War of the generals – As Nigerian election draws nigh, Buhari seeks peace with Obansanjo
By Chinedu James
The lingering hostility between Nigeria’s generals could be assuaged in the coming weeks with President Muhammadu Buhari and his close associates making moves to mend fences with former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The buzz word in Nigeria’s political circle is: ‘don’t underrate Obasanjo.
The war between the generals
In a public treatise issued months back, Obasanjo had listed the ills of Buhari’s administration, accusing the administration of nepotism, and lacking in willpower and the kind of modern, creative governance to move Nigeria forward. Obasanjo, a retired general, who fought in the civil war of the late 60s for a united Nigeria believes the present government is too sectional and has a poor understanding of Nigeria’s complex political mix.
His words: “[President Buhari] has poor understanding of the dynamics of internal politics. This has led to wittingly or unwittingly making the nation more divided and inequality has widened and become more pronounced. It also has effect on general national security.”
Obasanjo’s public treatise elicited praise from a large section of Nigerians disappointed with the tardiness and somewhat clannishness that have come to define the government. Openly critical of Buhari, Obansajo asked Buhari, a retired military general too, not to seek a second term.
But the publication also drew blood from Buhari’s supporters. Obasanjo is no saint. Buhari’s legion of supporters fired back and accused him (Obasanjo) of having a messianic complex. With a similar letter published before the 2015 elections that ‘flushed’ Goodluck Jonathan out of power, analysts say to ignore Obasanjo is to contend with the peril that had tamed others.
Is Buhari nepotic?
Obasanjo didn’t mince words. He says Buhari is nepotic. His treatise reads: “One is nepotic deployment bordering on clannishness and inability to bring discipline to bear on errant members of his nepotic court. This has grave consequences on performance of his government to the detriment of the nation.”
Also, Dr Junaid Mohammed, radical politician and Second Republic lawmaker, from Kano State believes Buhari is heavily nepotic. Mohammed was part of the inner caucus of the Buhari’s movement for presidency. In separate interviews with the Punch Newspaper and Daily Independent, Mohammed accused the president of filling power-spaces with his relatives even when they lack the prerequisite qualifications.
He told the Punch in a 2016 publication: “This is shamelessly the worst form of nepotism in the history of government in Nigeria. In fact, in the history of Africa, let me make bold to assert that I have never seen any level of nepotism that has equalled or surpassed this in my entire life – I am now in my 67th year.”
He declared to the Independence thus: “I do not believe in nepotism; which is, bringing in your own relatives into government, not because they have anything to contribute but simply because they are your relatives. This is another form of corruption and I reject it. It is nepotism. The idea of you looking at people and saying: “this is what he deserves; this is your own. This is your own portion” does not really augur well for us as a nation. Again I don’t accept it. It is too prevalent in this government.”
Obasanjo, Buhari and the economy
Obasanjo decried Buhari’s understanding of the economy and foreign affairs, warming that much of the gains made during his own government nearly a decade ago were being eroded by wrong policies. The animosity between the generals would further stretch when the Egmont Group threatened to expel the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) from its platform that combats money laundering and terrorist financing – Egmont is touted as the global Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and relates with each country’s FIUs.
Nigeria had struggled to join the group and got an official nod in 2007 to allow the country’s financial houses participate in international electronic money transactions as part of the benefits. The feat is credited to Obasanjo’s administration and deemed one of his major achievements.
But under Buhari, Nigeria faces possible expulsion from the Egmont Group on the basis of violations of Recommendation 29 of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) standards and regulations which clearly states that FIU must remain independent and free from any form of interference from each country’s crime and investigations bureau.
In Nigeria, the NFIU is under the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and has suffered several encroachments from the EFCC in violations of the FIU’s rules. Attempts to legislate its independence have run on ‘starts and coughs’ to exasperate the FIU which has a March deadline to expel Nigeria with dire consequence on the country’s image and global financial standing. Sources close to the former President had revealed that he was bitter and unhappy with the development. He thinks Buhari’s poor economic judgment was largely responsible for the Egmont’s miasma.
Consequences of Nigeria’s expulsion
The expulsion of the NFIU from the Egmont Group of 156 members of Financial Intelligent Units, currently on suspension as a result of the EFFC’s refusal to grant the NFIU autonomy, holds dire consequences for the international financial system of the country.
Nigeria will receive a blacklist in the international financial system as the operations of the country’s financial body will not be regarded abroad. The country will also not benefit from financial intelligence shared by the 156 member-countries with the recovery of stolen funds becoming extremely difficult.
The income of Nigerian banks will suffer a decline because of their inability to issue Mastercards and Visa Cards. The added cost of securing loans will be hinged on customers and businesses.
The E-commerce ecosystem will also be affected with businesses no longer to flow with online transactions because of restrictions on the cards.
More importantly, is the effect on Nigerians in diaspora. Nigerians will experience great difficulty in relation to transfer of money to their wards schooling abroad, business will suffer a setback and individuals will be forced to go about their daily business with cash. The access and ability to use foreign credit cards will be severely hampered. Nigerian users of MasterCard and Visa debit/credit cards will be exposed to a high level of risk in international transactions.
Buhari seeks Peace
Few weeks after the Egmont threat, former President, Olusegun Obasanjo had announced his registration with the Coalition for Nigerian Movement- a coalition spearheaded by him and which he claims is the way forward and “is proposed as the new direction to mobilize our population for unity, cooperation, development, rule of law, employment, law and order, justice, integration, peace, security, stability, welfare and well-being.”
It is on record that past administration’s which the former President publicly criticized for incompetence in governance suffered great relapse as none stayed long on the throne after, with Generals. Ibrahim Babangida and late Sani Abacha, late Umaru Yar’Adua and more recently Goodluck Jonathan facing the hammer of the former general.
President Buhari and close aides are seeking to have the Obasanjo back even as the president make conciliatory moves within his party and kick-start a peace visit to troubled states where violence between settlers and herdsmen have cast doubt on the ability of the government to maintain peace and security.
Proactive steps have been taken by the administration as the National assembly passed the bill that will grant autonomy to the NFIU. The Presidency’s ad-hoc committee headed by Senator Chukwuka Utazi, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption is saddled with the responsibility of repositioning the NFIU and also ensuring its admittance into the group has commenced proceedings to avoid expulsion.
A copy of the bill will be sent to President Muhammadu Buhari for his eventual assent before March 11 which is coincidentally the date of the Egmont Group’s next meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina and when a final pronouncement is expected to be made on the ‘Nigerian situation.’ could be made on the situation having been meeting from the 2nd to 7th of March, 2018.
President is expected to readily sign the bill to prevent disaster for the country’s financial system and more importantly, to lessen the tension between his government and former President Obasanjo.
But there will be more battles ahead within the president’s party, the array of political parties seeking to ebb out the ruling party and the coalition championed by Obasanjo in his belief that Nigeria should seek for new leaders bereft of the burden and complexity of her past.
Obasanjo treatise submits: “I believe the situation we are in today is akin to what and where we were in at the beginning of this democratic dispensation in 1999. The nation was tottering. People became hopeless and saw no bright future in the horizon. It was all a dark cloud politically, economically and socially…. Wherever I go, I hear Nigerians complaining, murmuring in anguish and anger. But our anger should not be like the anger of the cripple. We can collectively save ourselves from the position we find ourselves. It will not come through self-pity, fruitless complaint or protest but through constructive and positive engagement and collective action for the good of our nation and ourselves and our children and their children.
“We need moral re-armament and engaging togetherness of people of like-mind and goodwill to come solidly together to lift Nigeria up. This is no time for trading blames or embarking on futile argument and neither should we accept untenable excuses for non-performance.
“We need a Coalition for Nigeria, CN. Such a Movement at this juncture needs not be a political party but one to which all well-meaning Nigerians can belong. That Movement must be a coalition for democracy, good governance, social and economic well-being and progress. Coalition to salvage and redeem our country. You can count me with such a Movement.”
It is not likely that the general will back out of his own movement for a regime change. As 2019 approaches, analysts expect a hung election and a re-alignment for new political forces that may set a new tone for Nigeria’s politics.