Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s latest “Open Letter” to President Muhammadu Buhari has raised a lot of dust, with the president labeling him and other critics of his administration as “unpatriotic.”
The question to ask is: What did Dr. Obasanjo say that other Nigerians, individually and collectively, had not said since the heightened insecurity in the land?
He had written about issues in the polity, particularly concerning the governments after his military headship of Nigeria in 1979, and not a few Nigerians, though, found such commentaries as unsavouring and irritating.
From the late Presidents Shehu Shagari and Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, to President Goodluck Jonathan, and to Gens. Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha and Abdulsalami Abubakar; Gen. Obasanjo had “meddled” in their governments, such that Abacha had to hang a “coup plot” on his neck, and detained him.
Friend or foe, Obasanjo never spared any administration and its leadership. To him, they either toe his line or be fed with the poisoned chalice of his pen and/or tongue.
Seeing and viewing himself as imbued with Solomonic wisdom and Messianic fervour, his approach to his successors in office is utter condescension. Hence, his messages, mostly in open letters, have been acidic in content and patronizing in delivery.
Obasanjo’s escape of possible death by execution for alleged “coup plotting” didn’t deter him from “riding on the tiger’s back.” And it’s the turn of Gen. Buhari to feel the drip of his pen in three consecutive “letters” within a few months of each other.
While previous “leaked” letters detailed alleged failure of Buhari to fulfill his campaign promises, last week’s “open letter” was essentially an invite to a “National Dialogue” on insecurity.
As he noted: “Since the issue (insecurity) is of momentous concern to all well-meaning and all right-thinking Nigerians, it must be of great concern to you (Buhari), and collective thinking and dialoguing is the best way of finding an appropriate and adequate solution to the problem.”
Even as he conduced his “deep worries” to about “four avoidable calamities,” Obasanjo recognized the president as one of the “well-meaning and right-thinking” Nigerians that should be concerned about the nation’s insecurity.
Frightening as his alarm bell was, not many would imagine an Obasanjo tempering his persona, and offering conciliatory counsel to President Buhari, whom he reckons as his subordinate in age, career, political standing, worldview and statesmanship.
But does this make him, and others “unpatriotic” for criticizing Buhari and his handling of the affairs of Nigeria? Certainly not! What the former president did is what Buhari’s aides may not dare.
So, instructive here are the immortal words of the reggae maestro, Bob Nester Marley, who exhorts that, “Your worst enemy could be your best friend, and your best friend your worst enemy.”
Or as a local adage goes, “Only your enemy can tell you that you have mouth odour.” And they don’t mind telling you in public, whereas your friends, even in private, would tell you that your mouth smells like the roses.
Simply put, those that President Buhari termed “unpatriotic” (betrayer, collaborator, deserter, renegade, spy or traitor) may actually be the “loyalists” to save him from himself in these times of grave insecurity in the country.
No matter the criticisms, so long as they aren’t subversive, we shouldn’t pigeon-hole Nigerians into “patriotic” or “unpatriotic” elements. That would be a situation of “us versus them,” and therefore “enemies of the State.”
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Our diversity – and our freedom and ability to speak truth to power – is our strength, and the way to harnessing this great asset is through programmes and actions that do not stereotype and stigmatize citizens as non-patriots.
In this wise, Obasanjo’s open letter to the president doesn’t belong in the realm of unpatriotic acts. Let his not be a matter of “calling a dog a bad name in order to hang it.”
Nonetheless, it’s time President Buhari realized his problem – perception – and how to overcome it. In politics and governance, perception matters. Ordinarily, reality should drive perception. But most times, perception leads, and muddies the reality.
For allowing perception, or “body language” to define him and his administration, the president has earned many critics, including from the corps of his followers and supporters.
Rather than looking at the concrete, and tangible things his government is doing to revamp Nigeria’s socio-political and economic morass, the people would rather focus on his body language, as the best barometer for his actions or inaction.
Take the issue of the herders-farmers clashes. When it was brewing in the early part of the administration, and the victims, mostly the farmers, cried out, the presidency accusingly never issued any condemnation.
But if the farmers retaliated, the authorities would reportedly give a stern warning against such reprisal attacks. Curiously, security operatives could arrest the farmers for “defending” themselves.
Besides, what did the president say when a group, claiming to speak for the North, gave a 30-day ultimatum for Southern states to implement the controversial RUGA Settlement initiative, or it would take “action” against the 17 states of the South?
In any case, the presidency had said that RUGA was the brainchild of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. So, why was it its business, and not that of the ministry, to suspend the programme?
Being silent or ambivalent on the issue created the impression that the Northern group had the presidency’s “backing” to issue its threats against the entire Southern Nigeria.
But unprecedentedly, the presidency expeditiously “revoked” the directive by the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) for Fulani herders to leave the South if their safety was no longer guaranteed.
This should be the stand of President Buhari and his government at all times: Quick and undiluted intervention on all matters. No room for conjectures, speculations and reading of his body language that could be exploited to undermine his intentions.
Importantly, the president needs to connect, personally, with Nigerians, by leaving the comfort zone of Aso Rock Villa, and pay regular visits to the states, to meet with his constituents – Nigerians – that voted for him twice, for the exalted office.
Buhari is president for all Nigerians, and not only for occupants of The Villa, his friends and political associates. He should speak to, and meet frequently with the masses, as no platitudes delivered from the seat of power could suffice for such intimacy that’s capable of engendering rapprochement that Nigeria desires sorely!
* Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.