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Buhari and Obasanjo before it all went sour

Could Buhari rescue his failing presidency by jailing Obasanjo?

Only the most deluded supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari would argue that his performance over the last three years has lived up to the euphoria that heralded his (s)election victory in 2015.  The president has been a major league disappointment for those who rode on his “Change” bandwagon, expecting him to seriously tackle corruption, insecurity and the country’s economic decline.

Buhari’s failures on each score, especially his perceived inaction as Fulani herdsmen go on never ending murderous rampages across the country, have made many of his former supporters start to regret ever backing him.  One of the most notorious of those supporters is ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo, who has turned against Buhari in spectacular fashion, asking his ex-military colleague to not bother seeking re-election and calling him a “failure”.

While Obasanjo’s criticism of Buhari resonates with many Nigerians, a sizeable number of them marvel at the former president’s brazen hypocrisy.  This “look who’s talking” vibe has been captured in a new song by rapper Eedris Abdul Kareem, who wondered how Obasanjo, who wanted to amend the constitution so that he could remain in office for a third term, had the nerve to try and prevent Buhari going for a second term.

There is also the small matter of Obasanjo criticising Buhari’s failure in three years in office, while Obasanjo’s own eight-rule from 1999 to 2007 was disastrous for the majority of Nigerians.  Since Obasanjo started pissing into Buhari’s tent from the outside, the president and his men have started returning fire.

Buhari questioned the $16bn that Obasanjo allegedly spent on power supply projects that resulted in even less electricity being provided.  Obasanjo’s spokesman then upped the ante last week claiming that there was a plot to frame his boss with “phantom crimes”.  Then two days ago, Buhari reportedly ordered the Inspector-General of Police Ibrahim Idris, to reopen the unsolved murders of former Attorney-General Bola Ige and ex-deputy national chairman of the People Democratic Party (PDP) Aminasoari Dikibo.  Both were killed when Obasanjo was president in what was widely seen as politically-motivated assassinations.  The decision to reopen the cases now may not be unrelated to the Obasanjo claim that he is about to be framed for “phantom crimes”.

Bola Ige: Police ordered to reopen the investigation into his murder

It is very unlikely that the Buhari regime will take any meaningful steps that could lead to Obasanjo doing time.  Despite all the Buhari posturing about fighting corruption, the so-called fight has not been extended to “sacred cows”.  Buhari is not likely to extend the fight to those deemed “untouchable” now with his re-election due next year.  Thes “untouchables” include former fellow military dictators, Ibrahim Babangida, Abdulsalam Abubukar and especially Obasanjo.

Incidentally, Buhari, with an eye on re-election, is trying to pull populist rabbits out of his hat – in the absence of any concrete improvements in the lives of the majority of Nigerians, that would have almost guaranteed his victory at the polls.  One such move was to confer the highest national award posthumously on Moshood Abiola, who died in mysterious circumstances while in detention trying to reclaim the mandate he won during the presidential election of June 12 1993.  Buhari also declared that June 12 should replace 29 May as the “Democracy Day” public holiday in Nigeria.

This political calculation may have gone down well in some parts of the country.  However, it remains to be seen whether people are going ignore to the rising tide of poverty, chronic insecurity, and so on and vote on the basis of symbolic gestures.

That said, Buhari could yet pull off the mother of all symbolic gestures if he kicks of the process that would end in Obasanjo doing jail time.  Prosecuting the ex-president for corruption would show Nigerians that Buhari means business in fighting corruption and there would be no sacred cows.

Additionally, Obasanjo is arguably one of the most unpopular public figures in Nigeria – going back from his days as a military dictator.  Afro-beat legend Fela Kuti blamed him for his mother’s death, following injuries she sustained after a raid of Kuti’s compound when Obasanjo was head of a military junta.  The raid was immortalised in the song “Unknown Soldier”.  Fela also sang of Obasanjo’s crookedness in “Army arrangement”, focusing on the fact that the ex-president was involved in “wayo” all the time.  In “ITT” Fela informed listeners of how “dem steal money like Obasanjo and Abiola”.

Fela Kuti: Pointed at Obasanjo as a thief

This was all during Obasanjo’s stint as military dictator in the late 1970s.  His “stealing” rose to previously unseen levels on his return as civilian president in 1999.  Sadly, Fela, who died in 1997, was no longer around to chronicle Obasanjo’s civilian misrule in song.  But it didn’t mean that Nigerians were less aware.  In eight years in office, Obasanjo did very little to maintain critical infrastructure.  Roads were left to crumble as he used presidential jets and helicopters to hop around the country.  He was reportedly abused by a crowd of people a few months after leaving office when his car broke down on a bad stretch of road between Lagos and Abeokuta.

Obasanjo’s hubris and haughtiness also made many Nigerians despise him.  After the explosions in a military ammunitions dump in a residential area in Lagos in 2002, Obasanjo during a visit to the scene told distressed locals to “shut up” and he wasn’t supposed to be there – implying they should be grateful for his presence.  He was once asked on CNN why over 10,000 people had died due to communal and political violence under his watch.  His response was that it was a small number considering Nigeria’s population.  He failed to mention that as commander-in-chief he was ultimately responsible for some of those deaths with Nigerian soldiers slaughtering civilians in Odi and Zaki Biam and neighbouring villages.  Questioned on the latter massacre, Obasanjo replied that people should know that soldiers were “trained to kill”.

As if these crimes were not enough, Obasanjo insisted on installing his successors – when his plans to stay in office beyond the eight-year limit were derailed.  He has had a hand in the three presidents that came after him.  None of them was a roaring success, while one died in office, the last two fell out with Obasanjo when they rebelled against his persistent interference.  Being stuck in his bubble, blindingly oblivious to his failings and lacking in self-awareness about how the majority of Nigerians view him, Obasanjo is again seeking to intervene in who governs Nigeria.

Against this backdrop, Buhari would be doing himself and many Nigerians a favour if Obasanjo is dragged before a court to answer for his many crimes.  Such a decisive move could be the key to redeeming the sinking ship that is the Buhari regime.  It is a “low-hanging fruit”, and a massive vote-winner for Buhari, with everyone winning (apart from Obasanjo).  Buhari just doesn’t seem to have the balls to do it.


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