Written by Azuka Onwuka
The reason the letter former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari, urging him not to contest the 2019 election, elicited huge interest was not because of its content, but because of Obasanjo’s stature and his efforts in making Buhari President. Before Obasanjo, many Nigerians had said things weightier than his.
But Obasanjo is one Nigerian who is always at the right place at the right time…
A similar scenario had played out earlier in 1976 when Gen. Murtala Muhammed was assassinated six months into his tenure, and Obasanjo suddenly became the military head of state, even though he was one of those marked for death by the coup plotters. Again in 1970, even though he was not known to have played a critical role in the Nigerian-Biafran War, Obasanjo had the honour of receiving the secessionist Biafran surrender.
So, Obasanjo’s middle name should have been Goodluck or Lucky. But his place in Nigeria’s political history goes beyond mere luck; Obasanjo should be commended for his ability to read situations well and know which way the cat will jump and align himself with that angle. Some could interpret it as opportunism, for Obasanjo has a track record of reaping where others sowed. For example, even though Obasanjo worked against the struggle for the reversal of the annulment of the 1993 presidential election won by his kinsman and friend, Chief MKO Abiola, he became the beneficiary of that annulment in 1999 when he was chosen by the military powerbrokers as the person to be made President to compensate the South-West for that unjust treatment meted out to Abiola.
Similarly, without being a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party, Obasanjo was drafted in and made the presidential candidate of the PDP in 1999. He ended up taking over the party and edging out most of the founding members of the party or making them irrelevant. Eventually in 2015, he publicly tore the membership card of the PDP which gave him the presidential mandate.
Having studied the tenure of Buhari for over two and half years, many Nigerians – especially those who campaigned for him – have been disappointed with his leadership style and have been voicing out their frustration. The editorials of some notable national newspapers like The Punch, BusinessDay, Vanguard etc have constantly criticised the way the President has been handling the economy, his lopsided appointments, his lack of firmness when dealing with his appointees accused of graft, his aloofness to killings in the land, and other issues. So, Obasanjo chose an opportune moment to write that letter to Buhari, and it got the deserved attention. He deserves to be commended for speaking out.
But some days before Obasanjo’s letter to Buhari, the keynote speaker at the Handshake Across the Niger summit in Enugu, Mr Alban Ofili-Okonkwo, seemed to have pre-empted Obasanjo in an interview he granted the Sunday Vanguard of January 21, 2018, which had the headline “Time-up for the Buharis, the Obasanjos, others.” According to the Delta State-born entrepreneur and thinker, the youths of Nigeria should no longer leave their fate in the hands of those who do not understand it.
In the words of Ofili-Okonkwo, the man behind the Keke-NAPEP project, “Competence is what we are looking for because we live in an international highway of knowledge. No matter anybody’s pigmentation, height, size or where he comes from, if a company is looking for someone to be employed, a competent person will be the one to be employed, no matter where the person is. That is tomorrow’s world and the world that Nigeria needs to join. Unfortunately, our leaders, till now, are giving us what they can. I think it is time for this generation to say no to that.
“President Muhammadu Buhari was in his 30s when he started handling the affairs of Nigeria and in his late 70s he is still handling the affairs of Nigeria. For God’s sake, he should give us his son and go home. Whether his son is Fulani does not matter, what matters is competence. If he has trained a son to the extent that he understands and can connect with my children and convince them to come to Nigeria to build a new nation, he should give him to us. We need a new nation where we can get more money than our oil wealth can give us through quality leadership.
“The new Nigeria should not be a nation where we will depend on what we dig out from the ground to survive. If at their own time it was good for a 36-year-old boy to become a leader, why can’t it be possible now? I am in my 60s and I am in retirement. The minimum I can do is to make sure that those in their 30s and 40s take their turn by saying enough is enough. That will enable people who can create value to multiply.
“We need a President who would understand the importance of knowledge and infrastructure, who will no longer look at tribe, tongue, and faith, who will understand the landscape of Nigeria and seek inspiration from the wonders of nature. And I think the time for that has come. But if we reduce it to the past where Buhari, Obasanjo, and others are coming from, we will be condemned. These people represent the Old Testament.
“All I am saying is that the youths should claim their tomorrow. What we are doing is an advocacy for tomorrow so that there will be a different narrative. It is a vision shaped by knowledge, wisdom and shared humanity. This is something the Buharis and the Obasanjos can’t see because they don’t have it.”
Nigeria seems to have been condemned to the rule by the same set of people who started ruling Nigeria when they were in their 30s. Anyone who looks critically at what Nigeria has become will see a trend. There is a group of people who are within the 65 and 85 age range who believe that only their age-mates know what is best for Nigeria. Obasanjo, for example, ruled Nigeria for 11 years but believes that he knows what Nigeria needs best. He unilaterally chose Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan to succeed him, when his third-term agenda failed. He also fully supported Buhari’s emergence as President. Given their antecedents and performances in office, if Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Buhari were the best Obasanjo could give to Nigeria in a nation with an abundance of human resources, it is obvious that Obasanjo has poor judgement. By spearheading the launch of the Coalition for Nigeria Movement, it is clear that Obasanjo wants to also decide who will be Nigeria’s next President.
Buhari, on the other hand, after ruling as military head of state and also a civilian president, is keen on retaining his position in 2019, not because of what he has in store for Nigeria, but because the Presidency gives him the power to pursue his personal dreams.
The fate of Nigeria cannot be in the hands of those who contributed to Nigeria’s destruction, but in the hands of the young generation whose future is being toyed with by the same set of people. Those who have been ruling Nigeria will never accept to implement any policy that will change the way Nigeria is run. But it is left for the youths, who are more in number, to take over the nation and pull it back from the precipice.
– by Azuka Onwuka