Does anybody know why two former Presidents Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo paid ‘secret’ visits to President Muhammadu Buhari in Aso Rock last Thursday and Friday night? What exactly, if anyone can tell, did the two ex-presidents discuss with the incumbent president? Well, nobody has claimed he or she knew exactly the purpose of the visits or what the President discussed with his august visitors which reportedly took place in the President’s official residence. While there was a photo-shop of President Buhari and former President Obasanjo in a handshake during OBJ’s Friday visit, none of such was in the media to authenticate Jonathan’s visit a day earlier. Neither was the President’s media team aware of what transpired in any of the meetings. But this much is plain: there’s nothing unusual about former presidents visiting a sitting president. Advice is necessary. Guidance is expedient. It’s so
because nobody knows it all. For a sitting president, it’s even more crucial as every president needs proper guidance in working his way through the informal channels of power. Secondly, presidents who ran aground in the office was largely because they ignored advice and shunned guidance. Moreover, they failed because they carried on as if no one matters. They failed to separate collective destinies of the people with their own. The two are different.
Therefore, for any incumbent President, the advice of Dwight D. Eisenhower, former American President, has always been instructive: His advice:”Get all the facts and all the good counsel you can and then do what’s best for America.”. In this case, I add, it’s good that President Buhari gets all the facts and good counsel he can get and do what he believes is best for Nigeria. He must trust his own guts. And that brings us back to the question: what was the purpose of the two men’s private visit to Aso Rock? Was OBJ there as speculated to encourage President Buhari in his anti-corruption crusade or to disrupt it? Or to solicit help for any political associate?
That of Jonathan has even elicited more curiosity. Was his visit, the first since he handed over to Buhari, to plead with his successor to soft-pedal on plans to probe his administration, including the tenures of some ministers in his administration? There have also been speculations that the private visits of the two former leaders were aimed to protect their own interests and that of their associates. How true?
You can’t wish away these speculations. This is in view of the nature of our politics. First, the President has not left anyone in doubt that his government would focus on anti-graft like a laser, that no one can stop his efforts against corruption. And here comes Jonathan saying,’ well, Mr. president, if you must probe my administration, it makes sense you extend the probe beyond my regime lest the probe be seen as a witch-hunt’.
If you ask me, Jonathan is on point. He perhaps deserves a morsel of empathy. He left office in the way he didn’t expect. He was shocked. So were many of his cabinet members. It was perhaps late for some of the ‘bad’ ones to cover their tracks. He also harbours the fear that OBJ(his estranged godfather)would want him(GEJ) disgraced. And many believe that Obasanjo could have a disrupting influence on any leader, including Buhari. That is where Obasanjo’s late night visit last Friday remains very suspicious to Jonathan’s friends.
For me, that could be the dilemma of Buhari: Knowing when to use power and when to keep it in check or when to take the advice of former leaders. To be fair, a dispassionate analysis of Buhari’s 74 days in office is not disappointing, especially in the ongoing reform of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation(NNPC). But, if he must win the “mother of all wars”, which is corruption, the President must keep his eyes on the ball, refuse to be distracted by all manner of secret visits. He must also distance himself from those who may attach themselves to his person, his name, or his office as a means of advancing their own interests or agendas.
Very often, these are the people-many of them, frivolous gossips and sycophants-have caused the downfall of many presidents. It must be said that in a democracy, political appointees remain at the wish of the president and as a matter of luck. But a president succeeds or falls by his own error or judgment. It begins the very moment a president starts to abandon the agenda that brought him into office. Which is why presidents are not judged as ordinary men. Again, the counsel is that a president should not put his trust in princes.
Altogether, Buhari should always remember that government exists to make things happen, just as it also exists to prevent certain things from happening. While Buhari should care or take the advice of former leaders that he considers in the best interest of all, he should care more about the opinions of the vast majority of Nigerians. This is the lesson that has served every successful president well. The sad history of our country is that politicians once in power care little about the people. Rather than see politics as a human enterprise, they see it as a platform to feather their own nests.
‘Change’ has always been a catch-phrase to win elections. Ronald Reagan used it to great effect. It brought him to the White House. Barack Obama took it a notch higher to “change that we can trust”. He won. Twice. But for a leader to use ‘change’ to heal the divisiveness that had racked us for so long needs an understanding of the objects of presidential power. Let Buhari listen to his own instincts, tap from his own experience. The voice of the people he must not ignore. He must commit himself to defined courses of action. Simply put, all hands must be on deck.