PDP, Political Behemoth And Exit of The Gadfly By Steve Ayorinde

imageNo one needed the gift of prophecy to sense that the relationship between ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Peoples Democratic Party was headed for the rocks.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who owes his emergence as late Umaru Yar’Adua’s Vice-President to Obasanjo, was barely halfway into his tenure as the substantive president when a crack had emerged between him and his erstwhile godfather. The relationship never got better, considering that the power equation in Nigeria allows the sitting President to assume full leadership of the party. It must take a weakling of a president to cede authority to someone else. But nobody expected the type of drama that characterized Obasanjo’s exit from the party on whose platform he served as the President for two consecutive terms between 1999 and 2007 and thereafter as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. The quintessential gadfly that he is, Obasanjo on Monday, used the occasion of the visit of some members of the party in Ogun State to his Abeokuta home to announce his decision to dump a party he had associated with for 16 years. But it was a preemptive move. Had he not taken his exit that day, he certainly would have either been suspended or expelled from the party for anti-party activities. But the gadfly got two for the price of one – he got the chairman of his ward, Surajudeen Oladunjoye, to tear the party’s identity card and then made nonsense of his expulsion by the Ogun State chapter of the party, which came two hours later. Without a doubt, Monday’s announcement was a smart move by a man whose trajectory over time is as dramatic as it is controversial. He escaped what could have been a disgraceful expulsion, an embarrassment that would have made him the only ex-President to be so treated by a party he once led. Yet, he subjected his party to mockery, not only by denouncing it publicly but by also making a desecration of the instrument that identified him as a member of the party that prides itself as Africa’s largest. He then rubbed it in, announcing that his exit didn’t amount to a defection into another party, but a final retirement into the league of statesmen who bear no political affiliation. He spoke as though he had just had the most appropriate resignation. But the man from ‘Owu’ can never fail to announce his presence with a tinge of self-adulation. The world must always notice. And he has succeeded once again. With his dramatic exit, he has put a stamp of confirmation on the angst he first expressed in an 18-page letter dated December 2, 2013 when he alleged, among other things, that President Jonathan was set to renege on his promise to run for only one term of four years in office and that the federal government was training some snipers ahead of the 2015 general elections. Obasanjo’s conduct will naturally attract mixed reactions, as always. It is even easy to disregard the message with the messenger considering that the ex-President has not always been a perfect example for the type of moral fortitude and propriety that he often tries to demand of others, if a searchlight is beamed on his own private life. One can even be forgiven to conclude that pure ego and vainglory are what drive Obasanjo in his many interventions. His books, My Command, Not My Will and My Watch, all bear testimony to the longing of a man who tends to measure the pulse of the nation only from his personal barometer. But it is easy to understand Obasanjo’s self-obsession. He has had a rather impressive life if not an enviable destiny. From a very humble background, he became the Head of State, in his thirties, without fighting for it. Then he did what no African man had ever done – handing over power to an elected successor, thereby metamorphosing into an international icon. He would be called upon again 20 years later, after surviving the gulag of Sani Abacha’s dictatorial reign, as an elected President. His three and half years as a military Head of State between 1976 and 1979 and his eight years as civilian President clearly make him the man who has ruled Nigeria the longest. His 11 and half years are way ahead of General Yakubu Gowon’s nine years (1966 – 75) in the saddle; General Ibrahim Babangida’s eight years (1985 – 1993) and would still be more than Jonathan’s combined years as Acting President and a two-term President if he wins on March 28. And so Obasanjo’s sense of entitlement becomes appreciable when it comes to matters of Nigeria. He thinks he understands the terrain better and feels compelled to comment on how things ought to be done. To be fair, he has made a duty of such interventions, from Shagari’s government that he handed over power to in 1999, to Buhari-Idiagbon’s tough regime in 1983-85 and the dreaded Abacha regime of the mid-1990s which eventually got him jailed, Obasanjo has always provided timely words of advice. His intentions may be questioned sometimes. And it may be true that he fell out with Jonathan because the President is no longer beholden to him as a godfather. But clearly, Obasanjo has prosecuted this battle better. He has been convincing in exposing Federal Government’s foibles, often providing evidence of how wasteful and corrupt Jonathan’s administration is; how it has paid little attention to national security and that in any case, the president did promise not to seek reelection after his tenure ends in 2015. Obasanjo’s exit, therefore, worsens the crisis in PDP and may have signaled the end of the ruling party as a behemoth that has allowed internal troubles to snowball into an implosion, thereby giving the opposition a good shot at power at the forthcoming polls. A party that can allow five governors, Speaker of the House of Representatives and now a former president to leave its fold has not only sent out a distress signal. It has also, almost, announced itself as being unworthy of holding on to power at the centre.

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