2015 Presidency: The Obasanjo Factor

Since 1979, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has played a major role in determining who becomes Nigeria’s president. Are things about to change in 2015?


Some political observers say his influence has waned. Others say he remains an important factor and can play the role of spoiler if he is not on the side of President Goodluck Jonathan.

Former military ruler (1976-1979) and democratically elected president (1999-2007), Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo did not start influencing — or determining — who gets into Nigeria’s leadership position in 2007. He started it back in 1979 when he organized an election that produced President Shehu Shagari.

Shagari’s main opponent in that election was Obafemi Awolowo, whose loyalists, till date, still believe that the Obasanjo-led military government assisted the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) to win the election. Indeed, but for the controversial Supreme court decision on what amounted to 2/3 of the votes, there would have been an electoral college to decide between Shagari and Awolowo who emerged the president. Awolowo would probably have clinched it because of his better preparedness.

Obasanjo didn’t help in dispelling conspiracy theories when he said that “the best doesn’t always win” in response to those who accused him of a bias against Awolowo.

However, he now doesn’t have the same base as he had in 1979 and 2007, when all the instruments of administration were under his control, and he used them (quite possibly in 1979 and most certainly — and blatantly — in 2007).

So, in a sense, Obasanjo’s influence has waned. However, analysts say what he now has in abundance is nuisance value, citing his several outbursts which find ready – and regular and ample – space in the media. These have included his “Before It Is Too Late” letter dated December 2, 2013, chronicling Jonathan’s reported failings in tackling endemic corruption which Obasanjo says “stinks” all around Jonathan and his government.

Obasanjo’s new three-volume memoir, “My Watch” forms a part of the premeditated scheme to savage and Jonathan and other key figures in the administration and those not ordinarily agreeable to his politics.

Well, Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, replied Obasanjo in a 1,788-word biting response. Soyinka, amongst others tagged Obasanjo a seasoned predator and an infantile career liar. Former Ogun state governor, Segun Osoba used similar language on Obasanjo.

While everyone knows where he’s coming from and heading, where will he end up?

Obasanjo may not may not be a card-carrying member of the All Progressive Congress (APC), but gives the party enough moral weaponry to pummel Jonathan. He very painstakingly articulates the man’s perceived and real failings for public display.

Now, the issue is, yes, Obasanjo’s criticisms hurt, but would they influence votes? Would they earn Jonathan less numbers of votes and more votes for General Muhammadu Buhari, the APC presidential flag bearer?

Obasanjo’s negative influence on Jonathan’s chances comes from his inability to wield together the trans-party Yoruba “solidarity” that enabled him to receive, for the first time in his public life, the endorsement of his Yoruba kinsmen. In fact, from the perspectives of Segun Osoba, on the one hand and Afenifere, on the other, Obasanjo emerged from that episode more hated politically than ever before among his people. None of the prominent Yoruba with strong grassroots support are with him — Osoba, Tinubu (and his loyalists), Fayose, Kashamu, Mimiko, Ladoja, Fasehun, Adams, Adebanjo, etc.

It is an open secret that the rest of the south doesn’t think much about him either.

So where lies his electoral assets, in terms of vote mustering? So search for his relevance elsewhere. Obasanjo’s critics trace it in the terrain of mudslinging. What do you do when you encounter a mudslinger? You keep a distance; otherwise, you end up soiled and defaced, a strategy Jonathan has clearly employed effectively till now.

Another plank of Obasanjo’s influence is his new-found romance with the northern political establishment. He continues to give thumbs up for their opposition, bordering on outright disrespect, to the President.

Jonathan’s camp

Obasanjo is still well respected and pulls enormous political power among the discounted groups within the PDP and more recently in the APC. Jonathan knows that he would ignore Obasanjo at his own peril. For starters, political watchers will consider the strategic appointment of Ahmadu Ali, and Tony Anenih, both former close political associates of Obasanjo, into Jonathan’s presidential campaign organisation. While Ali is director general, Anenih is national campaign adviser. It is a strategic move by Jonathan to force Obasanjo to support him or, at least, use his political foot soldiers for his presidential ambition. And both men (Ali and Anenih) want political relevance. The person that can give them that now is Jonathan not Obasanjo.

Obasanjo is not the only factor to consider as to who emerges the next president but he is a huge factor and influence. First, he remains hugely relevant as far as the international community and other world leaders are concerned and his voice or thinking might still influence international opinion and who world leaders back.

But then how strong is Obasanjo’s current relationship with these politicians? While there has been evidence of his parting of ways with Ali, the same cannot be said of his relationship with Anenih, who wrested the chair of the PDP BOT from the former president. Bode George has not forgiven Obasanjo for his non-committal attitude to his conviction – which the retired naval officer has since fought to reverse. Just how much do Jerry Gana and Femi Fani Kayode, who are both in Jonathan’s presidential campaign organization, subscribe to the man’s methods?

If their differences with their former “master” are not too fundamental, they might be able to impress on him the need to support Jonathan. The alternative will be for them to use their closeness to him to neutralize his strategies, if not his antics.

So the strategy of filling the Jonathan’s campaign team with “Obasanjo boys” may either boomerang against, or work for, Jonathan.

From his body language, Obasanjo will not support Jonathan. If anything he says privately is to go by then the issue is foreclosed. Obasanjo feels Jonathan has not given him what is due to him as the person that brought him into Aso Rock. Those who know him well enough allegedly describe him as a very vindictive who hardly forgives easily.

Also, Jonathan, it has turned out, is smarter than had been given him. He had no constituency in the PDP but has since gained control of the party and wing over everybody that counts. And he has the war chest. So Obasanjo’s opposition may not count.



    A huge masterstroke from Jonathan was his recent visit to Gen Ibarim Babangida at his Hilltop mansion in Minna, believed to have been the idea of the Anenih/Ali/Gana team. Is that kind of mission to the Hilltop mansion in Abeokuta on the cards? Will it be of any positive effects on Jonathan’s electoral fortunes?

    Now the big question: Let’s assume that APC succeeds in the impending election, Obasanjo will feel entitled to some of the credit for the feat.

    But where will he end up? How will he figure in the new administration? He will want to play the patron — we are waiting to see how that will jive with Buhari and Tinubu!

    This article, first published in Leadership Newspapers, is republished with permission.


    Join the ICIR WhatsApp channel for in-depth reports on the economy, politics and governance, and investigative reports.

    Support the ICIR

    We invite you to support us to continue the work we do.

    Your support will strengthen journalism in Nigeria and help sustain our democracy.

    If you or someone you know has a lead, tip or personal experience about this report, our WhatsApp line is open and confidential for a conversation


    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here

    Support the ICIR

    We need your support to produce excellent journalism at all times.

    - Advertisement


    - Advertisement