THE OBASANJO EFFECT

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo is not my favorite statesman, but honour must be given to whom honour is due. Either by design or default, Obasanjo has transformed himself to a figure that can only be compared to that of Dr. Olusola Saraki, the father of Nigeria’s current senate President, Senator Olubukola Saraki. Saraki Senior who was the second republic leader of the senate, personally enthroned all civilian governors in Kwara state until his demise in December of 2011. Though a trained medical doctor just as his son is, he mastered the art of Politics and became the strongman of Kwara politics. If you had to win any election in Kwara statewide or actually in any local government in that state, Saraki’s’ support was not only compulsory but quintessential. He was the issue in Kwara politics.

In mainstream Nigeria, no one has been able to achieve this feat.

Due to the heterogeneous nature of Nigeria, alliances must be forged by different interest groups across at least four of Nigeria’s six geo political zones for any party to win a nationwide election. This is why regional parties never stood a chance to win national elections. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the ultimate victim of this political reality. He was a purist who never compromised his progressive social political ideology by aligning with conservatives in the Northern or Eastern part of Nigeria. There was no chance and he never won a nationwide election.

Obasanjo is anything but an Awoist. The man won the 1999 elections because he was perceived to be a nationalist. When he lost his election at his constituency in 1999, a journalist asked him how he felt. “Nigeria is my constituency”, he replied. Baba as he is fondly called, has been pivotal to the ascension of all successful presidential aspirants since he completed his tenure in 2007. After handpicking Umaru Yara’dua in 2007, he stomped for him in all the states of the federation. When Umaru’s health compelled him to abandon his campaign to Germany, Obasanjo made the famous call to douse rumours of his death in a campaign rally.“Umaru, Umaru, are you dead”, Obasanjo asked with his mic on his cell phone speaker. “No, I am alive”, Umaru answered, and the crowd went wild in jubilation.

Umaru’s elder brother Shehu was Obasanjo’s loyal deputy when they ruled as military dictators in the 70’s. He was imprisoned alongside Obasanjo by Abacha in a framed coup charge, but he never made it out of prison. BABA reportedly handpicked Umaru to repay his brother’s loyalty at a time the loyalty of his vice president was in doubt.

Goodluck Jonathan was on the verge of losing the PDP primary to Atiku Abubakar in 2011 before Baba stepped in. The northern political elite felt aggrieved that Jonathan was taking the presidency which they believed rightly belonged to them. Obasanjo rallied the governors and secured their support. Jonathan must have forgotten this fact in his fall out with Obasanjo, and he paid dearly for it. The man threw his weight behind Mohammadu Buhari, a perennial presidential candidate he had vehemently opposed in three previous elections. He started by writing a damming public letter, paid host to Buhari on multiple occasions, tore his party membership card and publicly supported him for the first time. The outcome was a foregone conclusion.

He has now adopted the same tactics for the forthcoming election. He started by writing what has now become a famous letter criticizing the incumbent president and advising him not to seek re-election and that was soon followed by the unthinkable, not just forgiving Atiku Abubakar, but also endorsing him for the top job.

Obasanjo had just recently said that God would not forgive him if he supports the Wazirin Adamawa. Atiku’s successful move to secure Obasanjo’s support is the most remarkable political stunt by any Nigeria politician since 1999. Nobody saw that coming, and the effect is monumental . Baba proved that he would rather embrace an enemy than “reinforce failure and incompetence” unquote.

Obasanjo is the man you want on your side. His words are quite weighty and he boasts of a network of political allies across all sections of Nigeria. His endorsement will certainly swing millions of undecided and independent voters and could serve to neutralise Asiwaju’s influence in the south west.

The election is Atiku’s to lose after Baba’s endorsement. It is safe to call the South-south, South-east, and North central for the Wazirin. The South-west has moved to toss-up position with Baba’s unequivocal endorsement of Atiku Abubakar. In the North-east, Adamawa, Taraba and Gombe are safely in the basket for Atiku. If he performs well in Yobe, Bornu and Bauchi, he may win the North-east. If the North-east and South-west remain as toss ups, this will mean that whoever wins them would win with a slight margin that could just be insignificant in the entire race. Only the North-west seems to be secured for President Buhari.

Without overstating the effect of Baba’s endorsement, it will be foolhardy to call the race for Atiku at this time, considering the volatility of Nigeria’s politics. However, one thing is certain; Buhari’s path to victory has become narrower by Obasanjo’s endorsement. If Atiku runs an issue based campaign on restructuring and economic recovery, he stands a very good chance to dislodge the incumbent President.

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