Reading through former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s recent open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, everybody sees something different. Second Republic politician, Tanko Yakasai, believes the former president was driven by his own selfish interest, not patriotism. The Fulani association, Miyetti Allah Kaural Hore, believes Obasanjo knows more than he is saying on the state of insecurity. Ohanaeze Ndigbo said the letter was in tandem with views it had previously expressed. On the part of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), it expressed a view that the letter is a vindication of its position and accurately conveys the feelings of a majority of Nigerians. But there are aspects of the letter everyone appears to have missed.
We all see exactly what they want to see depending mostly on emotions or sentiments, but rarely logic. But the former president knows people in government will not miss anything. And to appreciate those parts of his message, you have to be read the letter in contrast to things Obasanjo has said in recent weeks, in the last few months, before the presidential election and his prolonged silence immediately after the election. But most importantly, to grasp the significance of Obasanjo’s slight changes in position, the letter has to be looked at in its entirety.
Late in March 2019, almost one whole month after presidential elections, Obasanjo finally uttered his first words on the outcome of the elections. And it was to encourage the opposition candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, to stand firm and not be dissuaded by those critical of his decision to seek justice in court. Explaining why he had remained silent about the election, Obasanjo said the final outcome was yet to be determined by the election tribunal. That was his way of saying he wouldn’t recognize the results and by implication, the government. Obviously, he was and may still be hopeful that the tribunal would overturn the results of the election.
He also had a lot of nasty words to say about the incumbent and even went as far as labeling those discouraging a challenge to the presidential election results in court, evil minds. All the while, half of the world had already congratulated the winner of the election on his victory. Now, four and a half months after INEC declared the results of the elections and one and a half months after Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in for a second term in office, Obasanjo has finally acknowledged Buhari as president. As usual, former president Obasanjo waited for the most ideal moment to write an open letter to the president.
His timing was three days after the brutal killing of Funke Olakunrin, daughter of Reuben Fasoranti, leader of the Yoruba sociopolitical group, Afenifere. It was a murder that raised passions, anger and fears of an impending, ethnically charged violence across the country. In the July 15, 2019 open letter to the president, Obasanjo held nothing back. But the letter was very different from all the previous letters he has written to past president. This letter had a message in it that pleases the different and competing segments of the society. For the general public and those worried about the growing level of insecurity and the menace of Fulani herdsmen, Obasanjo berated the president on the level of violence.
Weeks earlier, Obasanjo had accused the government of pursuing an Islamization and Fulanization agenda. This time around, in the letter, he expresses fears Fulani could be the targets of reprisal attacks which could even lead to a genocide. Of course, he makes no mention of the fact that his Fulanization comment may have contributed to the level of distrust in the country. But in the letter, he gave room for the possibility that not every violent crime ascribed to Fulani herdsmen was necessarily committed by them. And for past political leaders, retired civil servants and the class of power brokers whose time appears to have passed and have been sidelined by the current government, Obasanjo spoke on their behalf. He even spoke up for the men in uniform at the front lines of the fight against Boko Haram. But in whole, Obasanjo spoke for himself in the letter and spoke to mend fences with President Buhari. He basically made a peace offer.
By raising concerns on the level of insecurity, the ethnic tensions and violence perpetrated by herdsmen and also accusing the president of fanning the embers of hate, Obasanjo was basically boxing Buhari into a corner. Then he suggests the president needs help. It is however at the end that Obasanjo showed his true intent, where he offered a way out of the corner the president is supposedly in. One by one, he named everyone the president will need to find a way out of his present difficulties, which included past heads of state. Of course, the letter has been couched in language suggesting it’s in the interest of the unity of the country. But it is also an olive branch from Obasanjo to Buhari. And there is no reason for the president not accept, unless he believes his former military colleague is not sincere in the offer.
The government is there to serve the people. So it is not just collectively, individually, from the highest to those at the bottom rung of society, everybody wants something from the government. Only some are not willing to sacrifice their dignity when it is a government they oppose, while others go into opposition simply because they can’t get what they want from the government. And Obasanjo wants to be treated according to what he believes is his rightful place in society. There is always the possibility that he will be ignored by the government considering the position he took against it during the election. Obasanjo made an appeal on why he deserves to be heard and why he only has the best interest of Nigeria at heart; his family has made sacrifices for Nigeria’s unity. He bears the scars of the civil war and a son bears scars of the insurgency in the northeast.
These were Obasanjo’s exact words in offering assistance to the president, “Some of the groups that I will suggest to be contacted are: traditional rulers, past heads of service (no matter how competent or incompetent they have been and how much they have contributed to the mess we are in), past heads of para-military organisations, private sector, civil society, community leaders particularly in the most affected areas, present and past governors, present and past local government leaders, religious leaders, past Heads of State, past intelligence chiefs, past Heads of Civil Service and relevant current and retired diplomats, members of opposition and any groups that may be deemed relevant.”
Again, everybody has disagreements with the government. Even the First Lady, Aisha Buhari occasionally expresses her grievances with how the government is being run. But you don’t offer assistance to a government you have refused to recognize. Obasanjo himself has been consistent in showing that in the last several weeks. Obviously, he has now had a change of heart and is even praying for the success of the president. Anyone who missed that might want to read the letter a second time, with a different eye.
Shuaib writes from Abuja