Olusegun Obasanjo cannot bear to stay out of the limelight and his endorsement of Peter Obi once again proves that.
After weeks of bopping, ducking, like a practised boxer; hedging and generally approaching by indirection what he might well say without equivocation, Olusegun Obasanjo, a former president and Head of State, has finally made a clean breast of his position on his preferred presidential candidate, presumably among the three leading ones of Bola Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, in the presidential election that is billed to take place in less than two months from today. Peter Gregory Obi, the Labour Party candidate, is his choice. Before now, he had appeared before the leadership of Ohaneze Ind’Igbo alongside Chief Ayo Adebanjo, another staunch supporter of Obi, and spoken about those qualities that put Obi ahead of other candidates.
At other times, he seemed to favour a candidate from the south-east as a way of balancing the geo-political demands of Nigeria’s leadership which has eluded the Igbo for many decades and aggravated their sense of wrong. For him and other Nigerians who have harboured similar thoughts, it’s a way of giving the Igbo a sense of national belonging by assuaging the feeling of mutual suspicion that followed the bad blood generated by the Civil War. It’s a feeling the Igbo believe has put them at odds with the rest of Nigerians, especially the Yoruba and the Hausa and Fulani, and rendered their claims to the first-person position in the presidency untenable.
What is remarkable about the position of Obasanjo and Adebanjo, the leader of Afenifere, a Yoruba socio-cultural group, is that they are Yoruba leaders that have chosen to throw their hats behind an Igbo candidate in what is fast turning out as a three-horse contest among candidates drawn from the three largest regions, if not ethnic groups (Atiku is Fulani, a minority group with vastly disproportionate political influence), of the country. There’s so far, no northern political figure with similar name recognition as Obasanjo and Adebanjo backing Obi. This would otherwise have given him something of a nationwide acceptance, at least in terms of endorsement by respected political actors who may not necessarily possess meaningful electoral power.
It’s still an open field for the north. Neither the Northern Elders Forum nor the Arewa Consultative Forum has thrown its weight behind any of the contestants. They are yet studying the terrain to see which of the candidates best represents their interest or the interest of the region in whose name they speak. With Obasanjo’s coming out to endorse Peter Obi in the manner he has done gives the LP candidate a boost. But this is only apparent. There’s yet nothing to suggest that this endorsement carries any serious electoral mileage beyond the moral, possibly psychological, advantage it gives the Obi camp. And in his usual way, Obasanjo has given his endorsement through a letter, his usual mode of power communications, highlighting the Obi advantage.
Even though Obasanjo is usually a man of his conviction and would rather call things by their right name, he had appeared to be tentative, hiding behind a finger on the issue of who he supports for the presidency in the imminent election. He has received the leading candidates and those who didn’t appear to stand a chance winning a local government election in his hill-top residence in Abeokuta. They have sought and received his blessings to run. But now he has taken off the gloves, wholeheartedly thrown his weight behind Peter Obi, the other candidates can now be sure where they stand with him and not waste more time trying to get his buy-in for their campaign.
An Obasanjo endorsement while it could be a moral booster, as I have said, is nothing but a puff of wind electorally. He is not in power and cannot make this a do-or-die matter as he once characterised a presidential election in which he deployed state power to overwhelm the opposition. It is only appropriate that Nigerians are receiving his endorsement of Obi in full awareness of his electoral insignificance by not losing sleep over it. He has but one vote like every other voter and, if he is to be believed, belongs with no political party. He is not even in active politics going by his previous claims! All of which goes to underline his relative insignificance if not impotence in the matter at hand. He can be sure of one thing, if nothing else, though: he won’t be receiving as much cussing and verbal darts as he would have, had his endorsement gone to any other candidate.
Peter Obi’s supporters, especially the so-called obidients side of the tribe, have nothing but crude and mostly uneducated invectives and imprecations for anyone who as much as voice a word, not against their candidate, but in favour of other candidates. It’s a level of intolerance that is as dizzying in its fanatical impulse as it is dangerous in its implication for the polity as for Peter Obi himself. Unlike Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, a former Minister of External Affairs, who believes Obasanjo shouldn’t be taken seriously as he is a part-creator of the problem he would want Nigerians to believe his endorsement of Obi would resolve, obidients are not likely to rail against Obasanjo much less see the need not to separate the messenger from the message as Akinyemi is counselling.
This endorsement must be such sweet music to their ears that they would not care to examine its significance for Peter Obi’s chances electorally. Or the potential of this being another push for relevance by Obasanjo who, despite his protestation to the contrary, continues to take partisan political stand unlike other former presidents. Even his timing of his endorsement, coming on the first day of the new year, would seem to be an attempt at directing the political wind in his way rather than at Obi or the real value of that act for Obi.
Since leaving office, Obasanjo is that one leader that has continued to insert himself into the political fray in a partisan rather than a statesman-like manner even when this may be nothing more than a populist gesture.
He has denied the accusation of wanting a third term in office but he appears determined to do so at least by proxy. Which would explain his bent for falling out with those candidates he endorses no sooner than they get into office. From Umar Yar’Adua who, in a seeming rebuke of Obasanjo, not only acknowledged the flawed process that brought him into office but went about correcting it by inaugurating the Muhammed Uwais Committee, to Goodluck Jonathan who he ditched for seemingly more personal grouse than national considerations, it’s the same story. Olusegun Obasanjo cannot bear to stay out of the limelight and his endorsement of Peter Obi once again proves that.