How Jonathan And Obasanjo Fell Apart


President Olusegun Obasanjo is the benefactor of President Goodluck Jonathan.
But as it is the way of the world, there seems to be a river between them at
the moment. We explore the events that led to this ugly development and their
political implications. 
In Abeokuta last Friday, governors, leaders of the National Assembly and
political heavy weights gathered to lay the foundation stone of a mosque at the
Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL) complex.  Even former Vice
President Atiku Abubakar, who has had a bitter political battle with former
President Obasanjo, attended the event and donated N5 million towards the
project. Conspicuously absent was President Goodluck Jonathan. He was not there
in person. He was not represented by any minister or presidential aide.

President Jonathan’s absence at an
event that touches the heart of his benefactor is one of the manifestations of
the divide between the two leaders. Obasanjo it was who influenced Jonathan’s
political rise as Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, through Governor, Vice
President, Acting President, substantive President and Jonathan’s election as
president in the 2011 elections. Though unspoken, the feud is now in the open,
like a festering wound. Obasanjo, on his part, has kept away from the Aso Rock
Presidential Villa in the last few months. He didn’t attend the last Council of
State meeting in July. His voice was not heard sympathising or commiserating
with the first family over the illness of Dame Patience Jonathan and the death
of Jonathan’s younger brother, the late Meni, respectively.  Instead, the
volley of attacks and counter-attacks directly and by proxy has replaced the
filial relationship between them. Obasanjo even dumped his position as chairman
of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) board of trustees – a position he fought
very hard to keep. Ever since that decision, things continued to fall apart
between the two.

How Jonathan and Obasanjo fell apart
The crack between Jonathan and
Obasanjo began to emerge shortly after the 2011 presidential election.  A
close associate of Obasanjo revealed to Sunday Trust that after the bitter
battle before, during and after the polls, Obasanjo asked Jonathan to mend the
divide between the North and South by visiting those who contested against him
in the presidential primaries and the election. But Jonathan refused to do so.
Secondly, it was alleged that Obasanjo warned Jonathan against reducing the
presidency to an Ijaw affair, when it was apparent that the president had
surrounded himself with his kinsmen, some of them ex-militants.  Again,
Jonathan ignored him. Then, when Jonathan wanted to constitute his cabinet, it
was gathered, Obasanjo recommended some names from the South-West, considering
the fact that the region which voted for Jonathan overwhelmingly had no
governor. Sunday Trust gathered that Obasanjo was shocked when Jonathan threw
away his list, and the South-West did not make it to any of the top 10 cabinet
positions. Combined with the suspicion that Jonathan may have deliberately
traded the South-West governorship positions with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s Action
Congress of Nigeria (ACN) to enable him win the presidential election, Obasanjo
felt used and dumped. To worsen the situation, it was alleged that the
president stopped picking Obasanjo’s calls.

Obasanjo turns critic of Jonathan
Indications that Obasanjo accepted his
maltreatment and was looking in a different direction, perhaps, to take his
pound of flesh, manifested in reports alleging that he was looking North-ward
for Jonathan’s replacement, come 2015. Though he denied ever endorsing Jigawa
State Governor Sule Lamido and Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi as his
choices for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP’s) presidential flag bearers in
2015, Obasanjo’s body language told the world that he had shifted his support
from Jonathan.  At local and international fora, he took a swipe on the
Jonathan administration for wasting the country’s foreign reserve, put at about
$35 billion in 2007.  Obasanjo had said, “We left what we call excess
crude, let’s build it for rainy day, up to $35 billion; within three years, the
$35 billion disappeared. Whether the money disappeared or, like the governor
said, it was shared, the fact remains that $35 billion disappeared from the
foreign reserve I left behind in office. When we left that money, we thought we
were leaving it for the rainy day… But my brother said the rain is not
falling now. But the fact is that when the rain is falling, we will have
nothing to cover our heads with because we have blown it off. The Chinese do
not think that way.”   The statement was an allusion to the Jonathan
administration, as both foreign reserve and excess crude account sank shortly
after the 2011 elections.
Obasanjo’s statements became more and
more critical of the Jonathan administration. On November 11, he spoke in
Dakar, Senegal about the alarming rate of unemployment in the country, and
concluded that the country was sitting on a time-bomb. He told the gathering at
an entrepreneurship programme under the auspices of that Organisation for
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the African Development Bank
that when he became president, youth unemployment was put at 72 per cent, but
that he reduced it to about 52 per cent. Now, it has ballooned to unmanageable
proportion.  Obasanjo underscored his fears with this remark:  “I am
afraid. And when a General says he is afraid, that means the danger ahead is
real and potent. Despite the imminent threat to Nigeria’s nationhood there is
no serious, realistic short or long term solution to youth unemployment.”
Though Obasanjo argued that his
remarks were not meant to instigate Nigerians against government, few days after
the Dakar event, he was in Warri, Delta State to frontally attack Jonathan over
his ‘weak’ approach to insecurity. At the 40th anniversary of Pastor Ayo
Oritsejafor’s call to ministry at the Word of Life Bible Church, Obasanjo said,
“They (Boko Haram) stated their grievances and I promised to relay them to the
authorities in power, because that was the best I could do. I did report. But
my fear at that time is still my fear till today. When you have a sore and fail
to attend to it quickly, it festers and grows to become something else.
“Whichever way, you just have to
attend to it. Don’t leave it unattended to. On two occasions I had to attend to
the problem I faced at that time. I sent soldiers to a place and 19 of them
were killed. If I had allowed that to continue, I will not have authority to
send security whether police, soldier and any force any where again. So, I had
to nip it in the bud and that was the end of that particular problem.”
Referring to criticisms that he
foisted Jonathan on the nation, Obasanjo said, “The beauty of democracy is that
power rests in the people, and every elected person would seek your votes to
come back; if you don’t want him, he won’t come back.”

Jonathan fires back
Obasanjo’s reference to how he tackled
the Odi crisis attracted a length remark from Jonathan during the presidential
media chat on Sunday, November 18.  The tragedy, which happened on
November 20, 1999 led to the killing of many persons in the Bayelsa State
community. Though Obasanjo said it halted militants’ attacks on the army,
Jonathan disagreed, bluntly saying, “When the Odi matter came up, I was the
Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, and I can give you the narratives of what led
to the Odi crisis. The peak of the activities of the militancy in Niger Delta
was when 12 police officers were killed in a cold blooded murder. That made the
federal government to invade Odi. And after that invasion, the governor and I
visited Odi. Ordinarily, the governor and the deputy governor were not supposed
to move together under such a situation. And we saw some dead people mainly old
men and women and also children. None of those militants was killed. None was
killed. So, bombarding Odi was to solve the problem but it never solved it. If
the attack on Odi had solved the issue of militancy in the Niger Delta, the
Yar’adua government, in which I had the privilege of being the Vice President,
wouldn’t have come up with the amnesty programme. So, that should tell you that
the attack on Odi never solved the militancy problems. People will even tell
you that rather it escalated it. It attracted international sympathy and we had
lots of challenges after that attack on Odi.”
Former Minister of Aviation under
Obasanjo, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode didn’t  allow the president’s criticism
of Obasanjo to go down. He replied Jonathan in a president statement, which he
said, Obasanjo authorised. Fani-Kayode said, “On the issue of Boko Haram it is
unfortunate that President Obasanjo’s comments have been misconstrued and his
views misrepresented. He never said that the Odi treatment should be applied to
Boko Haram or that such action is appropriate in these circumstances. What he
said was that a solution ought to have been found or some sort of action ought
to have been taken sooner rather than allow the problem to fester over time
like a bad wound and get worse. There can be no doubt that he was right on this
because, according to President Jonathan’s own Chief of Army Staff, no less
that 3,000 people have been killed by Boko Haram in the last two years alone.
That figure represents approximately the same number of people that were killed
by the IRA in Northern Ireland and the British mainland in the 100 years that
the war between them and British lasted and before peace was achieved between
the two sides. The same number of casualties that the IRA inflicted on the
people of the United Kingdom in 100 years is the same number of casualties that
Boko Haram have managed to inflict on our people in just two. This is
unacceptable and it is very disturbing.
The Federal Government must cultivate
the courage and the political will to stop the killings by Boko Haram and to
find a permanent solution to the problem. When President Obasanjo was in power
he handled such matters decisively, with vigour and with the utmost urgency. He
brought justice to the perpetrators quickly and promptly and he did whatever he
had to do to protect the lives and property of the Nigerian people. The truth
is that the strategy that he adopted to fight terrorism and mass murder worked
very well and it was very effective. For President Goodluck Jonathan to suggest
otherwise is regrettable,” Fani-Kayode said.
However, the president’s reaction to
Obasanjo’s remarks didn’t end there. Last Tuesday, reports emerged that some
indigenes of Odi had put together enough data to drag Obasanjo to the
International Criminal Court (ICC) over alleged genocide.  A report quoted
the community as arguing that: “We are dragging Obasanjo before the
International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity…. Our people are
seeking two things, conviction of the former president for crime against
humanity and compensation from the Federal Government for the destruction of
Odi.  The details are ready with pictures but we don’t want to pre-empt
the International Court.”
Obasanjo came under fire from
Jonathan’s aides and even former leaders who thought his remarks on Jonathan
were some unkind cuts. But the Jonathan administration didn’t stop there. The
termination of the concession agreement on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway between the
Federal Government and Bi-Courtney Highway Services Ltd., whose face is Dr Wale
Babalakin, may not be by chance. Dr Babalakin is like Obasanjo’s adopted son.
Apart from terminating the multi-billion naira contract, the Economic and Financial
Crimes Commission (EFCC) has taken on Babalakin over an alleged laundering of
N2 billion for convicted former Governor James Ibori.  Secondly, a former
Aviation Minister, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, is at the same time facing fire. For
the fourth time last week, the judges handling the case of an alleged N240
million corruption charge against him have been changed. The new judge for the
lingering case since 2008 is Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia.  Other
associates of Obasanjo, like Malam Nuhu Ribadu and Malam Nasiru el-Rufai, have
not been spared by the administration. The business empire that Barrister Jimoh
Ibrahim, another of Obasanjo loyalists, attempted to build, is crumbling under
government’s sledge hammer. Air Nigeria is off the skies.  It is not clear
if these are deliberate attempts to get at Obasanjo, but the quick succession
in some of the decisions against the former president’s ‘boys’ may not be mere

Implications of the face-off for
Obasanjo does not forgive. Obasanjo
has always had the last laugh. These two expressions have become aphorisms in
the Nigerian political circle because of some antecedents. Many politicians who
attracted Obasanjo’s anger regretted it. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar;
former Ogun State Governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel; former Speaker Umar Gha’li
Na’Abbah, former Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim; the late Senate President
Pius Okadigbo, former PDP National Chairman, Chief Audu Ogbeh and even the late
President Umaru Musa Yar’adua were not spared. In different ways they disagreed
with Obasanjo. In different ways they lost out. As the political alignment for
2015 intensifies, there are fears that the Obasanjo group could pull the rug
off Jonathan’s 2015 ambition. In Abeokuta last Friday, many governors from the
North, some of whom have presidential ambition, engaged in a closed door 
meeting with Obasanjo after they contributed to the fund for building the
presidential library mosque. If anything, the harmony demonstrated at the
meeting pointed to the reality of power shift from the South to the North, a
change that Obasanjo has openly canvassed for.  The big alliance being
planned by the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), the Action Congress of Nigeria
(ACN) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) would provide a veritable
alternative to dissenting groups in the PDP, if Jonathan picks the party’s
ticket for 2015 presidential election.
Presidential aides declined to make
comments on the cold war between Jonathan and Obasanjo. Many calls put through
to Dr Doyin Okupe, a Senior Special Assistant to Jonathan on Public Affairs,
were not answered. He did not respond to text messages sent to his mobile
phone, explaining what this newspaper wanted him to clarify.  Subsequent
calls made to Dr Okupe after the text messages had been delivered were not
attended to. Also, Dr Reuben Abati, the president’s Special Adviser on Media
and Publicity, did not respond to our reporter’s calls and text messages. The
president’s Special Assistant on Political Affairs, Malam Ahmed Gulak, also
refused to respond to calls and text messages to his mobile telephone. However,
in his response to criticisms by former leaders of Jonathan last Friday, Gulak
had said, “They have had their opportunities to rule this country before. Some
have done eight years; some have done 12 years, some have done seven years,
they have done their own bits. Therefore, what we are saying is that, they
should be elder statesmen; give advice from the sides, not to dabble into
creating crisis within the system.”
According to Gulak, he agreed that
nobody could deprive people of their rights to air their views on any national
issue, including how they are governed, but such criticisms should be
constructive. He argued that when such criticisms come from those who had been
privileged to have led the country in the past, they should be moderated, not
to create social disharmony in the country.
In his reaction to the face-off
between Jonathan and Obasanjo, the National Publicity Secretary of the
Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), Mr Osita Okechukwu, described
it as ‘nemesis at work’.
Okechukwu recalled how Obasanjo also
treated the likes of former military leaders, such as Ibrahim Babangida,
Abdulsalam Abubakar and T. Y. Danjuma who worked for his election as civilian
He said “if Mr President is actually
ready to transform the country, he must not only detach himself as a puppet in
the hands of the Ota Chief; but must muster the political will to expose the
perfidy, culture of impunity and arbitrariness, which is the metaphor of
Obasanjo regime.”
He stated further that  “The
altercation between President Goodluck Jonathan and the ex-president Chief
Olusegun Obasanjo can best be termed nemesis at work; for it is the same bowel
Chief Obasanjo used in feeding his mentors who rescued, rehabilitated and
enthroned him as president for the second time, which is being used to feed
him. One recalls the petition we wrote then, pointing out that going by the Decree 
which governed the 1999 presidential election, that the chief was not qualified
to be president. Our argument was that Chief Obasanjo is an ex-convict, the
next day, the then Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar repealed that
section. Or do we forget how Gen. Ibrahim Babangida coerced everybody to queue
into the Obasanjo for president project, hoping for reward, which never came.
“General T. Y. Danjuma threatened to
leave the country if the chief was not crowned. When he became president, the
result was the revocation of oil block licence allocated earlier to him by
General Sani Abacha. Suffice it to say that the tale of the dosage of
ingratitude of Chief Obasanjo is legendary,” Okechukwu said.
The CNPP spokesperson added that
“President Jonathan has been dealing with Chief Obasanjo with kid-gloves and,
therefore, must learn from American dictum, which admonishes that you don’t
pull the pistol without shooting. Too bad.
“Where does one start from to mention
a few of the asset-stripping, subversion of the constitution and havoc visited
on the Nigerian people in the eight years of the Obasanjo’s regime. His
privatization programme was highly flawed and at variant with the intendment of
the exercise. He embarked on undue patronage of his cronies, and to crown it
all, the revenue realized from the sales is steamed in controversy.
“We cannot as well forget the reckless
allocation of 500 hectares of Sirajo District to Nigerian cronies of Chief
Obasanjo and some Malaysians without due process. The hype that greeted the
launching of Malaysian Garden, by Chief Obasanjo hit high roofs upon which a
lot the Nigerians invested and 6 years down the line the controversy has not
Also speaking with Sunday Trust on the
development, Daniel Richards, Adamawa State born political strategist, queried
the sincerity of Obasanjo over the choice of his successors.
“If you look at the PDP wholly, we
agree that Obasanjo played a role in Jonathan’s emergence. Let’s not forget
that Obasanjo too wanted to perpetuate himself through the third term
agenda.  For me, on the emergence of Yar’adua and Jonathan, I don’t think
Obasanjo had good intentions. And if you look at what characterised Jonathan’s
emergence, you will find out that there is a motive behind bringing him as vice
president,” Richards said.
The divide between Jonathan and
Obasanjo may influence the country’s future political leadership. An intense
power struggle may be in the offing in 2015.
Daily Trust


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