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Barrister Jiti Ogunye, a constitutional lawyer and public affairs analyst,  is the Principal Counsel, Jiti Ogunye Chambers. In this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, he spoke on former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s letter and his proposed Coalition for Nigerian Movement and other issues. Excerpts:

Former president Olusegun Obasanjo in his letter to President Muhammadu Buhari asked him to honourably dismount from the horse and not bother seeking reelection in 2019. Do you think this advice should be heeded by the president?

First, I think that a lot of people are rather angry that the advice is coming from former president Olusegun Obasanjo.  They regard him as hypocritical, self-serving, holier-than-thou and overbearing bordering on dictatorship.  Some have even accused him of suffering from messianic complex, I am the best and people who have come after me don’t know anything about governance.  That is the criticism of many because those that Obasanjo arranged to succeed him in power weren’t fit for the purpose, either because they were ill, most unfortunately allegedly to Obasanjo’s knowledge when he foisted them on the party, PDP and on Nigeria being their willing campaign manager or because of lack of seriousness in an otherwise serious environment of governance.  He has been accused of being a failure on that score alone, not to talk of the policies that he himself implemented when he was in government.  Those criticising him are more or less saying that the teacher is not qualified to teach or ‘Teacher, don’t teach me nonsense’. But I have publicly argued that even if we are to look towards the Scriptures and hearken to the injunction therein which says that ‘ What you are desperate to hear from the wise and prudent, sometimes it comes from the babes and the sucklings’.  In this part of the world, the Yoruba will say that sometimes, what you are anxious to hear from the wise or from the mouth of the sane, may come from the mouth of the madman.  So for me, there is a distinction between Obasanjo the person and the message he has given.

Barrister Jiti Ogunye
Photo: Barrister Jiti Ogunye

Why do you say that?

What Chief Obasanjo has said is not what the ordinary people are now saying. Indeed, I regard him as a fantastic collator, as a person who deftly has assembled the gory facts of our national existence at this time and has delivered a message of pervading hopelessness on the country.  He has travelled through all that afflict us such as poor economic management, disastrous foreign policy, nepotism in government, worsening ethnic relation in the country, clashes between herdsmen and farmers and the  state of insecurity which is very alarming now all over the country.  We were told that Boko Haram has been degraded and technically defeated but we still see what they do. Each time they strike, government spokespersons say they are only attacking soft targets as if those soft targets are not human beings that should be protected.  Also to be mentioned is the anti-corruption war which has suffered some kind of reversal because of obvious nepotism, some people being regarded as sacred cows. So, Obasanjo has collated all these and my expectations are that government should sit down ask itself sincerely: What is Obasanjo saying? What are Nigerians saying?  What areas require urgent remediation? How do we have a more prosperous, united union for our country?  The issue of restructuring by the APC panel which they really don’t want to initially but which they are now goaded to revisiting.  In the manifesto, you promised that we are going to have devolution of powers, restructuring, state police and all that but now, they have to be reminded that it is a promise they made in their manifesto. They denied it but eventually they set up a committee which has now turned in a report to the party. So, how do you then get the government of the APC to accept these recommendations and then move the discussion forward? I think these are the things that the government should look to.

What is your perspective on the response by the FG through the Minister of Information?

The blandish throwback of economic indices and data that is usually the knee-jerk response of government won’t help in this situation.  You can throw up your economic indices and data showing that the economy is improving fantastically. You can talk about the Stock Exchange that is rated very high by western countries, all I know is that wages have not increased, people are spending more now to buy less, and things are costlier now than they were before. For those who are making comparism between locally produced rice and imported rice in terms of price to show that those imported bags of rice were costlier than the locally produced ones. Do you expect a bag of rice that is produced in Nigeria to be costlier than the one that is imported with import duties and so on?  Those are not the arguments you should throw up.  Parents find it difficult now taking care of their children. It is more difficult for people to go to school now. So, this government of Change should look at all these.  We miss the point when we just say to hell with Obasanjo and his bad verses.  Assuming Obasanjo was opportunistic in writing that letter, if there were no issues for him to write about, if this government had delivered on its promises to Nigerians, he will be sounding stupid writing those letters. The letter will not gain any resonance in the polity. In fact, Nigerians will dismiss him as somebody who has lost his mind because what he wrote in his letter is so different from the reality on ground.  But his letters always gain resonance because of what is on the ground.  The only caveat I have is that now that these analyses have been made, what is the solution?

What is your take on Obasanjo’s Coalition for Nigerian Movement?

Even if we are top take the model of the ramshackle liberal democracy we claim that we are practicing, Obasanjo’s recommendations is outside the framework of what his Coalition for Nigeria, which may then transmute into a political party and then contests election at which stage he said he will then withdraw because he wants to continue to play the role of an elder statesman having said earlier than he is done with partisan politics.  He even said in that letter that those who must be willing to participate in his conceived Coalition for Nigeria must come from all walks of life.  Given the follow-ups to that letter, we learn that politicians across the two political parties (APC and PDP) are being wooed to participate in this coalition.  That part is a path that is fraught with danger because it is a recipe for recycling those who have caused our nightmares in the last 19 years of our democracy.  As you now realise, the APC is not too different radically from the PDP. In any case, those who are in PDP before are now in APC now and some of them are giving the hint that ‘if their people asked them to go back to their home in PDP,  they will go’.  If you are asking those who are disgruntled about the Buhari administration to now find their ways into this coalition for Nigeria, what you are going to have is still chieftains of the political class  of Nigeria cohabiting in this coalition for Nigeria and then bidding for power being posed as an alternative. My own suggestion is that you have all these political parties in Nigeria and INEC is complaining now that they are unwieldy. These political parties should do some serious soul- searching realistically since they have to play mass politics and not office projects, staying in one office and issuing press statements and deluding themselves that they are mass-based political parties. Isn’t it time that they merge based on ideological affinity and political similarity. In other words, they should go back to play the APC playbook now that they still have time.  All of them must start talking to one another right now and say ‘we should be the alternative’ and then the Nigerian people can then see the alternative to the APC and PDP and not what Obasanjo is

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