Change of Tactics in the North checkmates Obasanjo and catches Jonathan in a Trap! By Frisky Larr
Since it became obvious in 2010 that late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was terminally ill in his Saudi Arabian bed, former President Olusegun Obasanjo had been Northern Nigeria’s Public Enemy No. 1. He was not the least, largely seen as the devil incarnate who wittingly installed an incurably ill Musa Yar’Adua to extend southern Presidency in Abuja through the backdoor in breach of a sacrosanct ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’. A barrage of attacks was unleashed at the time, to underscore this fact and move a strategy forward, of curtailing the active and perceived importance of President Obasanjo in shaping the destiny of post-Yar’Aadua’s Nigeria.
Apart from public comments and overtures made by the former Governor of the Central Bank Adamu Ciroma – who became the face of Northern resistance for a while – the hitherto cautious and prominent backgrounder and smooth operator Ibrahim Bademosi Babaginda (IBB), intensified his public outing. It should be noted that IBB is one rare Nigerian politician who grants media interviews only very rarely. He would rather stay withdrawn and operate from behind the scene than play the chatterbox. At the climax of one of his rare outings in this context, IBB had sought to embed in public consciousness, the reality that Nigerians now knew who fostered “monumental corruption” on the nation – a term that had always been associated with this renowned political stalwart with the gift of astute strategizing. His object of reference then was Olusegun Obasanjo who he accused of having presided over huge national earnings and monumental stealing surpassing the scale that he had personally been associated with. It was a vicious public relations battle that was launched deep into the early days of the Jonathan Presidency.
Today all that has changed. In part, Olusegun Obasanjo has become a central think-tank institution working in tandem with a section of the self-styled Northern elders seeking to find a solution to the present impasse and volatile state that Nigeria’s current political architecture as designed by President Goodluck Jonathan portends. How did we get here?
While the public relations battle raged, I wrote an article titled “Why is Babangida so Angry?” in which I advanced analytical theses on the underlying mindset of northern resistance that came on the heels of massive support for Goodluck Jonathan, who was then perceived as suffering persecution in the hands of ‘born-to-rule’ Northerners. It was obvious then that the largely politically inexperienced Goodluck Jonathan basically survived under the clout of an astute Olusegun Obasanjo, who had come to know what it meant to liberate oneself from the fangs of northern remote-control. The obvious northern strategy shortly before and after Jonathan’s electoral victory in 2011 was thus to trim the wings and neutralize the political toxicity of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to be able to get at the easier prey Goodluck Jonathan, who would then be far less of a match.
Proxy warfare was fought in the media, at the legislature – Tambuwal was elected to sideline Obasanjo’s anointed candidate – and internationally as well. Phrases like ‘avoiding Obasanjo’s third term through the back door’ were coined for maximum psychological impact. The Northerners successfully impressed on the Americans – who played a crucial role in saving Nigeria from a post-Yar’Adua state of anarchy – that Olusegun Obasanjo was a major problem. Thanks to Julian Assange, we now know through Wikileaks that even the Americans – singing from the same hymnbook as northern politicians – also pressured Goodluck Jonathan to distance himself slowly from Olusegun Obasanjo. A pattern that was to play out again shortly after, when the Americans declared the Boko Haram insurgency as a by-product of economic neglect!
In the typical trademark character for which President Jonathan has become known as time went on, he nurtured an independent agenda that was at odd with the political designs of his mentor as well as that of his perceived opponents in the north. After all, it had become obvious, in spite of all insinuations, that Olusegun Obasanjo did not premeditate the death of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in office. His primary calculation at the time had been to shop for a credible candidate to stop the rampaging Atiku juggernaut that was born out of wanton disloyalty. Obasanjo’s strategy since 2010 was thus obvious. Give back the Presidency to the North after just one term of a Jonathan Presidency that emerged by accident having already had two Obasanjo’s terms.
Unknown to all parties however, Jonathan and his kitchen cabinet has been quietly focused on extending his tenure as President counting on a strategic policy of potential political destabilization in lieu of Obasanjo’s godfather’ism. Jonathan then resolved to consciously drift away from Obasanjo and appease obvious northern forces with lofty appointments in some clandestine power-sharing arrangement and juicy contract awards. A stunned Obasanjo could only helplessly watch what he considered illogical strategic appointments and Jonathan’s savvy political dribbling. President Obasanjo was given a major kick in the teeth when he made the daring move to infiltrate the Boko Haram leadership structure at the budding stage and made recommendations on how to confront the menace. Jonathan’s polite rejection of his efforts became the first major sign of a clandestine agenda that Obasanjo could not quite decipher.
Jonathan at the time, did not seem to have fully realized the intricate web of northern political manipulations that cladded Boko Haram. He pursued his policy of appeasing northern elders unperturbed. He was repeatedly assured that the problem would be resolved in no time. After all, he was visibly proven to be creating the requisite distance from Obasanjo thus rendering the continuation of the Northern policy of trimming down Obasanjo’s influence unnecessary. The north could then concentrate on solving the major problem – Jonathan.
At the height of all these, Jonathan in another characteristic mode, couldn’t do better than opening another front in killing public sympathy. He shocked the nation with the deceitful removal of fuel subsidy stating loud and clear that he was ready for a revolution.
In this game of hide-and-seek however, everyone kept his cards close to his chest. Obasanjo had to quit in anger with a bang of the door and Jonathan spitting fire after him in a brutal show of wanton ingratitude. The successful pressure exerted by the deadly Boko Haram was not lost on the northern forces that partly perpetrated and sponsored it until it also seems to have gotten out of their control. Repeated assurances that they were in control of the situation apparently pushed Jonathan into making strategically costly mistakes. National Security Adviser Azazzi was suddenly removed and died under bizarre circumstances shortly after he pointed accusing fingers at northern forces within the ruling party for being behind the sustenance of the deadly sect.
Jonathan trusted the northern elders and obviously granted them a free hand in lobbying the Americans to steer clear of any involvement in the domestic conflict. Suddenly, the Americans whose elaborate intelligence network in Nigeria should have known better, were suddenly declaring Boko Haram as a product of economic negligence. Even Jonathan was stunned but was assured that every means to keep the Americans at bay was legitimate to avoid strains on other routine Nigerian sojourners traveling into America.
Meantime however, Boko Haram has become independently linked with Al-Qaeda and grown more sophisticated and Jonathan realized only very late that there were no serious attempts to kill the movement at any time, by those who assured him of action in no time. On the contrary, plans were advancing to define and shape a post-Jonathan’s Nigeria under a northern leader that was being shopped for. Jonathan had to come out of hiding and have surrogates expose his worst-kept secret of seeking a second term in the Presidency.
Meanwhile, the north had long stopped antagonizing Olusegun Obasanjo, who is now no longer available to see Jonathan’s dream through and teaming up with erstwhile adversaries in the search for a strategic solution. Jonathan has realigned his apparatus to the hybrid foundation of persons and threats. Persons with less political acumen and power base (Edwin Clark and a few militant noisemakers) and the threat of setting the Niger Delta on fire if he is not re-elected!
Unfortunately however, the Northerners are equally as determined to give him a vicious fight. A poorly copied Obasanjo’s template of whipping dissenters in line through the misuse of the power of incumbency now seems to be decimating his party’s power base with the reach yet incalculable. 16 greater than 19 and 5 greater than 27 have been major disasters! Now, his erstwhile godfather and strategic powerhouse is no more! The public is largely disenchanted with spins and lies of achievements and improved standards while ‘improved’ power generation and privatization have so far, failed to produce lights in households. Major thieves of oil subsidy roam free. Government officials steal with impunity. Presidential actions are seen to be hampering every meaningful fight against corruption.
President Jonathan is now left in the trap of chanting Sodom and Gomorra in the Niger Delta like a roadside dog barking at the unstoppable caravan pulling on beyond its reach. The nation now hangs on the precipice with the President playing the last card of a National Conference. The outcome will be anybody’s guess. But the writing on the wall portends a dismal future and a risky course to chart!
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