By Ismail Omipidan
“These elections have not lived up to the hopes and expectations of the Nigerian people and the process cannot be considered to have been credible.”
The above quote from Chief EU observer Max van den Berg, in 2007, summed up the outcome of the 2007 presidential election supervised by former President Olusegun Obasanjo as the country’s President.
After May 29 of the same year, when the beneficiary of that fraudulent election, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, was sworn in, he personally admitted that the process that brought him in was flawed. He promised to reform our electoral process. He lived up to the billing. That was what gave birth to the Uwais-led Electoral Reform Panel. Thankfully, it set the tone for all the revolutionary transformation we all have in our Electoral Act today.
In response to the EU and other international observers’ positions on the 2007 presidential election, Obasanjo simply said the polls were “not perfect,” and appealed to Nigerians not to lose faith in our democratic process.
Obasanjo went on to accuse “some political leaders” of stirring-up violence and employing thugs to achieve victory, adding that Nigerians had shown faith in the country’s democracy.
If Obasanjo did not cancel an election that was adjudged as fraudulent, an election where governors were declared winners in Abuja by INEC at the time when collation was still going on in various states, an election where a president-elect was declared at a time when collation had not been completed, an election where opposition could not campaign let alone compete favourably, on what basis will he be calling for the cancellation of a process that is still on, where the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, lost to a political featherweight in his state?
The 2007 presidential contest saw one of the opposition presidential candidates being cleared to contest the election barely 48 hours to the contest. Is that a fair contest? Yet, it was not enough to cancel such a contest?
Obasanjo should be reminded that the days where his words were law in the eyes of most Nigerians and the international community are gone for good. Having backed a presidential candidate that has failed to pull through, our former President should rather than heat up the polity unnecessarily, confine himself to his Ota Farms to lick his wonds.
Going by political events in the country, Obasanjo appears to have lost his political value and relevance.
Before the 2019 presidential election, where Obasanjo backed former Vice President Abubakar Atiku, apart from his failed third term bid, he had always won his political battles.
For instance, since 1999 up until 2019, the only political battle Obasanjo has ever lost was his attempt to seek a third term; otherwise he had successfully prosecuted and won convincingly all political battles, especially presidential contest since 2007 after leaving office. But by 2019, four years after backing Muhammadu Buhari, he lost the 2019 battle as the Atiku he backed for the presidency was defeated by Buhari. Since then, he is yet to recover the grounds he lost politically.
In the buildup to the 2023 contest, he backed Mr. Peter Obi. If Mr. Obi was favoured to win the contest, will Obasanjo call for the cancellation of the election?
Writing letters has become Obasanjo’s regular pass time. His Monday’s virulent letter to President Buhari and the Independent Natıonal Electoral Commission, INEC, Chairman, calling for the cancellation of a process that is still ongoing is not only preposterous, but one purely borne out of envy and political desperation.
For the records, this is not the first time Obasanjo would write or criticise Nigeria’s sitting leaders, since he left office, first as military Head of State in 1979; and later as a civilian president in 2007. He criticised Alhaji Shehu Shagari, who took over from him. He also criticised Buhari as military Head of State.
Again, when the military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (retd), unleashed his Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, on Nigerians, Obasanjo was up in arms against him and his policies, urging IBB to give SAP a “human face.” When the late General Sani Abacha came on stage and was almost running Nigeria aground, Obasanjo was all out firing from all cylinders.
Unlike IBB, however, Abacha could not tolerate Obasanjo’s criticisms and it did not take long before he was sent to the gulag on the allegations that he was plotting to overthrow the Abacha government. Abacha’s death changed the whole story and Obasanjo regained his freedom and went ahead to win election in 1999 as a democratically-elected president.
After leaving office in 2007, he facilitated the election of late Umaru Yar’Adua. But midway into the administration, Yar’Adua took ill and a cabal led by his wife took over the affairs of governance.
Obasanjo personally undertook a trip to see Yar’Adua on his sick bed in Germany, to ascertain his mental and physical capacity to continue in office.
Convinced his case was beyond redemption, Obasanjo chose the annual Daily Trust Dialogue of January 2010, to advise Yar’Adua to resign.
Eventually, Yar’Adua died later that year, and his second-in-command, Goodluck Jonathan, stepped in. But in the runup to the 2011 election, there was a groundswell of opposition against Jonathan, especially from the North, as the region insisted that it should be allowed to have a go at the Presidency again.
Obasanjo again stepped in and resolved the issue in favour of Jonathan. He rallied support for Jonathan, same way he did for Yar’Adua. In the end, despite the religious and ethnic sentiments played up against Jonathan in the North, Obasanjo assembled his army of supporters in the North to lead Jonathan to victory against Buhari, with a wide margin of over ten thousand votes.
After Jonathan became President, he wrote to him 14 months to the 2015 presidential contest, which was later shifted by six weeks, not to seek a re-election. Jonathan dared him and he lost the contest.
Obasanjo, after defeating Buhari in 2003, and assisting two other candidates to defeat him in 2007 and 2011, shifted support for Buhari in the run-up to the 2015 contest, where Buhari after three previous failed attempts, emerged victorious.
However, in 2019 too, he wrote to Buhari, warning him not to contemplate seeking a second term. Buhari dared him and Obasanjo’s political ego was roundly deflated. Since then, he has been writing letters to Buhari, all in an attempt to teach us nonsense.
As a former President, rather than teach us nonsense, Obasanjo should encourage his endorsed candidate to imbibe the spirit of conflict resolution, if there is any conflict, arising from this election, that is only comparable to 1993 in terms of free, fair and credible, peacefully and in accordance with the Electoral Act and the laws of the land.
•Omipidan, a journalist and a public affairs analyst, writes from Ile Olorisa Compound, Eyindi, Ila Orangun, Osun State.