The verdict came long and hard yesterday from former President Olusegun Obasanjo on the postponement of the elections, why they were shifted, and the two principal actors in the polity: President Goodluck Jonathan and his main challenger, General Muhammadu Buhari.
Gen. Obasanjo, just back home from a five nation trip, faulted the postponement of the elections on the ground that the military would be engaging the Boko Haram terror group in battle.
He declared point-blank that the service chiefs ought to have “gone home to rest” for promoting that course of action. He faulted this and said it was actually to buy time for President Jonathan.
According to him, President Jonathan habours a “sinister grand plan to win the March 28 Presidential election by hook and by crook,” and fears that Gen Buhari will jail him in the event that the APC candidate triumphs at the poll.
He spoke to reporters at his Hilltop Estate, Abeokuta, residence.
He advised President Jonathan against going the way of former President Laurent Gbagbo of Cote’d Voire who kept tinkering with elections dates in his country until he was humiliated out of office, and to be wary of those prodding him on because when the heat turns full blast, he would be left “Nak3d and isolated.”
Obasanjo said the election postponement was a sad commentary on the nation’s democracy as was the role played by the security chiefs in the matter.
He wondered why Nigeria could not go ahead with the February elections when countries like Iraq and Colombia conducted successful polls in the midst of wars and turmoil.
The former Chairman, Board of Trustees (BoT) of the PDP was confident that Buhari would be able to “preside over an efficient and effective economic team” and “stabilise” the country once he wins the election.
But he asked him to first “allay the fears of some people who feel threatened” his by tough anti – corruption stance.
Such fear, he said, was partly responsible for the shift in poll instigated by those allegedly telling the President that “Buhari is a hard man who would fight corruption and he (Jonathan) will end in jail.”
His words: “While I was away, I refused to make any categorical statement on this issue because I wanted to come back home and learn at firsthand what actually transpired and what was going on, and it turned out to be a forced decision on the INEC because it was alleged that the Security Chiefsý were unable to provide security, and as a result the Chairman of INEC had to postpone, in accordance with the dictates of the so called Security Chiefs.
“I thought, for me, that was bad precedent for democracy in Nigeria. It meant it doesn’t matter what preparation or lack of preparation any electoral body could make in Nigeria. The final decision whether election will take place on the day scheduled for it lies in the domain of security. It is a sad day for democracy in Nigeria.
“I will say this: we must all feel concerned before democracy is killed. The observable and what would appear to be happening is that the president has a grand plan, a grand plan to ensure that by hook or by crook, he wins the election or if it all fails, he scuttles it and creates chaos, confusion and unpleasantness in the whole country.
“It is the duty and function and responsibility of the security officers to provide security. The President is the Chief Security Officer of the country and he is the Commander- in -Chief and if security is required anywhere, anytime, it is his duty to provide it. Failure to provide it is dereliction of duty. Pure and simple.
“Whether the President is following his own grand plan or his aides and associates are working a script, ýthey are playing a script which must have got his endorsement, if not initiated by him.
“What again, it looks to me that the President is trying to play Gbagbo (Laurent). Gbagbo is the former President of Cote d’Ivoire and Gbagbo made sure he postponed the election in his country until he was sure he would win and then allowed the election to take place. He got an inconclusive election in the first ballot.
“And I believe this is the sort of thing Nigeria may fall into. If I am right in what I observed as the grand plan and then in the run-off, Gbagbo lost with 8% behind Quattara and then refused to hand over. All reasonable persuasion and pleading was rebuffed by him and he unleashed horror in that country until nemesis caught up with him.
“I believe that we may be seeing a repeat of Gbagbo or what I called the Gbagbo saga here in Nigeria, I hope not.”
On the role of the security chiefs, Obasanjo said it was out of place for them to say ‘we are not in a position to provide security for you’ because it is their job.
“When they have failed, they can as well go home. Their job is to maintain law and order and provide security at any time and at any place. They said they cannot do it, they have failed,” he said.
“I want to believe that this was forced on them, I want to believe that but whether it was forced on them or it was their initiative, it was bad, very bad. I hope we will neverý have a repeat performance of this in this country again.
“The unfortunate thing is this: they are over exposing themselves or they are being over exposed by whoever brought about that way of doing things, and for me, a momentous decision like that cannot be taken and implemented by the security chiefs.
“It was even made worse when the President in the media chat on the 11th of this month claimed not to have knowledge or not to have authorized it. I get worried, very worried, that if the President of Nigeria is not in-charge of security, maintenance of law and order and such a decision can be taken behind him, assuming that is true, then the President must be reigning but not ruling.
“And who then are the shadow figures that are ruling us? It means that one day we will find out that this country would be plunged into chaos, into commotion and into confusion and the President would say, ‘I do not know about it’, of course President(Jonathan) can run but he cannot run past God.
“He has constitutional responsibility and to claim he doesn’t know is not an excuse. So, I do hope that those Service Chiefs who we are proud of the services people like me and others like me have rendered and proud of what they are doing, will not shame themselves and shame us.
“This is because what this amounts to is what, in the military circle, is called very an unmilitary conduct and conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline.
“For me, you can give any excuse or you can give any rationalization or you can rationalize anything. Look Boko Haram problem has been with us since 2009 and now if we say what we have not been able to achieve since 2009 would be achieved in six weeks, all I would say is that God is a God of miracle.
“God can do anything but knowing what we know, look countries like Syria had election, they have full scale war all over the country. A country like Iraq had election, they had full scale war and they are still having war.
“Countries like Afghanistan had election, they even had election where the incumbent served his term and moved out. Even Colombia where the rebel group (FARC) has been active for more than 50 years has been having elections regularly and FARC is still very active.
“So, to say that what we have not been able to achieve in five years, we will achieve in six weeks, let us wait and see. When people want to make excuses, they should look for excuses that are tenable.
“I believe the President’s fear is not leaving office per se, because he and I have had occasions to talk about this both seriously and jovially. ýI believe President would want an opportunity to disengage peacefully and have a nice, decent and a glorious exit, I believe the President’s fear is, particularly, motivated by those who he see as Gen Buhari as his likely successor.
“I believe those people would have been telling him that Buhari is a hard man, he would fight corruption and you may end up in jail if not in grave. I believe people must have told him all sorts of things and he is not the only one, there are other people who may be afraid of Buhari. But why?
“I woud say that Buhari has learnt his lessons. If he hasn’t learnt lessons, then he would be probably the most unlearning human being. If he has learnt lessons, he would know that you do not fight corruption by putting people in jail for 200 years.
“And this has been done by my own predecessor in office, General Abdulsalami Abubakar. He recovered over $750 million from Abacha’s estate without putting anybody in jail, without hurting or harming anybody. When I took over, we recovered over $1.25 billion from the same Abacha estate without hurting anybody, without harming anybody.
“In fact, what would be rather unfortunate is the fact that our lawyer who is still alive and able, who was chasing this money all over the world, said to us that there’s still about $1 billion to be recovered from Abacha estate but the unfortunate thing is that my successor did not do anything about it even though it was in my handing over note.
“I don’t think the President is afraid of being out. There’s life after Aso Villa. It depends, of course to a large extent, on how he descendsý; how his descent takes place; and how his exit takes place. Because out there in the international world, there’s so much need for the wisdom and experience of people who have done it before. They also want people who are creditable and credible.”
Obasanjo insisted that corruption, impunity and recklessness must not remain a part of our national life as any leader should be seen fighting those evils.
He said that given Buhari’s track record, he would be able to tackle corruption headlong at this critical period of the nation, if elected into office.
Obasanjo said: “whoever comes in at anytime in future will fight corruption, and we must even encourage successful fight of corruption. We must. Recklessness and impunity must not continue to be our part of life.
“Whether recklessness and impunity in the management of our economic affairs, in the running of our finances and even in political affairs, they must not be allowed to remain part of us.
“Buhari has tried to do it before. I believe he will give firm leadership which is what is good for a country like this. When he was there, it was the military and military is both the executive and the legislature.
“In a democracy, that is not possible. I believe he knows the military, the damage that has been done to the military. It has been rendered almost impotent by a number of things that have happened and I believe he will do something about it.
“And if he doesn’t do it, I would say shame on him if he gets there because that is some of the things he knows. I believe he can preside over an efficient and effective economy. He has the knowledge, he has the experience, he may not be a bowl of fire as an economist but he presided over it.”
On INEC Chairman Attahiru Jega, the former president said: “I believe that after Jega had been boxed to a corner, he had no choice but to accept the fait ýaccompli and postponed the election, and I believe, as I have said before, it is unfortunate because in the pastý, this same Jega had cancelled the date of election when he found it that it was not suitable.
“So, it is the duty, responsibility and function and within the jurisdiction of INEC to determine whether the situation allows it or does not allow them to go on with the election. Nobody should twist their arms, blackmail them or force them.
“And if they do that, that is their legal job, if anything is done to remove Jega, it will actually heighten the disbelief of the people about wanting to have a fair, free, transparent and credible election and even if the President wins genuinely, many people may not believe it. He would have undermined the credibility of the result of the election.
“But he has said he will not remove him, he said it is a rumour and let it remain the realm of rumour and let’s hope for the best.
He appealed to President Jonathan not to “listen to those who are creating phobia, phobia of Buhari, phobia of enquiry and all that. President Jonathan has done well to the best of his ability and he has made history as the first elected Nigerian from a minority tribe and nobody can take that away from him.
“He can even make a second history, if it turns out that way. If he contests a fair, free and transparent election and loses, take a dignified exit. He will be on the mountain top and he would be acclaimed as a true patriot and a true democrat. What stops him from doing this?”
And to Buhari, he said: “if he happens to win, one of his first responsibilities is to allay the fears of those who see Buhari as a bully, as a threat, particularly in the area of human rights, in the area of rule of law, and in the area of obedience of our constitution.”