Read the first part of this article HERE.
The Yorubas have always been a sort of neutral ethnic group in Nigeria – fighting or romancing with all sides as served each occasion or depending on the political temperament of the dominant leader per time. Awolowo had battled northern feudalism in his quest to become the President of Nigeria much to the angst of the late Ahmadu Bello. Awo encouraged Joseph Tarka in stirring up the northern minorities of the middle belt as well as Aminu Kano and his radical party. For Samuel Akintola, an alliance with the north was more convenient for him, as it would be many years after his time for Bola Tinubu.
While troops moved back to their ethnic roots as mentioned in the first part of this piece, some northern soldiers remained in Lagos rather than relocate to Kaduna. Lagos was then the capital of Nigeria and where the Head of States lived. Easterners did not really have a problem with Westerners, ditto for Northerners with whom some Yorubas shared a religion. For a man like Benjamin Adekunle and other Yorubas who had fought the war and gotten stuck in the mental rut of hatred and bitterness, they could never lead a new Nigeria at the turn of democracy in 1999. But Obasanjo could. He had not fought the war bitterly – never having had to engage in the war in its full nature until 1969, months before it ended unlike a certain Buhari and many others. Obasanjo was trusted by the Northern power elite and did not have major problems with the Eastern power elite either.
In the Southwest though, he was seen as a traitor because when he had first held office as Head of States in Nigeria, he was perceived by the Yoruba bloc to have frustrated Awolowo’s presidential bid. Obasanjo was also a voice of conscience in Nigeria – speaking up on national issues and urging for a return to civil rule which he never knew he would benefit from as he was not a part of the political class of democrats. His stand against the military earned him a jail term under Gen. Sani Abacha and he spent a longer time in prison than many other NADECO or pro-democracy activists and politicians – unlike a certain Buhari, who served under Abacha.
Obasanjo was in a way, the perfect candidate for Presidency – hated by his own ethnic group but loved by others – unlike a certain Buhari, who was adored by his own ethnic group but desperately needed a cross-ethnic alliance. Obasanjo’s emergence was also a necessary response to the overriding political sentiments of 98/99 after the death of MKO Abiola. With AD presenting Olu Falae on a joint ticket with APP which had made Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu step down, the PDP had no option but to field a Yoruba as well.
Fast forward to 2003 – the agreement between Obasanjo and the northern political establishment was for a one-term tenure. As 2003 approached though, it became clear that Obasanjo was not considering the Mandela option – he was going to run for a second term. The north needed to rally urgently and present a candidate – this was where General Muhammadu Buhari first came into politics, as a core Northern response to a 2003 Obasanjo candidacy. The nature of his candidacy was entirely a pro-North agenda. Obasanjo was a former military man, Buhari was also a former military man. Obasanjo was fighting corruption, Buhari would also fight corruption. But the major difference for me: Obasanjo was not steeped in the bitter civil warfare of decades ago while Buhari was.
It was easy for Obasanjo to recognise and appoint Easterners into positions of power in his Government from 1999 and he did – the likes of Soludo, Oby Ezekwesili, Frank Nweke, Chika Chikelu, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and many others rose to prominence under Obasanjo – he had no problem appointing Igbos into ‘powerful positions’ – he was untainted by the civil war mentality of his generation, he only used it to his glorious advantage when he pleased.
The nature of Buhari’s emergence as ANPP candidate in 2003 itself was a political coup of sorts – the Igbos were set to pick up the presidential ticket with the likes of Rochas Okorocha, Perry Ajuwa, Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, John Nwodo, Ogbonnaya Onu and others in the forefront along with Harry Akande. For days, rumours of a northern gang-up had made the rounds in the media until that night of the convention when Muhammadu Buhari came into the convention grounds in company with several ANPP governors as well as Chuba Okadigbo who found it politically expedient at the time to play the role of ‘spoiler’. Having always been politically conscious, I watched that event on live television that night. I watched Rochas Okorocha address the crowd and courageously reject the attempt to impose Buhari on ANPP after Nwodo had also spoken. They all rejected the Northern Buhari imposition, all, except Ogbonnaya Onu. I also watched Okadigbo assure the crowd that his ‘Igbo brothers’ who had walked out of the convention by that time would be brought back by him.
Buhari’s major problems were that he was seen as anti-Igbo and also as an Islamic fundamentalist and he knew it. His attempts in 2003 and 2007, first with Chuba Okadigbo and then with Ume-Ezeoke. When that failed, he sought an alliance with the Yorubas (or the Christians) and ran with Pastor Tunde Bakare in 2011 then Pastor Yemi Osinbajo in 2015 when he won.
With his anti-corruption drive and his constant foreign travels, attempts are being made to cast him as not doing more than the things that Obasanjo also did which are presumed to have delivered results for Nigeria. Under Abacha, Nigeria had become a pariah state. Abdusalami Abubakar with his transition programme had helped to erase that image but he didn’t spend much time in office so Obasanjo had to complete the task. Bola Ige pointed out that Abubakar was the first and only person in Military uniform who was allowed to visit Mandela’s South African prison in Robben Island. Obasanjo had to travel frequently to convince the world that Nigeria had embraced democracy and needed debt forgiveness – Obasanjo had a message that the world needed to hear and that was at that time, absolutely crucial to the nation itself. Many who had fled Nigeria under the military were encouraged to return to Nigeria and invest. One of such was Babatunde Gbadamosi who returned to Nigeria from UK and established a thriving real estate business. I worked with him at a time during his 2011 gubernatorial bid in Lagos.
Buhari is not Obasanjo and Nigeria was never a pariah state under Goodluck Jonathan as Lai Mohammed is desperate to convince us to justify Buhari’s foreign trips. Obasanjo was confident enough in his own charisma and force of person that he let go the reins of Government to his Vice – Atiku Abubakar. Ministers could relate with Atiku and expect action to be taken even in Obasanjo’s absence. This is not the case with Buhari and Osinbajo. It is curious to note in fact that Obasanjo’s frequent travels were a point of criticism from Buhari himself as a candidate in 2003 alongside Okadigbo.
The overriding argument here is that any member of the generation that fought the civil war actively can never be expected to lead Nigeria successfully. There is always one person somewhere who had heard stories of what that person did against their people at so and so place. Even if the person is ‘born-again’, the perceptions of him remain. Moreso when that person fails to make appointments that reinforce the post-civil war concept of “No Victor, No Vanquished”.
Alabi-Isama whom I referenced greatly in the first part of this piece is ‘born-again’ today but cannot help his own language. He describes the civil war opponents with words like “the enemy” – a common trend with military historians who took part in the warfare they record for history. Buhari is Buhari and he is many exciting things to many people but he is not the detribalised Obasanjo.
I submit that nobody who took active part in the civil war in Nigeria can be the #Change we expected. This is now a matter of ongoing history and history will prove me right or wrong.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer.