OBJ to Buhari: Sieving the grain from the chaff

IT’S been a couple of weeks now since former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, sent his open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari; time during which Nigerians have had the opportunity to take a detached and sober view of things. The bombshell effect of that letter is somewhat slightly muted now and has in some cases given way to a searing analysis of not just the message but the messenger’s own performance as a two-time former president who had both the time and opportunity to put right many of the things he thought were within his purview to criticise about the Buhari administration.

But it would appear that in a bid to get at Obasanjo many of his critics are over explaining things, overplaying their hands and are in danger of providing unwarranted alibis for the apparent deficiencies and demonstrated failure of the Buhari government. One thing is and should be made clear in all the apparent over explanation that has characterised some of the responses to Obasanjo: not even the most optimistic of them has succeeded in fobbing off the identified failures of the Buhari administration.

Although there has been much straining for explanation the best of these efforts has been neither credible nor convincing. To be sure, Olusegun Obasanjo simply maneuvered his way to the front of a parade that was already moving. He saw and grabbed an opportunity to insert himself into a national narrative of failure and gross irresponsibility against President Buhari. This was a narrative that was well established and already had a life of its own.

But Obasanjo grabbed it by the scruff of its neck and went to town with it and thereby scored a spectacular point against a government that was to all intents and purposes a failure. Yet this would not have been so if only Buhari has been a listening leader. There was nothing Obasanjo identified and criticised about the Buhari administration that Nigerians across the nook and crannies of this country had not spoken about. Not one word of what Obsanjo said was new. But it took an Obsanjo to penetrate the blocked ear passage of a deaf-mute regime that the Buhari government has become.

It was a government that could only hear the elite accents of a former political leader like Obasanjo. And for this I insist that Nigerians ought to be grateful to Obasanjo. If nothing else at least President Buhari now knows not every Nigerian or every one of his supporters is sold on the egregious calamity that his government threatens to be. What Nigerians have taken issue with about Obasanjo’s letter is his prescription for a so-called third force to replace both the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party.

Which is not the same thing as saying that these parties have been wonderful. It’s even not so much the fact that Obsanjo made this prescription as that his execution of it puts a big question mark on his motive. Nigerians know what is good for them. They know which of Obasanjo’s prescriptions will profit them and need not accept everything suggested or is being pushed down their throat as Obasanjo would appear to be doing with his third force. There is something unseemly about the haste with which it’s being put together. It makes it all look like somebody already has an agenda that he wants to ram down the throats of the people.

Yes indeed, Nigerians are right to question Obasanjo’s motive especially with the caliber of people who have turned out to be behind the ‘third force’. These are members of the old guard, disgruntled and perhaps spent force from a bygone era. They are veritable Obasanjo acolytes who have been part and parcel of the past rot that Nigerians are running away from. They may not all have been tainted from their past incarnation in power but the fact that they were all active players from the past makes clear that with them nothing is likely to change.

Their presence is a red flag that tells Nigerians Obasanjo was probably again at the old game of the Nigerian ruling class that very frequently finds a way to rescue one of their own from embarrassment and by so doing protect themselves from the ruination that is certain to be the lot of the entire class if nothing is done to save the situation. It’s a game of both self-and group preservation. We saw this with the ouster of President Shehu Shagari (a favourite of the Obasanjo military in 1979) when Buhari was installed as military leader. It also happened in 1999 when Obasanjo was himself installed president to end the debacle caused by the Sani Abacha junta following the annulment of the June 12 1993 election.

The segment of the military that emerged triumphant after December 1983 was to an extent the military wing of the NPN. The Obasanjo presidency of 1999 was a product of the military wing of both the PDP. Obasanjo’s third force could well be a product of the military wing of the PDP/APC alliance. It’s probably for that reason that the Buhari government chose to accept Obasanjo’s criticism in ‘good faith’ even when it has been sponsoring sidekicks in the form of expired politicians and others in need of its favours to respond to Obasanjo.

This government will not be too worried, knowing that whatever is being cooked by Obasanjo couldn’t possibly lead to any kind of radical transformation of the polity. But what Nigeria needs now is a complete break from past perambulation, the repeated cycle of idiocy, merry-go-round and manipulation orchestrated by a discredited class of civilians, military turncoats and sundry journey men.

No matter what grouse Nigerians harbour against him Obasanjo never falls out of favour with the military. He plays their game, with them and for them. He may position himself rather conspicuously and selfishly but many times his actions which are projected in the name of ‘one Nigeria’ are geared in favour of the military and the status quo.

Even as the two leading parties are allowed to grow Nigeria needs a third force, perhaps in the mould of that other ‘third force’, the movement being championed by congeries of professionals, civil and human rights activists that is hopefully promoting a new face of Nigerian politics. We do not need prop masters looking to hold together the wobbly legs of a tottering regime. There are too many people gaining personally from the Buhari government to see the need for a change. Buhari is not so much in power as he is being kept in government. He serves the interest of some people. But he needs to go home, to take his deserved rest from the hustling of politics.

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