by Azubuike Ishiekwene
You are right. I’m taking advantage of what is obviously a season of open conversations to indulge a renegade thought. I have nursed the idea for quite a while but never came around to it until the publication of the now famous letter entitled “Before it is too late” by a member of your exclusive club, Olusegun Obasanjo.
I will not speak about him at length because you know him more. I can almost see Ibrahim Babangida smiling; not because he knows him more than TY Danjuma, for example, but because he has had more bruising public encounters with Obasanjo than with any other head of state or prominent Nigerian dead or alive. That’s why I’m addressing myself first to IBB.
In Obasanjo’s letter to President Goodluck Jonathan, he said he had shared his concerns about the state of the nation with you and that you expressed similar concerns. I cannot say why he withheld that part from the advance copy he gave to you on November 30, the day you attended his son Abisoye Obasanjo’s wedding in Abeokuta – 11 days before the letter was made public. But I can guess. He wanted to make the point that the concerns expressed in the letter were not his alone. More important, I suspect, he also thought that however inconvenient it might be, it was important to hold your feet to the fire and to force your hand on matters of clear and present danger to the public interest.
Knowing you, he knew that if he had told you all, you would have smiled and found a way to dissuade or sabotage him. That, I suspect, was why he withheld page 18 containing the reference to your discussion from the pages he gave to you in Abeokuta. I know how embarrassing this must have been for you, especially since you had a scheduled dinner with Vice President Namadi Sambo on the same day the letter was made public. But you should be used to Obasanjo by now. After your spat with him on your 70th birthday two years ago, and one of his famous letters to you in January 1992 entitled “Why you must not sit tight”, you must agree that he is an enemy you cannot afford not to have.
I would therefore suggest, with due respect, that you set aside any personal discomfort or inconvenience and spare a thought for the message. Are you really satisfied with the direction that the country is heading today? I have criticised you severely in the past and still believe that if you had done certain things differently, we might not even have had an Obasanjo second coming, much less a Jonathan misery. But fate has placed you in a special position. It will be a shame beyond redemption if for any reasons of personal discomfort or benefit you keep quiet while this country burns, as it does now.
I’m not inviting you to take sides with Obasanjo or to crucify Jonathan. No. I’m just saying that if you love this country, as I believe you do, you cannot tell Obasanjo one thing and say something else at Aso Rock. Taciturnity was pardonable when you were below 60 or, let’s even stretch it, 70. But at 72, sir, it cannot be a compliment for anyone to still call you an “evil genius”. Did you read the part about Aso Rock’s snipers-in-training and a hit list of 1,000? Have you heard that the recent detention of “that fellow” in Benin Republic may not be unconnected to the snipers’ training?
Have you read the CBN governor’s letter about $49.8billion proceeds from oil sales not accounted for? Never mind that he has had the humble pie shoved down his throat. Have you heard about the NCC spectrum sale scam that cost the country nearly N53billion? Have you heard about oil theft on industrial scale, Stella Oduah’s N255million bulletproof cars, the subversion of the judiciary and the sheer brazenness of official corruption – including demands of N5million settlement fee before promotion in the civil service and access fee to see the president? Are these, in your view, matters of discussion over dinner at Aso Rock?
While you ponder these issues, sir, let me briefly address the second part of this letter to your neighbour, fellow exclusive club member and man of history Abdulsalami Abubakar. If you General Abdulsalami Abubakar wanted a transition without end, you would have attempted it – not that you would have succeeded, but it was well within you reach to try. But you shunned it and, to your eternal credit, handed over power to a democratically elected government in 11 months.
You may have been as embarrassed as Babangida was about Obasanjo’s open reference to your private discussions but your personal embarrassment is a small price for the redemption of this country’s destiny. You cannot, for all that is ripe and fit to pluck, continue to remain silent in the face of a major national crisis. Some have said you’re too involved with the government to find your voice; but none, as far as I know, has said your silence has been bought.
Sir, I figure that both you and Babangida may have been as surprised as I was to find that Obasanjo also sent TY Danjuma an advance copy of the letter. You will recall that both men – who between them hold some of the most dangerous secrets about this country – fell out spectacularly a few years ago. For Obasanjo to copy that letter to him was an act not of desperation, but of something worse – despondency.
With deep respect, Danjuma’s public silence worries me greatly. And I’m not reporting him to you or to IBB.
I’m not sure what the problem is – age, diplomacy or what? But I’m sure what it is not: it’s not for lack of courage or forthrightness that Danjuma has not spoken out about the state of the nation for some time now.
What then is it? As the chair of the presidential advisory group, Danjuma helped to stabilise the Jonathan administration by taking a public stand for it during what was perhaps its most trying time. Can you, Dear TY, now afford to avoid being on the record about a baby you helped to wean, even when that baby is growing into Frankensteinhood?
I’m not looking for who’s right or wrong. Or even suggesting that one Obasanjo letter will change Nigeria. But if none of you directly mentioned in his letter can severally or collectively bring enough pressure to change the state of affairs, even though you all grieve about it privately, then we’re in trouble from which we may never recover for a long, long, long time.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Azubuike Ishiekwene/Leadership