As Obasanjo Tears His PDP Membership Card
Obasanjo is a very fascinating personality – full of contradictions like the rest of us. He is deeply admired, deeply distrusted and deeply loathed in equal measures. I read most things written about him.
Obasanjo's latest public act of tearing his PDP membership card raises four fundamental questions: why was the resignation done in public? What will be the impact of Obasanjo's decision to dump the PDP on the party's electoral fortunes? How will it affect the public perception of Obasanjo? And how should a future government (whether Jonathan Buhari) deal with the Obasanjo enigma, who will in all likelihood still want to compete for public space with the new regime?
First, it is no longer news that Obasanjo has formally left the PDP. In what was apparently a carefully choreographed move, Obasanjo met with members of the PDP from his Ward 11, Abeokuta North Local Government Area of Ogun State led by the ward Chairman, Alhaji Usman Oladunjoye. The delegation reportedly told Obasanjo that they were on the visit to verify reports of a plot to suspend him from the PDP. The visit culminated in the Ward chairman tearing in public Obasanjo's PDP membership card – at Obasanjo's instructions.
There have been discussions on whether Obasanjo's mode of resignation was 'presidential' or statesmanlike, especially being a former Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees. My personal opinion is that Obasanjo does not seem to care much about such niceties as being presidential or statesmanlike. Obasanjo is folksy, courageous and cunning. With uncommon knowledge of the country's political terrain. As a former President, it was said he would often stop his convoy to buy cobs of roasted maize from roadside sellers or pull up his agbada to ease himself by the roadside. As President, Obasanjo was also said to have once taken the 'koboko' from overzealous security operatives who were controlling a crowd with the whip and given them a whipping of their lives. So the very act of publicly tearing his PDP card would be vintage Obasanjo: courageous, dramatic, defiant and theatrical. It is probably because of the combination of these qualities that one columnist talked about the Owo chief's “lack of grace” – despite his other positive qualities. Therefore those who criticize the Owu chief for not following the laid down procedures for resigning from the PDP seem to forget that Obasanjo by temperament, does not always like to follow established procedures. Obviously the tension between the soldier in the former President and the rules of democratic engagements remains unresolved.
It is also possible that Obasanjo wanted the very public act of tearing his card in public to generate the widest media coverage, and in the process trigger a wave of defections from his sympathizers who are still in the PDP.
A second important question is how will Obasanjo's resignation from the PDP affect the outcome of the presidential election? Clearly with the re-invention of Buhari and the election expected to be the most competitive in the country's political history, Obasanjo's formal resignation (I believe he has always been the spiritual head of the opposition APC) could reinforce the narrative of the PDP as a sinking ship and accelerate the APC's momentum. The problem however is that one month is like a life-time in politics. The impact of the resignation could have been more damaging to the PDP if it had come a few days to the polling day. Depending on PDP's counter strategies, the party has enough time to counter the move and turn it to its advantage.
While it is obvious that Obasanjo's vociferous criticisms of the regime are not motivated only by love of the country as he claims, I equally believe that certain suggestions that the government should move hard on him such as by investigating his government will be ill-advised. Such a move will clearly show the government as vindictive and intolerant of criticisms and in the process win sympathy for him. Despite Obasanjo's numerous flaws and self-serving moves, I am not sure many Nigerians will like to see him humiliated. My personal opinion is that while it is legitimate for the government to aggressively interrogate some of his allegations and to raise questions about his own regime, any move to embarrass him with either a probe or arrest, will back fire.
A third important question raised by Obasanjo's resignation from the PDP is how it will affect his perception among the generality of Nigerians. Obasanjo is deeply admired by some Nigerians for his courage, decisiveness, drama and single-minded devotion to a cause. For these reasons there are those who continue to nurse nostalgia for the Obasanjo era while others see him as a conscience of the nation. Simultaneously with the qualities that endear him to some are also qualities that make people dismiss him as a hypocrite or as someone who uses the garb of love of fatherland to mask his personal struggles. For instance, on the reason for quitting the PDP, Obasanjo was quoted as saying: “I'd rather sacrifice my political party for the interest of Nigeria than sacrifice my country for a political party led by a drug baron… I'd rather tear the PDP membership card than sit down and let Jonathan use PDP and corruption to tear my beloved country apart.” The irony here is that Kashamu reportedly was working for Obasanjo in Ogun State before the two fell apart. Additionally, several of the top leaders of the APC, including Bola Tinubu, had in the past been accused of corruption by Obasanjo. In essence Obasanjo's formal reasons for quitting the party do not add up and may likely reinforce the allegations that he masks his personal battles with the garb of patriotism.
It could also be speculated on how Obasanjo's recent resignation from the PDP (or is it defection to the APC?) will affect his perception in the Muslim north and south-west – two zones of the country most critical of him during his presidency. For the north, Obasanjo was accused of embarking on 'anti-north' policies during his presidency. Also his role during the PDP's zoning controversy in the run-up to the 2011 presidential election made him a figure many loved to hate in the North. At that time, many people from the North had argued that going by the party's constitution and power sharing arrangement, the presidency was their 'turn' in 2011 and that Jonathan, though constitutionally entitled to contest, was morally unqualified to do so. Obasanjo had initially denied that zoning was in the PDP's constitution, and when he discovered that his stance was factually incorrect, he quickly shifted to arguing that the party never entered into a zoning and power rotation arrangement with any section of the country. Again when it was revealed that Obasanjo actually attended an expanded caucus meeting of the party on December 2, 2002 at the Presidential Villa where the issue was put to vote and adopted, Obasanjo once again shifted to a vague, “if you are there, you are there, if you are not there, you are not there”. After Goodluck Jonathan, whose candidacy Obasanjo supported emerged the presidential flag bearer of the PDP, Obasanjo reversed himself and declared that “zoning is alive and kicking' in the PDP”.
After the zoning controversy, Obasanjo became more like a bugaboo in the north
As it was in the north so it was with Obasanjo in the south-west, especially after the 2003 elections when Obasanjo allegedly repudiated an agreement he made with the Governors of the region to vote for him at the presidential election but allow them to retain their seats under AD. Only Tinubu survived as Governor as the others were allegedly rigged out. Some people believe that the animosity towards the Owu chief in the region hardened after that incident
Obasanjo's current opposition to the candidacy of Jonathan appears to be tempering criticisms of him in both the north and in the south-west – two zones of the country where the APC is quite strong. In fact, it is not unusual these days to read stories from commentators in the two regions who previously called Obasanjo unprintable names now eulogize him as a statesman. In essence, at a personal level, Obasanjo is likely to benefit from improved perceptions of him in both the north and south-west. If Buhari wins the presidency, it will also add to the myth that whichever government Obasanjo starts criticizing will be on its way to collapsing. Conversely, if Jonathan wins the election, there will be hardliners in the regime who will do whatever they can to further demystify Obasanjo, if not humiliate him.
A fourth important question is how an incoming government should deal with Obasanjo – who will most likely remain an Obasanjo, very critical of any regime he is not running? Should the new government move hard against Obasanjo whenever he starts his criticisms – as suggested by the likes of the Ekiti state governor Ayo Fayose who argued that Obasanjo does not respect people who suck up to him? Or should they allow him free reign on fears that any hard-line action against him will boomerang? This question will remain speculative but two things seem clear: pleading with Obasanjo to temper his criticisms of a regime will only embolden him. At the same time any hard-line action against a 77-year old former President will generate local and international sympathies for him. For the incoming regime (whether Jonathan or Buhari), Obasanjo will remain the proverbial fly that has perched uncomfortably on a man's scrotum.
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