Former President Olusegun Obasanjo literally set the polity on fire during the week. In a lengthy epistolary narration during the week, he had chronicled what many Nigerians have been saying in their closets, in public, in offices but which were, to President Muhammadu Buhari and his government, as light as feather. There is no single allegation against the Fulani-born Nigerian leader from Obasanjo which should be new to the Presidency. However, that it was coming from a former Nigerian president and one of those who propped Buhari to the Presidential Villa, must have been the tinder that is burning issues at the moment. This is why, in this piece, the content of Obasanjo’s most recent letter will not engage me but a download of the man himself.
Divorced of the bravery, candour and sting which define his public engagements, Obasanjo seems to have a lot to contribute to the literature of public discourse or, if you like, literature and public discourse. His chivalrous relationship with literature is seen in his oft flirtatious embrace of the epistolary form of writing pioneered by Mariama Bah, late Senegalese writer, known for her evocative So Long a Letter. The letter is a feministic lamentation of societal disdain for women.
Since Obasanjo left government as military ruler in 1979, the Egba-born General has flirted with Bah in his quest to engage in public discourse and ventilate his anger and worries about the running of the country. From the letter to ex-President Shehu Shagari, Ibrahim Babangida (where he demanded that his Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, should have a human face) Goodluck Jonathan, the National Assembly and the most recent to Buhari, Obasanjo is apparently in love with Bah’s genre of literature.
In these periodic epistolary interventions which have spanned about 40 years now, Obasanjo has scant friends, and multiple countrymen disdain his interventions as selfish and self-centred. For instance, after leaving the venue of an international conference organised by Dr. Tunji Olaopa’s Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP) in February 2015, where he attacked the polity, though it was acknowledged that he spoke the minds of the generality of the people against the Jonathan government, his aberrational persona as a “strongman in a democracy” was torn into shreds by scholars gathered there. At one plenary, Professor Pat Utomi stated that he and Dr. Ayo Teriba, in 1998, were in Obasanjo’s bedroom to articulate the urgent need for and layout of how to reinvigorate the railway services, so as to clone the Chinese 19,000 kilometres (11,806 miles) high-speed rail (HSR), the longest HSR network in the world, but throughout his eight years in office, railways was the least of Obasanjo’s concerns.
But the purport of Obasanjo’s most recent intervention should not be lost on us all. Olusegun Obasanjo is arguably one of the most controversial Nigerian heads of state, living or dead. Hated, disdained and respected in similar quantities, no one can claim that Obasanjo is not an issue in Nigerian politics. He courts controversy like a junkie courts a fix. When he detonated the latest explosion in the arsenal of his literary insurgencies, only those who were not familiar with the Obasanjo explosive prototype expressed amazement at his capacity for upsetting the apple carts.
Those who know him speak of his capacity to run a race after good and to scamper after Mephistopheles in equal proportion. Let us do a short psychoanalysis of his resort to bookism when he encounters human laxity and err. Those who assess him psychologically say that, aware of his thirst for the things nature denied him while growing up, Obasanjo constantly exhibits a penchant for using the written word to attempt to answer knotty questions about his existence. Having joined the military at a relatively tender age and unable to proceed in his education to the university until now when he secured a PhD, Obasanjo ostensibly always had an academic complex. At every given opportunity, he escapes into the world of the written word and uses it as response to his complex about those he had sought to best, if providence had smiled on him and he went to school.
Till date, Obasanjo has written about five books, or more. Controversial, reeking of self-justification and self-glorification, most of the books verge on the erection of statute for the self. Take, for example, the one he wrote immediately he left office as Nigeria’s military Head of State entitled My Command. He spilled vituperations against everyone, including the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his lieutenants. But his Yoruba kinsmen rose in unison and shredded the book page by page. The antagonism against it was akin to one on Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.
If you do a thorough analysis of Obasanjo’s consistent spat with the system, you will find the self firmly planted at the roots of his fight. When he left power in 2007, he carefully planted a successor in Umar Musa Yar’Adua, who many have said that he made to succeed him knowing full well that his health was hanging on a cliff. Those who argue from this school of thought base their conviction on the fact that it would be inconceivable to imagine that Obasanjo or the Nigerian Presidency wouldn’t have the health dossier of a former governor of a Nigerian state who they had an eye on him succeeding the then outgoing president. If then Obasanjo was in possession of Yar’Adua’s health dossier, it goes without saying that he, being aware of his health challenge, either decided to damn the orthodox health practitioners’ prognosis or deliberately wanted to have him as successor, believing that his health failing would be his own gain. This is against the backcloth of Obasanjo, having made himself the chairman, Board of Trustees of the PDP and ipso facto, de facto president of Nigeria. The moment Yar’Adua died and he ceased to be BOT chairman of the PDP, Obasanjo began a war against the party, in a manner akin to the proverbial rat that says that rather than lose the plate of cowpeas, it would scatter the bowl and make it useless to anyone else.
The Owu ex-General has exhibited very uncouth attitude towards the other person in virtually all his public and even private lives. He has this attitude and disposition that always assumes nobody else aside him matters. This is why the graveyard is littered with many who had encounters with him. From Audu Ogbeh, Pius Anyim Pius, Ghali Umar Na’Abba and every imaginable and unimaginable foes, Obasanjo carries a vendetta about which he wears on his sleeves with the ego of a matador. He is vengeful, always spoiling for a fight and considers every fight fair, so far as he will exercise the usage of his knuckles.
Those who undermine the crises of the Nigerian state and their abetment by the Muhammadu Buhari government would need to watch again the interview granted to State House Correspondent by the minister of defence, Mansur Dan-Ali. The interview contained painful histrionics on the current Fulani herdsmen’s onslaughts in Taraba and Benue States, which have led to the killings of scores of people. Dan-Ali had attributed the killings to the alleged blockage of a grazing route that had been in existence for ages.
“If those routes are blocked, what do you expect will happen? These people are Nigerians. It is just like one going to block the shoreline… the immediate cause is the grazing law,” he had said. “This killing you are talking about… Were they done by one side? There were others now!” He had ranted on and on, on the Channels TV station I monitored. If Nigeria’s minister of defence could speak this naively, in apparent and undisguised defence of a near genocide, then we are in far greater trouble than we can think of under this Federal Republic of Fulani Herdsmen. By the way, didn’t this same government claim that ISIS-linked terrorists had probably done the killings? So is Dan-Ali the minister of defence of ISIS? At a moment like this, Peter Tosh’s admonition is the only thing that can come to my memory. Nigerians, get up and stand up for your rights.
Festus Adedayo is an Ibadan-based journalist.