Ex-Nigerian President Obasanjo arrives for Uhuru-Raila ‘dialogue’
Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo arrived in the country on Wednesday night to broker a deal between President Uhuru Kenyatta and NASA leader Raila Odinga.
Yesterday Obasanjo met Raila and other NASA principals and attempted to persuade them to drop the presidential swearing-in ceremony planned for January 30. Obasanjo and Raila have been close friends for two decades.
It was not immediately clear whether Obasanjo would meet President Kenyatta and if so when.
Raila and Kalonzo have insisted they will take the oaths as People’s President and Deputy, respectively, unless Jubilee accepts meaningful dialogue on electoral justice.
Jubilee has largely remained silent, though Kenyatta has said that he would only discuss development and Raila should wait five years and talk to DP William Ruto, his presumed successor.
Nigerian High Commissioner to Kenya Sheidu Momoh confirmed that Obasanjo was in the country “but not on a bilateral mission”.
“Yes, I’m aware that our former President is in the country. What I can tell you is that he is not on bilateral duty,” Momoh told the Star.
Foreign Affairs PS Monica Juma said she did not know Obasanjo was in Kenya. “I’m not aware,” she told the Star on the phone.
Sources within the presidency said they were aware of Obasanjo’s engagements but would not confirm or deny that President Kenyatta has met him or was planning to do so.
It is understood that Obasanjo’s visit is the result of behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts resolve the standoff. “American Ambassador Robert Godec has been involved in this initiative together with other diplomats. Once they realised that NASA was not interested in abandoning its swearing-in plans, they decided to find a well-respected African leader who could speak to both sides,” a diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
In his autobiography titled My Watch, Obasanjo revealed that he attended the burial of Raila’s father, the opposition icon Jaramogi Oginga Odinga in 1994. “I was invited by Raila for the final funeral rites for his father, Jaramogi Oginga, and for the dedication of his mausoleum in Kenya,” Obasanjo wrote in the chapter titled My Arrest: The Abacha Saga.
That visit caused him trouble with the Nigerian government led by President Sani Abacha who ordered for his arrest,
Since Odinga was a fierce critic of the Daniel Moi regime, Abacha claimed Obasanjo had come to Kenya to create problems for the Kenyan government by supporting the opposition, and the Nigerian government had to “restrain him from causing great problems between Nigeria and Kenya.”
For years there has been speculation that Obasanjo, Tanzanian President John Magufuli and South African Vice-President Cyril Ramaphosa are among Raila’s major campaign financiers.
Unconfirmed reports yesterday indicated that all three had been approached to intervene with Raila in the recent past without success.
“We are not going to accept any palliatives. This has been going on since 2007. We need a lasting solution to electoral theft,” a Raila strategic told the Star.
Obasanjo was the chief guest in 2013 when Raila launched his autobiography The Flame of Freedom.
At the function, the two-term Nigerian President described Raila as the rare politician who was also a “responsible family man”.
In March last year, Raila and ex-Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa travelled to Nigeria to for the attend the grand opening of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library. In fact, at one point, Raila’s daughter Rosemary Odinga confessed that she learnt about snail farming on Obasanjo’s farm in Nigeria.
Obasanjo was a career soldier before serving twice as head of state — as a military ruler from February 13, 1976, to October 1, 1979 — and as a democratically elected president from May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2007.
He made history as the first military ruler to hand over power to a civilian.
That civilian, Goodwill Jonathan, lost the presidency after one term to another former military man, Gen Muhammad Buhari, three years ago in a democratic election.