By Frisky Larr
Putting all jokes aside, I can assure whoever takes time to read this essay that the number of people who quietly wish to have Olusegun Obasanjo back as President may be growing by the day if a frank and earnest statistic is taken. I will come back to this issue later.
The past few days have borne testimony to almost everything that is characteristically going wrong with our present-dayNigeria. One of such problems is embodied by two prominent Journalists who are regrettably fighting each other from opposite sides of the fence – Reuben Abati and Dele Momodu! As a critic of governments outside the corridors of power, Reuben Abati made a name for himself as one outstanding Journalist with a mastery of the use of words to the detriment of the object of his derision.
The most prominent victim of Reuben Abati’s vitriolic attacks clothed in the unholy mixture of logical twists and grammatical turns has been ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo. Without prior knowledge of his antecedents and biography, consuming Reuben Abati’s products in political analysis during the days of Olusegun Obasanjo always left a sour after-taste in my mouth. His abuses and condemnation always struck the right cord with the sentiments of the reader. From the professional viewpoint of the unbiased gatekeeper however, I was always down with consternation on how easy it was to see through the propagandist character in things that Abati wrote. I will liken Reuben Abati’s attitude to an attempt by a writer in today’s dispensation to cast aspersion on Goodluck Jonathan by striking the right nerve with the right abuses and characterization on the attempt to implement a complete withdrawal of fuel subsidy. No doubt, such a writer, with fame and positive reputation will win the admiration of several readers (intellectual or otherwise) for populist and derisive expressions. Many of such readers will however hardly have time to read carefully between the lines to detect if the abusive writer has done anything at all to also acknowledge the good motive behind the actions of the perpetrator of subsidy removal before moving on to identify the flaw in the moves and reasoning. Reuben Abati belonged and still belongs to the camp that would criticize, attack and destroy his opponent without providing a single hint of any positive motive that may have ended up placing such motives in misplaced actions. He will hardly ever identify anything positive about the object of his vitriolic attack.
History has it that Reuben Abati solicited the post of Government Spokesperson under President Obasanjo. His request was reportedly rudely turned down. Umaru Musa Yar’Adua came on board and preferred Segun Adeniyi to Reuben Abati. Jonathan came on and started off with Ima Niboro. In all of these times, Reuben Abati’s performance as a critic was at variance with the tribal constitution of the government in power. Upon the exit of Olusegun Obasanjo, sharp-tongued observers noted a more gentle and rational touch to Abati’s criticism of the new government that then had an Ijaw man as Vice President. What happened in quick succession is now history. The Ijaw man eventually became President and ditched Ima Niboro to make a fellow Ijaw man Reuben Abati the Presidential spokesman.
What is so interesting in the events that unfolded ever after is that President Goodluck Jonathan represents everything that is antithetic to every humanly imaginable elements of charisma. Precisely charisma it was that characterized the government of Olusegun Obasanjo and made his government so lively.
The greatest criticism that Olusegun Obasanjo reaped in his involuntary harvest of pastime condemnations was the cloak of arrogance that people forced him to wear. In fact, in my book “Nigeria’s Journalistic Militantism”, I quoted a Journalist colleague, who asked me while I was interviewing him for the book, “Who are you to advise Obasanjo?” There was a general consensus that President Obasanjo was strongly resistant to counseling and professional advice. Today like me, very many Nigerians can now understand why Obasanjo resisted counseling and turned his appointed political Advisers into such bench warmers that they eventually turned out to be.
The ability to hear different and multi-fold advices – solicited and unsolicited – and end up sorting them out to pick the most viable option basically requires a strong intellectual gift and a natural talent often nurtured by sound academic drills. Olusegun Obasanjo was not a renowned Professor of any academic discipline whatsoever. He never pretended to be a global academic light tower of any single field. He was a patriot and seemed to have placed his love for his country above all else. He chose not to subject himself to any confusing multi-fold counseling that will end up messing up an already desolate “Pemkelemessi”!
Today, we have a supposed academic light-tower as President of our country. Holder of a Doctorate degree (I was told) in Zoology! The run-up to January 01st 2012 marked the first major if not most decisive test till date, of his intellectual and leadership prowess. Surrounded not only by counselors from within the land but also from IMF and other international sources, he ended up making the most politically suicidal of all choices on fuel subsidy removal and ended up blaming other people but himself for the foreseeable consequences. Olusegun Obasanjo would probably have listened to fewer advices, added one and one to make two and reflected on his past experience as Head of State to make a better choice to avert that inevitable mass uprising.
Indeed, I feel the pain so deeply in me that no matter how far I try, there is hardly anything substantial that I can pick upon to highlight as an outstanding achievement so far attributable to the government of President Jonathan. I have always acknowledged that the modest improvement in power supply so far, is one good step in the right direction that should not be overlooked. But so far it is yet a step. The milestone achievement on the decongestion of our seaports is also one good step that basically touches the lives of importers and not the common man. The good engineering work started on the Lagos-Benin Expressway is yet to be brought to a conclusive end. So in very many areas, there is hope but no fait accompli.
The million dollar question however, is what use all these will be if the nation left to reap the benefit of any such achievement (if it eventually materializes) is left in tatters as a shadow of years gone by. That is where the current rudderless status may end up leavingNigeria. Of particular interest is the Boko Haram menace.
Following the arrest of the supposed Boko Haram King-Pin, there is now an uncontrolled jostle for a political settlement by people that have hitherto remained mute. The President’s first public statement was to reiterate that the menace will be ended, “no matter what” as if anyone had ever being in doubt that the menace will end one way or the other, any day, any time. While the general public more than ever, is now waiting for assuring signals that the perpetrators and financial supporters of Boko Haram will be found and punished according to law, the President is engaged in quiet backroom diplomacy negotiating with backgrounders and assuring them of a soft landing. Innocent lives have gone just in vain while living souls are helplessly watching in want of leadership inspiration. Unfortunately, not even half the doggedness with which the President confronted the masses on the fuel subsidy issue is brought to bear on Boko Haram protagonists.
The President however moved notably very swiftly to prosecute senior Police Officers who served their own country by killing the blood-thirsty illiterate leader and founder of Boko Haram named Yusuf, the way Osama Bin Leader was summarily executed. Uppermost in Jonathan’s mind was to please Northern leaders who counseled him that the prosecution would be a prelude to the laying down of arms by the brainwashed fanatics. Whenever it comes to confronting powerful people and asserting himself however, Jonathan is surprisingly cowardly and easily intimidated. Very much unlike Olusegun Obasanjo! Yet this President will never have the courage one day, to apologize to the nation for the wrong and misplaced prosecution of these Police Officers and compensate them for the wrongdoing. Juxtaposed with similar issues however, the nation will sooner or later face the rude awakening of a full reinstatement of Justice Salami with all accruing benefits, all because Salami has powerful backers.
The President cried out that elements of Boko Haram have infiltrated his government. Yet he refuses to speak out on Sanusi’s aggressive drive to appease his northern and Muslim constituency through Islamic Banking and the academic rationalization of Boko Haram’s terrorism. Astoundingly, the nation has now woken up to the reality that President Jonathan has actually mandated Sanusi to pursue the Islamic Banking agenda only quietly and implement it away from media and public view as from January 01st 2012. The same way this President sought to ambush his own people on fuel subsidy is the way he has now spat on the sensitivities of other religious communities to please Sanusi and his background backers for reasons yet unknown. Fortunately for him, Islamic Banking is not an issue as sensitive as the removal of fuel subsidy so that a mass uprising is not expected.
Most appalling however, is the length the President has now gone to desecrate the office of the Presidency by provoking an all-out brawl with a former Governor. Just when we thought the Atiku-Obasanjo dogged fight was the last the nation would see of such public desecration of the exalted office, President Jonathan chose to open a new chapter unforced. While the Atiku-Obasanjo battle was a class warfare that cut across ethnic divide and historical residues of colonial politics that was unwittingly fueled by unsuspecting collaborators, Jonathan’s chosen open mudslinging with Timpre Sylva is absolutely unnecessary, unwarranted and unpresidential.
In times like this, I wonder if he is truly advised by his media man Reuben Abati with all his wealth of media experiences. After all, he is a President known for his willingness to listen to as many views as the world can offer, never mind that he will always end up making the wrong choices. Making the wrong choices however also leads to speculations of how much wrong advice dominates the flood of choices the President is made to face. Placing this fact against the high qualification of his advisers, one is forced to ask what paper qualification is still worth these days anyway.
It is yet a mystery what informed the President’s comments on Governor Sylva while cautioning aspiring Governor Dickson to watch out on his performance index if he eventually becomes Governor. Something tells me however, that President Jonathan made this speech unscripted leaving his handlers with a nightmare scenario.
So in the end, leaving all jokes aside, we will be able to understand that President Obasanjo who stepped on several toes by not listening to advices was least conspicuous for making the wrong choices. If at all, he was known for making the wrong enemies. Many of his enemies from the North or from the South would not have dared to toy with Obasanjo the way they all toy with President Jonathan these days.
Frisky Larr (M. A.) Radio/Television Journalist/Communication Scientist Govt.-accredited Translator/Interpreter of the English language Germany Email: FriskyLarr@aol.com