Saturday, August 20, 2011
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his hitherto close ally, former Military President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida share so many things in common. But recent development indicates that, beyond the surface, the two elder-statesmen may have been merely tolerating one another. Both leaders recently threw decency overboard and engaged each other openly in a verbal war. Lawrence Olaoye, Abuja and Ayodele Samuel, Lagos, examine the build-up to the tirades of the Titans. Until recently, the duo of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and former Military President Ibrahim Babangida could be referred to as political allies who, at all times, close their ranks in times of political turbulence in the country. This they have done on several occasions with the spirit of espirit de corps, both having attained the greatest height in their military career. Both have at one time or the other served the country at the highest levels in 'khaki' as Heads of State with Obasanjo capping his own with eight unbroken years as the civilian President of the country between 1999 and 2007. It was generally believed that IBB was one of the potent forces that ensured the emergence of the incarcerated Chief Obasanjo as the President of the country in 1999. It was equally speculated that the Mina born General helped his former boss to clinch the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)'s ticket to contest for the second term in 2003 when opposition rose against his emergence in the party. With their records of service at the highest levels in the country and the groundswell contributions of both elder-statesmen to national development, not a few Nigerians were taken aback when they took themselves to the cleaners on the pages of newspapers over, what some other people would regard as, frivolities. While one may excuse them for expressing their feelings over state of the nation and pardon them for having the guts to publicly reflect on their years of service to the nation, the two old men would not be spared the tongue on their decisions to wash their dirty linen in the open by castigating themselves in the market place. Babangida, it was who took the fight to Obasanjo when, in his Hilltop palace in Minna, he attempted to compare the success of his administration to that of his former boss, Obasanjo. He had said at his recent 70th birthday that "I managed poverty to achieve the result while some people manage affluence to achieve their "result". Commenting on the eight year democratic rule of the former civilian President, especially on his $16billion expenditure on power without commensurable results, IBB said "My comment is if I had $16 billion I would have used it to acquire nuclear energy for the country. It was a hell of money wasted. No foresight, no imagination and this is because everybody wanted to build something new as so-called legacy". The former Military President said if there was ever anything that he regretted during his eight years in power it was that crude oil price was $10 per barrel, pointing out that "I wish I was there when it was $120 per barrel, you would have seen wonders". Obasanjo, who will never allow anyone to rubbish him without fighting back, replied almost immediately, through the same medium, by labelling his erstwhile political ally 'a fool at 70'. Drawing inspiration for the inglorious battle from the Bible, Obasanjo said IBB failed to initiate any power project throughout his eight year administration. He said he could not believe that Babangida actually uttered those words until he read the reports in virtually all the newspapers. "I also read where he said in his time, he gave the dividends of democracy and at the same time he regretted. When I read that, well I said Babangida should be pitied and shown sympathy rather than anger or condemnation because the old saying says a fool at 40 is a fool forever and I would say a regret at 70 is a regret too late. Well a regret at 70 is a regret to the grave," Obasanjo said of Babangida. Defending his administration, Obasanjo said some of the issues raised by Babangida "were unfortunately not well thought-out. For instance, he talked about our energy. When I was the military head of state, I built Jebba dam; built Shiroro dam, I prepared the foundation of Egbin plant which President Shagari completed and commissioned. That time the money we were making was not up to the money Babangida was making annually for his eight years and yet we built two dams," Obasanjo said, adding "because it was important, you know that power is the driving force for development and for any developing country. But since the building of Egbin power plant, until I came back in 1999 there was not any generating plant for almost 20 years and Babangida spent eight years out of that. Now, he has the audacity to talk about anybody; I think that is unfortunate. "I started five of what they called Independent Power Stations which were stopped for two and a half years. Now that the present administration has started building a new power project at Uyo," the former President stated. Reacting to the open outburst of the two leaders, political commentators condemned their utterances even as they branded the two retired Army Generals as failures. They described Babangida as a kettle calling Obasanjo black just as they insisted that they are all of the same stock. Presidential spokesman, Dr Rueben Abati said, there was nothing to comment on as “it is their fight”. ACF Publicity Secretaty, Anthony N. Z. Sani said that although it was unstatesman-like of the two leaders to wash their dirty linen in public, it was all the same as well if it make “our current leaders avoid past pitfalls by improving the quality and volume of governance for common good.” A constitutional lawyer, Prof. Itse Sagay said "The two of them are colossal failure; they are twin brothers as far as governance is concerned. They are not better than each other." Human rights activist and Lagos based lawyer, Bamidele Aturu said both Obasanjo and IBB were in the same boat as military leaders. "Both of them failed even when they had the opportunity to have transformed this nation. IBB made corruption permanent. We must thank IBB for saying the truth. It takes a failure to accuse a failure," he said. To Chief Olu Falae, Obasanjo's civilian administration was a disaster as he could not manage the various organs of government that could make his administration a success. He said he would prefer IBB to Obasanjo because IBB during his time was cool headed unlike Obasanjo who ruled with iron fist even as a civilian president. Yoruba leader, Ayo Opadokun said the tenures of Obasanjo and IBB were complete disasters that impacted negatively on the lives of Nigerians. He accused Obasanjo of plunging the nation into extreme debt, adding that IBB's regime was completely dictatorial and militant in nature. Opadokun lamented that Obasanjo performed very poorly while in office but noted that his regime gave room for people to air their views. Also reacting, Mr. Yinka Odumakin described the tenures of IBB and Obasanjo as disasters. He said there was nothing good about the two administrations as they had negative impact all through. But, political watchers are of the opinion that the vituperations of both leaders who are supposed to have buried their differences by virtue of their age and positions in the country may signal constitute a security risk to the nation if not well managed. Ayo Yusuf, an Abuja based political commentator said "This is shameful. This is the height of irresponsibility from those who are supposed to be role models. They have the right to disagree but they must be aware that any negative comment from either of them has the capacity to compromise the nation's security." Responding to the unhealthy development, Senate President, Senator David Mark, has appealed to both leaders to sheath their swords in the interest of the nation. Mark in a statement issued on his behalf by his Special Assistant, Media and Publicity, Kola Ologbodiyan, urged the former Presidents who are elder-statesmen to restrain from making further inflammatory remarks capable of destroying all the efforts they have sunk into building the nation. He said "As statesmen, you cannot afford to resolve your differences on the pages of newspapers. You have contributed immensely to the growth and development of this nation. Your responsibility is to advise those coming after you on the challenges confronting our nation today and in the future." He equally cautioned the followers of these eminent Nigerians not to expand the horizon of this disagreement, adding that "we should continue to pray for peaceful co-existence among all.