Sharing my thoughts and putting my message accross
No sooner had the lights dimmed out on the presidential media chat on November 18, 2012 than tweets began to run in on the popular social networking site, dissecting the central issues addressed by the President. In tweet after tweets, people ridiculed and mocked the President for his position on several salient issues. Not quite surprising. Nigeria is after all, a country that has become known for the tradition of crucifying Presidents on the media cross. Former President Obasanjo knows this too well.
In all the jeers and boos for President Jonathan though, there was hardly a tweet that mentioned the President’s comments on Odi! It was either such a passing comment that was lost in the midst of more important issues or viewers of the session had little or no interest in the subject at all. It was all the more intriguing that President Jonathan’s comments on Odi (contending that the military operation ordered by President Obasanjo in 1999 was a failure) made headline news the morning after. The people missed it but the media did not. “As usual, the media set its spotlight on the most sensational but irrelevant fact” critics may say.
Unfortunately, it goes far beyond the media’s lust for sensation. It seems to go even far beyond Odi. In my book “Nigeria’s Journalistic Militantism”, I devoted a few pages to the subject of Odi and Zaki Biam. It is therefore an issue that is fresh in my memory. Depending on the viewpoint chosen by the beholder, President Jonathan and President Obasanjo may be right in their diametrically opposed recollections of what transpired in Odi in 1999 when the spotlight is set for a viable fact-check.
The central issue in Odi was a leftover of the Saro-Wiwa days. It was the indigenous right to oil resources and environmental protection. For some reasons, a gang of youths exploited the volatile and unsettled social situation to perpetrate “lawlessness, killings and daylight terror”. Some sources claim that this was tacitly tolerated by indigenes of the village. In the end, the need to reassert constituted authority led to increased policing of the restive location. The daring gang then abducted 12 policemen killing seven of them on November 04 and the remaining five, one day later. Government had to react. Nigeria had not yet gone out of control. There was yet some semblance of sanity in law enforcement. Bolstering law enforcement with military back-up, the tragic end became inevitable. After the operations, the military spokesman of the second amphibious brigade who accused residents of the village of facilitating the excesses said:
“The intention was just a show of force to let them know they cannot continue like that. I think that has been achieved. … No village will want to go through what that village went through. It has been taught a lesson. … Some of the destruction of Odi was done by members of the gang…”
In the end, 14 members of the gang were reportedly arrested in addition to other havoc wreaked on the community. Only three buildings were left standing – a church, a bank and a Public Health Center. But Peace was eventually restored at a very huge price.
Now, while we saw a picture of a militant gang curtailed, the gang in Odi was not the Niger Delta militants of latter days. In fact, the word “militant” had not found its way into Nigeria’s daily vocabularies at the time of the incident. Else, writers would have been careful using the word ‘militant’ in qualifying the militancy of the armed gang. Experts across the board agreed at the time that the government was up against a rampaging criminal gang.
The Niger Delta Militants that resorted to the kidnapping of foreign oil workers and established training camps in the creeks were formed and financed by disgruntled politicians who had scores to settle with President Obasanjo for what was seen as his larger-than-life attitude. They were trained in some cases, by retired military officers who agreed with such politicians that President Obasanjo’s government needed to be destabilized to teach him a crucial lesson. They had absolutely nothing in common with the criminal gang of Odi.
No doubt President Jonathan is also aware of these facts. Was President Jonathan not being economical with the truth when he claimed that the military operation in Odi only achieved the production of dead bodies? I’d rather qualify that as “Pants on fire” to borrow CNN’s phrase for describing maliciously “untrue” statements after fact-checks. The President omitted the fact that 14 members of the gang were dislodged and the activities of the gang discontinued.
The timely intervention with military force in Odi nipped the potential wild fire in the bud alas (I say again) at a very huge cost. This too is a reason that the operation was not followed by any audible international condemnation or outcry of genocide that would have seen the International Court of Justice in The Hague swinging into action. Of course viewed from the untenable position held by President Jonathan that the operation did not halt Niger Delta militancy, the President will be absolutely right. Unfortunately however, the position is untenable because the gang crime was not Niger Delta militancy and the military operation was not aimed at curbing Niger Delta militancy which emerged far later and was politically motivated.
When President Obasanjo criticized his political foster son of being indecisive and weak in addressing the Boko Haram issue, I’m afraid he was not only echoing a viewed shared by very many Nigerians but was also stating the obvious. After all, it was President Jonathan who declared unforced and without duress, that he had members of Boko Haram even in his own cabinet. Events that have unfolded since the explosion of Boko Haram have shown that the President has taken no single bold and courageous political step to arrest the situation. High profile names have hardly been exposed to say the least of arrested on the orders of the President. On the contrary, halfway meaningful arrests end up either with jailbreaks or release after a short time in detention. In fact, high profile replacements have been made in President Jonathan’s team lately and they are rumored to have been made in appeasement of those suspected top-notches of the killing machine.
On the other hand, President Obasanjo’s criticism of the incumbent President also bears some elements of confusion to say the least. It was glaring in its lack of clarity. After all, President Obasanjo it was, who on September 15, 2011 after his visit to Boko Haram affiliates in Maiduguri, advocated dialog with the criminal sect. Those were the early days, in which President Obasanjo now claims that decisive action would have nipped the activities of the criminal sect in its bud. His subsequent advocation of decisive action does not explain this obvious contradiction.
This is where the question of timing comes into play. When did President Obasanjo change his views? Why did he come out with this criticism only now? Quite clearly, communications between President Obasanjo and President Jonathan are not of the quality and content that the public knows.
Public knowledge of political processes is often based on half-truths or controlled truths. What is left for the public is to read events and attempt to generate viable interpretations.
It will therefore compel some analytical sanity to start from President Obasanjo’s resignation from the Board of Trustees, which he had personally designed exclusively for former heads of state. Even with no fact of the inside story in public domain, it is not far-fetched to see through the lens of political expediency that the Ex-General could take some issues no more. With a highly politically inexperienced President Jonathan getting richer by the day in his reservoir of gaffes and chain of wrong decisions including the oil subsidy policy that almost brought the nation down on his head by a whisker, questions on who his advisers are will be clearly legitimate.
Queer and outlandish views and decisions often held and taken by President Jonathan have done little to help his battered public image through his months in office at the top. People often wonder how many qualified counseling the President gets or follows. We know he has highly qualified economic confidants in Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. The same can however, not be said of his trusted political allies and advisers that are seen by the public. His team of advisers is seemingly led by Edwin Clark – a man of acceptable but limited high-level political profile. Prolific writer Reuben Abati (who may feel more at home reaping beer parlor applauses) can hardly serve as a potent political adviser. Today Doyin Okupe seems to put a face to the President’s kitchen cabinet.
Under President Jonathan, the council of former Heads of State that was regularly convened under President Obasanjo now seems to play little or no role at all.
It has meantime, become an open secret that President Jonathan wants another term as President without the qualified guidance of experienced brains. There is hardly any observer that I know in connection with Nigeria who does not shake his head in frustration over this presidential ambition. The question is often asked “Just what is it about power that people cannot readily give up on?”
Having come a long way through the maze of the cabal and the windy path of gaffes and turbulence, why is President Jonathan bent on further tearing the nation apart politically? The nation stood as one to rescue him from the fangs of the cabal. He stepped in and assured the world that he nursed no extreme ambition. Having produced one disappointment after the other in public perception, he shows the image of a helpless weakling. It is even questionable today that his achievement of a breakthrough in the power sector (if at all) will still do anything to salvage his image for reelection.
In his prioritized bid to conquer the Boko Haram menace, he has obviously taken decisions to make strategic replacements that do not bear the handwriting of qualified counseling. Yet people settle for such decisions on the assumption that the President is attempting to calm prevailing political temperature to pave way for the ultimate defeat of Boko Haram. Given the antecedent of not having an independent and virile political power base in the country however, it becomes compelling to wonder if his ambition is not counter-productive to this set goal of calming down the political temperature. Questions are now asked, where he seeks to get the facility for such a political adventure in a country that is no longer prepared for a showdown on behalf of a President that has not excelled in political intelligence. Misplaced strategies and calculations the Mitt Romney style, may see him being catapulted into oblivion by his trusted aides if care is not taken. Chances of his reelection by today’s perception will require some heavenly miracle. If he runs for re-election and loses, he may end up being the last President of the PDP to rule Nigeria.
In other words, President Jonathan’s ambition to run for a second term on the advice of his sectional counselors does not only portend bad tidings for Nigeria’s unity, it also underscores a tacit intention to drown his party along with him politically. Rather than focusing on grooming a viable successor in tandem with credible players in the field in the interest of the nation, President Jonathan is busy playing a selfish game.
If the rumor mill now swirls and tells us that President Obasanjo is quietly putting together a favored team of credible replacement for President Jonathan, we will simply need to add it together and find the true reason for the Odi fallout.
Watch out for my new book coming out soon “Africa’s Diabolical Entrapment”