The cold war between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Goodluck Jonathan Administration came again to the fore on Sunday at a thanksgiving service held in honour of a former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili, in Abuja.
At the service that had many eminent Nigerians, including a former Head of the Service of the Federation, Steve Oronsaye, and ex-Attorney General of Federation and Minister of Justice, Kanu Agabi, in attendance, Obasanjo said if the Goodluck Jonathan administration was keen on probing his government, it should come after him instead of people that served under him.
He also flayed the plan by the Federal Government to set up a pipeline protection agency, saying it was another avenue for corruption.
But Obasanjo’s comments drew the ire of the Presidency which said no past administration, either past or present, should be afraid of probe. It also advised the former President to allow Jonathan to do his work.
The former leader had at the 50th birthday thanksgiving service for Ezekwesili, said, “I have always said this, whatever you want to blame in my government, blame me; don’t blame any of those people who assisted me. If there is any credit to dispense, we share it. But for anything you want to say is wrong, I was the one in charge and I was in charge.”
Obasanjo, whose comments were necessitated by the war of words between Ezekwesili, and the Presidency over the $67bn the Jonathan administraion inherited from his government, said he had absolute trust in those that worked under him, especially as ministers.
Ezekwesili’s claim that the Federal Government squandered the sum was described by the Presidency as reckless.
Turning to the former Education minister, Obasanjo said he was sure nothing would be found against her because of her integrity and commitment to public service.
He said, “Actually those who wanted to probe you (Ezekwesili), you should have asked them to go ahead because if they are honest, they would find out that the government should give you money for what you have done for this country without stealing money.”
Obasanjo, who is the immediate past Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party Board of Trustees, then faced Oronsaye, Agabi, a former Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Charles Soludo; and ex- Minister of Information, Frank Nweke Jnr., and said, “When I look at you, I thank God for making you available to serve in my administration, to serve Nigeria and serve God at the time you did.”
But he faulted Agabi’s earlier call at the service for the establishment of a National Commission for Integration, saying it was not necessary. According to him, the entire 1999 Constitution is for integration.
“What else do you need. You have a constitution that is intended to integrate the country. You have the Federal Character Commissiom for instance. What is that one meant to do? It is for integration. The entire constitution is all about integrating this country. If at all we failed to use it, it can even be said that we have breached the constitution. You don’t need a commission for integration,” Obasanjo added.
On the planned agency for pipeline protection, the former President said it would be another avenue for corruption.
“This (Sunday) morning, I was travelling from Abeokuta and I was listening to a radio station when I heard that they (government) are going to set up an agency for pipeline protection. Now, what are the police for? What are all the security agencies that we have doing? This is another chop chop.
For those advocating change in Nigeria, Obasanjo said they must be prepared to take insults.
“I just hope that we will get it right. We have no choice, we have to get it right. Let us decide individually that ‘I would do what I have to do to bring about change in Nigeria.’ If you do that, let me assure you, you will be called names; you will be abused; some people are hired to do that. But like Oby (Ezekwesili) say what you believe is right and stand by it.
But the Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Dr. Ahmed Gulak, responded to Obasanjo’s comments, saying that any administration could be probed.
Gulak, in an interview with one of our correspondents, argued that even the current administration was being probed regularly by the legislative arm of government.
He added, “ This administration and past administrations can be probed. Nobody should be afraid of probe.”
On Obasanjo’s description of the planned pipeline protection agency as another chop chop, Gulak said as an elderstatesman, Obasanjo should not just criticise government for its sake, but should proffer solutions if indeed he loves the country.
He said since Obasanjo was not the present President, he should allow the incumbent to concentrate on his job.
Gulak said, “The former President is entitled to his opinion; but he is not the President. He should allow the President to do his work. People should stop making derogatory statements about the President. There is only one President in the country today and we should all support him.
“People should not just be criticising government. As an elderstatesman, if he indeed loves this country, he should proffer solutions rather than criticising.”
Some aides of the former President- Hassan Lawal, Nasir el-Rufa, Femi Fani-Kayode, and Adeyanju Bodunde - are currently being tried for various offences.
While Lawal, a former Minister of Works, is being prosecuted for N75bn fraud, el-Rufai, an ex- Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, is facing trial for irregular land allocation and abuse of office.
Fani-Kayode, who is former Minister of Aviation, is facing trial for money laundering while and Bodunde, an special assistant to Obasanjo, was in 2011 arraigned for his alleged involvement in the $180m Harlibutton bribery scandal.
Ezekwesili had in her remarks, recalled how her parents moulded her by teaching her moral values. She said she could not understand why people would wanted to enjoy a life that they never worked for.
“I was born to parents who are from a humble family. My daddy was a man of uncompromising integrity. My daddy worked in Nigeria Ports Authority. He used to say to us that the NPA had become a centre of corruption. That was so many years ago. My mother talked my father out of public service because she was afraid for him.
“My mother used to go to what we call bend down boutiques in Tejuosho Market in Lagos to buy clothes for us. She knew what they called grade one okrika (used clothes). We did not have money. We were poor but rich in values. Those values shaped everything about me. From young age, good governance and accountability mattered to me,” she told the congregation.
Ezekwesil, who said she felt “a sense of completion of a certain phase in my life,” added that corruption in governance today might not allow a child of similar background to survive.
“In a relatively decent society, I got the kind of education that has taken me thus far. I was Minister of Education. A similarly poor child, who comes from the kind of family I came from when I was young would not have the kind of opportunities that I had in this same nation.
“We must therefore build a decent society that does not sow this terrible seed of inequality that I see around me today. When I see the children of drivers, the gardeners and I see that they will not have the kind of education and opportunities that I had, it pains me.”
On why she criticised the government recently, she replied that “democracy is incomplete without the engagement of citizens in the process. The demand for accountability and results is the right of citizens.”
In his homily, Rev. Dr. William Okoye, appealed to Nigerians to shun corruption and be contented.
According to him, any nation that places values on materialism is doomed.
“Life is not about material things that some of us are concerned about today. Life consists of far more than that. When people value money more than life and God, they can do anything. The life you live pursuing mundane things at the expense of God has no blessing and can’t save you.”