By Bunmi Makinwa
WRITTEN ON FEBRUARY 17, 2023
What a pathetic figure he struck today as he spoke at the press conference that he called on the 2023 elections. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo loves the media space. He loves to be the centre of attention and he loves to act in the drama that he writes.
But he does not know when his act smells of odour that comes from his past – recent or distant. Yet again in the 2023 elections, Obasanjo wants to be a referee at a football game where he plays centre-forward.
He titled his statement, “An Appeal For Caution And Rectification”. A fundamental principle of trusted communication is the credibility of the source. If the source of information is not credible or trusted, the information content is at best doubtful. No matter how well-intentioned the information is meant to be.
Obasanjo lost credibility as a voice of reason and good judgment in Nigeria’s 2023 elections when he declared his support for a presidential candidate and the party. He spoke publicly about his choice and preference, a bold and admirable thing to do. But he gave up objectivity with the choice that he assumed.
Obasanjo in the opening paragraph of his statement said, “I crave the indulgence of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency General Muhammadu Buhari, to make this statement because I have had the opportunity to keep him aware of what I know is happening and the danger looming ahead.”
He called the president “General” to remind him of many things – that Buhari and himself were military colleagues; that they are Generals and of course, Buhari would know that Obasanjo is the senior General whose order must be obeyed; that Buhari had heeded his (Obasanjo) past advice on danger; and that he Obasanjo knew when to smell danger and how to avoid it.
The references to the military roles can be attributed to Obasanjo’s wish to intimidate President Buhari or perhaps to curry favour with him. After all the negative statements that Obasanjo had made about Buhari in the past and that yielded no result, including campaigning against Buhari’s second term election, it is not likely that Buhari will be intimidated at this time. And if it is to court Buhari’s goodwill, then it is very cheap.
He restated his love for Buhari even further: “But as far as the election issues are concerned, the President has proved beyond reasonable doubt that he will want to leave a legacy of free, fair, transparent and credible elections.” Flattery can get you everything. But this comes too late at this time.
Obasanjo’s past showed that he had missed many dangers and avoided even deaths. He has had many successes. But he has also had many failures and the claim to smell danger and avoid them would depend on what criteria he uses to assess himself. Of all the living past presidents or heads of state of the country, he is arguably the most controversial and mostly due to his perpetual desire to hug the limelight.
In the statement, following the pretext of warmly embracing Buhari, Obasanjo launched a blistering attack on INEC and its Chairman. “It is no secret that INEC officials, at the operational level, have been allegedly compromised to make what should have worked not work and to revert to the manual transmission of results which is manipulated and the results doctored.”
“The Chairman of INEC may claim ignorance but he cannot fold his hands and do nothing when he knows that the election process has been corrupted and most of the results that are brought outside BVAS and Server are not a true reflection of the will of Nigerians…”
In the truly confounding logic reflected in the quoted statements above, Obasanjo’s argument takes off from “allegedly compromised” to “election process has been corrupted and most of the results…are not a true reflection”. Obasanjo went from allegation to conclusive judgment and “sentenced” INEC to jail, as it were, without trial. Talk of a ruse to draw his gun – “give a dog a bad name and hang him” is an old expression that describes how one can knowingly give a negative label to something or someone and justify a pre-determined conclusion.
From thereon in the statement, Obasanjo offloaded his gun on INEC: “At this stage, we do not need wittingly or unwittingly to set this country on fire with the greed, irresponsibility and unpatriotic act of those who allegedly gave money to INEC officials for perversion and those who collected the blood money. Let me appeal to the Chairman of INEC, if his hands are clean, to save Nigeria from the looming danger and disaster which is just waiting to happen.”
The conclusion that Obasanjo arrived at is clearly stated above. In the usual posturing, he knows what is good for Nigeria, and he can deliver Nigeria from trouble. Or else he can destroy Nigeria. Heil the King!
Suddenly, he remembered something, and he added it in the statement: “Your Excellency, President Buhari Muhammadu…” Oh, President Buhari, not just General Buhari? Obasanjo had spoken of General Buhari in his opening paragraphs, and now in the closing paragraphs, the same man becomes President Buhari. This nomenclature is not by accident. Obasanjo knows the significance of calling Buhari a General who should obey his order, and a President who should save the nation, at different points in the statement.
Obasanjo also remembered in his statement that “… tension is building up and please let all elections that do not pass the credibility and transparency test be cancelled and be brought back (sic) with areas where elections were disrupted for next Saturday, March 4, 2023, and BVAS and Server officials be changed.”
For someone who has seemingly shouted earlier in the statement that the elections were not “true reflections of”, he backed down, retraced his steps and proposed that only some changes may be needed in “areas where the elections were disrupted”. Really?
He went on to make recommendations and suggestions on what could be done “To know which stations and polling units where elections were manipulated…” – a tone that is vastly different from the overbearing and majestical posture of wrongdoings and discredited elections with which he had started this press statement.
Obasanjo would not end his statement without further crawling before President Buhari to convince him of his genuine love. “Mr. President, may your plan and hope for leaving a legacy of free, fair, transparent and credible election be realised.”
And whilst seeking to please Buhari, Obasanjo threw another straight dirty dart at INEC’s Chairman in the statement: “When the die is cast, it will be your (Buhari) problem as the Chief Executive of the nation. The Chairman of INEC may sneak out of the country or go back to his ivory tower.”
The struggle of Obasanjo to rise to the level of a statesman suffered another setback with the press statement that affirmed his bias. The statement discredited any notion of the possibility that the former president strives to play the role of arbiter for the largest interest of Nigeria.
He has chosen to use his democratic right to declare his support and allegiance to a political party for the 2023 election when he could have remained neutral and served as a voice of balance, reason and national stability.
The incoherent and incendiary statement that he fired into the public space today may cement his final loss of likely eminence in more ways than he would ever imagine.
Unfortunately, when history consigns Obasanjo to a small corner of darkness, Nigeria loses yet another possibility to have a national figure, leader and voice of reason when most needed.
New York. February 27, 2023