Two weeks ago I promised I will reproduce today an open letter I wrote to former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a little over seven years ago which somewhat predicted the sad and tragic predicament he’s found himself in recently following his own earthshaking letter to his estranged godson, President Goodluck Jonathan. Hopefully President Jonathan, his praise mongers and attack dogs – and the rest of us – will learn the lessons of the letter, among which are that we should always at least try to practice what we preach and always remember that in the end what we sow is what we reap. Below is the letter edited for space:
Dear Mr. President,
Last week I reproduced in these columns an open letter I wrote to you 17 years ago on the occasion of the publication of what was your magnum opus titled Constitution for National Integration and Development. In reproducing the letter as a reminder that our past will always catch up with us if we refuse to learn from it, I said the letter was a prelude to another one I had decided to write to you. This is the letter.
It will be my second since you returned to power on May 29, 1999, this time as elected president. The first letter was published on these pages on May 11, 2005, nearly a year ago. In that letter, I said that you should learn the lesson that power is ephemeral and you should therefore perish the thought of overstaying your welcome. The letter was titled “The lesson of Power” and it was about “rumours” at that time that you, or at least your henchmen were scheming for a third term, some would say a lifetime, agenda. For a long while you yourself artfully dodged questions on the issue, most famously when the visiting President of the World Bank, Mr. Paul Wolfowitz, asked you point-blank whether or not you wanted to extend your tenure.
Sir, if you were an artful dodger of questions about extending your stay in office, several of your henchmen were categorical in their denials of such a scheme. Notable among these deniers were Deputy Senate President, Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu, your erstwhile political adviser, Professor Jerry Gana, your inter-party affairs adviser, Alhaji Lawal Batagarawa, and Chief Onyeama Ugochukwu, who until recently was executive chairman of the well-endowed Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC.
Most recently, Professor Julius Ihonvbere, who took over Gana’s job as your political adviser, dismissed all speculations about your third term agenda as political laziness. “They”, he said in an interview in the Sunday Independent of March 19, 2006, “are busy on TV and newspapers spreading stories about third term. That is political laziness”.
Needless to say, in spite of your artful dodging and in spite of the categorical denials by some of your henchmen, the “rumours” of your third term agenda persisted. The reason, as I said in my first letter to you, was pretty obvious; there was a huge gap between what you and your henchmen said and what you all did.
Just about two years ago, The Guardian advised you in an editorial that you should make a categorical statement denouncing rumours of your third term agenda. “Here is a case”, it said in its editorial of April 1, 2004, “where silence is not golden.” For whatever reason, you ignored the newspaper’s advice. Which was just as well. Because if you had not, and swore to it on a stack of the Holy Bible, few Nigerians would still have believed you because your denials would have been at great odds with the facts on the ground even then.
Among those facts was your apparent determination to subvert the internal democracy of your party, the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party, by recreating it in your own imperial image. There was also your wilful interference in the choice of the leadership of the National Assembly from the word go. Again, there was, of course, your implacable hostility towards your deputy’s well-known wish to succeed you in 2007 and your none-too-subtle denigration of anyone, notably Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Muhammadu Buhari, who showed the slightest interest in your job.
Sir, your recent hints that only you can save Nigeria from anarchy has an antecedent. Remember you dropped a similar hint in late 2002 at the height of the threats by the House of Representatives, under the leadership of Alhaji Umar Ghali Na’abba, to impeach you. That hint prompted the Nigerian Tribune to write an editorial titled THE ALARM ON CIVIL WAR in its edition of September 24, 2002. In that editorial it said your alarm, more likely than not, “could very well be the hollow desperate cry to those base sentiments by a man who has leaned too heavily upon his own counselling and understanding in bungling a golden opportunity”.
Your Excellency, on May 29, 1999, Nigerians gave you a platinum opportunity, if there is such an expression, to write your name in platinum in Nigeria’s history book. I am afraid, sir, you truly bungled and squandered that opportunity and this was essentially because you allowed vengeance – vengeance against all those you believed had wronged you by wanting to hang you for treason – to become the main driving force in formulating your policies and programmes.
Sir, you betrayed this motive by the fact that you had barely settled down in your seat as president when you set up the Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission (HRVIC), a.k.a. Oputa Panel, initially to look into human rights violations between 1993, the year you were sentenced to the gallows, and May 1999, the year you emerged from death’s shadow to become Nigeria’s second elected president. It was only after the general uproar about the Oputa Panel’s narrow focus that you extended its period of coverage to include your years in office as military leader.
Compare your haste, sir, to the well-measured steps South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, took to set up his own Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As you know very well Mandela had more cause to seek vengeance than yourself. After all he spent 27 years in prison compared to your own five. And the prison conditions there were probably more appalling than ours, given the racist nature of the regime that locked him up.
At the time the Oputa Panel started sitting late 2001, you may have read a letter written to you by Malam Abubakar Gimba, author and one-time President of the Association of Nigerian Authors. The letter was published in the Daily Trust of August 27, 2001. It is one of the most inspiring pieces of literature I have read in a long time and 1 wish I had space to reproduce it for you.
Sir, if you read that letter at all, it is obvious that you did not heed its wise counsel. In that letter Gimba quoted profusely from the Holy Bible to try and persuade you, as a self-proclaimed born-again Christian, to learn to forgive any past wrongs done to you and focus on reconciliation. “The Holy Bible,” Gimba said among other things, “fully endorses reconciliation when it says (Corinthians 5:19) ‘that God (the Most High) was in Christ (may Allah’s peace be on him) reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them and has committed to us the word reconciliation’ ” (emphasis, author’s). Gimba said only the tonic of forgiveness will bring about the needed reconciliation in the land and only you could start the process by injecting the antidote.
He concluded his letter by quoting, again from the Holy Bible, the parable of the rejected cornerstone. You were, he said, destined by God to lead our national reconciliation. “Think about it,” he said. “In particular (think about) Psalm 118:22 ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone’.
“Your Excellency, Mr. President” Gimba finally said, “you were once rejected. Then the Lord restored you to His Grace. Now you are our chief cornerstone. You must do the Lord’s will.”
Sir, instead of doing the Lord’s will, you chose to do your own will. You chose to avenge those you believed had wronged you either directly, by sending you to the gallows, or indirectly by not raising a finger to protest your ill-treatment. This vengefulness has been apparent from, among other things, the way you have formulated your annual budgets since 1999 and even more so from the highly selective manner you have implemented those budgets to reward groups and sections of the country in your good books and punish those you dislike.
The vengefulness is also obvious from the way you have tried to divide and rule Nigerians by a most cynical manipulation of ethnicity and religion mainly through thinly disguised sponsorships of sectional and sectarian associations, even as you yourself condemned such associations as reactionary and divisive.
Sir, your vengefulness coupled with your apparent belief that you alone know best what is good for Nigeria is what has led the country into its current serious political crisis, a crisis that may lead to anarchy and even into a civil war if we are not careful. Already there are ominous dark clouds hanging over the country, dark clouds created by your administration’s use of the security forces to harass and intimidate opposition elements pursuing their legitimate rights of free speech, free association and lawful assembly.
These harassments and intimidation are camouflaged as the need to maintain law and order. The hypocrisy of it all, however, is laid bare by the fact that last week as your administration was prosecuting some members of the Atiku Vanguard for forming, managing and supporting what it called an illegal organization working for the Vice-President, you yourself were busy setting up the Obasanjo Solidarity Forum.
Sir, the only way to avoid the manifest danger facing the country is for you to sincerely and unequivocally denounce your third term agenda. Most Nigerian’s would probably not believe you even if you do but you can still convince them if your own actions and those of your henchmen begin to speak louder than your words.
You know, or at least should know, very well that many of those now telling you that you are indispensable – the Colonel Ahmadu Alis with their crude and silly metarphours about not changing clothes when they are not dirty, the Navy Captain Olabode Georges of this world with their equally crude and silly metarphours of not changing pilots when the aircraft is yet to reach cruising level – all these characters said the same thing to leaders like military president General Ibrahim Babangida, and to your tormentor, General Sani Abacha. You can bet your last kobo they will say the same thing to whoever succeeds you.
They say the time to quit is when the ovation is loudest. Regardless of what your courtiers tell you, right now probably more Nigerians are jeering your administration than cheering it. The fact is that in spite of your brave attempts at political and economic reforms there is more insecurity, sorrow and misery in the land than when you first returned. Your administration may peddle statistics of your achievements, but in the end it is the human effect that matters.
The fact is that in spite of your brave effort, you have woefully failed to stop, much less reverse, the rot in our infrastructure like electricity, refineries, higher education and health. One area you seem to have achieved something was telecommunication, with the establishment of mobile phones. Even here the achievement is marred by the inefficiency of the system and its outrageous cost to the consumer, not to mention the terrible and scandalous mess which Pentascope made of Nitel, the nation’s fixed line carrier.
In the light of all these signal failures it is tempting for you to want to extend your tenure. Sir, you must resist that temptation with every ounce of your strength. Mr. President, Sir, no one, and absolutely no one, is indispensable to his country or cause. As you know very well, the graveyard is full with bodies of many who thought or believed they were indispensable. You owe yourself and Nigeria not to be counted among those who suffered such grand delusions about themselves. If you persist you will only be leading Nigeria down the road to anarchy. At the end of it all, you would then have gone down in Nigeria’s history as its arch-villain instead of one of its heroes.
May God Almighty give you the strength to avoid such a tragic end to a once glorious career.