There is hardly any fairly educated person that’s not familiar with the wisecrack ‘He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day’.
The fight that former president Olusegun Obasanjo was spoiling for via a nasty letter in January, through which he unbraided President Muhammadu Buhari for performing abysmally low in office and daring to propose himself for re-election next year, seems to have been accepted by PMB a couple of months after he was taunted.
Perhaps preferring to fight only on his own terms, and in his turf, the president had avoided joining issues with OBJ when he threw the gauntlet at him.
But in what appears to be a 360 degrees turnaround, Mr President, who initially adopted a pacifist approach, seems ready for the duel hence he called out OBJ on Tuesday in the course of his meeting with Buhari Support Group (BSG) led by the comptroller-general of customs, Hameed Ali, in Aso Rock villa.
In the course of the meeting, PMB reportedly informed his visitors that “one of the former heads of state (referring to Obasanjo) was bragging that he spent more than $15 billion on power in Nigeria. Where is the power?”
That was the first time that PMB, a former petroleum minister under OBJ, would throw a direct jab at his former boss.
The imminent fight which is gathering momentum like a bad storm validates the conventional wisdom in politics which is that ‘there are no permanent friends in politics, but permanent interests’.
It may be recalled that OBJ had openly defended PMB during his campaign for the presidency when his opponents accused him of being complicit in the missing N12 billion oil money during his tenure as petroleum minister under OBJ’s watch. Barely three years after ascending the throne in Aso Rock villa that he spent the better part of twelve years struggling to mount, OBJ has withdrawn his support from the candidate that he had given superb character testimony.
Apart from the much vaunted sins of PMB which are that he has mismanaged the economy to the extent that excruciating poverty has become the new norm; he is also alleged to have driven a wedge between the federating units to the extent that ethnicity and religious bigotry have become so toxic that they are tearing up the social fabric of Nigeria.
Of course, OBJ is not alone in the allegations but he has been the most vociferous.
With the battle line seemingly drawn, and both retired army generals crossing their swords, the apparent bad blood that seems to be boiling over between them may culminate in an epic battle of monumental proportions and political consequences.
Typically, it is the belief that when two elephants battle, the grass suffers. But in this instance, l would imagine that Nigerians, who can be said to be the grass, would not suffer.
Rather, the country would be better off with the kind of sensitive and perhaps salacious hitherto hidden information that may be shared openly by the feuding parties for the masses to hear firsthand what happens behind Aso Rock curtain walls.
Presumably, PMB has defined his scope of the fight in the course of the meeting with BSG earlier referenced, where he dwelt on the alleged $16 billion that OBJ purportedly spent on electricity generation that, in his assessment, turned out to be a mirage.
Characteristically, OBJ has responded via a statement by his media aid which goes thus: “We recommend that the President and his co-travellers should read Chapters 41, 42, 43 and 47 of My Watch for Chief Obasanjo’s insights and perspectives on the power sector and indeed what transpired when the allegation of $16 billion on power projects was previously made.”
Never wanting to be the one that demurs in a fight, OBJ may hit PMB back by exhuming the ghost of the alleged N12 billion missing oil money during his tenure as petroleum minister.
In the course of the evolving fight which may potentially be pretty nasty, there may be more secrets between both former military heads of state (incumbent and ex democratically elected presidents) that could be spewed into the public arena as the face-off becomes acrimonious.
So believe it or not, most Nigerians are waiting with bated breathe and may even be salivating for the battle to commence.
Of course, there is precedence for such excitement.
When OBJ wanted to take down his Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, he fought dirty; Atiku fought back and they both ended up washing their dirty linen in public.
I don’t know PMB’s capacity to absorb dirt, but from experience, OBJ is a veteran, having sparred with his former Vice-President, got humiliated by his children Gbenga and lyabo who went public with otherwise private family issues and nearly got executed for treasonable felony by late military head of state, Sanni Abacha, as well as got stared back at, eye-ball-to-eyeball by the immediate past president, Goodluck Jonathan, who he penned an equally incendiary letter against.
Ahead of the 2019 election — which was already looking tepid and full of sounds from the lyrics of Fela Kuti’s AUTHORITY STEALING “you be thief, l no be thief, you be robber, l no be army robber” — the PMB and OBJ fight would offer a different drama.
This is underscored by the fact that most Nigerians had made up their minds that both ruling and main opposition parties are two sides of the same bad coin. As such, allegations and counter-allegations about which party comprises of more thieves were going to be the refrain like Fela’s song ‘thief, thief, thief‘ earlier referenced.
Without trying to hyper-inflame the already charged political environment, with PMB and OBJ locking horns in the run up to 2019 elections, in which the latter is increasingly looking like the opposition candidate, all that dreariness could change with the possibility of new vistas opened by the potential combatants.
If the current squaring up — which we in the Delta region refer to as ‘initial gra, gra” — advances beyond arms twisting to bone-breaking, l have no doubt that it would be of epic proportions and Nigerians can’t wait for the fight to commence in earnest.
Going by PMB’s hint during his meeting with BSG, a probe of the $16bn expended on production of electricity by OBJ without tangible, how much less commensurate improvements in supply as alleged, may be in the offing.
The aphorism, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” rings true in the above instance.
When a probe is instituted, OBJ will be literally having a taste of his poison because many politicians went to jail or died directly or indirectly as a result of his probe of their tenures in office.
How he holds out in the course of a probe of his tenure in office would be quite interesting. Going by his conduct during his arraignment for treason by the late military dictator military, Sani Abacha, under similar circumstances about 20 years ago, it will be spectacular to see how he responds to this impeding battle if his relationship with PMB remains as sour as they are currently.
For now, everything is in the belly of time and like most Nigerians, I’m holding my breath.
Magnus Onyibe is a development strategist, an alumnus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, US and a former commissioner in Delta state.