by Demola Rewaju

Former President Obasanjo and President Jonathan

This time, Baba is walking where angels fear to tread yet with the confidence of a trapeze artist. From his body language and posturing in recent times, I’d suspected it all along but was never sure until a major newspaper, not known for frivolities carried the headline yesterday that OBJ was moving to stop Jonathan’s reelection in 2015.

I have much respect for the great institution of leadership embodied in the person of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Whether or not you agree with his politics, you’ve got to respect a man who has seen it all: from presidency to prison and back to presidency; from poverty to wealth to poverty and to wealth again. The most respected Nigerian abroad and a walking paradox of humanity: hated by some, loved by many but respected by all. I believe he is indeed the father of modern Nigeria who cleared the pathway to privatisation across the nation.

Of course he is not a god and he has his own failings: from the perception of pursuing a third term ambition that failed woefully to accusations by his own son of adultery with his daughter-in-law to the accusation by the North that he foisted a sick President Umaru Yar’Adua as their candidate and the criticism of the southwest of betrayals, OBJ has seen it all at 72.

This time, Baba is walking where angels fear to tread yet with the confidence of a trapeze artist. From his body language and posturing in recent times, I’d suspected it all along but was never sure until a major newspaper, not known for frivolities carried the headline yesterday that OBJ was moving to stop Jonathan’s reelection in 2015. It was my suspicion that gave birth to one of my articles about Alhaji Atiku Abubakar(Politicus – Can Atiku Still Be President? | ) last week.

The report in yesterday’s Guardian, written by no less an office as it editor, claims that Obasanjo is strategically building consensus against President Jonathan.

A combination of Obasanjo and any presidential candidate from the north combined with a vice-presidential candidate from the south-east will defeat GEJ so long as it is presented on the PDP platform and that’s where OBJ may have problems or Jonathan may.

Nobody can accurately say where PDP’s hierarchy will lean but if key figures like Obasanjo and IBB move against President Jonathan, his fate is left in the hands of men like Tony Anenih and Alex Ekwueme: the former a fixer, the other a moral force. If OBJ puts the east in the picture, Ekwueme will leave GEJ to his fate.

Obasanjo is a political force that GEj should never have ignored. Here was an OBJ who put his entire clout and machinery at the disposal of Goodluck Jonathan yet was not rewarded by my President. You cannot ignore such a man when his state is being overrun by ACN which party’s governor in the state is a partial loyalist to Baba himself. By not listening when OBJ asked that the southwest be recognised in the zoning (or re-zoning) structure with GEJ at the head of it.

In politics, you do not ignore a force, you either celebrate it into lethargy or come out forcefully against it. That’s one lesson Obama learnt recently: having contested against Hillary Clinton, Obama appointed her as his secretary of state but ignored the former president. In the heat of his epic re-election campaign and with the other side laying claim to Clinton’s status, Obama quickly contacted Bill but was rebuffed strongly by his aides who said you don’t just call up such a political institution to come and work for you like a political operative, you have to go to him. And Obama did.

He invited President Bill Clinton for a round of golf and he was able to convince him to get involved in his campaign. The effect of Bubba (as Bill is sometimes called) on Obama’s re-election campaign was strategic. Here was a white president, backing Obama and establishing his moral authority to the position. In that magical moment that Bill said: “I have cracked my voice in the service of ‘my president’ “, the election was over.

GEJ should have made Obasanjo relevant by phone-calls and consultations. His kinsmen in Bayelsa should have given Obasanjo chieftaincy titles. When OBJ spoke against GEJ’s tactics with Boko Haram, Doyin Okupe should have shown restraint rather than responding; now, Baba’s old soldiers like Femi Fani-Kayode are gladly warming up to join the fray.

If the north decides to align with OBJ, it will negotiate a candidate with him. Despite maintaining strategic distance, Jigawa governor Alhaji Sule Lamido is still seen as an OBJ protege but there is a trump card in Atiku whose allies are regrouping with OBJ’s camp.

By wooing the east, OBJ’s political calculation is that the No. 2 position is better for them than supporting a pseudo-easterner (GEJ’s other name is Azikiwe). The names being bandied around for the vice-presidential position has Gov. Peter Obi at its head but he is a friend of the president.

With a north that feels cheated, a southeast that is eager for political relevance, a southwest that has nothing to lose but much to gain and a southsouth that feels it is not represented by it’s best man, GEJ is about to learn that politics is a difficult terrain where luck counts for nothing.

But Baba needs to be careful. A sitting president is not toothless and GEJ has shown us that he can be audaciously fierce as when he executed the fuel price hike agenda. With half-hearted loyalty from his cabinet, aides and other political institutions such as the legislature, judiciary, governors’ forum and his political party, GEJ may not command much weight but may become desperate and despotic in fighting the political battle of his life. With roughly a year before political madness season begins, GEJ may yet redeem his image by performing better.

OBJ’s greatest caution must come from those who will pretend to be his allies. Baba must be flexible in letting the north pick its own candidate yet force their hand to pick someone he can trust to implement his profound agenda for the country and build upon his legacy of charismatic and consensual leadership, anti-corruption wars and privatisation.

Like I said of Rawlings in an article few months back,(Rawlings’ Last Political Joker in Ghana | ) OBJ’s greatest threat will be parties outside the PDP who may see an opportunity to capitalise on if the party is forced to divide, especially if their merger or alliance works in 2015. If PDP has shown us anything however, it is that it has a unique ability to unite after every threat of dividing. The last has surely not been heard on this issue and the permutational possibilities are still too many to be predictable.