The political war of words between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his erstwhile godson, President Goodluck Jonathan, is on everyone’s lips. Like a buffet, probably served to mark the end of the year, people are taking the bitter diatribes by the two leaders from various angles and serving themselves different interpretations.
Obasanjo had opened the highly controversial debate with his open letter to Jonathan dated December 2. The letter 18-page letter was a fusion of potentially explosive allegations that kept everyone alert and waiting for Jonathan’s reply. The reply came on December 20. But taking careful notice of what Obasanjo said in his letter, it appears Jonathan’s reply does not quite address the issues.
The former president had raised very serious allegations bordering on security, corruption, and oil theft. The bottom line, according to Obasanjo, is that Jonathan wants a second term at all cost.
Does Jonathan’s reply really disprove the allegations in Obasanjo’s letter? A comparative study of the key issues in the two leaders’ write-ups would confirm.
Reading Their Lips
Obasanjo: Obasanjo accuses Jonathan of elevating his personal political interest above the national interest. He alleges that the president had instigated the ongoing division in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party with an inordinate ambition for re-election in 2015 that contradicts his earlier promise to do only one term.
The former president says, “Many of us were puzzled over what was going on in the party. Most party members blamed the national chairman…The chairman is playing the tune dictated by the paymaster. But the paymaster is acting for a definitive purpose for which deceit and deception seem to be the major ingredients.
“Up till two months ago, Mr. President, you told me that you have not told anybody that you would contest in 2015…Only a fool would believe that statement you made to me judging by what is going on. I must say that it is not ingenious. You may wish to pursue a more credible and more honourable path.
“Although you have not formally informed me one way or the other, it will be necessary to refresh your memory of what transpired in 2011. I had gone to Benue State for the marriage of one of my staff, Vitalis Ortese, in the state. Governor Suswam was my hospitable host. He told me that you had accepted a one-term presidency to allow for ease of getting support across the board in the North. I decided to cross-check with you. You did not hesitate to confirm to me that you are a strong believer in a one-term of six years for the president and that by the time you have used the unexpired time of your predecessor and the four years of your first term, you would have almost used up to six years and you would not need any more term or time.
“Later, I heard from other sources, including sources close to you, that you made the same commitment elsewhere, hence, my inclusion of it in my address at the finale of your campaign in 2011.”
Obasanjo says Jonathan failed to address the “bitterness, anger, mistrust, fear and deep suspicion” that his 2015 ambition engendered among PDP governors, which had led to the recent defections from the party, by refusing to act on a report of mediation by some party elders.
Jonathan: Jonathan agrees that 2015 is at the heart of the crisis in PDP, but he disagrees with the assertion that the entire blame should be placed at his doorstep.
“At the heart of all the current troubles in our party and the larger polity is the unbridled jostling and positioning for personal or group advantage ahead of the 2015 general elections.
“It is indeed very unfortunate that the seeming crisis in the party was instigated by a few senior members of the party, including you,” the president tells Obasanjo. “But, as leader of the party, I will continue to do my best to unite it so that we can move forward with strength and unity of purpose.”
He reserves his comments on the issue of whether or not he would seek a second term, but denies Obasanjo’s claims about discussions on a single term with Suswam and others.
While only Suswam and the others involved in the alleged discussions on Jonathan’s pledge of a single term can confirm the truth of the conjectures on the matter, Jonathan ought to have explained the fact of the PDP elders’ intervention in the PDP crisis and his position on their recommendations.
Jonathan’s reply also fails to deal with his alleged involvement in the division among the ranks of the PDP governors, which dovetailed into the split in the wider body of governors. The president has refused to recognise Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi as chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum since his re-election as NGF chairman on May 24. The forum has been split into two factions after the failure of an attempt by some governors, apparently, sponsored by the president to upstage Amaechi at the NGF election on May 24.
Obasanjo: Still on the issue of elevating personal political interest above national interest, Obasanjo alleges, “I was taken aback when an African Development Bank Director informed me that the water project for Port Harcourt, originally initiated by the federal government and to be financed by the bank, is being put in the cooler by the federal government because of the Amaechi-Jonathan face-off.”
Jonathan: But the president says, “On the Rivers State water project, you were misled by your informant. The federal government under my watch has never directed or instructed the Africa Development Bank to put on hold any project to be executed in Rivers State or any other state within the federation. The Rivers water project was not originally in the borrowing plan but it was included in April 2013 and appraised in May. Negotiations are ongoing with the AfDB. I have no doubt that you are familiar with the entire process that prefaces the signing of a Subsidiary Loan Agreement as in this instance.”
That denial certainly cannot be a satisfactory answer under the current suspicious circumstances surrounding many projects in Rivers State, which involve the Jonathan government.
Just before Obasanjo’s letter was made public, Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in response to Amaechi’s accusation that she was stalling the water project, said the governor was engaging in an “undignified charade.”
In a tone quite suggestive of the fact that the problem was beyond her, she asked if Amaechi was “the only governor the ministry deals with.”
Then Okonjo-Iweala arrived at the same answer most Nigerians, including Obasanjo, have reached on the River State water project issue, which is that the problem is with the Federal Executive Council, which Jonathan heads.
“As the ministry had previously explained, the project is going through the processes and must get final approval from the ADB board and the Federal Executive Council before I can sign it. So the idea that I have refused to sign it is preposterous and inaccurate,” she says.
It is doubtful if Jonathan’s FEC would ever give approval to the water project under Amaechi’s governorship.
Obasanjo counsels that a “carrot and stick approach” is required to lay the ghost of Boko Haram insurgency in parts of northern Nigeria to rest. He talks about the imperative of addressing the underlying causes of insecurity in the whole of the country and not relying on “conventional military actions based on standard phases of military operations alone.”
Jonathan: The responds that he is aware of his government’s responsibility for the security of lives and property in the country.
“My administration is working assiduously to overcome current national security challenges, the seeds of which were sown under previous administrations. There have been some setbacks; but certainly there have also been great successes in our efforts to overcome terrorism and insurgency,” he says.
This is true. The security situation is certainly better now, as the threat of Boko Haram is currently confined to parts of the North-east. The federal government has also tried to pursue dialogue with the insurgents.
But the attempt to disparage the former president’s valid counsel by referring to his own draconian antecedents was definitely uncalled for.
Obasanjo: Obasanjo laments what he calls Jonathan’s inability to live above clannish tendencies. He says being a Nigerian was the fundamental qualification for his rise to the presidential seat. Those trying to foist the tag of a tribal champion on the president are, therefore, not doing him any good, Obasanjo says.
“To allow or tacitly encourage people of ‘Ijaw nation’ to throw insults on other Nigerians from other parts of the country and threaten fire and brimstone to protect your interest as an Ijaw man is myopic and your not openly quieting them is even more unfortunate.”
Jonathan: Jonathan responds, thus, to the above allegation, “While, by the Grace of God Almighty, I am the first president from a minority group, I am never unmindful of the fact that I was elected leader of the whole of Nigeria and I have always acted in the best interest of all Nigerians.
“You referred to the divisive actions and inflammatory utterances of some individuals from the South-south and asserted that I have done nothing to call them to order or distance myself from their ethnic chauvinism.
“Again that is very untrue. I am as committed to the unity of this country as any patriot can be and I have publicly declared on many occasions that no person who threatens other Nigerians or parts of the country is acting on my behalf.”
Ostensibly, that response leaves a lot to be desired. Jonathan has, obviously, failed to rein back some from his native Ijaw that have tended to employ inflammable comments to try to fend off opposition to the president, particularly, regarding his second term ambition.
In May, leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force, Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, dared the security agencies to arrest him over comments he had made to the effect that there will be no peace in Nigeria if Jonathan was not re-elected in 2015.
“I stand by my statement which I made in my early press conference, there will be no peace, not only in the Niger Delta, but everywhere, if Goodluck Jonathan is not president by 2015, and I want to add that the Fulanis, who migrated and invaded our lands and continue to show disregard and disrespect to the owners of the country they came into, and people have tolerated them for a very long time, will no longer continue,” Dokubo-Asari said at a press conference on May 9 in Abuja.
Dokubo-Asari was never arrested, neither were others who had also been making inflammatory statements about the president’s 2015 ambition.
Obasanjo: Obasanjo raises concern about an alleged political watch list of perceived opponents kept by Jonathan.
“Allegation of keeping over 1,000 people on political watch list rather than criminal or security watch list and training snipers and other armed personnel secretly and clandestinely acquiring weapons to match for political purposes like Abacha, and training them where Abacha trained his own killers, if it is true, cannot augur well for the initiator, the government and the people of Nigeria,” Obasajo tells Jonathan.
Jonathan: The president replies, “Perhaps, the most invidious accusation in your letter is the allegation that I have placed over one thousand Nigerians on a political watch list, and that I am training snipers and other militia to assassinate people. Baba, I don’t know where you got that from but you do me grave injustice in not only lending credence to such baseless rumours, but also publicising it. You mentioned God seventeen times in your letter. Can you as a Christian hold the Bible and say that you truly believe this allegation?
“The allegation of training snipers to assassinate political opponents is particularly incomprehensible to me. Since I started my political career as a deputy governor, I have never been associated with any form of political violence. I have been a President for over three years now, with a lot of challenges and opposition mainly from the high and mighty. There have certainly been cases of political assassination since the advent of our Fourth Republic, but as you well know, none of them occurred under my leadership.”
He tells Obasanjo to proof the allegations, promising to refer the criminal allegations to the National Human Rights Commission, a government agency, for investigation.
Acting on the instruction of the president, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, has, reportedly, directed NHRC to investigate the allegations regarding the political watch list, snipers, ethnic chauvinism, and assisting “a murderer to evade justice.”
Many believe the criminal allegations raised by the former president are not such that can be effectively handled by a government agency like the NHRC. They recommend, instead, the setting up of an independent judicial inquiry.
Obasanjo: Obasanjo says, “Corruption has reached the level of impunity. It is also necessary to be mindful that corruption and injustice are fertile breeding ground for terrorism and political instability. And if you are not ready to name, shame, prosecute and stoutly fight against corruption, whatever you do will be hollow. It will be a laughing matter.”
He also talks about the menace of oil theft and bemoans the adverse effect of those negative tendencies on Nigeria’s attractiveness to foreign investment.
Obasanjo calls for investigation of the allegation by the Central Bank of Nigeria governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, that $49.8 billion from the proceeds of crude oil export expected to be lodged in the apex bank by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation was withheld by the corporation. The amount, which represents about 76 percent of the total crude oil revenues from January 2012 to July 2013, has, however, been reduced to about $12 billion by Sanusi, in a curious U-turn.
Jonathan: The president retorts that his administration did not give birth to corruption in Nigeria.
“The seed of corruption in this country was planted a long time ago, but we are doing all that we can to drastically reduce its debilitating effects on national development and progress. I have been strengthening the institutions established to fight corruption. I will not shield any government official or private individual involved in corruption, but I must follow due process in all that I do.”
Jonathan attempts to buttress his point with the ongoing fuel subsidy scam trials. He denies that corruption and adverse economic conditions have scared away foreign investors, insisting that foreign direct investment has grown since the last three years of his administration.
But the president managed to dodge the question of growing oil theft thrown up by Obasanjo, saying, “You made a lot of insinuations about oil theft, shady dealings at the NNPC and the NNPC not remitting the full proceeds of oil sales to the of CBN. Now that the main source of the allegations which you rehashed has publicly stated that he was ‘misconstrued’, perhaps you will find it in your heart to apologise for misleading unwary Nigerians and impugning the integrity of my administration on that score.”
The issue of unremitted funds is only one aspect of the corruption issue in the oil sector, which Obasanjo feels should be investigated. It was never the main source of the allegations about oil stealing.
This year, Africa’s vice president for the Anglo-Dutch giant Shell Exploration and Production, Ian Craig, told an annual conference of industry players and governments in Abuja that while militant attacks on oil installation in the Niger Delta had reduced, oil theft was on the rise. He said Nigeria lost an estimated 150, 000 barrels per day, being about seven percent of total production, to oil theft.
A report released in September by Chatham House, a UK-based policy think-tank, gave a similar assessment. It said Nigeria’s crude oil was being stolen at an industrial scale, with the loss of at least 100, 000 barrels per day, being about five percent of the country’s total output in the first quarter of 2013, to theft from its onshore and swamp operations alone.
The report said while officials of the country’s government were aware of the problem, “No stakeholder group inside the country has a record of sustained and serious engagement with the issue.”
In July last year, Jonathan himself lamented the menacing peculiarity of crude oil theft in Nigeria, saying, “it is embarrassing that it is only in Nigeria that crude oil is stolen. It is a very bad news and I believe that Nigerians and foreigners who are involved in that act need to throw their heads under the pillow because all over the world, it is only in Nigeria that crude oil is stolen.”
It was at the Maritime Sector Presidential Retreat with the theme, “Harnessing the Potential of Nigeria’s Maritime Sector for Sustainable Economic Development,” held at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The president’s response clearly does not have answer to the question of lack of capacity to deal with the extremely embarrassing problem of oil theft, which experts see as the main source of corruption in the oil industry.
The Whole Point…
Jonathan says he has “tried to respond to only the most serious of the charges which question my sincerity, personal honour.” But in doing so, he has tended to tactfully skirt around the major issues raised in the letter by Obasanjo.