By IKE ABONYI
Soon after the first National Convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Jos, Plateau State in 1998 during which Olusegun Obasanjo emerged the presidential flag-bearer of the party after defeating the bookmakers’ choice former Vice President Alex Ekwueme, I recall interviewing a top Igbo politician who later became governor to explain to me why he and some Igbo voted against Ekwueme, their kinsman.
In his response to my question he smiled and said, “the only reason why vehicle manufacturers put various levels of gear is to enable the driver change when one gear is not coping.
In politics there are various levels of gears, you as a good driver should know when to change to the next level.
“We all went to Jos, driving on one gear but as things unfold we saw the need to apply the other gear and that was what happened.”
Since then as a political journalist I have always had this political education at the back of my mind when looking at the behaviour of every Nigerian politician particularly in studying the politics of Nigeria’s former President Obasanjo.
Over the years I have come to realise that one Nigerian politician you take for granted at your own peril is Chief Obasanjo.
All those who overlooked him politically paid dearly for it. The Awoists, the core Yoruba politicians under the tutelage of the late Yoruba political sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, took Obasanjo for granted and thought of him as an inconsequential politician.
But since he came to the scene the group never remained intact to make the desired and deserving impact. Instead it is he Obasanjo who has become the most successful Yoruba politician going by the records of his achievements and accolades.
The other person who took him for granted and got a thorough flagellation for it is his former Vice Atiku Abubakar.
After helping the then naive Obasanjo to navigate the country’s political space between 1999 and 2003, Atiku held the political machinery and almost dethroned Obasanjo but made the mistake of his life by giving him the benefit of doubt.
The attack he launched on Atiku after retrieving the machinery from him could only require a sagacious political wizard like the former number two man to still be standing and relevant afterwards.
This great man is one person who has fashioned a technique of always having his way politically. He hardly can be on the same position with you on any issue for long.
Since he ruled this country as a military Head of State from 1976 to 1979 he has never been a fan of any government in power.
He appears more at home speaking against governments than praising them. When General Ibrahim Babangida was in power he delivered serial lectures against the government talking about government and human face.
When Late General Sani Abacha came on he was such a thorn in his government’s flesh that the no nonsense dictator felt he should be quarantined.
General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s regime was the only one sparred ostensibly because it was the government that pulled him out of dungeon to Aso Villa. Obasanjo is so full of himself and he never failed to show it.
At a point he was quoted as saying that there were only two honest Nigeria leaders himself and General Muhammedu Buhari, it’s not certain if he would still say the same of Buhari today.
When he came to power as a civilian President, he said nothing was added to what he left behind as a military Head of State.
With such bogus image of himself coming from prison to rule, after eight years he was well justified to feel that nobody was fitter than him to hold the mantle of leadership. Since the constitution allowed him only two terms he began the process of amending it to allow for a third term to enable the only “messiah” in the land continue in office.
When this failed thanks to the combined efforts of plurality of Nigerians he became literarily angry on the country. His vice, Atiku, who could have been a beneficiary of a successful transfer of power and our democracy would have blossomed instead became a victim.
Rather than Atiku to succeed him, Obasanjo went for an obviously disinterested pair of late Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan making sure that none of those ambitious ones like Atiku, Peter Odili among others got the job.
He ignored criticism that Yar’Adua was too ill for the job. Critics argued then that he actually needed politically handicapped persons like Yar’Adua (sick) and Jonathan (naive) so that he would continue to wield influence and keep his godfather role alive.
But even before Yar’Adua died the duo have fallen out as the Katsina born Fulani man could not imagine even in dying bed relegate his presidential power to him. When he died and power was inevitably domiciled in Jonathan, the great man thought it would be easier since he (Jonathan) showed a lot of timidity even on the throne.
But when he could not play ball as had expected Obasanjo turned the heat on him with blistering attacks on his government. In addition to the scorching letters he wrote berating his administration he also resigned as Chairman, Board of Trustees (BoT) of his party and topped it by publicly tearing his membership card.
He quickly joined the campaign to stop Jonathan second term and dumped him and his party for the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its flag bearer, Buhari.
In desperation to stop Jonathan he found himself romancing with hitherto political enemies in APC with the likes of Atiku, former Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu, and former Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi whom he had stopped from being governor because of his K-leg interpretation that Supreme Court later strengthened.
As Buhari made it to the throne, Obasanjo made no pretence to the fact that it was him and few others that made it possible.
He remained the greatest influence of the administration. He was always in the Aso Villa. But despite that Buhari government refused to separate his administration from other PDP’s in his blame game. Instead he continued to lump all the 16 years of PDP as a huge waste for Nigeria.
This did not go down well with an egoistic Obasanjo who found it a good opening to return to his preferred habitat of attacking governments.
He fired the first salvo on the regime chastising them for not doing much and always complaining. It was from this backdrop that many political watchers viewed last week’s visit of Jonathan to Ibogun, Obasanjo’s village where he was given a red carpet reception as another action from the good political driver who knows when to change gear.
Obasanjo surprised all who are aware of his relationship with Jonathan when he poured encomiums on him as a great Nigerian who showed exemplary leadership. Nigerians are asking what did Jonathan do to cause this turnaround from his chief critic.
But the answer is obvious: Jonathan is no longer in power and is willing to continue to “worship” Obasanjo politically despite everything more so when Jonathan in his new found image of an international statesman does not want to again take Obasanjo for granted as he is still capable of further damages.
If the South-West politicians knew that Obasanjo was going to come this far when he appeared in the nation’s political scene as a naive retired General, their approach to him would have been different.
There are dozens of reasons why many Nigerians would not like this man Obasanjo but you cannot remove from him the incontrovertible fact that he has become one of Nigeria’s greatest political game changer who knows where and when to stand at any given time. Is he trying to stand with the Igbo in 2019? Too early to tell.