John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Former Nigerian President Obasanjo’s Letter to President Goodluck Jonathan

by John Campbell
December 13, 2013

Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo (R) and the People's Democratic Party's (PDP) vice presidential candidate Goodluck Jonathan (left) speak during a PDP presidential campaign rally in Ibadan, March 8, 2007. (Sunday Aghaeze/Courtesy Reuters)


Former president Olusegun Obasanjo witheringly criticizes President Goodluck Jonathan’s governance in an eighteen page, ostensibly private, letter that has been leaked to the press. Obasanjo’s catalog of Jonathan’s shortcomings and mistakes runs the gamut from failing to address the underlying causes of security issues in the Niger Delta and the jihadist Boko Haram insurrection in the North to subordinating the well-being of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to his own political ambitions. According to Obasanjo, Jonathan is failing to address threats posed by narcotics trafficking and corruption, and his mismanagement of the economy is causing a pause in foreign investment.

Obasanjo accuses Jonathan of identifying himself with his fellow Ijaw ethnic group, not the Nigerian people as a whole. And Obasanjo sees points of comparison between Jonathan’s abusive use of the security forces with what the notorious military dictator Sani Abacha did during the era of military dictatorship.

Looking to national elections in 2015, Obasanjo says that Jonathan won the ruling party presidential nomination in 2011 because he promised not to run in 2015. There is every sign that Jonathan will break that promise and run; that would be “morally flawed.”

Obasanjo’s letter has little that is new. However, its eighteen pages are a remarkably comprehensive indictment of the Jonathan administration. In the letter’s last paragraph, Obasanjo says that he will be sharing the text of this private letter with former military heads of state Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar, former vice president Alex Ekwueme, and Yakubo Danjuma, a retired general who played a central role in successive military administrations, though he himself was never a head of state. These individuals are at the pinnacle of Nigeria’s traditional elite.

Predictably, the Jonathan administration appears to be outraged over the fact the letter was leaked as well as its content. According to the BBC, Jonathan’s office has characterized the letter as “reckless, baseless, unjustifiable, and indecorous.” The president has promised a full response in due course.

Some commentators are suggesting that Obsansjo’s letter is designed to build opposition to the ruling PDP’s renomination of Jonathan in 2015. Yet, the letter strikes me as more than a political maneuver. It reflects the criticisms and anxieties that are widespread among Nigeria’s elites, many of whom are deeply concerned that the country is on a downward spiral. There is irony in Obasanjo’s critique. He more than anyone else was responsible for Jonathan’s selection as PDP vice presidential candidate in 2007. With the death of President Yar’Adua in 2010, Jonathan became the president—and the incumbent in 2011. Many others have confirmed Obasanjo’s statement that Jonathan then promised not to run in 2015—though Jonathan himself has never acknowledged making it. Jonathan says that he will announce whether he will run in 2015 only in 2014. However, most Nigerian observers see his candidacy as a foregone conclusion.

Post a Comment 12 Comments

  • Posted by jameelrabo

    the letter pose a cause for concern as it touches every face of Jonathan’s administration. as though thought by every Nigerian.

  • Posted by Adams Bogie

    I totally agree with Obasanjo. Our president is dull, weak, corrupt and fake.


    Who is doubting the interest and ambition of Jonathan in 2015 Elections? For me, People should think and talk of other issues, but not doubting his desire for the Sweety Presidency. It is not easy for Mr Jonathan to relinguish power at this level. How I wish the GEJ will follow the Path of honour and step down at the end of his legitimate tenure and live as One of the Political Elders in Nigeria. Let my President borrow leave and emulate the World Black Hero LATE Madiba Mandela whose Corpse just witnessed world most historic Sympathizers for living a Life worthy of emulation. If IBB, ABACHA and Obasanjo could not succeed in realising their desire to continue in power, I doubt so much that Mr Jonathan can succeed his bid. Let Mr GEJ think twice please as Nigerians come and go, While Nigeria remains.

  • Posted by emmanuel

    Mr. Ambassador, you haven’t exactly given us your own thought rather a rehash of other peoples’ opinions. For me as a Nigerian, Obasanjo lacks the moral compass to offer direction to anybody but himself. His 8year record is evidence of his abysmal failure to create an enduring legacy. The rot he left behind are onlyy manifesting now. The letter underscores his political puniness, therefore the anger masked in national concern.

  • Posted by Walter Pflaumer

    I hope that, in a future posting, you will comment on the impact of Jonathan’s apparent desire to run again in 2015 on the future of the PDP. My sense is that the Nigerian elite’s anxieties are focused on the possibility that a Jonathan candidacy will cause the break-up of the ruling party, and the unity of the multi-ethnic clique who have run the country since 1999.

  • Posted by Adams Bogie

    The president should come out and defend himself. We have all these challenges but it’s only how to succeed himself in 2015 his is after. The Ibos are shamelessly defending him whenever anything is said agaist him.

  • Posted by Jim Sanders

    Obasanjo’s letter to the President is one of two recently leaked by concerned members of Nigeria’s elite . The other, written by Lamido Sanusi, central bank governor, expresses concern about $50 bn in oil revenues, allegedly missing from the national treasury.

    The sentiments of a Thai protester who recently displayed a sign at a demonstration in Bangkok that read, “Being elected doesn’t make your corruption legal,” may be shared by increasing numbers of Nigerians.

    While some of the political implications of Obasanjo’s letter are adumbrated above, allegations of the mishandling of a huge amount of oil revenue may suggest mounting anxiety in patronage systems, for which oil revenues are the lifeblood.

    An ongoing insurgency in the country’s North, combined with uncertainty engendered by the shale oil revolution in the U.S., may be unnerving patronage system kingpins. Stability and a steady flow of oil revenue are essential to this system and these recent developments could be seen as a threat.

    If the revenue stream feeding the patronage system diminishes, some members may have to be let go. That could spawn considerable turmoil. Access to oil money is worth fighting for. To avoid such a future, patronage system principals may have decided to take out an insurance policy: namely, the missing $50 bn.

    But whatever the truth about the alleged missing money, the controversy reinforces long-held doubts about the President’s ability to move the country forward.

  • Posted by Anoynmous

    Please lets emulate the late Nelson Mandela for the betterment of Nigeria

  • Posted by Alhassan Eunice

    Although, the OBJ’s regime might have had its hitches, the former president has spoken sensibly, as much as it seems embarassing to the GEJ administration, GEJ would be doing alot of good to the Nigerian people by listening to OBJ afterall a good leader listens to his predecessors except he decides to prove otherwise…

  • Posted by tijjani

    Obasanjo is trying to perform his duty as an elder stateman by telling jonathan the truth. intead of jonathan to see reason and do the rigth thing he is busy attacking .

  • Posted by Bernard Okoh

    I think Obasanjo is simply being mischievous. Given his antecedents, Have Nigerians forgotten the naira laden aircraft arrested in Uganda by Idi-Amin? During his second tenure as President, OBJ privatised so many institutions to Transcorp, in which hehas interest. It’s just the case of the pot calling the kettle black. He has no moral right to castigate the president. only cheap properganda. Jonathan’s administration is currently fighting war, I don’t think Buhari would deny he and his co-horts did not start it. Nigerians should be wise. By the way where did they get their information from?

  • Posted by anigala chin edu john

    Type your comment in here…building a great nigeria is all I yarn 4 and I don’t care de part o f country de person comes 4rm.the former president failed ( government)due to selfish yoruba’s, hausa’s and igbo’s and his ijaw people dat surrendered him. Obj shouldn’t have used de statement of him(Jonathan)having interest on just on his ijaw ppl and not on nigeria.

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