Obasanjo’s new statesman toga By Robert Obioha

objFormer Nigerian President, Chief Olusegun Matthew Aremu Obasanjo, the old fox of Nigerian politics, the proverbial cat with nine lives, the dry meat that fills the mouth, loves limelight and the dramatic to the extent that he relishes and luxuriates in them to no end. The old soldier that never dies or gets tired and former Chairman, Board of Trustees (BoT) of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a party that gave him the platform and political visibility to become Nigeria’s democratically elected president in 1999 and 2003 respectively, has hugged the headlines again. I shall return to this subject shortly.

After a deluge of bitter letters to President Goodluck  Jonathan and series of public admonitions of his acclaimed political godson, Obasanjo came out with his latest political treatise, entitled, My Watch, and castigated Jonathan and other political actors he portrayed in bad light in the book. Apart from the Aremu himself, all other political actors performed far below expectation. Saint Matthew Obasanjo in that self-glorifying autobiography is the epitome of good conscience and excellence in national affairs, all others are ‘clueless’ and ‘incompetent,’ the latest derogatory lexicons in our political dictionary. Thank God, I witnessed Obasanjo’s eight years of ‘glorious’ reign and did not see those spectacular deeds.

Chief Obasanjo came into national limelight when he became the number two man to the late former military ruler, Gen. Murtala Muhammed following the 1975 military coup that toppled the regime of amiable Gen. Yakubu Gowon. Following the death of Murtala Muhammed in a botched military coup led by Lt.Col. Buka Suka Dimka in 1976, Obasanjo naturally became the head of state against his wish. Whether by group action or personal conviction, Obasanjo made record as perhaps the first African military leader to hand over power to democratically elected government on October 1st, 1979, to the then President Shehu Shagari. In fact, it was that singular act that catapulted him from a prisoner to a civilian president on May 29, 1999. But the Obasanjo of 1979 was quite different from the Obasanjo of 1999 till present. Over time, the man has metamorphosed into different characters with the cunning of a fox and the wisdom of a tortoise. At times, he roars like a lion in a cage. At times, he performs below expectation. What exactly does Obasanjo want? I shall also return to this theme shortly. He became popular for writing controversial books including, My Command, in which he claimed glory for receiving the Biafran instrument of surrender in the Nigerian-Biafran War of 1967-1970, Nzeogwu, the portraiture of that enigmatic Nigerian soldier that led the January 15, 1966 coup, Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, a detribalized Nigerian and native of Okpanam in Delta State. Obasanjo also authored, Not My Will, This Animal Called Man and I See Hope, before writing his latest literary venom entitled, My Watch.

One thing that is common in Obasanjo’s books is the use of the possessive adjective, ‘my’ in their titles, a sort of narcissism, if you like. Obasanjo believes so much in himself to the extent that ‘others’ do not matter. Obasanjo is a character driven by ego and love of self more than love of others. Obasanjo believes firmly in the aphorism that, ‘for his own cause, other causes shall give way.’ He sees the entire effort of the Federal Army in crushing Biafran forces as his command. Fortunately, Gen. Godwin Alabi-Isiama, one of the actors in the Nigerian Civil War has debunked most of Obasanjo’ claims in his new book on the war entitled, The Tragedy of Victory.

Like I have written in this column before, Obasanjo is the luckiest Nigerian alive. Nigeria has been too good to the character called Aremu Obasanjo. As a military leader, he had the support of all Nigerians. He was literally begged to become Nigeria’s democratically elected president in 1999 against the wish of his Yoruba tribesmen. Obasanjo is detribalized if there is indeed any word like that in English language. But by that I mean somebody who is not so ethnically biased. He demonstrated his pan-Nigeria nature in his various appointments during his tenure as the president. Like all mortals, Obasanjo has his numerous shortcomings. He is a dictator. He does not tolerate opposing viewpoints. Some of his ardent critics say that Obasanjo is very vindictive and that he does not forgive or forget so easily. Even though he listens, Obasanjo is also impatient. He has a high sense of history and nationalism. His appointment of children of past leaders to certain posts illustrates this point. He has his own ideas and dreams for Nigeria but I do not think they tally with the visions of the generality of Nigerians hence his third term dream was vehemently aborted. Obasanjo has been in politics for long but I do not see him as a democrat. He literally imposed himself on the nation in 2003. When his third term dream failed, he imposed the late President Musa Yar’Adua and Jonathan on Nigeria. His fight against corruption was accused of being selective. Note the number of governors impeached during his tenure. Ask Fayose, Dariye and Alamiesiegha. He has disdain for court rulings and the rule of law. He believes in action and raw action. The story of the demolition of Odi and Zaki Biam by soldiers under his watch are well known.

Before his recent dumping of the PDP to assume the new toga of a statesman, Obasanjo’s body language and utterances have given him up as a non-PDP member. His unwarranted castigation of President Jonathan in public is unbecoming of a former leader, who was instrumental in bringing Jonathan to power. Whether Obasanjo likes it or not, he cannot extricate himself from Jonathan. Whatever Jonathan is, Obasanjo will share in the glory or otherwise. Interestingly, Jonathan has not replied Obasanjo is his language except one recent slip, ‘the motor park tout.’ He can divorce himself from PDP but he cannot remove the PDP in himself. He cannot wish away his 8-year presidency under the PDP. The PDP made Obasanjo who he is now. He can burn his PDP membership card or tore it to shreds, Nigerians are no fools. Obasanjo cannot totally wash himself off PDP. He was part and parcel of the party and its alleged contradictions.

His recent drama of tearing or ordering the tearing of his membership card is the dramatic taken too far. Such political absurdity can only occur in Obasanjo’s animal farm called Nigeria. Nigerians expect a better way of resigning one’s membership from a political party other than tearing the card publicly through a proxy. Now that he has assumed the toga of a statesman, let him behave truly like one.

SUN