Written by John Campbell
Former president Olusegun Obasanjo witheringly criticizes President Goodluck Jonathan’s governance in an eighteen page, ostensibly private, letter that has been leaked to the press. Obasanjo’s catalog of Jonathan’s shortcomings and mistakes runs the gamut from failing to address the underlying causes of security issues in the Niger Delta and the jihadist Boko Haram insurrection in the North to subordinating the well-being of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to his own political ambitions. According to Obasanjo, Jonathan is failing to address threats posed by narcotics trafficking and corruption, and his mismanagement of the economy is causing a pause in foreign investment.
Obasanjo accuses Jonathan of identifying himself with his fellow Ijaw ethnic group, not the Nigerian people as a whole. And Obasanjo sees points of comparison between Jonathan’s abusive use of the security forces with what the notorious military dictator Sani Abacha did during the era of military dictatorship. Looking to national elections in 2015, Obasanjo says that Jonathan won the ruling party presidential nomination in 2011 because he promised not to run in 2015. There is every sign that Jonathan will break that promise and run; that would be “morally flawed.”
Obasanjo’s letter has little that is new. However, its eighteen pages are a remarkably comprehensive indictment of the Jonathan administration. In the letter’s last paragraph, Obasanjo says that he will be sharing the text of this private letter with former military heads of state Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar, former vice president Alex Ekwueme, and Yakubo Danjuma, a retired general who played a central role in successive military administrations, though he himself was never a head of state. These individuals are at the pinnacle of Nigeria’s traditional elite.
Predictably, the Jonathan administration appears to be outraged over the fact the letter was leaked as well as its content.
According to the BBC, Jonathan’s office has characterized the letter as “reckless, baseless, unjustifiable, and indecorous.” The president has promised a full response in due course. Some commentators are suggesting that Obsansjo’s letter is designed to build opposition to the ruling PDP’s renomination of Jonathan in 2015. Yet, the letter strikes me as more than a political maneuver. It reflects the criticisms and anxieties that are widespread among Nigeria’s elites, many of whom are deeply concerned that the country is on a downward spiral. There is irony in Obasanjo’s critique. He more than anyone else was responsible for Jonathan’s selection as PDP vice presidential candidate in 2007. With the death of President Yar’Adua in 2010, Jonathan became the president—and the incumbent in 2011. Many others have confirmed Obasanjo’s statement that Jonathan then promised not to run in 2015—though Jonathan himself has never acknowledged making it. Jonathan says that he will announce whether he will run in 2015 only in 2014. However, most Nigerian observers see his candidacy as a foregone conclusion.