by Shaka Momodu
“I don’t think it’s good for the country to have a former president undermine a current president; I think it’s bad for the presidency for that matter.
“Secondly, I really have had all the fame I want, I really don’t long for publicity. And the truth of the matter is (that) in order for me to generate publicity,.. I’d have to either attack the Republican Party, which I don’t want to do, or attack the president, which I don’t want to do. And so, I’m perfectly content to be out of the limelight.”
That was former President George Bush, stating he had no interest in criticising President Barack Obama just to generate headlines for himself after serving in the country’s highest office for eight years. He made those comments while promoting his book about his father: “A Portrait of My Father,” late last year.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is not a fan of such statesmanly behaviour, neither does he think of his own human limitations. Self-conceited, impudent, he despises civil liberties but instructively, he is always the first to claim allegiance to democratic attributes as articles of faith. He probably believes that Nigeria begins and ends with him, and that the country will cease to exist without him. At every opportunity, he professes his love for Nigeria, declaring his willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for the country should the need arise. He is the all knowing egocentric megalomaniac who is not only blessed with superior intellect and wisdom, but supernaturally endowed with all the solutions to every conceivable problem the country is facing or will face in the future.
Such is Obasanjo’s god complex that he would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven. Driven by this faith in his fate, Obasanjo has consistently loathed the idea of sitting in a room where someone else is the focus of attention. And the fact that he is generally called “Baba” by almost everyone has helped to cement the idea that he is the father of the nation in his own elevated self-worth.
But that is by no means a deliberate attempt to take away his place in Nigeria’s national development or diminish his estimation in the eyes of the people. His public conducts or private misconducts and testimonies of moral and character deficits from his bloodline, which Nigerians and the world have been regaled with, have done more than sufficient damage to his stature as a statesman. I must confess that it traumatises and lacerates our collective memories to watch him pontificate, as many struggle to reconcile this morally-damaged individual’s quest to be seen as the moral and the socio-political compass of our society.
I have since learned that in Nigeria, it is foolish to develop emotional attachment to our so called “heroes” and “statesmen”, whose sense of right and wrong is interpreted from their own flawed prism. I have learned to differentiate parfait charm of letter writing masked with populist rhetoric from the pursuit of self-interest. That way, my heart is not broken again and again.
For the record, Obasanjo has been a recurring decimal in our national life.
It will be futile to deny him that. He has played critical roles at nearly every pivotal moment in the nation’s history and has won many accolades. His profile has grown both domestically and internationally. It is true that no single individual alive in the country today commands attention like Obasanjo especially outside the shores of our dear fatherland. But Obasanjo, as I have said, is afflicted by his own successes and seems to work from a philosophy of “it’s either my way or no other”- It is precisely this attitude that has denied him a place among legends.
It was Chinua Achebe in his famous classic, ‘Things Fall Apart’, who stated: “Those whose paths have been cleared for them by the benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble”- If there is anyone who is a recipient of such benevolence in this country beyond understanding, that person is Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. But he has forgotten to be humble. The benevolent spirit is so forgiving that Obasanjo now dares to see himself in the realm of the infallibles.
He has carried on with such arrogance that not only bemuses but confounds. The lessons of his life, especially his near-death experience have hardly tempered his god complex and his obsession with power and control. At every turn since he left power in 2007, he has carried on with that majestic imperial carriage that exudes “I know it all”.
Indeed, no one has had the opportunity this man has been blessed with to leave inscrutable footprints in our history by helping to shape Nigeria for the better. How many people have been blessed with the opportunity of ruling their country twice in one lifetime? First, as military head of state, and second as civilian president 20 years after.
What did Obasanjo do with his second coming? He played petty politics with it, as he bestrode the political landscape like the lord of the manor. He failed to set our politics right; he failed to set the moral tone for the country by refusing to pursue a total rebirth of the society and instill discipline in the peoples’ way of life; he failed to restructure the country; he failed to reform the corrupt justice system that has made crime and punishment a mirage, instead he used it to his own advantage.
Today, the judiciary is a total mess and an embodiment of corruption. Judgments are traded by judges, lawyers and accused persons. That Obasanjo institutionalised executive lawlessness and disrespect for the rule of law in our body polity is a fact of our national life. Even after leaving power, he has continued to display contempt for the law as manifested in his recent disobedience of a court order barring him from publishing his controversial book: My Watch. He did not only brazenly go ahead with the publication, he launched it with fanfare.
Furthermore, for the first time, this country was faced with the prospect of tenure elongation as Obasanjo pursued a third term agenda in clear breach of the constitutional two-term limit. Even though he has consistently denied such ambition, his denials make sense only in his own depraved innocence.
Former FCT Minister, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, revealed this much in his book, ‘The Accidental Public Servant’, where he alleged that after the failed third term bid, Obasanjo told him: “Well, nothing will change; you know I will be in Ota, but we will be running things. Everything will remain the same, you know. You will remain in government; the economic team will remain. Nothing will change. Only that I will move to Ota and Yar’Adua will be here, but we will be running things.” This is the same man that has consistently denied a third term ambition.
While he pretends and pontificates, those who know him well have provided useful insights into his persona. It is all about his own self-interest to be relevant all the time.
In her book, ‘Bitter-Sweet, My Life with Obasanjo’ by Oluremi Obasanjo, his ex-wife said of him: “Obasanjo is hard working, strong-willed but short tempered. He is self-opinionated. This has become worse nowadays. Unfortunately, he does not forget nor does he forgive. That may be traced to the nature of his upbringing. The war affected Obasanjo as it did Adekunle. Before the war, Obasanjo, the husband, was homely and fatherly. When I had Iyabo, he would tie her on his back and play with her about the yard. He was already a Lieutenant Colonel. After the third marine charge, he became temperamental and easily irritated”.
She went on to state what many already know about him: “Obasanjo is complex and a master of the art of deception”
Again, Obasanjo allowed his own personal moral weakness to permeate the system as lawless gangs and bandits reigned supreme in various states goaded by his regime. He looked the other way as Chris Uba kidnapped the then Governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chris Ngige. Today, most of the governors have private armies they use to terrorise political opponents. All legacies of Obasanjo’s presidency.
Interestingly, one of Obasanjo’s best advertised successes was his record of fighting corruption, but this has since received a stinging indictment in the manner he went about it. Yet, Obasanjo has the effrontery to accuse others of corruption and of paying lip service to the fight against corruption. He had once alleged that corruption stinks around the president. As the saying goes: “When you point one finger at others, the other four point back at you”. Interestingly, the ex-president and some of his close aides have been directly implicated in the Halliburton and Siemens corruption scandals.
But by far, Obasanjo’s current macabre dance has further buttressed his “it is me or no one else mentality”. In the last couple of months, no one, not even an ex-president, dead or alive has undermined the institution of the presidency like former President Obasanjo has done. If he is not writing letters to the president chronicling the failings of his government, he would be issuing press statements on the state of the nation and alleging threats to opposition elements or inciting market women against the government. His language is so intemperate and disrespectful that you begin to wonder if it’s all about love of country or pursuit of personal interests. Obasanjo’s temerity to accuse others of what almost everybody knows that he is guilty of, has often baffled me. But, I must state here that our ex-president is very cunning, so much so that you could easily be fooled by the passion he puts up and the descriptive power of the language he deploys when accusing others – a combination of native intelligence and inelegant prose.
Of course only a handful of cheerleaders believe what he says, that handful certainly does not include the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, who recently scoffed at Obasanjo’s hypocrisy. He said: “All the accusations former President Obasanjo is making now, he initiated them, nurtured them and masterminded them and now he is complaining…”
Obasanjo’s frequent attacks appear to be scripted to turn voters against the president and he has cleverly disguised his personal interests as genuine concerns about where the country is headed. On several occasions, he has launched a stinging attack on the same man he eagerly helped bring to power. He has expressed his “concerns” on the state of the nation in the most insidious and truculent manner. This has led many to question if he is really worthy of the office he once occupied as president.
The drama of his publicly-tearing his party card was an undignified ceremonial end to a relationship long gone sour. It is a most ungrateful way to repay his former party back, after using its platform to rehabilitate himself and his career. Again, Obasanjo’s character portrait plays fittingly into his ex-wife’s description of him: “He is bohemian and can be an exploiter”.
She revealed further how the then Brigadier-General Murtala Mohammed incurred Obasanjo’s wrath for trying to get him to treat her well. She wrote: “I later learnt that Mohammed had been a victim of Obasanjo’s short-fused temper because of me. As a violent and unrepentant wife-basher, he had openly challenged Mohammed to a fight before one of their council meetings when they both served in General Yakubu Gowon’s cabinet. Mohammed’s offence was that he asked his colleague to treat me fairly as his wife. Obasanjo was enraged that Mohammed was telling him how to take care of his wife. So he grabbed Mohammed by the collar, in the presence of other officers, and challenged him to a duel. They were both in uniform. Brigadiers in the Nigerian Army!” Obviously, the passage of time has hardly tempered Obasanjo’s erratic behaviour.
And so, President Goodluck Jonathan was spot on recently when he fired back at Obasanjo amid the latter’s persistent attacks on his government. He said: “Some people call themselves statesmen but they are not statesmen, they behave more or less like motor park touts”. Sadly, Obasanjo at his age is acting as a typical do-or-die Nigerian politician, “thinking of the next election,” not a statesman, who “thinks of the next generation”.
Needless to say more.
Shaka Momodu is the Editor of THISDAY, The Saturday Newspaper. He can be reached through his E-mail: [email protected]
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.