How Jonathan & Obasanjo Fell Apart… Possible Implications For Jonathan

In Abeokuta last Friday, governors, leaders of the National Assembly and political heavy weights gathered to lay the foundation stone of a mosque at the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL) complex. Even former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who has had a bitter political battle with former President Obasanjo, attended the event and donated N5 million towards the project.

Conspicuously absent was President Goodluck Jonathan. He was not there in person. He was not represented by any minister or presidential aide.
President Jonathan’s absence at an event that touches the heart of his benefactor is one of the manifestations of the divide between the two leaders. Obasanjo it was who influenced Jonathan’s political rise as Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, through Governor, Vice President, Acting President, substantive President and Jonathan’s election as president in the 2011 elections. Though unspoken, the feud is now in the open, like a festering wound.
Obasanjo, on his part, has kept away from the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in the last few months. He didn’t attend the last Council of State meeting in July. His voice was not heard sympathising or commiserating with the first family over the illness of Dame Patience Jonathan and the death of Jonathan’s younger brother, the late Meni, respectively. Instead, the volley of attacks and counter-attacks directly and by proxy has replaced the filial relationship between them. Obasanjo even dumped his position as chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) board of trustees – a position he fought very hard to keep. Ever since that decision, things continued to fall apart between the two.

Jonathan and Obasanjo

How Jonathan and Obasanjo fell apart
The crack between Jonathan and Obasanjo began to emerge shortly after the 2011 presidential election. A close associate of Obasanjo revealed to Sunday Trust that after the bitter battle before, during and after the polls, Obasanjo asked Jonathan to mend the divide between the North and South by visiting those who contested against him in the presidential primaries and the election. But Jonathan refused to do so. Secondly, it was alleged that Obasanjo warned Jonathan against reducing the presidency to an Ijaw affair, when it was apparent that the president had surrounded himself with his kinsmen, some of them ex-militants. Again, Jonathan ignored him.

Then, when Jonathan wanted to constitute his cabinet, it was gathered, Obasanjo recommended some names from the South-West, considering the fact that the region which voted for Jonathan overwhelmingly had no governor. Sunday Trust gathered that Obasanjo was shocked when Jonathan threw away his list, and the South-West did not make it to any of the top 10 cabinet positions. Combined with the suspicion that Jonathan may have deliberately traded the South-West governorship positions with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) to enable him win the presidential election, Obasanjo felt used and dumped. To worsen the situation, it was alleged that the president stopped picking Obasanjo’s calls.

Obasanjo turns critic of Jonathan administration

Indications that Obasanjo accepted his maltreatment and was looking in a different direction, perhaps, to take his pound of flesh, manifested in reports alleging that he was looking North-ward for Jonathan’s replacement, come 2015. Though he denied ever endorsing Jigawa State Governor Sule Lamido and Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi as his choices for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP’s) presidential flag bearers in 2015, Obasanjo’s body language told the world that he had shifted his support from Jonathan.

 At local and international fora, he took a swipe on the Jonathan administration for wasting the country’s foreign reserve, put at about $35 billion in 2007. Obasanjo had said, “We left what we call excess crude, let’s build it for rainy day, up to $35 billion; within three years, the $35 billion disappeared. Whether the money disappeared or, like the governor said, it was shared, the fact remains that $35 billion disappeared from the foreign reserve I left behind in office. When we left that money, we thought we were leaving it for the rainy day… But my brother said the rain is not falling now. But the fact is that when the rain is falling, we will have nothing to cover our heads with because we have blown it off. The Chinese do not think that way.” The statement was an allusion to the Jonathan administration, as both foreign reserve and excess crude account sank shortly after the 2011 elections.Obasanjo’s statements became more and more critical of the Jonathan administration. On November 11, he spoke in Dakar, Senegal about the alarming rate of unemployment in the country, and concluded that the country was sitting on a time-bomb. He told the gathering at an entrepreneurship programme under the auspices of that Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the African Development Bank that when he became president, youth unemployment was put at 72 per cent, but that he reduced it to about 52 per cent. Now, it has ballooned to unmanageable proportion. Obasanjo underscored his fears with this remark: “I am afraid. And when a General says he is afraid, that means the danger ahead is real and potent. Despite the imminent threat to Nigeria’s nationhood there is no serious, realistic short or long term solution to youth unemployment.”

Though Obasanjo argued that his remarks were not meant to instigate Nigerians against government, few days after the Dakar event, he was in Warri, Delta State to frontally attack Jonathan over his ‘weak’ approach to insecurity. At the 40th anniversary of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor’s call to ministry at the Word of Life Bible Church, Obasanjo said, “They (Boko Haram) stated their grievances and I promised to relay them to the authorities in power, because that was the best I could do. I did report. But my fear at that time is still my fear till today. When you have a sore and fail to attend to it quickly, it festers and grows to become something else.

“Whichever way, you just have to attend to it. Don’t leave it unattended to. On two occasions I had to attend to the problem I faced at that time. I sent soldiers to a place and 19 of them were killed. If I had allowed that to continue, I will not have authority to send security whether police, soldier and any force any where again. So, I had to nip it in the bud and that was the end of that particular problem.”

Referring to criticisms that he foisted Jonathan on the nation, Obasanjo said, “The beauty of democracy is that power rests in the people, and every elected person would seek your votes to come back; if you don’t want him, he won’t come back.”

Jonathan fires back
Obasanjo’s reference to how he tackled the Odi crisis attracted a length remark from Jonathan during the presidential media chat on Sunday, November 18. The tragedy, which happened on November 20, 1999 led to the killing of many persons in the Bayelsa State community. Though Obasanjo said it halted militants’ attacks on the army, Jonathan disagreed, bluntly saying, “When the Odi matter came up, I was the Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, and I can give you the narratives of what led to the Odi crisis. The peak of the activities of the militancy in Niger Delta was when 12 police officers were killed in a cold blooded murder. That made the federal government to invade Odi. And after that invasion, the governor and I visited Odi.

“Ordinarily, the governor and the deputy governor were not supposed to move together under such a situation. And we saw some dead people mainly old men and women and also children. None of those militants was killed. None was killed. So, bombarding Odi was to solve the problem but it never solved it. If the attack on Odi had solved the issue of militancy in the Niger Delta, the Yar’adua government, in which I had the privilege of being the Vice President, wouldn’t have come up with the amnesty programme. So, that should tell you that the attack on Odi never solved the militancy problems. People will even tell you that rather it escalated it. It attracted international sympathy and we had lots of challenges after that attack on Odi.”

Implications of the face-off for 2015:

Obasanjo does not forgive. Obasanjo has always had the last laugh. These two expressions have become aphorisms in the Nigerian political circle because of some antecedents. Many politicians who attracted Obasanjo’s anger regretted it. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; former Ogun State Governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel; former Speaker Umar Gha’li Na’Abbah, former Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim; the late Senate President Pius Okadigbo, former PDP National Chairman, Chief Audu Ogbeh and even the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua were not spared. In different ways they disagreed with Obasanjo. In different ways they lost out.

As the political alignment for 2015 intensifies, there are fears that the Obasanjo group could pull the rug off Jonathan’s 2015 ambition. In Abeokuta last Friday, many governors from the North, some of whom have presidential ambition, engaged in a closed door meeting with Obasanjo after they contributed to the fund for building the presidential library mosque. If anything, the harmony demonstrated at the meeting pointed to the reality of power shift from the South to the North, a change that Obasanjo has openly canvassed for. The big alliance being planned by the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) would provide a veritable alternative to dissenting groups in the PDP, if Jonathan picks the party’s ticket for 2015 presidential election.
In his reaction to the face-off between Jonathan and Obasanjo, the National Publicity Secretary of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), Mr Osita Okechukwu, described it as ‘nemesis at work’.The divide between Jonathan and Obasanjo may influence the country’s future political leadership. An intense power struggle may be in the offing in 2015.

Culled: SundayTrust

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