Published On: Wed, Dec 18th, 2013

A critique of Obasanjo’s letter to Jonathan

The recent letter titled “Before It Is Too Late” written by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to President Goodluck Jonathan made an extreme bad impression on me.

I have battled an inner urge to respond to the letter in the detailed and logical manner I hope to do here. I must now yield to that prompting, if only to discharge one’s duty to one’s conscience and help one’s compatriots see the related issues and gauge their credibility in the light of reason.

Of course, the issues are in the public domain and so open to engagement by anyone. Besides, every Nigerian, I inclusive, is a stakeholder in the “haemorrhaging” country to which Obasanjo professed a desire to help find a solution through the letter. And if, as I can perceive, his epistolary “remedy” has no therapeutic value, being perhaps a concoction of untruths administered for a condition for which truth is needed as a cure, I think I have a moral duty to point that out, like any other Nigerian.

First, Obasanjo’s allegation that Jonathan is training snipers as a strike force against political opponents strikes me as a case of taking scaremongering too far. And the hint is inescapable that there are, according to the letter, “over 1000 people on political watch list” for whom the snipers are supposedly being groomed. This is improbable, judging by the modus operandi of snipers. For instance, the WordWeb dictionary defines sniper as “A marksman who shoots at people from a concealed place”. Ideally snipers, as hidden sharpshooters, take aim through narrow openings in their place of concealment, usually from fixed platforms which may be but are rarely mobile. The difference is in the concealment and the fact that you can hardly guess the direction the sniper’s bullet came from even after it has struck the target.

Would Jonathan also be building the platforms and expecting the targets to come within range and get shot? And if the platforms are made mobile with the snipers, what is the probability of any of the targets ever entering the range of the snipers? It is so slim as to be almost non-existent. It is even more so when one thinks of “over 1000” potential targets who at any time should be at different unpredictable locations. For me, the impossible logistics of this mode of targeting political opponents makes the allegation incredible.

For the claim that Jonathan told him that he would be a one-term president, it is Obasanjo who undermines its credibility through this quoted of himself in the letter: “There is press report that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan has already taken a unique and unprecedented step of declaring that he would only want to be a one-term President. If so, whether we know it or not, that is a sacrifice and it is statesmanly”. (My italics). Considering that Obasanjo said in the letter that Jonathan had told him he would be “a one-term President” before the rally at which he claimed to have delivered the speech containing the quote, why would he later qualify his “knowledge” of that “fact” with the clause, “If so”?

I regard the clause as a written Freudian slip, whose implication makes Obasanjo’s claim untrustworthy. As we know, the clause “if so” is used to signify doubt. Its use indicates that the user is not sure of what she or he is saying or has been told. In effect, Obasanjo first said in his letter that Jonathan told him that he would be “a one-term President”. He then goes on to indicate, through the clause, that he was not sure Jonathan said so. Should we believe his original assertion or its doubtful recast by him? And he does not seem to think that we ordinary Nigerians – and most of the extraordinary ones like him – are discerning enough to discover this contradiction in his letter.

Then, even as Obasanjo makes his allegation about “keeping over 1000 people on political rather than criminal or security watch list and training snipers and other armed personnel secretly and clandestinely acquiring weapons to match for political purposes like Abacha and training them where Abacha trained his own killers”, he also accompanies it with the clause: “if it is true”, indicating again that he is not sure of its veracity. He then goes on to say, as if contradicting his uncertainly: “Mr. President would always remember that he was elected to maintain security for all Nigerians and protect them. And no one should prepare to kill or maim Nigerians for personal or political ambition or interest of anyone”. What responsible statesman would fly such a sinister kite of an allegation in an “open letter” without being sure “if it is true”, despite the scare it could cause in a country already seething with tension like ours?

So much can be said against the letter on emotional grounds. But my logical response to it shows that ignoring the messenger and concentrating on the message does not necessarily give credence to the message.

And if the absence of political killings is the measure of a good government, can we say that Obasanjo’s government, during which Chief Bola Ige was killed as a serving Attorney General and Minister of Justice, and Dr. Harry Marshall and Chief A. K. Dikibo and several others after him, with none of their killers being found, was better than Abacha’s government or the present Jonathan’s government – in which there has been no political murder?

After I read from the letter that “Nothing should be done to undermine the tenets, and values of democratic principles and practice,” I wondered if the author was truly the same man who while in power some years ago described an election as a “do or die affair”, and whose national honour to Chinua Achebe was rejected by the late novelist, citing, among other things, the bastardisation of democratic values in his home state of Anambra by “a small clique of renegades”, with the author’s “connivance”, an allegation he reiterated in his last book titled There Was a Country. I marvelled that Obasanjo couldn’t seem to see that describing an election as “a do or die affair” amounts to undermining what he called “the tenets, and values of democratic principles and practice”, besides being an instigation of electoral violence by our country’s number one citizen as he then was.

The letter is riddled with many such contradictions between the author’s words and his actions as a leader. And I have wished it is not marked by such inelegancies as this tacky phrase: “who arrogate to themselves eternal for ephemeral”, and this “philosophical” jumble: “With leadership come not just power and authority to do and to undo, but also responsibility and accountability to do and to undo rightly, well and justly”.

My point: the quality of the writings and ideas that emanate from a country’s leaders, past or present, invariably affect the country’s image. Each time we quote the immortal thoughts of leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Vladimir Lenin and Nelson Mandela, preserved in flawless expressions, we pay tribute to their countries as wellsprings of men of excellence as leaders, and acknowledge the high standard of their educational system. For a man who ruled our country for over ten of its fifty-three years as an independent nation, I wish Obasanjo’s letter in question wasn’t so fraught with such compositional flaws that could portray our country as a place where mediocrity thrives.

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