So I stumbled on a tweet by Sonala Olumhense, a popular columnist, and had the following exchange:
@phoenix_agenda At EACH of those elections, I published my opinion. If you are truly interested, please pull them up.
— Sonala Olumhense (@SonalaOlumhense) August 26, 2016
Spurred on by the challenge from the great man, I began my research (I love the internet and the ease with which one can find most things from the comfort of one’s bedroom!). I started with the article with which Olumhense endorsed Muhammadu Buhari’s candidacy in 2011, see HERE.
Olumhense was quite scathing in his commentary on the PDP and the legacy of two term president Olusegun Obasanjo who had endorsed the Goodluck Jonathan candidacy. Their crime was flagrant corruption and a “PDP first” mentality. Olumhense’s view of Jonathan in his own words, “The man has no record of character, patriotism or commitment. He is long on promises but extremely short on performance”.
Olumhense would go further to describe Nigerians who choose Jonathan over Buhari as either gold diggers benefiting from the status quo or masochists who simply enjoy the hardship and pain provided by the PDP!
Olumhense had the following to say about General Buhari:
“Buhari can stretch out one of his long hands and arrest the drift. At this time in our history, his candidature is the wisest, the most promising, and the most logical. He has honour, discipline and strength of character: attributes every great leader must have but which are not a currency of the PDP.
Furthermore, Buhari knows what is wrong with this country, and knows what to do about it, an insight he demonstrated when — as Head of State between 1983 and 1985 — he led a memorable assault on indiscipline and excess in public life.”
A ringing endorsement especially for someone Olumhense had never met nor spoken to as he stated at the end of his article. A lot of people remember Buhari’s time in office between 1983 and 1985 quite differently and very few remember it with such fondness as Olumhense, but to cut a long story short Buhari lost the 2011 election and for the next 4 years Olumhense had Jonathan in his sights.
In an article in November 2012 (see HERE), Olumhense claimed Jonathan had refused to declare his assets in the famous “I don’t give a damn” retort. Olumhense clearly misrepresented Jonathan’s position as the declaration had been done as required by law and what Jonathan was refusing to do was to declare publicly as done by the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. A pattern had emerged.
In 2012, a year after Buhari lost his 3rd attempt at the presidency, he was back contemplating another run at the presidency in 2015. Olumhense wrote an article to dissuade Buhari, essentially asking him to step aside and play the role of an elder statesman and kingmaker, see HERE.
Quite odd given his view a year before that Buhari represented the only hope for battling the ills that bedeviled the country after 12 years of PDP rule. He based his view on the fact that Buhari would be 73 in 2015 and should instead look to identify younger persons with similar values and integrity. Interesting that Olumhense thought Buhari’s powers were on the decline just a year after endorsing him, did he think he would seek only one term in office?
An excerpt of the article that I found most intriguing is as follows:
“Think about it: does anyone really expect Professor Attahiru Jega of the “Independent” electoral commission to be loyal to anyone other than the person who appointed him? He cannot, and to prove it, over one year after the last election, Jega has not started the prosecution of the Big Men he announced as having rigged the last voters’ register. I wonder why.”
Needless to say Jega proved Olumhense wrong, delivered a good electoral process and showed no loyalty to the one that appointed him.
In 2015, Sonala Olumhense made an about turn on the Buhari candidacy once it became clear that the APC which had been formed through a coalition of ACN, CPC and a number of others would be the main challenger to PDP. Olumhense shared his thoughts (see HERE), supporting the APC (he mentioned Buhari’s running mate Yemi Osinbajo as an “excellent compatriot and friend”) in the battle ahead. Olumhense once again went for the Jonathan jugular:
“In his care, Nigeria has therefore shrunk by every conceivable measure. Insurgents control vast expanses of land. Crooks control Abuja and most states. Kidnappers control widespread killing and extortion fields. The economy has shrunk in every meaningful category. There is still the same limited electricity. There are fewer jobs. Hope is in increasingly shorter and more dangerous supply.”
It is perhaps instructive that Olumhense gave no indication of what he thought a Buhari presidency would offer, perhaps assuming Buhari of CPC would still be Buhari of APC. By this time he appeared to have settled for just getting Jonathan and PDP out of power and anybody who stood a chance of getting that done had his support. Barely a month into the Buhari presidency, Olumhense was in questioning mode, see HERE. He began the article by saying:
“Some people think that the All Progressives Congress (APC), Nigeria’s “change” party, is in crisis.
“APC is not in trouble; APC is trouble.
“For me, that is good, and here is why. APC was not voted into federal power because it was an unknown. It was never a saint. By March 2015 when it won the presidency, it probably had more devils per square inch than any political party in history.”
What a wawu! By his own admission, Nigerians had replaced a party Olumhense had been telling us for 12 years was infernally corrupt, with an even more corrupt one that Olumhense had endorsed. What is more, he saw that as a good thing!
In February 2016, Olumhense wrote an article dissuading Buhari from running for a second term, essentially asking him to focus on getting the job done in 4 years (see HERE). Olumhense even took time out to throw faint praise Jonathan’s way when he said,“Nobody has benefitted more than President Buhari from a credible electoral system, but he has also seen the system at its worst and most frustrating”.
While I agree on a single term presidency being best for Buhari’s legacy and had said this in April 2015 (see HERE), it is odd that Olumhense felt the need to advise a Buhari he had proclaimed as having the vision and capability to tackle the key issues as far back as 2011. The excerpt below was quite interesting:
“What Buhari needs to achieve in these four — or eight — years is a reworking of the political terrain to strengthen our institutions and empower the inflow of men and women of nationalism and character. This includes addressing Nigeria’s campaign finance conundrum in favour of patriots who do not want to trade with, or be traded by, political godfathers and thieves.”
One can only imagine Olumhense felt the need to say this particularly as INEC has struggled to deliver credible elections since Buhari took office. As of today, Rivers state has no Senator in the National Assembly (see HERE) and INEC has been right bang in the middle of the controversies in Kogi, Abia and Edo states. Nigeria’s democratic process has taken several steps back since May 29, 2015.
In the last year or so, Sonala Olumhense has written a series of articles akin to a Lamentations series. He tries valiantly to speak out against the worsening situation in the country while trying to avoid sullying his anointed messiah, see HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE. Even on the core promise of fighting corruption, Olumhense admits that Buhari is not living up to his promise and has compounded this by poor policy decisions that have made life more difficult for the people than it ever was under the PDP and Jonathan. I quite agree and wrote a report on Buhari’s first year in office that can be seen HERE.
In a recent article, Olumhense talked about the APC volte face on several promises, an example being the disposal of the presidential fleet, see HERE. In the article Olumhense said the following:
“During the electoral campaigns, Buhari indicated he would begin the battle by having his nominees for high office declare their assets. Sadly, his ministers and advisers have not been required to, and the good are lumped with the bad.
While some of them have in the past one year faced allegations of corruption, Buhari’s war does not place the burden of proof on them. How does the public provide “proof” if they appear to have his protection?
Why, for example, does Minister of Interior, Lieutenant-General Abdulrahman Dambazau (Rtd) continue to hold his post in the cabinet despite a series of allegations against him. Why does CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele continue to hold that job despite the allegations against him. Why is Chief of Army Staff Buratai in office when he should be confronting the allegations against him? Why should the public be providing proof of allegations when the government is providing clearance aforethought?”
At each time Muhammadu Buhari ran for the presidency, evidence of his nepotism (PTF contracts were handled solely by a firm with close ties to Buhari, see HERE and HERE) and biased view on corruption (his decision to “unlook” the 53 suitcases saga during his time as Head of State in 1984 was well known, see HERE) have always been laid bare. His poor economic management credentials were even more obvious given the disastrous policies between 1984–1985 that made a bad situation considerably worse. He has subsequently lived up to all the assertions put forward by those opposed to his candidacy.
When I reflect again on the tweet from Sonala Olumhense that set me on this path of discovery, I pay closer attention to the fact that Olumhense said“@mbuhari offered ME more hope than @gejonathan did”. The emphasis on “me” is mine and I think that tells the story of how much of a personal and perhaps emotional decision his choice was. That for me is understandable as I struggle to find any logic or reason supporting the choice that was made. We have seen many recant and offer apologies for convincing others to do so….Sonala Olumhense given the advantage of hindsight still insists he would make the same choice…..I am keen to hear what lies behind such personal conviction in the face of overwhelming evidence.
Finally, in 2015 when talking about the choice that lay ahead in choosing between Jonathan and Buhari, Olumhense ended his article with this:
“On this point, there is no fence to sit on, and no place to hide: The PDP, and Mr. Jonathan, have run Nigeria aground. Next month, they must be held to account at the polls, and thereafter.”
I can’t wait to see what he writes in 2019.
Phoenix Agenda is a public commentator. “Nigeria needs a new ruling class; young, dynamic, intelligent and knowledgeable. Nigeria needs a viable new option to enable her rise from ashes like a phoenix,” he writes. This article was first published on his page on Medium. He tweets from @phoenix_agenda.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.