By Ike Neliaku, Ph.D, FNIPR, FAPRA
of Four Presidents: Obasanjo As Strongman Drummer
May I start
this communication also by wishing you well in 2018 - good health, sound
memory, better conscience and a repentant heart.
Your Excellency’s recent letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, and ruminated on
the content, your national engagements since commencement of the 4th
Republic, particularly from 2006 to date; the reactions of Nigerians to your
letter and your most recent response to the reactions, I am constrained to
write you, sir, through this medium, to draw your kind attention to some salient
issues Nigerians are raising at this point that you may not have grasped, hence
the reactions. I write out of a heart deeply laden with four burdens that
require you to thoroughly discharge before many Nigerians can take your
intervention on national leadership seriously again.
are: The Burden of Conscience, the Burden of History, the Burden of Foundations,
and the Burden of Trust. The Burden of Conscience because there are serious
issues my generation and, perhaps the generations following, would need explanation
from you; the Burden of History because it does appear that history is set to
repeat itself in the way you and a few in your special class have consistently
manipulated the affairs of our nation; the Burden of Foundations bordering on the
implication of your actions and inactions at critical moments which impacted
negatively on Nigeria’s weak foundations, hence, “If the foundations be destroyed
what can the righteous do;” and the Burden of Trust because the way you have
often goaded, and, sometimes, intimidated the citizens of Nigeria onto more
wrong paths demand that you give justification for why we should continue to
trust you. I will digress a bit at this point to give some needful backgrounds
with the hope to return later, sir.
your status and respect your authority as twice a former leader of Nigeria, both
as Military Head of State and civilian President at very challenging junctures
of our nationhood. I also respect your position as an elder and a man of
influence in Nigeria whom God has blessed tremendously in knowledge and wisdom.
Sir, my elders cautioned us when we were growing up that it is not always appropriate
for a ‘child’ to address an elder in the public space, but that if it must be
done on the basis of raising issues of common good, the child will need to
cover his or her face with a basket or any other appropriate covering as a sign
of respect before speaking to the elder. It is against this background that I
take the liberty of placing a fitting basket over my face respectfully as a son
to speak to a father figure when things are fast going awry.
Excellency, I wish to briefly introduce myself. I have had the opportunity of
serving my country, diligently, in public and private capacities, under
different administrations in the last 27 years. I will soon turn 51, which
means I started working for Nigeria fairly early at 24. I have had the
privilege of serving at vantage levels under different administrations, climbing
through the rungs of leadership and governance in the country. I understand to
a good extent the character of our nation and her peoples. Also, I have a fair
measure of international exposure through the different assignments I have undertaken
across different continents in those 27 years. This exposure enables me to understand
when and how foreign interests waddle into and through internal affairs of
nation states. By the grace of God, who has helped me, I have also seen a bit
of why leaders succeed and others fail in Nigeria and elsewhere, as well as why
some leaders fail where others succeeded and vice versa.
Nigeria and will not give it up for another no matter the attraction. I believe
Nigeria is great and there is no nation like her on earth! At present, I head
two national organisations – Initiative for Dialogue and Development (IDD) and
Issachar Centre for Research and Development (ICRD). Along with very well
meaning Nigerians, we are using these platforms to seek to identify the challenges
that face our nation and not only recommend appropriate solutions but, where
applicable, take measured and strategic steps to address such matters. This we
do to contribute to the process of reinventing our nationhood – a task, I
believe must be performed by Nigerians – for which we are well endowed, if
greedy and mischievous elite would allow. This introduction is nothing more
than to assure of our collective effort for genuine progress in Nigeria. There
are numerous others like me across the North and South of Nigeria.
After all I
have seen so far, I arrived at the conclusion that leadership and governance
anywhere, especially in our continent and particularly in Nigeria, are driven
by conspiracy, with interest as its live wire. The only difference is that
whereas in other climes, like the West, the extent of manipulative conspiracy
is highly checked by well established systems and institutions. Sometimes, though
in the minority, these systems and institutions can be abused but in the main they
are always there to maintain an appreciable balancing between the greed of the
elite and the needs of the citizens. In our territory, however, the majority of
the elite parades in an exclusive market square to promote their parochial and
primordial interests on the strand of ‘me, I and myself’ syndrome while the hapless
citizens are left in utter confusion and ignorance. The people scavenge and
wallow in abject poverty, without hope or justice, tortured with the wicked
denial of a fair distribution of their God-given abundance, by those who ought
to protect them. To these innocent ones, the right to decent living or even struggle
for survival has become a privilege while an expression of asking for their
rights is considered anathematic.
this letter, I sought a simple perception audit of you by some Nigerians. While
many acknowledged that you love Nigeria, fought to keep Nigeria one and have been
used of God, alongside others, to intervene at very critical moments to pull
Nigeria from the brink. Sadly, sir, most believe that you have, in the course
of your many interventions, actually ended up becoming more of a bigger burden,
tougher problem, harder nut, and a clog in the progress of the nation you
assert to love. They believe sir, that your adventures or misadventures,
particularly in the last 12 years have been less than progressive, objective
and not in the best interest of Nigeria. I will illustrate with four misfortunes
you have walked us into in these 12 years.
Sir, you will
recall how you ‘forced’ your way, produced and foisted on Nigeria and her
citizens a then unhealthy Governor Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to succeed you as President
and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as his Vice in 2007. As a strongman and sitting President
at the time you were in a position, more than any other Nigerian, to know the
state of health or frailty of President Yar’Adua to realise that it was a no-no
option to install him as your successor. There were many other better choices
at the time, but you chose to act your way because it was in your best interest
and, of course, those you represented. The nation followed your leading and
voted Yar’Adua to be president, and he became. It was entirely your decision sir
and you deserve to keep the ‘credit.’ Nigerians already know a lot of that saga
with its concomitant misfortune. Unfortunately, many allude that but for the
pressure he was exposed to during campaigns and in office as President, Alhaji
Yar’Adua may have still been alive living peacefully in his retirement as a former
governor of Katsina State. Not a few presume that the Yar’Adua debacle was a
punishment to the nation for denying you a third term presidency, an experience
that, if allowed, may have continued today into a life presidency as other
strongmen leaders of Africa.
President Goodluck Jonathan
demise of President Yar’Adua the constitution provides that Dr. Goodluck
Jonathan, his Vice, be sworn in as President of Nigeria, and he became. You
were very happy and it was not hidden. Things went according to your plan and
you were still in charge. By 2011, another round of presidential election was
due and you boldly encouraged President Jonathan to contest as an incumbent.
The nation followed your lead, voted for Jonathan to be returned as elected
President, and he became. By 2013, you were already having issues with President
Jonathan, culminating in your December 2, 2013 letter to him. You proceeded to
tear your PDP membership card signifying a clear departure and change of your
dance steps, thereby setting the stage for the nation to follow another path.
Buhari in the Saddle
trusted your judgment, followed your lead, and voted General Muhammadu Buhari
as their President, and he became. As you admitted in your January 2018 letter,
you knew the areas President Buhari is weak but thought that he would make use
of good Nigerians to help in such areas – economy and foreign affairs. Today
President Buhari is our President, facilitated by you and other members of your
orchestra, and you sir, on behalf of your Group, have openly admitted in your
letter, “I believe the situation we are in today is akin to what and where we
were in at the beginning of this democratic dispensation in 1999. The nation
was tottering. People became hopeless and saw no bright future in the horizon.
It was all dark clouds politically, economically and socially.” Wow! After 19 years?
I will now
return to the four burdens you need to discharge. In all conscience sir, do you
really believe deep down in your inner man that you have done all you did
especially in the last 20 years only in the best interest of Nigeria? Or was it
a conjugation of two interests peaking at the same point, that is, a skillful
manipulation of Nigeria’s situation to deploy solutions that promote your
interest? The recent history of Nigeria is virtually dominated by you. You were
president from 1999 to 2003, you ‘danced’ for Presidents Yar’Adua, Jonathan and
Buhari and they followed your dance steps and became Nigeria’s presidents. And
none should ever reject your advice, else they would run into bad weather. My
opinion is that it is unfair for you to have been president from 1999 and
influenced or dictated or facilitated your choice of who became presidents
after you since then; and after 19 years after, you present us with a verdict
that “. . . the situation we are in today is akin to what and where we were in
at the beginning of this democratic dispensation in 1999”. Wouldn’t you really
think that you have actually become the problem? If the three paths you have
led us through were unsuccessful, why should we rely on you again for
For your information
sir, history has been restored to basic and secondary schools curricular in
Nigeria. This implies that our children will read these things and make up
their minds who was for Nigeria and who was against her. They will look at
every aspect of this history against the backdrop of who helped, positively, to
make a better nation for them. There is need to look at this burden and correct
it before it is too late.
foundation of any house determines the weight of the structure it would carry.
This implies that in many instances that designing and laying the right
foundation is more important than the ‘edifice’ we intend to build. From the
way things have gone in Nigeria from 1999 to date, it does appear that those we
looked up to as leaders from 1999 to date misunderstood and misinterpreted our
needs and have, therefore, laid a wrong foundation that can never be
sustainable. This explains why things have continued to fall apart with the
centre not holding and may, sadly, never hold unless the fundamental issues of
our nationhood are addressed.
Trust is a scarce
commodity with serious attribute of social capital in any society. Like a bank
account, when integrity account is in red urgent intervention is needed. The
way things have gone, the way you have provided leadership, influenced
political outcomes and given direction in Nigeria, in and out of leadership in
the last 19 years, and the fact that we have not made the expected progress
under four presidents, call to question why we should ever look up to you and
accept your judgments again. Sir, with the record before us, it is very
difficult for us to trust any direction you point us to. It will therefore be
difficult to follow your lead of building a coalition for the nation. A
coalition is, indeed, very necessary and may work to save the nation. The joy I
have is that it has been in the minds of many Nigerians who have been working
very hard at the grassroots to reinvent our nationhood. It, therefore, did not
start because you called for it, else it may fail since we do not trust if,
indeed, your own tranche of coalition is tendentiously headed toward another misfortune.
The citizens are tired and weary of actions they are not sure of what the
termination point would be.
As quoted in
your letter, “Einstein made it clear to us that doing the same thing and
expecting a different result is the height of folly.” Nigerians, especially my
generation and those below, feel that we have done the same thing too many
times and, of course, failed woefully, therefore we are no longer careful to
answer you on this matter, sir. We will not follow the version of coalition as
you have prescribed because we cannot trust where it is coming from, the motive
and where it is headed.
being misunderstood, the issue here is not about whether you are right or wrong
about the contents of your letter. Those issues are already marketplace
knowledge. Happily, steps are being taken at various levels to set a new
foundation for our country on the right path to progress. The major challenge,
for emphasis, is that with your trajectory under immediate scrutiny, we do not know
the real source of your recent intervention, nor the intent and where again you
will be leading us. Is it another Yar’Adua, Jonathan, or Buhari which you would
start and realise midway that it has not worked and, therefore, must be
changed? We cannot continue on this road forever. It is for this burden that we
cannot trust the source of your coalition. Who again is it being packaged for?
sir, you have done your best for the nation. You helped Nigeria exit her debt
burden at a time it was most critical and desirable. It is time to now set
Nigeria and Nigerians free. Concentrate on your international commitments as an
African father figure and a global citizen that you strongly merit. But if you
must engage further in our domestic politics, then ask God for mercy and seek
Him genuinely and truthfully to show you what is His heartbeat for Nigeria;
follow His prescription for the rebirth of Nigeria in your time. Being a
merciful and forgiving God, it is a privilege He reserves for those who diligently
and genuinely seek to do His will for the good of mankind. He may not deny you
such favour and grace.
consideration of the above and many other factors yet to be said, we reject
your Coalition for Nigeria. It shall not fly, sir.
in God’s affairs, repentance and judgment are options.
May God continue to bless Nigeria.
Respectfully submitted, sir.
Thursday, February 1, 2018