By Bola Aidi, SAN
I woke up to your formal endorsement of Peter Obi, Presidential candidate of the Labour Party and former Governor of Anambra State in the new year like most Nigerians. I am sure there are some in the same boat as me who having followed your character and politics for the past four decades probably saw this coming. Since the news broke however, I have carefully followed the reactions by Nigerians most of which I regret to say have been unflattering to say the least. Shockingly too, the usually loud and combative supporters of Obi, otherwise addressed as ‘Obidients’ appeared a bit tongue-tied perhaps unsure of how to respond or what to make of the development.
On my part, I had to wait this long for the anger and disappointment generated by your precipitate action to subside a bit before penning this open letter. Until now, I was also not sure of how and what medium was best suited for this purpose. First thing that came to mind is what becomes of your legacy following what seems to be your unofficial but obvious return to partisan politics
after your widely pronounced retirement in 2014 following your dramatic and much advertised exit from the PDP, a Party on whose platform you rode to power in 1999 and 2003 respectively.
Except perhaps for a negligible few, most Nigerians who applauded your decision to step aside from partisan politics must have been shocked and disappointed by your sudden and unexpected u-turn. The expectation that you would retreat to a quiet, peaceful, even if partially active private life befitting of a senior citizen having seemingly evaporated on the altar of political expediency.This category of Nigerians must have either underestimated your restless and bohemian spirit as someone once described you or arguably your love of country.
As the saying goes, “he who lives in a glass house must not throw stones”. Therefore, you must understand that your action, though well within your rights, has once again re-opened the long drawn debate about your character and politics in the context of the nation Nigeria. This is even more so as your endorsement of Obi had all the trappings of old, the worn-out, opportunistic and finger-pointing rhetoric of the past. Of particular interest in your letter of endorsement to Nigerians is your arrogant and inexplicable assumption of moral authority over matters of governance and politics in a nation whose near collapse you contributed in many ways to engineer.
More baffling is your failure or refusal to subject yourself to the same set of rules or moral codes for which you have consistently held others accountable, thus lending credence to the allegation in some quarters that you see yourself as someone bigger than even the country itself. You must please understand that in spite of your outstanding record of service to the nation, it is practically impossible for you or anyone else for that matter to repudiate your failures and inadequacies as President of Nigeria some of which have impacted negatively and contributed directly or indirectly to the mess in which we are presently ensconced.
While ruminating over your latest action, these words by Howard Zim, the American historian (1924-2010) who said, “If you don’t know history, it’s as if you were born yesterday. If you were born yesterday then any leader can tell you anything” drifted to mind. I remember wayback in 1998 how some powerful and influential Nigerians plotted and smoothened your way to the Presidency less than a year after your release from prison against the loud protestations by pro-democracy forces who believed, and rightly too, that you were as much a part of the problems of Nigeria rather than the solution.
Even now, the belief is not any different because there is a video currently in circulation on social media of an aged and frail looking old man which should interest you, your apologists and media handlers. Asked to proffer a solution to the seemingly intractable problems of Nigeria, the old man simply retorted with a wide grin on his face: “there can be no solution until Obasanjo is dead”!
Sure there are millions of others out there with a somewhat similar opinion even if mine is considerably different as it has never been in my nature and character to wish anybody dead no matter the difference.
I still recall that after your assumption of office as the democratically elected President of Nigeria in May, 1999, popular expectation was that you would do a single term only of four years, produce a new and workable constitution that would return the country to true federalism, conduct a free and fair election and bow out of power gracefully like the great man, Nelson Mandela and then hand over power peacefully to a younger person as you retire to tend to your much cherished chicken business.
But just as you did with the June 12, Presidential election which was annulled by anti-democratic forces who are too well known to you and the ghost of which you assisted to bury, expectations that reason would prevail over ambition and that you would steer the ship of state away from the ruinous direction in which it was headed soon evaporated as quickly as air. Perhaps enamoured by the trappings of power outside the prison walls where Sani Abacha had kept you caged for four years, you refused to heed wise counsel and toe the path of reason by acting like a true statesman to salvage the political future of what was left of Nigeria at the time.
Indeed your failure to salvage the political future of Nigeria is better seen in the recent clamour by Chief Afe Babalola for an interim Government to midwife Constitutional reforms before going into another election in Nigeria. You obviously cannot deny that Chief Afe Babalola who today remains one of the icons of the legal profession stood by you all through your tenure and would have availed you of the needed support for Constitutional reforms.
John Huizinga, the Dutch historian (1872-1965) fully captured my thoughts when he said “No other discipline has its portal so wide open to the general public as history”. History for me, is one of the best, if not the best judge of a man’s character actions and utterances. It is also from history that we learn of the past to be able to make informed decisions about the future. What we know from past events is that you played a leading and very active role in all the processes that brought Alhaji Shehu Shagari (1979 -1983), Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (2007-2010), Dr. Goodluck Jonathan (2011-2015) and M.General Muhammadu Buhari (2015 -) respectively to power.
I am aware that you had fundamental disagreements with virtually all of these former leaders, some of them less than a few months into their tenure. One obvious fact about you for which Nigerians have grown weary is your overbearing and meddlesome attitude in the government or administration of all of these past leaders. Your sense of entitlement, unreasonable and endless demands having contributed in no small way to your soured relationship with everyone even when it is public knowledge that all without exception are certified and honourable gentlemen in and out of power.
There is therefore in my view a sense of dejavu in your endorsement of Peter Obi and the compelling need for Nigerians, especially the youths to thread with caution rather than get carried away by the euphoria of your action. It is unfortunate and distasteful that in your endorsement of Obi, deliberate attempt was made by you to obfuscate facts, divert attention and hoodwink gullible Nigerians into a predetermined course of action cleverly orchestrated to achieve a sinister motive as we approach yet another critical turning point in our nation’s turbulent history.
Except for the trashcan therefore, I cannot in good conscience find a better resting place deserving of your new year homily that reeks so much of crass opportunism. Nigerians are called upon to note that your reference to Peter Obi as “a needle with thread attached to it from North to South” and someone “who has people who can pull his ears if and when necessary” is proof that an Obi as President will most probably end up as your errand boy, something Nigeria can ill-afford at this point in her history.
Peter Obi is without doubt eminently qualified to lead Nigeria. Beyond his relatively younger age and igbo ancestry perhaps, I do not understand how you or anyone else for that matter can possibly score him above the other three leading candidates based on parameters such as experience, knowledge, understanding, character and capacity. I am not in the least surprised by your deliberate and frontal attack of the APC candidate. It is only natural that to sell Obi you must as a matter of expediency de-market Bola Tinubu.
Your reference to “Emilokan” and “I have paid my dues” as “the wrong attitude and mentality for the leadership of Nigeria now” is not only in bad faith, it is in my view a cheap shot at a man whom you have always seen as a political adversary since his days as Governor of Lagos State but has always shown you nothing but absolute respect deserving of a man your age and pedigree. Emi lokan for a man who had built bridges and continues toiling is a better frame of mind than your pervasive “Emi loni” attitude towards Nigeria and Nigerians,so nauseating that even your daughter had cause to remind you that ” You do not own Nigeria”
Your “Emi loni” attitude is clearly responsible for your unbridled recklessness such that as a sitting President you had no moral compunction in declaring the 2007 Presidential election as “a do or die affair”. Your hypocrisy sure sticks out like a cancerous thumb! Anyone with a modicum of shame would have apologised to Nigerians and kept his mouth shut, especially with Yar’Adua’s admission that the election which brought him to power was flawed.
It is not in my place to hold brief for President Muhammadu Buhari whom I must commend nonetheless for conducting himself with civility and utmost restraint befitting of his high office in spite of your virulent criticism of his person and administration for nearly five years. One can only imagine what your reaction or attitude would be had you been the one in his shoes. I mean we all saw how an otherwise self-effacing Jonathan literally rubbed you in the mud in what can best be described as the mother of all disgrace when in angry response to your constant harassment of his government over allegations of corruption the former President cynically refered to you as “a senior citizen behaving like a motor park tout”
Your sweeping description of the Buhari administration as a complete failure I admit must be placed in the context of your frustration with the Daura born retired general for non-performance. Truth be told, things have been far from normal in critical areas such as security and the economy since Buhari assumed office in 2015. It is unfair however to put the entire blame for the insecurity ravaging the land, most of which were inherited anyway from previous administrations including yours, at the doorsteps of his administration.
As far as I am concerned, the seed of the present insecurity was laid, albeit inadvertently during your tenure, following the adoption of Sharia by states in the North and your ambivalence, if not hesitation, in dealing frontally and decisively with a matter that held grave political, social and security implications for the future of the country. With hindsight, Boko Haram, which ultimately metamorphosed into the hydra-headed monster that has now claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, inclusive of women and children with property worth billions of Naira destroyed in over a decade of mindless bloodletting in the Northeast particularly, is indeed a byproduct of your error of judgement.
You said nothing new on the issue of corruption and mismanagement which has always been touted by you to lampoon, blackmail and in very many instances undermine successive administrations and heads of state after you. In this regard, permit me the indulgence as a practising Christian to refer you to the word of God in Mattew 7:5 and I quote: “You hypocrites! First, remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly the speck in your brother’s eye”. This verse warns us against hypocrisy which is the practice of seeing the flaws or sins of others while ignoring the obvious sin in our own lives.
Herein lies the irony in your harassment of others over allegations of corruption and mismanagement as everytime I see you point a finger at the others during one of your self-appointed crusades, what you probably didn’t see are the remaining four pointing back at you. Nothing better reminds me of the great exploits by the famous Baba Sala of the ‘Awada Kerikeri’ fame on stage cracking jokes and doing justice to his calling. Wasn’t in the least surprised when told of your closeness to the Ijesha-born thespian whom I understand was your buddy and favourite comedian until the rise to fame of the talented Ali Baba.
Jean Baptiste Racine, the French-born dramatist (1639-1699) and one of the three great playwrights of 17th century France once said: “There are no secrets that time does not reveal” The jury I believe is still out on your transition from near bankruptcy just before assuming office in 1999 to the enviable status of a billionaire within your eight years tenure as President. We have also not forgotten how during the same period, you practically railroaded all the 36 state governors into parting with hefty sums of money ostensibly taken from public coffers as donation to your Presidential Library Project as the EFCC simply looked the other way.
I remember watching on live television how one of the governors from an oil-rich state in the impoverished Niger-Delta gleefully parted with the sum of N100 million at the event in apparent bid to curry your favour but got thrown under the bus by you and your hatchetmen subsequently to prevent him from clinching the Presidential ticket of your then Party, the PDP, during the primaries in 2006. We cannot also forget that it was during your tenure as a sitting President that 200 million shares or thereabout was allegedly allocated to a company, Obasanjo Holdings in which you had certified interest under your shambolic and corruption-laden Privatisation Programme.
Of course, the mother of them all was executed under your administration during your poorly disguised but ill-fated ‘third term’ bid when the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly was violated by your footsoldiers in a brazen attempt to compromise the conscience of members with millions of Naira, and Dollars I guess, concealed in “Ghana Must Go” bags. How a man under whose watch these kinds of corrupt practices took place can still point fingers at others without a modicum of shame beats me. Like the Egyptian said to Moses, “Who appointed you as a judge over us”
I have it on good authority that the relentless attack of your successors in which you seems to have made a career of letter-writing, throwing tantrums and hurling insults is borne out of your inability to impose your will on them rather than the sweeping allegations of corruption for which you are truly enamored. To avoid doubts please kindly read” Beckoned to Serve” the autobiography of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. I also suspect, and Nigerians must be wary of this, that it would seem as if your ‘third term’ agenda is still pretty much alive and well. Even as we speak, the game is on with Peter Obi as pawn in a complex and intriguing game of power mongering, deadly ambition and political treachery.
Your laundering Obi as the patron saint of the proverbial new dawn is only a tip of the iceberg in this regard. The tendency by people like you to conceal narrow personal interest under the manifestly deceptive cloak of collective national aspiration will continue to have dire consequences for Nigeria. It is not a mere coincidence that both Doyin Okupe, the convicted former Director-General of the Obi-Datti Campaign Council and his successor, Akin Osuntokun are protégé of yours who both served in different capacities under your administration. Only a few days ago, someone spilled the beans by revealing that you actually nominated Peter Obi as Atiku’s running mate in 2019.
Your barely concealed reference to the formation of an “All-Nigeria Government for the liberation and restoration of Nigeria” in your new year message has exposed the probability of a bigger plot by you to hijack his government and promote interests other than that of the state and people if Peter Obi captures power. Or maybe as the Chief Priest of the cult of “Owners of Nigeria” as expoused by Dele Momodu, you have finally decided to foist another interim Government on Nigeria of which you most certainly will be the head. I pray that your penchant for power mongering and “Emi loni” nationalism will not have dire consequences for the future of Nigeria and indeed the future of her youths.
Do accept the assurance of my highest consideration and regards sir.
Bola Aidi, SAN
January 10, 2023