OBJ/IBB: Case of two ‘enemies’ uniting for the Nigeria project

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FOR the second time in less than two years, two of Nigeria’s foremost former leaders, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and General Ibrahim Babangida, once again are occupying the public space, for  obvious reasons. However, quite unlike their last encounter in which the two elder statesmen public washed their dirty linens in the media, the two former leaders, who had variously and on different occasions, occupied the nation’s number one political seat, on Sunday, reached a common ground on the myriads of problems facing the country, particularly insecurity, and jointly resolved that the country’s existence was not negotiable.

In a rare joint public appearance in recent times (at least after their face-off in the media in August last year), the two army generals jointly issued a press statement in Abuja, urging Nigerians not to allow their fears, frustrations and despair over the growing insecurity plaguing the nation to submerge their hope in the continued corporate existence of the country. Taking a cursory look at the worrying trend, a fallout of the violent attacks, bombings and mindless killings in some parts of the country, particularly in the North, Obasanjo and Babangida, in the statement, asserted that “the continued unity of the nation is not only priceless, but non-negotiable.” Stating that they were ready to join forces to sustain the graveyard peace in the country, they went further to affirm; “On our part, we ready to do whatever is possible to promote the quest for peace and harmony. We are joining hands with all patriots to sustain and further enhance the unity and progress of this county.”

Aligning with the reservations expressed by a former Secretary to the Oyo State Government (SSG), Dr Dejo Raimi, incidentally also on Sunday, the two former Nigerian presidents, in a veiled condemnation of the administrative style of President Goodluck Jonathan, said “present efforts by the state governments to resolve the security problems should be scaled up to be more involving and inclusive, seeking active participation of stakeholders at the local level.” Dejo Raimi, who expressed an open frustration with the seeming failure of President Jonathan to firmly handle the hydra-headed crises bedevilling the country, found a voice in Obasanjo and Babangida, who said “A deeply worrying trend that is evolving from this terrible situation is that a pervasive cynicism is beginning to set in, so much so that Nigerian patriots are starting to question the platform on which the unity of this country rests. This is simply untenable.”

However, not quite a few people are looking beyond the newly-found rapport between the two glamorous Nigerian leaders. While some are of the view that the duo may be genuinely concerned over the appalling state of the nation, some others are of the opinion that the air of conviviality and the new camaraderie being espoused by Obasanjo and Babangida may be as a result of an entrenched schism and political power play ongoing among the stakeholders in the country. It is being said in some quarters that the relationship between President Jonathan and his benefactor is now anything but cordial. In the same vein, it is a public secret that the gap-toothed Minna-born former Military President is still smarting from his failure to be the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last general election, a ticket he lost to the incumbent president, courtesy of an interesting power-play, allegedly master-minded by Obasanjo, in the build-up to the PDP primaries for the said election. Thus, not quite a few Nigerians were not amused that the two leaders may have now found a common front in the security challenges facing the country to vent their individual ‘frustrations’ on the president.

More importantly, some people were also taken aback by the new-found love between the two former military warlords in view of the fact that they openly took themselves to the cleaners about this time last year. Using the occasion of his 70th birthday celebrations in 2011, IBB had described the eight-year civilian administration of his former boss as lacking in focus and visionless. He had then premised his verdict on OBJ on the allegation that his administration wasted about $16 billion of the nation’s resources on the building of power plants without anything commensurate to show for the huge spending. Not finding the accusation-cum condemnation amusing, the Owu-born General did not take things lying low, as he gave his once-upon-a-time protégé a piece of his mind, describing him as a fool at 70.

The altercations between the duo became a big roforofo fight that did not subside until some influential and highly-placed Nigerians waded in.  At the peak of the face-off, the Senate President, David Mark, while urging the then two feuding leaders to sheathe their swords, admonished them to refrain from making further inflammatory remarks capable of heating up the already over-heated polity. Some other people then saw the altercations as a public show of shame that was meant to distract and confuse the populace about their relationship. It was in this sense that Raimi described the two warring generals as a pack of fools “who are both usurpers of power and should go to hell.”

Against the backdrop of the latest press statement issued by OBJ and IBB in Abuja over the state of the nation, could it be said that the two old war horses have truly sheathed their swords and are now genuinely coming together for the sake of the Nigerian state? In the face of the apparent failure of the Nigerian leaders, past and present, to give succour to Nigerians, would it be appropriate to say that the recent step taken by OBJ and IBB were altruistic, aimed at finding peace for a beleaguered nation?

It may be a mere accident of history, but the former Oyo SSG had, on Sunday, raised a germane issue when he said, in his telephone interview with the Nigerian Tribune, that “it became more unfortunate that while the old crop of leaders has failed, the younger generation is not giving any indication that it is capable of coming to the rescue. Nigeria is swimming in troubled waters and unless something drastic is done to reverse the situation, the country may be consumed.” Invariably, the man, who also belonged to the old generation of leaders in all ramifications, had said that the country is doomed, as the younger generation is not showing any sign of salvaging the country. Could it then be said that OBJ and IBB are trying to redeem the image of the old school Nigerian political leaders at this critical moment in the nation’s turbulent history?

Both Obasanjo and Babangida have some things in common when it comes to issues affecting the country. Besides being old army veterans, they remain a recurring decimal in the annals of Nigeria, emerging at critical moments in the national life. Besides being former military rulers, the duo shared a common destiny in finding themselves in positions of authority through sheer providence. While Obasanjo was the beneficiary of a coup-de-tat foiled by the bravery of Babangida, the latter also found himself in power, not by his power but through deft manoeuvrings and political calculations. The duo belonged to the class of three Nigerian longest rulers, the first being General Yakubu Gowon who was at the helms of affairs for nine years. While IBB governed the country for eight years, OBJ collectively was in charge for 11 years.

Above all, it remains an indubitable fact that both OBJ and IBB, one a southerner and the other a northerner, are irrevocably committed to the cause of the Nigerian project. The two leaders have clearly, on several occasions, genuinely demonstrated the fact that they are indeed true nationalists who would do anything to ensure the continued existence of Nigeria as one indivisible country. United in the cause for a sustained national unity, they both put their lives at stake and actively participated in the 1967-1970 Nigerian Civil War. Indeed, the two untiring generals may have, once again, found it incumbent upon themselves to bury personal animosities and be united in the cause and course of sustaining the Nigeria Project.


In : Politics

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