the nation’s economy “is in doldrums, if not reversed.”
The following month, while hosting South-West women in his Abeokuta home, Mr. Obasanjo accused Mr. Jonathan of squandering $2 billion Excess Crude money left by his administration. He also said his administration left $25 billion to his successor, Umaru Yar’Adua who subsequently raised it to $35 billion. He also said he left $40 billion in Nigeria’s foreign reserves account after paying the nation’s outstanding debt at the time and that Mr. Yar’Adua raised it to $60 billion. He, however, regretted that the Jonathan administration depleted the reserves to $40 billion.
From far away Kenya where he had gone to launch his new book, “Under My Watch” Mr. Obasanjo reportedly endorsed the APC presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, against Mr. Jonathan, who is the candidate of his own party, the PDP.
Although he later clarified the Kenya statement, saying he did not endorse the APC candidate, Mr. Obasanjo launched a fresh attack on Mr. Jonathan at a press briefing on Saturday, which ultimately led to his exit from the PDP on whose platform he ruled the nation between 1999 and 2007.
He had alleged that Mr. Jonathan, believed to be his godson, was working towards tenure extension by organizing a controversial election and possibly leave power the same way former Ivorien President, Laurent Gbagbo did.
However, not many have realized that Mr. Obasanjo, who governed the country as a military head of state between February 1976 and October 1979, was merely doing what he had penchant for.
Since he left office in 1979, Mr. Obasanjo has never failed in fiercely criticizing his successors and predecessors, especially on issues of national unity whenever he had the opportunity. He enjoys doing so, arguably.
On a number of occasions, the former president had fired letters, the type he sent to Mr. Jonathan, to the nation’s leaders, warning against destructive trends and events in a country he said he fought hard to unite during the civil war. At other times, he organized lectures and conferences to make his protests known.
A few times, he tore at his immediate successor, Shehu Shagari, the nation’s president between 1979 and 1983. He did so virtually to all the nation’s heads of state or presidents. In fact, the only administrations he never criticized were his.
A common trend that runs across his attacks on his predecessors is that something terrible happened to almost all of the regimes soon after he criticized them.
Muhammadu Buhari/Tunde Idiagbon
Despite styling itself “the offshoot of the Murtala/Obasanjo regime,” the Buhari/Idiagbon administration came under a barrage of attacks from Mr. Obasanjo, who repudiated that honour.
Mr. Buhari served in the Murtala/Obasanjo administration (1976-1979) as a military governor of the old Borno State and later petroleum minister. Although, he played a role in stabilizing the Buhari/Idiagbon administration and even nominated ministers to it, including Onaolapo Soyele (Finance Minister), Mr. Obasanjo was soon to become uncomfortable with some of the regime’s policies. He sought opportunities to meet Mr. Buhari to offer his advice. Perhaps, the administration appeared too deaf to listen to the former head of state, forcing him to go public.
At a lecture he gave to the Agriculture Society in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, in August 1985, Mr. Obasanjo criticised the Buhari administration for allegedly running what he called “tilted federalism.” Interestingly, before the lecture, Mr. Obasanjo had sent an advanced copy of the lecture to Mr. Buhari. That same month, Mr. Buhari regime was sacked in a palace coup led by Ibrahim Babangida, the then Chief of Army Staff.
As Mr. Buhari himself confessed 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.”
A couple of times, Mr. Obasanjo criticized the policies of the Ibrahim Babangida administration which rule the country between 1985 and 1993. The former head of state was particularly sad that the regime refused to give human face to the Structural Adjustment Policy, SAP, and the endless transition programme.
On several occasions he granted press interviews to both local and international media to express his frustrations. In those interviews, he explained that he made efforts to see Mr. Babangida to discuss the issues, but that those efforts were futile. He reportedly wrote letters, but the president never acknowledged any.
When Mr. Obasanjo suspected that the military president was reluctant to leave office, he convened a summit on May 25, 1993, at his Ota farm, which was impressively attended.
Among the retired military generals he assembled to discuss the state of the nation were Mr. 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.
From the political class came Olusola Saraki, Adekunle Ajasin, Datti Ahmed, Margaret Ekpo, Lateef Jakande, Mahmud Waziri, Onyemobi Onuoha, Rufus Mohammed, Olu Akinfosile, Abubakar Rimi, and a few others. Proferssors Adebayo Adedeji, Bolanle Awe and David Iornem represented the academia.
In his opening address, Mr. Obasanjo expressed concern about the increasing demands for secession and threats to national unity, among other issues.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
During the six-hour meeting, the participants at the summit expressed the fear that Mr. Babangida would not hand over power because of his winding and prolong transition. They also expressed worry about the inability of the political class to present a common front against the military president. They called for the decentralisation of resource control within a strong and united Nigeria. The meeting also set up a new body known as Association for Democracy and Good Governance in Nigeria, ADGN, to further promote their agenda against the Babangida regime.
Before the summit, Mr. Obasanjo had informed Mr. Babangida about his plan to host the meeting at the Gateway Hotel, Ota, but curiously the junta made to abort it. Unknown to government, the former head of state secretly provided another venue – his farm.
Four months after the summit, the gap-toothed Babangida hurriedly left power and fled to his home town, Minna. That was after he deceitfully organized a presidential election, which he claimed was inconclusive, but which was clearly won by Moshood Abiola.
The nullification of the election threw the country into turmoil. Mr. Obasanjo was involved in the negotiation that installed his kinsman, Ernest Shonekan as head of the Interim National Government, ING, which Mr. Babangida hurriedly packaged. He allegedly opposed handing over of state power to Mr. Abiola.
The contraption called ING did not last long enough to attract Mr. Obasanjo criticism. It lasted 82 days between August and November, 1993.
Quite early in 1994, Mr. Obasanjo, at a lecture organised by Arewa House in Kaduna, sternly criticised the Abacha administration, which assumed office in November of the previous year, of lacking in credibility and moral fiber. He also accused the administration of habouring dark design to perpetuate itself in power and blamed Mr. Babangida for Mr. Abacha’s ascension to power.
“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.”
It was not clear if Mr. Obasanjo was angered by the upstaging of the ING, which he was involved in floating, or he was truly concerned about the state of the nation. He had launched an international campaign against Mr. Abacha, accusing him of lacking in ethics and transparency.
At home, Mr Obasanjo opened discussions with some leaders and began to build bridges, particularly in the Eastern flank of the country.
Mr. Abacha was uncomfortable with the development and was worried about the former head of state’s offensive. The taciturn general decided to tame Mr. Obasanjo and other critics, including his (Obasanjo) erstwhile deputy, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. Mr. Abacha perceived Mr. Yar’Adua’s political activities were undermining his own self-succession agenda. In 1995, they were implicated in a phantom coup plot and jailed.
While Mr Yar’Adua later died in prison, Mr. Obasanjo did not regain his freedom until the emergence of the Abdulsalami Abubakar regime which replaced Mr. Abacha after the latter’s death in June 1998.
Adulsalami Abubakar Adminsitration
The 11-month administration June 1998-May 1999) freed Mr. Obasanjo from Makurdi Prison where he was serving life sentence. He was soon to be drafted into politics by some northern elements led by, interestingly Mr. Babangida whose administration he had fought. The former head of state won the presidential election.
Mr. Abubakar, who allegedly played a prominent role in Mr. Obasanjo’s emergence as president never experienced the other side of his successor apparently because he was in prison and also because that administration was short-lived.
Umaru Musa Yar’Adua Administration
Shortly before Mr. Yar’Adua became critically ill and eventually died, Mr. Obasanjo was no longer comfortable with him despite playing major role in his (Yar’Adua) emergence as President in 2007. Reason: Mr. Yar’Adua had reversed virtually all the policies of his predecessor and was already investigating some aspects of Mr. Obasanjo’s regime. Mr. Obasanjo’s position as the Chairman, PDP Board of Trustees, which he had awarded himself while leaving power could not help persuade the new president’s from going for his benefactor’s jugular. Indeed it was speculated that Mr. Yar’Adua was contemplating arresting Mr. Obasanjo.
In his book, “The Accidental Public Servant,” a former FCT Minister, Nasir el-Rufai claimed that the former president was living in mortal fear that his successor would pick him up someday. Then Mr. Yar’Adua illness! Mr. Obasanjo worked underground to see the president’s deputy, Goodluck Jonathan succeed the ailing president. He soon saw an opening to go public.
At the 7th Annual Trust Dialogue organised by Media Trust Limited, publishers of Daily Trust, which he chaired, on January 20, 2010, Mr. Obasanjo admonished his successor to follow the “path of honour and morality” and resign if he knew he was no longer fit to carry on as President. It did come to many as a shock, however, having helped to install that administration. Five months after, precisely in May. Mr. Yar’Adua died in office.