The Obasanjo-Jonathan Tango, By Dele Agekameh
It all started like a joke, a joke that soon took on the pattern of a witch-hunt. Now, the push has come to shove, the bubble has finally burst. In the beginning, it was as if the whole country had been zoned to both President Goodluck Jonathan and his kingmaker, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the man who likes to dominate his environment and every other thing therein either living or dead.
At one time or the other, I have been privileged to observe, at close quarters, these two important Nigerians who are now locked in a fratricidal war which is capable of ruffling political feathers in the country. My knowledge of Obasanjo dates back to the mid-1970s, precisely shortly after the coup through which the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon was ousted on June 29, 1975. It was at the end of my fourth year in the secondary school – St. John’s Grammar School, Ile-Ife. That coup thrust the late General Murtala Muhammed to the pinnacle of leadership as he succeeded Gowon as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That also brought Obasanjo as his second-in-command.
From then on, Obasanjo became a regular visitor to the palace of the late Ooni of Ife, Sir Adesoji Aderemi, one of the most respected and highly revered traditional rulers of his time. Having being born and brought up in the palace, I had the privilege of being around most times Obasanjo paid his numerous visits which were mostly done incognito. He usually came in just one car, a Peugeot 504 saloon car marked SHQ 2 accompanied only by the driver and one other person at the front seat of the car, all wearing mufti. The reason for those visits was first, to seek the support of the Ooni in the policy implementation of the new government such as the land use decree and others which the government initiated and also, to seek advice and tap from the great monarch’s fountain of wisdom. In all the visits, Obasanjo cut the image of a humble, quiet and easy-going person. Even when he later became Head of State, he still maintained his close contact with the monarch. Such was the respect Obasanjo had for elders and traditional institutions. I was also around him during the 2011 elections.
As for President Goodluck Jonathan, I had the privilege to observe him closely when he was the deputy governor in Bayelsa State. My good friend and brother, Prof. Steve Azaiki, was a two-time Secretary to the State Government of Bayelsa during that period. Each time I visited Azaiki at that time, we would both end up either in the governor’s office or in his lodge. And each time the deputy, Jonathan, appeared on the scene, either in the governor’s office with files to treat or in the governor’s lodge for some official functions, Jonathan was always humble, quiet and very reserved. Sometimes, when he opened the door to the governor’s office and saw people waiting, he will quietly shut the door and go back to his office. In some instances, Azaiki will run after him, shouting “HE…HE…HE..” (His Excellency). As soon as he caught up with him, he would either persuade him to come in and see his boss or take over the files from him and take them straight to the governor for his signature. Azaiki was like a go-between for both Jonathan and his boss at that time. Jonathan was humble, honest and shy, while the governor was a no-nonsense man. This, notwithstanding, they both had an excellent working relationship.
In the current Jonathan-Obasanjo tango, I am quite sure that one of them must have pushed the other to the wall which has necessitated the other one to turn back and say, ‘Not anymore’
What am I trying to say here? Remember the Yoruba proverb: “When a goat is pursued to the wall, it will turn back and face its pursuers.” In the current Jonathan-Obasanjo tango, I am quite sure that one of them must have pushed the other to the wall which has necessitated the other one to turn back and say, ‘Not anymore.’ We are all aware of the political permutations that threw up the ticket of both the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and Jonathan. While in the case of Yar’Adua, Obasanjo must have seen an honest and God-fearing person, in Jonathan he must have counted much on the man’s humble disposition, sense of contentment and his decent composure, even in the face of provocation. As vice president Jonathan suffered all forms of humiliation but like the humble man he is, he waded through that period without causing any form of commotion. He was truly an obedient servant.
For everything good or bad, there is always a reward. I believe God must have rewarded Jonathan with the presidency of Nigeria. Why? I am not sure that if Yar’Adua had fully completed his two terms, it would have been possible for Jonathan to succeed him. Even when Yar’Adua was critically ill, it took the invocation of the doctrine of necessity by the National Assembly to enable Jonathan become Acting President and later, President following the eventual demise of Yar’Adua. We should take cognizance of the fact that, in the choice of Jonathan as Vice President, Obasanjo may have been thinking of a way to placate the restless militants who had then held the country by the jugular through their activities in the Niger Delta area of the country, an area that is responsible for more than 90 percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings through the oil in its underbelly. Obasanjo could also have seen Jonathan as a humble fellow who would not rock the boat. In that case, Obasanjo must have possibly nurtured a hidden agenda which he expected to unfold as time went on.
I believe things started falling apart between Jonathan and Obasanjo well before the 2011 election that produced Jonathan as President. Before that election in which the candidate of the ruling party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, in Ogun State lost out, there was no love lost between Obasanjo and the leadership of the PDP. The fallout between Obasanjo and the then governor of Ogun State, Gbenga Daniel, was fuelled by the leadership of the PDP and key actors at the presidency at that time, notably Mike Oghiadomhe, the then Chief of Staff to the president and others. Backed by the other conspirators, Oghiadomhe, who was the go-between between Jonathan and Daniel, played a significant role in that messy arrangement all for reasons better known to him.
Nevertheless, Jonathan still found a way to accommodate Obasanjo in his new government in 2011 when he appointed late Prof. Olugbenga Ashiru and Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, Obasanjo’s two nominees, as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Agriculture respectively. Though the two men were eminently qualified, they were single handedly picked by Obasanjo without any input by any party member from Ogun State. Remember, Obasanjo’s appetite for globe-trotting and his entrepreneurship interest in Agriculture. These were the two reasons he brought the two men on board. While Jonathan had to drop the late Ashiru from his cabinet when he finally fell out with Obasanjo, Adesina held on because he had succeeded in dazzling the President with all his razzmatazz as Agriculture Minister.
With Obasanjo’s penchant for dominating his environment and people around him, he may have over reached himself and forgotten that Jonathan is no longer the boy who could be tossed around. He is the President of the country. The fact is that Obasanjo will always want to have his way even if it means walking or stepping on other people’s heads. He cares no hoot. Besides, the current face-off between the two leaders shows the composure and comportment of those who are privileged to rule us. There are so many nauseating things that happen in the corridors of power especially in Africa and particularly in Nigeria, so nauseating that people will be wondering that such things could ever happen in high places. That is the way we are. Like late Ronald Reagan, former American President, once said: “I have learned that one of the most important rules of politics is poise, which means looking like an owl after you’ve behaved like a jackass.” Now, who blinks first?