Obasanjo As Jonathan's Albatross

THIS DAY Newspaper-Tunde Rahman

Lagos — Around late February 2007 in the build-up to that year's presidential election, former President Olusegun Obasanjo's public rating seemed to have sunken so low, perhaps on account of his failed Third Term agenda, that it suddenly became an issue on the Yar'Adua/Jonathan campaign train whether or not the former president should be allowed to continue to lead the campaign.

That idea ordinarily should not have arisen at all given the fact that the former president led the way in the choice of Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'Adua as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate and given the fact that Obasanjo is still a bundle of energy notwithstanding his age (70 plus), but some on the campaign felt the former president was bad news and that his leading the campaign might spell doom for Yar'Adua in the election.

However, the foreign consultants to the Yar-Adua/Jonathan campaign felt differently. And they backed their position with a survey they claimed to have done, which threw up a strange result: Obasanjo was the one many Nigerians wanted to see on the rostrum because of his theatrics. The consultants had their way; those opposed to Obasanjo's face on the campaign lost out.

With the benefit of hindsight, it was inconceivable whether Obasanjo, who was still in power then and was even waxing stronger instead of gradually becoming lame duck, would have allowed that to happen or whether Yar'Adua himself would have allowed Obasanjo to be pushed out of the centre stage of the campaign giving the close relationship that existed between the two of them at that time.

That incident only spoke to how low Obasanjo had sunken then and even now. The kind of opprobrium that has greeted last week's statement of the former President that President Yar'Adua should toe the path of honour and resign on account of his ill-health is also a pointer to that low public approval rating. The attack on the former president should be understandable. "Once people don't like you, whatever you say infuriates them. Often times the messenger is the message. If the messenger is good, then the message will be welcome," one analyst said yesterday.

Going by what has happened so far, what Obasanjo said had been chorused by many before like the Save Nigeria Group, human rights activists and some other politicians.

Obasanjo had earlier refrained from speaking publicly on the controversy trailing the absence of President Yar'Adua from the country on health grounds. He also refused to comment openly on the health problems of the President.

But last Thursday, the former president broke his seeming silence at the 7th Annual Trust Dialogue organised by the Media Trust Limited at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja.

He said President Yar'Adua should know the part of honour and morality if his health problem was making it difficult for him to perform. This is the way Obasanjo put it: "If you take up an assignment, a job, elected, appointed; whatever it is, and then your heath starts to fail and you will not be able to deliver to satisfy yourself and to satisfy the people you are supposed to serve, then there is the path of honour and path of morality and if you don't know that, then you don't know anything."

Obasanjo also denied imposing a 'sick man' on the country as he has been variously accused of doing, saying God should punish him if he deliberately did such a thing "to punish the country".

The problem seems not to be with what Obasanjo said but with the former president himself. One commentator who viewed the statement against the backdrop of President Yar'Adua's health controversy said: "What Obasanjo said seems to be correct and this position had been canvassed earlier by some prominent Nigerians. But that such came from him and the open platform he employed to air his views seem politically incorrect.

" As a former president, Obasanjo has unlimited access to the Presidency, though he may not be able to access President Yar'Adua at present as, according to sources, only family members like Turai, and some key personal aides see Yar Adua at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where he is receiving treatment for acute pericarditis, Again, as Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, Obasanjo has access to the party's top hierarchy and had already aired his views at a recent meeting of the board in Abuja.

The former president chose to abandon established channels of communication within the party to comment on such sensitive matter or limit his views to the BoT meeting where the position he canvassed did not hold sway. It was perhaps for this reason that PDP's reaction to his statement was acerbic. Hear the party's National Publicity Secretary Ahmed Alkali who is an ally of President Yar'Adua: "As a revered statesman and indeed a major and undisputed beneficiary of Nigeria's democracy, the minimum expected from General Obasanjo even in the face of provocation is a measured and calm demeanour, wise counsel and a demonstration of good faith aimed at enhancing national unity and stability. Opposition Action Congress (AC), which had canvassed the same position like Obasanjo also upbraided the former president. In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary Lai Mohammed, AC said: "The old fox is at it again, trying to ride on the crest of widespread disenchantment with the constitutional crisis that has been created by President Yar'Adua's failure to legally transfer power to his deputy while on a prolonged medical treatment in Saudi Arabia. "Obasanjo cleverly waited until Nigerians have started massive demonstrations against the crisis, which has left Nigeria without a leader for nearly 60 days, before making his clearly cheeky statement in which he asked President Yar'Adua to take the path of honour and resign."

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But notwithstanding the flaks that he has received over his statement, truth is the former president seems to lack tack and is devoid of the deft political moves, which some associate him with. Reason: his seeming unguarded outburst has its collateral damage: it is burning cables for Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan who is perceived to be his ally. Those who have demanded that President Yar'Adua do the right thing said the right thing is for the President to write a vacation letter to the National Assembly in line with Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution and by so doing allow Jonathan to step in as acting President in his absence.

According to sources, beyond the fear that the North may be shortchanged in the power equation if Jonathan steps in as acting president, there is also the fear of Obasanjo behind the Vice-President. Indeed, Obasanjo is said to be a major baggage for the Vice-President. His perceived close relationship with the former president is said to be giving the hawks around President Yar'Adua sleepless nights. Their fears, sources said, is that once power is transferred to Jonathan, the former president is back through proxy and Obasanjo has shown how power can be used to achieve any goal and decimate perceived opponents


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