Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former president, has cried out that President Muhammadu Buhari plans to arrest him.
I consider it the mother of all false alarms: Buhari lacks motivation for such an action.
But according to Obasanjo’s June 6 statement, which was signed by an aide, the plan arises from “(Buhari’s) desperation to frustrate, intimidate and blackmail him into abandoning his divine mandate to protect the rights of the people to better life and living” because of Obasanjo’s indictment of his administration in January.
Expressing disgust with Buhari’s abysmal performance in office, Obasanjo had urged him not to seek re-election. Ordinarily, Obasanjo’s status as a statesman ought to be enough for him to speak out on matters of national interest. But having squandered that, he now mistakes his six-month-old university diploma for God’s very mandate.
But to be clear: in a normal polity, the prosecution—not persecution—of Obasanjo should have started on or right after May 29, 2007, following his loss of presidential immunity, for a truckload of offences that are now well-known to Nigerians. But he had carefully planned his future, handpicking those who took over from him, thereby foreclosing the option of justice when Umaru Yar’Adua took office in 2007.
Mr Goodluck Jonathan, who eventually assumed the presidency in 2010, ought never to have been anywhere near that office, considering his abysmal record as governor of Bayelsa.
Still, Obasanjo shoehorned him onto the express path to the presidency, and when he made a mess of it, accused his creation of being fake and ineffective.
But he was fake and ineffective by design: Obasanjo’s. But Obasanjo knew if he had made the patriotic choice and allowed the emergence of a strong and popular president, he might have wound up in prison rather than as a larger-than-life political deity forever trying to define Nigeria in his image.
But the man with a “divine mandate” (to protect Nigerians) has never apologised to Nigerians for his chicanery in manipulating the political process for his own purposes.
Now that in Obasanjo’s eyes, Buhari has descended to the same political lower life form—even if so in the eyes of many disappointed Nigerians—we must remind ourselves not only of Obasanjo’s responsibility for our suffering but also of other crimes as president that he has yet to pay for.
Crimes that, despite Obasanjo’s “alarm,” Buhari has no intention of making him pay for, nor can make him pay for.
And then there are those that he selfishly continues to commit. In the June 6 statement, Obasanjo said, among others, “We are currently in a nation where the Number Three citizen is being harangued and the Number Four citizen is facing similar threat within the same government they serve.”
This illustrates the double standards and arrant hypocrisy by which Obasanjo has perennially divided and cheapened Nigeria.
Bukola Saraki may have other issues with the executive branch, but at the heart of his troubles are allegations of false declaration of assets from his governorships of Kwara State. Lest we forget, in 2006 during Obasanjo’s second term, 15 governors, including Mr Jonathan, were indicted for similar offences by his Joint Task Force and recommended for trial.
But Obasanjo personally rubbished the report and instead, gave Mr Jonathan the vice-presidency. In that light, Obasanjo is consistent: the only side he has ever been on is Obasanjo’s, not justice.
To hear Obasanjo tell it, however, he is clean, and he was absolved by everyone, particularly the EFCC. On that score, here is how he attempted to handcuff Buhari in his statement: “The same EFCC that had conducted a clinical investigation on the activities of Obasanjo in and out of government…would now be made to stand down the existing report that gave Chief Obasanjo a clean bill of health on the probes…”
Obasanjo never says that it was his EFCC that “cleared” him while he supervised it. Or acknowledge that Nuhu Ribadu, who chaired the commission at the time, subsequently declared publicly that his government was more corrupt than Sani Abacha’s had been.
One more example: in April 2010, a report of the United States confirmed that over 80 Nigerians had collected bribes, some of them in the millions of dollars, from Halliburton. They included former heads of states, notably Ibrahim Babangida, Abdusalam Abubakar…and Obasanjo!
That report, and a local one two years earlier by the Mike Okiro panel set up by Yar’Adua, reached the same conclusions that are well-known to Buhari. But no Nigerian leader, certainly not Buhari, has had the courage to do anything about it.
That is because Buhari is not interested in fighting corruption symptomatically. His corruption does not involve people who are as “important” as Obasanjo. He also appears to be working with the template that leaders don’t harass former leaders, an EFCC official describing last year an arrangement under which Buhari will not arrest Jonathan or his wife.
Note that until Obasanjo shot Buhari’s re-election plans full of holes, Buhari never expressed one negative thought about him. Only then did Buhari dig up Obasanjo’s infamous expenditure of $16bn in the power sector between 1999 and 2007.
But it is the same Buhari who had always vowed to recover all the funds looted since 1999. “We want to have everything back – all that they took by force in 16 years,” he swore in November 2015.
And yet, in the three years during which he has borrowed externally by the billions, he has not set about recovering any part of that $16bn. Or any major accounts and scandals of real magnitude.
In other words, Obasanjo symbolises the duplicity and emptiness of Buhari’s mythical onslaught on corruption. Obasanjo is proof that Buhari’s war is not blind; to investigate Obasanjo would open Pandora’s Box.
But now there may also be another reason why Buhari appears to be playing with parallel agendas: his own record. In “Petroleum Trust Fraud,” last week, Ray Ekpu, one of Nigeria’s most accomplished journalists, explored Buhari’s sordid tenure as Executive Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund under Abacha. It is not an insult to say it diminishes Buhari considerably.
The irony of the power-play between Obasanjo and Buhari is that, in the end, a man without a conscience wants to be the conscience of a people. Had Obasanjo Nigeria at heart, he had eight full years to serve Nigerians with distinction.
He didn’t grasp the opportunity: the same test Buhari is failing as we speak.