EX-PRESIDENT Olusegun Obasanjo is reputed to be among the luckiest Nigerians alive, certainly the luckiest to have ruled Nigeria. But whether he believes in the concept of luck or not, he will hope that by whatever name it is called, that luck will hold up very well against the divine mandate President Muhammadu Buhari’s men have clothed the Katsina-born general’s presidency. Dr Obasanjo may have hoped that by now, the blistering statement he issued in January against President Buhari’s re-election should have gained traction, panicking the president’s supporters and ranks, and creating a momentum of indescribable optimism strong enough to indicate how the political smorgasbord would look like in 2019. So far, neither the panic nor the momentum, nor anything akin to a serious movement, has manifested.
Instead, Aso Villa has kept up its smugness, its initial diffidence in fact giving way to more assertive and sarcastic remarks against the person, plans and hopes of the Owu, Abeokuta-born general. Perhaps aware that little traction had been gained in the past three months or so in the plot to savage the president’s re-election chances, Dr Obasanjo has decided to up the ante and, as he predicted when he launched his caustic memo against the president, pass the baton to others to perform the gruelling and thankless day-to-day task of motivating Nigerians to rise against the Buhari presidency. On Thursday, after another bitter round of savage attacks on the person of the president and his political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), the former president announced that his Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM) would be fusing into the African Democratic Congress (ADC), a hitherto unknown political party founded and led since 2006 by Ralph Nwosu.
Theoretically, there is nothing that says the newly inspired ADC cannot unhorse President Buhari and his APC. After all, the elections are still more than nine months away, and the implosion in the APC long foretold by those who sneer at the APC from within and without is just gathering steam. If the implosion in the ruling party is of such amperage as the one that took apart the former ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2014, there is no telling what kind of quaking and movement would be let loose. Dr Obasanjo hopes that by some quaint magic that powerful earthquake would shake the Nigerian political scene, and he believes he has positioned himself on the cusp of it to take advantage of whatever new deal is in the making, and claim credit for the society’s re-engineering and renewal.
When he announced the fusion with the ADC last week, he managed in the same breath to dismissively characterise the APC and the PDP as both irredeemable and incompetent. The APC had an ineffective leader, a president stuck in the Middle Ages, he fumed; and the penitent PDP was incapable of summoning the will and discipline to purge its ranks of deadwood as well as instituting a new direction for Nigeria. The ADC, he then added triumphantly with a little hint of excessive boyish optimism, is virtually untainted and could help chart a new direction for the country. He is probably right about the irredeemability of the two parties, and in particular about the APC’s lack of capacity, direction, resolve and modern approach to governance, and also about the PDP’s moral turpitude. But his ADC is still so impressionably young and inexperienced that it would require a fairly modern and literate electorate to appreciate its potentials, let alone embrace it in 2019.
It was also clear last week that Dr Obasanjo was unwilling to get into bed with the PDP for any reason, and was mysteriously quite unable to hammer out a deal of any kind with the enthusiastic but equally disenchanted Nigerian Intervention Movement (NIM) led by the legal luminary, Olisa Agbakoba, and the politician, Abdujalil Tafawa-Balewa. There is no strong reason for the former president not to be able to work with the PDP, seeing that many of his former political associates, regardless of their failings, are still PDP members. It is true that former vice president Abubakar Atiku has returned to the party, and a number of strapping and iconoclastic Young Turks now call the shots in the country’s second largest party. But if Dr Obasanjo is wary of associating with the PDP, the reasons are probably not fully located within the former ruling party, but in himself.
Indeed, by pursuing a completely new direction to the political remaking of Nigeria, Dr Obasanjo may be taking his biggest risk ever. For a man who has ridden on the crest of luck since he began to live on public funds, being worsted by President Buhari in 2019 is to sentence him to a black hole of silence, diminution and anonymity such as he, a veritable narcissist, has never experienced. When the APC created the amalgam that scalded the PDP in 2015, its leaders were less finicky about the ethical composition of the new party’s constituent parts. As recent events have shown (See Box), the party in 2014 neither attempted to crown a leader, fearing the dire implication of such a premature step, nor even tried to share the spoils of office, perhaps aware that the controversy it would whip up would be unmanageable. They thought they were mature enough to do the right things after victory. They were grossly mistaken.
However, by opting for a completely new beginning, Dr Obasanjo is simply being true to himself. He is afflicted with the itch to run things, craves a following but never follows anyone, and possesses a forceful and mercurial personality that is sadly not underpinned by a consistent and coherent body of ethics or principles. He was from the very beginning unlikely to create a movement in which he would struggle with other powerful and knowledgeable individuals to shape the party and chart its philosophical direction. Since he lacks the discipline and depth needed to build new and great entities, he thrives more when he inherits a machine already built by gifted pioneers. He has inspired a movement against President Buhari’s re-election; he will hope that the movement survives and thrives. But for now, he will leave the hard work of setting the movement on a firm foundation, even if it has to be the foundation of an existing political party, to others. He will be satisfied pulling the strings from the distant background. However, whether the movement and the ADC will amount to anything in the months ahead will not be immediately clear until the self-destructive APC takes giant steps into the abyss.
No one knows the ADC, nor cares who its leaders are. With Dr Obasanjo’s men now planted in its leadership, all that matters is that it will be the temporary anchor for the former president’s fight against President Buhari. Against the APC, it will stand no chance, though the ruling party is poorly led, is cabalistic, and is unprincipled and beatable. But if the magic Dr Obasanjo has grown used to expecting all his life should occur and the APC begins to wilt in a way that shakes the confidence of its panjandrums, panic could set in and its leadership could fracture very easily. That leadership has always, since 2015, been in danger of fracturing anyway. Those who still keep faith with the APC do so despite knowing the party to be substantially incapable of reforming itself. For as long as the archconservative President Buhari sits regally at the head of the party waving his populist talisman, neither the cabal nor the party’s conservative, if not even reactionary, principles would be tinkered with.
It will require events and measures of tectonic proportions for those who keep the APC afloat to bolt from its stable. It is anybody’s guess whether those events would occur. But party leaders know instinctively that the Buhari presidency is less queasy about the rule of law than its predecessors, and more heavy-handed than all of them combined. To bolt from the APC stable, as it is speculated of Senate President Bukola Saraki and others, is to court grave risks. Those inclined to bolt will, therefore, be wary of how they do it and when. If they bolt, and it is substantial enough, the APC will be unlikely to recover. But whether the country, despite its desperation to embrace a new party and a new deal, will knowingly walk into the embrace of the undisciplined and sanctimonious Dr Obasanjo is hard to fathom. They blame him for the madness that has overtaken the country, a madness he wholly scripted and inspired, a madness that oversaw the elections of the lethargic Umaru Yar’Adua, the overwhelmed Goodluck Jonathan, and after a few convoluted events, the coming of the patrician and messianic President Buhari himself.
If by October or November the APC stable doors are still firmly locked, a prospect that is increasingly in doubt given the severity of the alienation the president himself has authored and supervised, both Dr Obasanjo and his ADC coalition must begin to contemplate the bitter repercussions of their rashness. The former president is famously believed to be inured to insults and every form of indignity humans can offer one another; but faced with an unusually vengeful President Buhari and the catalysing instigation of the detached cabal around him, no one can say for sure that Dr Obasanjo will be as sanguine as he always pretends to be. He began his public career on a high note, reaping where he did not sow, and prospering at the public expense; he will be loth, at over 80 years of age, to end that enviable career at the bitter receiving end of the fury of a president whose capacity for leadership and intellectual exercises he scorns very deeply.