Obasanjo's letter to Jonathan: Matters arising – Hallmark

By The Citizen

Love letter, more or less
Since December 4th, 2013, when former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, wrote a letter to the to President Goodluck Jonathan, which he also released to the press, alleging sundry political malfeasance and official misconduct, the nation's political temperature has zoomed to boiling point. The letter, ostensibly written to draw the president's attention to worsening conditions of governance and potential threats to national unity, has further stoked rather than doused the growing political tension in the country.

The significance of the letter is not really about its weighty allegations, but about its implications for good governance and the future of the nation. Nigeria is a fractiously polarised nation, which makes it rather difficult to hold any dispassionate discussion across geo-political lines without eliciting prejudicial imputations. This, essentially, is the cause or consequence of too much premium on the acquisition and exercise of power. Generally, issues are seldom seen from the national perspective but from certain primordial considerations of 'who is involved' and 'how it affects us.'

Whatever its intended purpose, the letter portends grave danger for the nation going forward, not because of its preposterous content but because of its motive and approach. The letter was infra dig coming as it was from a former president and elder statesman. It points to fuzziness of formal communication channels and signposts utter disrespect for the office of the president. Besides, it is quite capable of triggering a chain of reactions that could be deleterious for our democracy.

As a respected leader, Obasanjo reserves the right to hold present leaders to account by interjecting when things are getting out of hand. Such political interventions should be expected and, indeed, should be welcome. A local proverb says that an elder does not watch while a goat delivers in its tether, so should no political elder stay aloof while things go awry. But such interventions should be made objectively, sensibly and sensitively without malice, anger, or prejudice.

This newspaper agrees with the Presidency that Obasanjo's letter was reckless, malicious and provocative, and stands condemned on that score. Obasanjo exercised his right beyond civilized conduct and good conscience. The recourse of writing an open letter to the president when there are several other channels he could have explored to pass his message is deliberate and calculated to damage the president and score a cheap political point. What would have been a well-deserved reminder and rebuke was politicized and the whole essence defeated.

The letter is basically all about 2015 and that diminishes its import. It is about where the next president should come from; all the allegations contained in the missive are mere smokescreen to hide this objective. This is sad. Although the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had agreed on rotation of the presidency, such agreement should not override the constitutional rights of Nigerians. In fact, our major concern now as Nigerians should be how to produce good leadership and not from where the leader comes. Politics of ethnic balancing should be passé because it has not done the nation any good.

Casting the first stone
Obasanjo ought to explain to the nation why a sitting president should be stampeded out of office when he is not in breach of any constitutional term limit, because of an agreement that conflicts with the nation's grund norm. Why did Obasanjo not do a single term to set an example for others after he too agreed to it? What is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.

The north has held power for a preponderance of our nationhood with only muted agitations from other regions. After all, Obasanjo is directly responsible for the present situation in the nation by his putative manipulation of the democratic process to throw up the late President Umaru Yar'Adua and Jonathan in 2007. He had every opportunity to transfer this nation and entrench proper democratic leadership but he baulked.

Nigerians expect to advance the democratic experiment started in 1999 in 2015 and nothing less. By his letter, Obasanjo should be held liable for any attempt to truncate that process through whatever means. Our nation is at a crossroads and the letter has further compounded its political choices. The journey toward 2015 is delicate and shrouded in uncertainty and demands careful handling, because any slip could scuttle our democratic progress.

Indeed, 2015 will be one of the most critical democratic transitions since 1999 and our patience, maturity and resolve will be severely tested. The eight years of Obasanjo's presidency were of a marginal significance for our democracy because governance was predicated on a cult of personality while political institutions were systematically subverted to pander to his caprices. Therefore, the nation is entering a testy period in its democracy and it is at times like this that we have always bungled unique opportunities. We hope this letter is not used as a pretext to truncate our nascent democracy.

However, this newspaper cannot lose sight of the issues raised in the letter, especially those that pertain to corruption and political impunity. Corruption is a cankerworm that must be stamped out of our system; it threatens our democracy, undermines economic development and sacrifices the social welfare of the people. Unless we deal squarely with corruption, peace and political stability would remain illusory.

Actions betraying political impunity, such as in Rivers State and the Governors' Forum saga, must be avoided like the plague. One central failing of our politics has been this tendency to disregard the law and due process in the conduct of state affairs. This   must also stop so that democratic culture that is predicated on the rule of law can flourish.