If there ever was any doubt about the abysmal level to which governance or leadership in Nigeria has fallen and how small the minds are in very high places, the letters between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Goodluck Jonathan have served to clear the air.
As an approach, both very public exchanges belittle the exalted office of the President and in content, the two letters do little credit to any claim by both men to statesmanship. While Obasanjo’s letter had substance of issues, its appearance in the media expectedly and tragically shifted attention from the message to the messenger. And that managed to obfuscate the salient issues raised. Jonathan’s reply, however, would seem to have further helped in the diminution of his office.
Angered as he may have been by the original letter, his public reply was not only unnecessary, its language is patently un-edifying. In both letters, name-calling and dirt-dishing are the order in a manner that does little credit to both men, and if not carefully handled, may not help public discourse of Nigeria’s problem as well as the governance process.
Although the missive to Jonathan by Obasanjo reiterates the latter’s propensity for periodic self-imposition as a moral ombudsman and conscience of a drifting nation, it raises issues that have been of concern to all Nigerians. The 18-page letter, titled “A Letter of Appeal to President Goodluck Jonathan: Before It is Too Late” also underscores the writer’s right to freedom of expression, even if his submission on matters of national importance generates controversy.
On the face of it, there is nothing in the letter that has not been in the domain of public discourse. However, given the quantum and the gravity of the issues raised, and by virtue of the writer and the position he occupies in the state of affairs in Nigeria today, the letter is an epistle that should be taken seriously. By which is not meant the kind of reply President Jonathan has written. It may also be his right to speak out, but the better response would be to face the issues raised in a dignified manner and have them resolved. That is statesmanship.
Beyond the specifics of avuncular admonition and verbal castigation, Obasanjo’s letter identified five key areas where President Jonathan needs to be assessed. These are leadership of the ruling party, leadership of the Federal Government, leadership of the defence forces, stewardship over the security of the nation, and the political leadership of the country. Obasanjo’s verdict: Jonathan has failed on all points.
Irrespective of the former leader’s verdict, that the country is not moving in the right direction cannot be disputed. Despite its potential for becoming a powerful, prosperous nation, Nigeria has aimlessly drifted, since its democratic rebirth, to become one of unimaginable depravity: a forsaken nation ridden with corruption and institutionalized banditry, a people dehumanized by widespread poverty and decrepit infrastructure; and one bedeviled by factional politics, thriving opportunism and heightened insecurity. This should worry all Nigerians, including President Jonathan. And he certainly can do better than he has done in tackling these problems.
Obasanjo’s letter suggests that in spite of this glaring deterioration, there seems to be no hope, because Nigerians get the impression that the present crop of leaders running the country appears not to understand the enormity of the responsibilities before them, or, if they do, lack the capability to act.
Furthermore, it insinuates that when the chips are down, Nigerians would be left on their own since the leadership appears incapacitated to act appropriately. In brief, the letter re-echoes the fact that Nigeria has loads of problems seeking attention, but that these problems do not seem to be getting answers or solutions from the leaders.
Once again, just as every concerned citizen of this country, Obasanjo has an inalienable right to write or comment on how he is governed. Given the privileges with which Nigeria’s national history has endowed him as a two-time head of state and as an elder, both traditionally and politically, he has elevated this right to a moral duty; hence, his consistency in the tradition of letter-writing to successive heads of state from President Shehu Shagari, to Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha and Umaru Yar’Adua.
However, it is pertinent to wonder whether Obasanjo, at this point in time, has any moral justification to pontificate to anyone as he has done on the present state of affairs to which he is a major contributor. He, afterall designed and implemented the scheme of a failed third term bid that eventually culminated in the Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan presidencies that he now laments! In better climes, Obasanjo ought to be hiding his head in shame.
Hence, perhaps, Obasanjo is not the appropriate person to pass judgment on the situation at hand. Fresh in the nation’s collective memory is his fundamental role as an effective cause of the perfidy, ineptitude and political monstrosities his letter decries.
Besides the fact that he selfishly foisted on Nigerians his two successors, Umaru Yar’Adua and Jonathan, who were obviously at once unable and unprepared to run the country, some of the architects of the nation’s continuing economic misfortunes were his principal cohorts in his two-term regime.
Moreover, as Jonathan has pointed out in his reply, the devious bickering and factional politics which his letter harshly condemns are traceable to the advancement of impunity fostered by his actions and his third term ambition.
Finally, his intemperate verbiage, reeking of self-righteousness, proffers no solution. Hence he opened himself up to charges, albeit an erroneous one of incitement and even subversion which Jonathan has now unwisely and crudely levelled against him.
Viewed from another angle, however, it may be granted that Obasanjo is probably smarting from the pangs of guilt or is frustrated knowing that, from his own self-assessment, he is one of those who hold the soul of the polity. Consequently, to assuage his conscience, he is doing what he thinks he ought to do as an elder statesman.
Whatever the case, he has raised cogent issues. And President Jonathan owes it to Nigerians to steer the ship of state in such a direction as would render a letter like Obasanjo’s unnecessary. That, sadly, is not the case after reading his reply today.
It has also been reasonably argued that Obasanjo should not have made his letter public, for to have done so suggests his intention might have been in bad faith and to incite the public against this administration. Jonathan’s reply has, indeed, emphatically made his point, even though he too wasted no time in advertising his letter for public consumption. Yet, the charges against his government and personal style are deep, serious and should engender sober reflection as well as a change of tack.
Over all, since Nigeria is at stake and not persons, attention should be diverted from the characters of Obasanjo and Jonathan. In this regard, those in the Presidency and supporters of the Jonathan administration are expected to critically examine and discuss the issues raised rather than spend time and money on hauling diatribes at Obasanjo. Prolonging the needless ad hominems in the public space is also diversionary and counterproductive. And the government and its spokespersons should endeavour to address issues rather than personalities.
President Jonathan and his aides should not be on the defensive, for they cannot be, because devoid of its highfalutin superfluity, Obasanjo’s letter is searing as it is a justified criticism of the Jonathan administration. The administration should think outside the box to address the multifarious problems plaguing the country; for this administration seems to have only perfected the fruitless modus operandi of running the country without any creative or imaginative input that could yield tangible results.
Besides, the same questionable hirelings imposed on the government and economy in the last 14 years are still in charge, making the same mistakes over and over again. A stop must be put to this. This administration must be more focused and decisive and Jonathan must be a man and half to end the nation’s drift.
While it is common to direct the searchlight of rational scrutiny on the messenger, the value of the message, though intrinsically linked with the intention of the messenger, can be isolated for the nation’s common good. Obasanjo’s letter is an apt reminder to the current government that Nigeria as a nation is bigger than any ethnic identity; it is greater than any personality or any interest.
It is a restatement that the value of any group or individual should be reckoned with only on the basis of its potential to edify and enhance the wellbeing of the collective.
However ill-conceived the two letters might be in content and delivery, it is once again another reminder that history is beckoning on Jonathan and giving him a chance at winning the battle for both self-redemption and national rebirth. The choice is patently his to make.