I have heard the legend of the no-nonsense king and the loose cannon in an unnamed kingdom. The loose cannon was so famous for his gaffes throughout the kingdom that the community had no option but to report him to their disciplinarian king. A man who would open his mouth to slander just anything and anyone had thus become a problem to everyone.
The king said “No problem. If it is a problem with a man saying too much, we know how to fix him”. He directed that the loose cannon to be brought to the palace to sit before him as did the courtiers every day. Whenever the loose cannon opened his mouth to utter the wrong things as he got used to doing all the time, the local Chief asked the courtiers to give him a severe beating. On this particular day, the king was about to end his sitting and the palace closing for the day when a courtier observed that Mr. loose cannon had said nothing throughout. “Mr. large mouth has said nothing today to warrant a beating. Surely, the king’s methods have worked!”
With all eyes on him, Mr. loose cannon looked at the king, cleared his throat to launch the biggest insult of his career saying “yes I am free of the king’s torture today. Let him have his mother to beat!”
Since the release of his letter to the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, President Obasanjo has come under intense scrutiny relating to his motives, rather than the message and this is for a good reason. Over the last three or so decades since he left the office as Military Head of State, the former President is known to have written letters to each and all of the governments that followed his own, with such letters coming at crises points in the lives of those administrations or, where non-existed, fomenting trouble of the sitting government. Governments are known to rise and fall with Obasanjo’s letters.
In discussing the contents of the last of these letters, many have said the one he has written to Dr. Jonathan which is the most acerbic only confirmed what everyone believed – that we have a government loaded with stupendous scams, corruption and double-talk. Under Dr. Jonathan, a government unwittingly manifests tribalism and religious discrimination against sections of the country; infrastructure has not grown significantly and corruption has engulfed the economy. Obasanjo’s letter also had the point that essentially and fundamentally, the President is working against the party that put him in office, and the nation.
For me, the biggest cause for immediate concern is the allegation he made that government was putting together a killer squad of 1000 snipers to go after perceived enemies. Nigerians are more inclined to believing the former President on this because the government of the day is found to be dishonest in more ways than the citizens can imagine. What are they doing with a suspected murderer in their bosom? Why would the President intervene and have a foreign government release a citizen, allegedly arrested in connection with weapons smuggling?
There are also all sorts of stories you hear concerning the re-mobilization and re-armament of the dreaded Abacha’s Strike Force. When they took over government upon Abacha’s death, the Abdul-Salami Abubakar-led interim administration considered the sort of sophisticated training received in Israel and North Korea by the hundreds of the operatives of the Strike Force and considered that it would be dangerous to release them into the civilian population. They therefore integrated them into the army as a measure of containment. It was later discovered that many of them used to money and the independence of action enjoyed under the Strike Force did not fit into the army and left. Now, the stories abound that even the few who managed to stay back have started handing in their letters of resignation to the army giving clear indications that they are headed back to where they came from.
When they criticize President Obasanjo for his letter, many say the former leader is merely shedding crocodile tears because he, as the architect of successive transitions since he left office, is solely responsible for bringing the country to this sorry pass. They say that he, in consort with his cronies such as Nuhu Ribadu and Nasir El-Rufa’i, and without the least consideration for national interest chose a sick man, Umar Yar’Adua and Dr. Jonathan Goodluck, a man they thought was an idiot and imposed them on the population in order to retain power and exercise it from his farmhouse at Ota. If Yar’Adua as governor could not govern well a rural state like Katsina, it is better imagined how he could deal with a complex setting that is the Nigerian federation.
It is clear from all of these things that Obasanjo and his gang have mortally harmed the country and morally speaking, there is no basis on which they can pontificate to anyone.
This obvious hypocrisy however notwithstanding, there are many national interest issues in that letter which ought not to be swept under the carpet. As a senior lawyer said in the press last week, take the message and cut the hand (of the giver). So far, the President and his people have only been personalizing the issues. We have only heard a reflexive response from Dr. Reuben Abati, the President’s spokesman, charging the former leader with insincerity and bad faith. The President has no option but to give a reflective response. He needs to show a full contextual understanding; have a correct reading of the mood of nation, and come clean before the citizens on all charges contained in that letter. That is the only way he can redeem the government he leads. A good and honest government will lend ear to good advice wherever it is coming from. If not, that government is doomed to fail. The latter ought not to become true of the Jonathan government.
As the nation waits for him with bated breath to know what next steps he decides to take, let him not make the mistake of putting Obasanjo to trial or detention. With Mandela just buried and therefore out of the way, there are many old men on the continent who would do anything to fill the vacancy. This letter issue is big, big issue. It calls for a response beyond the reflexes and rash abuse coming from the President’s camp. What the nation expects is a reflective, blow-by-blow, point-by-point account of why the government should not be held guilty as charged.