Former President Olusegun Obasanjo continued his verbal onslaught on President Goodluck Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party last week by putting up what is easily one of Nigeria’s biggest political spectacle in recent years, openly tearing into pieces his PDP membership card. Why has the former president gone acerbic in his attack of the President he helped install? Why is he so bitter against the party, PDP, which produced him as president for two terms? SAMUEL OGUNDIPE speaks with PDP leaders and analysts…
Former President Obasanjo said he called his political associates and members of the press to witness the event in order to show the world that he’s no longer associated with the PDP. Obasanjo cited his love for Nigeria, which, he said, supersedes that of the party, as his primary reason for taking the action, which critics have decried as “ignoble.” An estimated two hours later, the Ogun State chapter of the party announced it had expelled the former president from the party. “Baba Obasanjo is an extremely shameless and ungrateful man, we have suspended him from our party with immediate effect,” Engr. Bayo Dayo, state chairman of the party, said in a statement to the WESTERN POST following the announcement.
Stunning Criticism of President Jonathan
Nigerians are not unaware that this is not the first time Obasanjo will openly castigate the PDP and President Jonathan. Prior to the latest event, Obasanjo had enunciated stunning criticism of Jonathan at public occasions and numerous media interviews. In 2013, he critiqued Jonathan administration for lacking financial prudence: “We left what we call excess crude, let’s build it for the rainy day, up to $35 billion; within three years, the $35 billion disappeared. Whether the money disappeared or it was shared, the fact remains that $35 billion disappeared from the foreign reserves I left behind in office. When we left that money, we thought we were leaving it for the rainy day.”
He’d also repeatedly accused the president of being “irredeemably corrupt.” And he’d also dismissed the administration’s handling of Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast as “lacking political and tactical leadership.”
His controversial letter to the president in 2013 was laced with devastating criticisms of Jonathan’s government. Amongst the most lethal of the attacks was the allegation that the president is surreptitiously training special tactical snipers he planned to deploy against his political adversaries.
President Jonathan Largely Silent
President Jonathan has remained largely silent throughout the statement, preferring instead to maintain his respect for his former political benefactor. But he broke his silence recently when after the postponement of the February elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission based on the advice by security chiefs, Obasanjo accused Jonathan of under hand tactics and likened him to Ivorian Laurent Gbagbo. A statement issued by Jonathan’s Special Adviser, Media, Dr. Reuben Abati, believed to have had the president’s blessing, accused Obasanjo of working surreptitiously for an interim government which he would head.
Root of Crisis
WESTERN POST’s attempt to find out the root of the former president’s rage revealed that there are many factors responsible. Speaking with the newspaper on the matter, Chief Ola Apena, the Deputy Chairman of PDP in Lagos State, said he would not miss the “recalcitrant” former president because “he is responsible for all the political disasters” the party had “suffered in recent years.”
“Obasanjo has been a problem for the PDP. Other than those who benefited from his arbitrariness, he’d brought nothing but pain and division to the party in recent years. I, as a person, will not miss Obasanjo. In fact, his exit is good for the party.”
He explained that he’s not surprised by all the actions of the former president, especially the shredding of his membership card, because they’re typical of him.
“I am not surprised that he’d become so irrational. Obasanjo believes he has monopoly of wisdom. He sees himself as a man who can make or mar anybody.”
Explaining his understanding of the rift between Obasanjo and Jonathan, Chief Apena said the former president is feeling slighted that Jonathan is not listening to him alone.
“Obasanjo is simply angry that President Jonathan is not listening to him alone, he has the ears of others like Chief Edwin Clark as well.”
He also said the party didn’t do anything to wrong the former president.
“There’s nothing the party had done to offend Obasanjo. He’s not bigger than our great party, no individual is.”
He said Obasanjo is not up to the task of collapsing Nigeria because he does not have the same level of popularity as the country’s founding fathers like Saudana of Sokoto and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, both of whom did not collapse the country after they died.
Political analysts have continued to weigh in on the controversy, sifting through the former president’s action to theorise about the country’s political future.
Political analysts admit they had miscalculated the open rancour between the two presidents as a minor issue that would soon fade away. “We thought the PDP will settle the matter in a matter of time because the party had always managed to put its house in order,” said political analyst Ronke Onaselu.
In a telephone interview with WESTERN POST on Thursday, revered constitutional lawyer, Mr. Victor Okhai, said the former president is a “victim of his over bloated ego.”
He said Obasanjo’s rage against Jonathan began the moment Buruji Kashamu, a controversial PDP financier, took over the structure of the party in Ogun State.
This, he explained, irked the former president, who, hitherto, was controlling the affairs of the party in the state. But he said Obasanjo’s anger was misplaced, because he’d not been beneficial to the party’s grassroots like Buruji Kashamu, whom he said had been empowering and supporting the party’s base.
“President Jonathan didn’t exactly do anything to offend Obasanjo as a person. What he did was to give Ogun PDP a free hand to do whatever it likes according to the dictates of reality. And what was on ground then was Buruji Kashamu who’s doing everything to rally the party base.
“As the 2015 elections heat up, Obasanjo told the party at the national level to allow him field his own candidates as against those approved by the state executives of the party. The national executives kicked against this. They said they cannot hijack the party from those who had been working tirelessly to make sure that the party continues to remain relevant in the state, that is: the Buruji Kashamu people.
“Obasanjo felt slighted by this, and as you know, whatever he cannot fix, he destroys,” he added.
“If Sule Lamido (Jigawa State governor) had been tapped as Jonathan’s running mate for second term, this would have pacified Obasanjo to a large extent,” he said. “But Jonathan cannot do that, because Vice President Sambo has been very loyal to his principal.”
Another analyst and activist, Arthur Iwalemi, put the dispute down to scorn, saying Obasanjo has been embittered the moment Jonathan stopped to consult him or brief him on national issues.
“The former president feels he helped to make Jonathan president and that he should do his bidding and have his ears at all times. But Jonathan has gone wiser. He has refused to defer to Obasanjo. In fact, my reading of the problem is the president now treats Obasanjo as if he does n’t exist; he has scorned him largely, and as they say ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’.”
Meanwhile, PDP National Chairman, Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu and Jigawa State Governor Sule Lamido, after a meeting in Abuja, on Thursday, now insist that inspite of everything, the PDP should beg former President Obasanjo because he is their father and the party cannot afford to lose him.