Mixed reactions have continued to surround Sunday’s endorsement of the presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the 2023 general elections, Peter Obi, by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, DIRISU YAKUBU reports

Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo is known for speaking his mind, particularly on issues of national concern. Having played a key role in shaping the political history of Nigeria, the Nigeria-Biafra civil war commander has had cause to intervene in matters relating to the health of the nation in the past few years.

In his memoir, “My Watch,” the retired military general chronicled his life trajectory spanning his childhood, military career, and political leadership, unmasking the character traits of some prominent Nigerians from his knowledge of them.

After acknowledging the expertise of Wole Soyinka in the art, he went on to mock both his political activism and his famous hunting endeavor.

“For Wole, no one can be good, nor can anything be spot-on politically except that which emanates from him or is ordained by him. His friends and loved ones will always be right and correct no matter what they do or fail to do. He is a misfit as a political analyst, commentator or critic,” he said, adding that the Nobel Laureate is “surely a better wine connoisseur and a more successful aparo (guinea fowl) hunter than a political critic, not to talk of what he could so as a politician.”

The man referred to as Baba by many even had harsher words for Atiku Abubakar who was the Vice President for eight years in the Obasanjo-led government.

He said, “From the day I nominated Atiku to be my vice, he set his mind not for any good, benefit or service of the country, but on furiously planning to upstage, supplant or remove me at all cost and to take my place. That was what I brought him for, but he was impatient and over-ambitious. He was not ready to learn and to wait. His marabout, who predicted that despite being elected as governor, he would not be sworn in as a governor, which happened, also assured him that he would take over from me in a matter of months rather than years.

He added, “All his plans, appointments of people, and his actions were towards the actualization of his marabout’s prediction. Once I realized his intention and program, I watched him like a hawk without giving any indication of what I knew and letting down my guard. I could not succumb to the distraction, diversion, and malevolence of an ambitious but unwise deputy.”

In the past few years, the retired military general had through public letters, picked holes in the governments of President Goodluck Jonathan and Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), accusing both of failing to draw strength in the diversities the country provides for national cohesion.

This practice earned him the unofficial title of “The letter writer,” even as targets of his highly critical epistles often find a way to dismiss issues raised in those interventions.

In what is fast becoming part of the nation’s political culture, Atiku Abubakar, Bola Tinubu, and Peter Obi, the presidential candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party, All Progressives Congress, and the Labour Party, respectively, had a course to visit Obasanjo to share their ideas of how they intend to turn around the fortunes of the country if elected.

Atiku was particularly optimistic about Baba’s blessing having endorsed him in 2019.

In a New Year (2023) message to Nigerians entitled, “My Appeal to All Nigerians Particularly Young Nigerians,” the former President advanced a legion of reasons to dump Tinubu and Atiku while pledging his support for Obi, a former governor of Anambra State.

In the letter, the Owu chief wrote, “The last seven and a half years have no doubt been eventful and stressful years for many Nigerians. We have moved from frying pan to fire and from the mountain top to the valley. Our leaders have done their best, but their best had turned out to be not the best for Nigeria and Nigerians at home and abroad. For most Nigerians, it was hell on earth.

“Those of us who are alive should thank God for his mercies, brace ourselves for the remaining few months of this administration and pray and work very hard for an immediate better future – a future of liberation, restoration, and great hope and expectation.

“We have had campaigners going up and down the country feeding us with what they mean and what they do not mean, what they understand and what they do not fully understand, what is possible and what is not possible, what is realistic and what is unrealistic, what is true and what is untrue. I believe that we need not be confused or be gullible. Let us be cautious, not to be fooled again.
With painful jibes at Tinubu and Atiku, the former President noted that “’ Emi Lokan’ (My turn) and “I have paid my dues’’ are one and the same thing and are wrong attitudes and mentality for the leadership of Nigeria now.

“They cannot form the new pedestal to reinvent and to invest in a new Nigeria based on an All-Nigeria Government for the liberation and restoration of Nigeria. Such a government must have representation from all sectors of our national life – public, private, civil society, professional, labor, employers, and the diaspora. The solution should be in ‘we’ and ‘us’ and not in ‘me’ and ‘I’.”

He then went on to state that “none of the contestants is a saint but when one compares their character, antecedent, their understanding, knowledge, discipline, and vitality that they can bring to bear and the great efforts required to stay focused on the job, particularly looking at where the country is today and with the experience on the job that I personally had, Peter Obi as a mentee has an edge.

To nail the coffin for Tinubu and Atiku, Obasanjo argued that the job of presiding over the affairs of the country is one that is too tasking for septuagenarians, a remark that got the camps of both candidates fuming and uncomfortable.

Speaking exclusively to The PUNCH, human rights activists and political commentator, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, faulted the criticisms leveled against Obasanjo, arguing that if he had endorsed Tinubu or Atiku, both men would have been in unstrained excitement today.

He said, “I don’t think Obasanjo should be criticized and crucified for his personal views based on his personal perception of issues and polity. I will see such lampooning as myopic, insincere, and duplicitous. This is because the same PDP and APC had also approached the same Obasanjo for his endorsement. If he had endorsed them, would they have criticized him? Would they not have lapped it all up? Take it or leave it, although Obasanjo is only entitled to one vote like every and any other Nigerian, no one can deny that he has become a moral compass for happenings in Nigeria and Africa. I read his letter very carefully. It is rich, compelling, logical, well-researched, even if judgmental and puritanical.”

A chieftain of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Anthony Sani, is however not impressed with Obasanjo’s recent endorsement of Obi, telling The Punch that the man is now famed for his “inconsistency.”

Sani said, “Former President Obasanjo has been using letter writing for sitting Presidents and Nigerians as means of his politics through which he has arrogated to himself the status of conscience of the nation. But since he tore his PDP membership card as a way of retiring from partisan politics only to join the African Democratic Congress, and later endorsed former Atiku for the 2019 elections, things have not been the same for him again.

“As a result, most Nigerians now believe the only thing consistent about former President Obasanjo is inconsistency. Furthermore, the defeat of Abubakar Atiku by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), in 2019 despite Obasanjo’s letter and endorsement has tended to demystify his claim to being the conscience of the nation. I

For a political pundit and human rights lawyer, Abdul Mahmud, those criticizing Obasanjo are ignorant of the place of endorsement in most democracies of the world.

He said, “Political endorsement is a part of contemporary politics, so much so that it has become a subject of contemporary scholarship, with scholars like Calvert and Mckinsey leading the field. And new models of examination such as game and spatial models are now being used to explain political endorsement. We have also seen the importance of political endorsement and its effects in other political climes. In the run-up to the 2020 United States primaries, Black Congressman, Jim Clyburn’s endorsement of Joe Biden ahead of the primaries in South Carolina set Biden on the surge. We can also recall Oprah’s endorsement of Obama in 2008, which drew massive black votes to Obama.”

Continuing, Mahmud argued that “endorsement isn’t new to Nigerians. We saw the many political endorsements, including Obasanjo’s in 2015, which virtually took the wind out of Jonathan’s intrepid sail. I am surprised that those who criticized Obasanjo quickly forgot that partisan support is what makes democracy tick and endorsement, which forms part of the deliberative and representative cores of democracy, is one of the comforting ticks of the democratic box, if not the main tick. Imagine how an exciting endorser of a political candidate draws enthusiasm and excitement to the democratic process. This is what is lost to Obasanjo’s critics, in my view.”

Activist and Chief Executive Officer of Connected Development, Hamza Lawal, said, “It is always inspiring to see our elder statesmen lend their support and wisdom to a political campaign. Their years of experience and dedication to public service make them valuable voices in the political conversation. Their endorsement of a particular candidate is a testament to that candidate’s qualifications and vision for the future.

“It is clear that the elder statesman believes this candidate is the best choice for the job, and this endorsement, under natural political circumstances, carries a lot of weight and credibility. We should all listen to the critical aspect of the statement that emphasizes the need for us all to cast our ballots. The most important thing is we all must come out to vote regardless of who we choose but sitting at home is no longer an option. Citizens must participate in elections and be prepared to engage and hold their leaders accountable,” he said.

Obasanjo has an undeniable right as a Nigerian to endorse his preferred candidate. He is equally entitled to the right of rejecting other candidates but calling him a spent force, as a result, is an insult taken too far.

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