2019 and Our Letter-Writing Generals, By Shola Oshunkeye
President Buhari needs to process the messages by the two Generals very well and hold fast to those components that could help his rebound. It doesn’t matter if he desperately despises the messengers. He needs to regain the confidence of Nigerians. His party, the APC, needs to be sensitive to the cries of Nigerians and engender policies that would make life better…
Two weeks. Two letters. Three geriatric Generals.
If we were to turn the events of the past two weeks or so into a book, those seven words would be apt as its title. It is the story of two letter-writing Generals and another General who, shall we say, is being pressured to play against the run of play.
Although the events have elicited diverse reactions, if we do not misread the situation, they should trigger at least three things: Set the tone for the race to 2019; mark the turning point in the life of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, for better or for worse, depending on how the regime processes the letters; and third, lead Nigeria to hell or paradise. It all depends on where the pendulum swings.
Within two weeks, General Olusegun Obasanjo, who helped enthrone candidate Buhari as president in 2015, and General Ibrahim Babangida, an age-long adversary of the incumbent president, fired two missiles. They were dead on target; both advising the president not to run in 2019 but return to Daura to enjoy his well-deserved final retirement. Obasanjo, under who Buhari served as petroleum minister during his (OBJ’s) first coming as military head of state (1976-1979), fired the first salvo. In it, he decried the president’s handling of the economy, slow response to national emergencies and nepotism, among others.
Last Sunday, Babangida, Buhari’s chief of Army Staff (December 31, 1983 to August 27, 1985), went the same way as Obasanjo. In his widely publicised statement, he built a case against his erstwhile boss and called for a paradigm shift come 2019. The self-styled former military president didn’t stop there. He advised Nigerians to “cooperate with President Muhammadu Buhari to complete his term of office on May 29th, 2019 and collectively prepare the way for new generation leaders to assume the mantle of leadership of the country.”
Both letters elicited diverse reactions, nationwide. While some were acerbic, others were sarcastic, a lot more were forthright. But while Obasanjo’s letter was unambiguous and straight to the point, Babangida’s statement and developments that followed it were true to character. Dramatic. Inconsistent. The document, released by Kassim Afegbua, IBB’s media aide, hit the nation like a bolt from the blue. But the real drama began to unfold a few hours after its release when a rebuttal purportedly signed by the General himself surfaced and set the media on fire. Before sunset the same day, Babangida had told ThisDay, on phone, that he stood by the original statement but regretted that Nigerians had wrongly processed his message.
So, who bears the brunt? Afegbua. The Police promptly declared him wanted for spreading false information and for an act capable of inciting the people. But on Tuesday, Afegbua was all smiles as he emerged from the Force Headquarters, Abuja, with his lawyer, and told journalists that he had a “friendly meeting” with the police. With a grin, he also told the reporters that the police actually apologised to him for embarrassing him, and impugning his character.
On Thursday, Afegbua kept a date with the Department of State Services (DSS). After keeping him for about seven hours, they asked him to return the following day. He did and was grilled for two hours. Shortly after the DSS interrogation, Afegbua alerted the world that his life was in danger. He said he had been receiving all kinds of threats on his phone from unidentified callers. I doubt if this would mark the end of the drama.
Curiously, while all these played out, not a word came out of Hilltop Mansion in Minna. A case of the grass getting crushed when two elephants fight? Maybe.
Despite their idiosyncrasies and records, it would be suicidal for the administration to dismiss the issues raised by the two former Generals/ex-presidents as idle generalisations. Like Buhari, they have been there before. They can feel the people’s pulse. They know how public opinion and perception can affect situations like the type Nigerians are currently groaning under.
It is easy to play politics and parry the issues raised by Obasanjo and Babangida. It is quite convenient to describe them as self-serving. The temptation to do so is strong based on the antecedents of the two. While Obasanjo, who is widely perceived as egoistic, has a terrible disdain for anyone that attempts to outshine him, many Nigerians regard Babangida as a traitor.
His sins? He served as Buhari’s chief of staff (during the former’s first coming as military head of state) and toppled him after only 20 months at the helm. In fact, some analysts have posited that Babangida’s bombshell read like some verses from his 1985 coup speech. With echoes of August 27, 1985 still ringing loud as ever, there is no love lost between Buhari and Babangida. Add that to what IBB did to his bosom friends, General Mamman Vasta and M.K.O. Abiola, and you would understand why there may be no end to the animosity between him and Buhari.
Despite their idiosyncrasies and records, it would be suicidal for the administration to dismiss the issues raised by the two former Generals/ex-presidents as idle generalisations. Like Buhari, they have been there before. They can feel the people’s pulse. They know how public opinion and perception can affect situations like the type Nigerians are currently groaning under. They also know how to manipulate people and events to serve predetermined goals. They have come a long way. What is more, when Obasanjo talks, the world listens. You can only ignore people like them at your own peril.
In any case, the administration can do with some home truths. The truth is, despite the government’s best efforts, opposition to the president gathers momentum by the hour. Public umbrage against the administration is unrelenting. Much as the briefs by Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun inspire hope, at least on paper, Nigerians who fight the battle of their lives to get two meals a day think that the lady’s statistics must have tumbled from Mars. To them, the economy remains in the woods as long as their tummies remain flattened to their backs.
Similarly, Babatunde Fashola’s constant claim of Nigeria generating an ‘unprecedented’ 7,000 megawatts of power may sound like good music to friends of the administration. But when you weigh that output against the rising number of unconnected homes and communities, as well as the burgeoning fuel budgets of families in running their private power plants (generators), the minister’s claims fall flat like a house of cards. They become nothing but a classical metaphor for darkness. Also, his claim that the DisCos are unable to distribute 2000 Megawatts not only reinforces that metaphor, it is also a monumental insult on Nigerians who suffer insomnia arising from the searing heat which denies them of sound sleep at night.
Although the government has done a lot in improving national security and its war against corruption is running well, its seeming aloofness to the murderous gangs that masquerade as herdsmen, butchering people all over the country, remains a big dent on its record. I will sound like a broken record if I continue with the checklist of the administration’s deficiencies. Like the letter-writing geriatric Generals, I’ll be saying nothing new.
Despite the surging public resentment against the Buhari administration, regardless of the General’s letters and the gradual momentum being gained by the opposition, I’m yet to see any force, third or fourth, that can easily dust the president, should he chose to throw his cap into the ring.
…if he feels tired, if his body and mind tell him to rest, he should follow his heart. He must plug his ears against the falsity of deceitful aides, the selfish cacophony of dishonest politicians and the devilish deception of false prophets and marabouts, and retire. And help groom a new generation of leaders that would steer our ship of state to the Promised Land.
Take as an example the coalition Obasanjo talked about in his missile. I had thought the movement would take off on a solid launch pad, blasting off with all cylinders firing. That didn’t happen when the former president led his motley crowd to Iwe Irohin Press Centre in Abeokuta to register the other day. The crowd was scanty. Their song was flat. There was little enthusiasm. The birth of the coalition was so jumbled I wondered whether Obasanjo had not delivered a Third Farce in place of a Third Force. What I saw was a force without wings to fly.
What is more, the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is still in disarray. The party appears yet to be droning in the dreamland it has been marooned since losing the 2015 general elections. There is no concrete evidence to indicate that it has recovered sufficiently enough to regain power.
All these are grossly inadequate to make the All Progressives Congress (APC) clash the cymbals or go to bed thinking that 2019 would be a walk-over; a no contest. It can only do so at its peril. Whether OBJ’s Third Force refuses to fly or dies on arrival, it should offer little comfort to the administration because the people are hurting. And you don’t monkey with a phenomenon like the Ebora Owu, as Obasanjo likes to be massaged, when your approval rating is very low.
Even if his motives were questionable, even if they were all about Obasanjo, even if he is a terrible narcissist that is capable of extreme selfishness and has a grandiose view of his own talents, and is always craving for admiration, the man, through that Epistle to Buhari, has struck a strong chord with common Nigerians. He has beamed a powerful light on what Nigerians live with and talk about sorrowfully every day, everywhere.
President Buhari needs to process the messages by the two Generals very well and hold fast to those components that could help his rebound. It doesn’t matter if he desperately despises the messengers. He needs to regain the confidence of Nigerians. His party, the APC, needs to be sensitive to the cries of Nigerians and engender policies that would make life better and more dignifying for them. The president and his party need to renew hope for Nigerians.
Happily, the president’s tour of Nasarawa State has revealed that he has not only woken up to the herdsmen’s irritation, he also has solid political following that can help him ride any storm. He needs to build on that. However, if he feels tired, if his body and mind tell him to rest, he should follow his heart. He must plug his ears against the falsity of deceitful aides, the selfish cacophony of dishonest politicians and the devilish deception of false prophets and marabouts, and retire. And help groom a new generation of leaders that would steer our ship of state to the Promised Land.
God bless Nigeria.
Shola Oshunkeye is the CEO of Omnimedia Nigeria Limited, and executive director of the non-profit, Sustainable Development and Transparency Foundation.