Warm regards” indeed! These last two words in President Goodluck Jonathan’s reply to former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s 18-page open letter of December 2, 2013, disguise the low esteem in which Jonathan now seems to hold his former political godfather and benefactor. Just consider a few words used in Jonathan’s 15-page reply in describing Obasanjo’s allegations: “ominous”, “misplaced”, “misdirected”, “spurious”, “unconscionable”, “untrue”, “baseless”, “hypocritical”, and “lies”. They confirm Jonathan’s spokesperson’s earlier characterisation of Obasanjo’s letter as “self-serving, hypocritical, malicious, indecent, and very disrespectful”.
On the whole, the letter is a stylistic disaster. First, if it took 20 days or so to construct the letter, then the obvious grammatical errors, such as “…render an apology to Nigerians and I” should have been avoided. Second, the 10 reasons given for Jonathan’s reply appear as a rather childish attempt to match Obasanjo’s 10 reasons for making his an open letter. The attempt to get 10 separate reasons from three or four substantive ones led to unnecessary hairsplitting.
Third, and most important, Jonathan’s attempt to use every response to an issue as an occasion to trace the problem back to Obasanjo or his predecessors distracts from the substance of his own self-defence, particularly since Obasanjo’s culpability has been hashed out in the press. The result of this strategy is that Jonathan failed to own any of the numerous problems confronting the nation under his watch. Worse still, he failed to acknowledge that some of the problems, such as corruption, insecurity, and infrastructural decay, escalated under his watch. This is important because Obasanjo’s allegations are about what Jonathan has done or not do during his ongoing tenure.
The above comments notwithstanding, Jonathan did a good job of expressing the pain that Obasanjo’s letter inflicted on him: “Let me state that you have done me grave injustice with your public letter in which you wrongfully accused me of deceit, deception, dishonesty, incompetence, clannishness, divisiveness and insincerity, amongst other ills”. He is also right about underlying mischief in Obasanjo’s letter and its effects on the body politic. Unfortunately, however, Jonathan’s defence against the allegations is facile at best. For example, Jonathan never indicated whether or not he directly confronted or checked those Niger Deltans who have been insisting that hell will be let loose if he did not run in 2015.
He even is not categorical on the allegations he considered to be most grievous, namely, the construction of a watch list and the training of snipers. A categorical “No” is preferred here to dancing around the issue by asking Obasanjo to either name his sources or name people on the watch list. It is also not enough to have directed security agencies and the National Human Rights Commission to investigate the matter. There are far too many sceptics out there who will not take such investigations seriously, partly because Jonathan himself is the accused and partly because previous investigations under his watch have led to nowhere.
Perhaps, Jonathan’s worse response is to allegations of corruption. The focus on the Central Bank of Nigeria Governor’s accusation of inadequate remittance by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to the CBN and the prosecution of the sons of some bigwigs in the PDP begs the question. What has Jonathan done with the recommendations of the other probes and investigative committees on reported frauds? What about the recent proven allegation of the purchase of armoured cars by the aviation minister at exorbitant prices?
What about the recent revelations that Service Wide Votes increased astronomically beyond budgeted sums, with the Jonathan administration recording the highest spending of N1.7tn between 2010 and 2012 alone? Why are states not getting their statutory allocations from the Federation Account promptly and as scheduled? Again, I ask, what happened to the excess of $30-40 per barrel of crude oil sales beyond the budgeted benchmark?
Moreover, how does one reconcile the recent outcry by the EFCC against underfunding and functional incapacitation with Jonathan’s claim in his letter that “I have been strengthening the institutions established to fight corruption”?
It must be admitted that, on the one hand, Jonathan’s responses to Obasanjo’s allegations will be considered adequate by his supporters and those looking for more Obasanjo bashing. However, I would suggest that they check out former Senate President Ameh Ebute’s letter to Obasanjo (Vanguard, December 21, 2013) for a more thoroughgoing bashing.
On the other hand, however, many discerning citizens wanted something else. They wanted something like a state of the nation address, in which Jonathan tells us where we are, where we are going, and how we will get there. If he had chosen this tactic, he would have been able to embed responses to Obasanjo’s allegations at appropriate stages in such an address. He also would have been able to highlight certain areas, such as power generation and agriculture, where he is said to be making reasonable progress.
As things stand, three conclusions are evident. First, whether Jonathan likes it or not, Obasanjo’s allegations will linger in people’s memory, having confirmed the general perception of the President’s inefficiency. He may have been working hard, as his supporters and spokespersons claim, but citizens have yet to see positive results in their own lives. And he failed woefully in his letter to allay their fears and misgivings.
Second, Obasanjo’s villainous role in the PDP politics in particular, and in Nigerian politics in general, is further amplified. True, no one has ruled Nigeria for as long as Obasanjo has and no one else today bestrides the political terrain like a colossus. Yet, no one in Nigerian politics is as vilified for his ignoble role at national and domestic levels like Obasanjo. No doubt, he did certain things right. But his negatives far outweigh the positives in people’s mind.
This is partly why the recent outreach by the All Progressives Congress to Obasanjo, inviting him to be the party’s “navigator”, smells foul in the political, and even moral, nostrils of many observers. The move immediately questioned the APC’s ideology, leading to the suspicion that the party would do anything to win elections.
Third, given the bad blood already generated between Obasanjo and Jonathan over the celebrated exchange of letters, it is not likely that a smooth relationship will be restored soon between them. If it is, then they are political juggernauts who would say anything about each other in public during the day and drink together in the evening. Having “abused” his benefactor, which was an unfortunate step to take, it is now left to Jonathan to be his own man.