Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is an enigma. To himself that is. Nigerians know him only too well.
First, he insists he is a farmer. Why then does he fail to understand the correlation between what you plant, and what you harvest, between cause and consequence? I mean, I used to buy a lot of vegetables from his farm. They were available because he planted and took care of them.
He says he is a farmer, but why does he not understand there has to be a relationship between what a farmer sells, and what he declares to be his profit. About two years ago, one of his praise-singers said Temperance Farms make N30 million per month. Nigerians gasped loudly in disbelief, before they began to laugh. That is a case of cause and consequence, but typically, Obasanjo never noticed.
As a people, we have bought a lot from Obasanjo over the years, including hope. For three years, between 1976 and 1979, we mistakenly bought his leadership. We did because we believed that since he claimed to be following the footsteps of his assassinated predecessor, General Murtala Muhammad, he was pursuing the slain leader’s brand of leadership: direct, selfless and honest. For a while, we were easy to mislead, no pun intended.
He handed power over to an elected leadership in 1979, still conveying the illusion of a believer in Muhammad’s dream. It seems now that it was while he was being celebrated around the world as a great African leader that he realized he had made a mistake: he did not want to be a celebrity; he wanted to be in charge. He wanted to be honoured as THE leader, not as the former leader. In his view, who else deserved to rule Nigeria but he?
So, he began to dream about taking back what was his. He talked about Nigeria, pressing all those populist buttons the press likes to hear: Good governance. The rule of law. Accountability. Free and fair elections.
He even took it further: he set up the African Leadership Forum (ALF) to provide a structure for discussing these issues. It was a wonderful idea and the world hailed. Many poured their funds into the coffers of the ALF.
Obasanjo’s plan was working. Intellectually, he was always a dwarf, but few noticed, because he was standing on the heads of established Pan-Africanists and highly-educated and intelligent people who drifted towards the work of the ALF, and world figures who thought that by encouraging him they were investing in the future of Africa. Thus then, he gave speeches, and wrote books and journals. Little wonder he wanted to be Secretary-General of the United Nations!
It would take another not-so-wily man to give him his stamped passport back into State House: Sani Abacha. Once Abacha did Obasanjo the favor of putting him in prison, the stage was set for Obasanjo to return to State House by completing his course on political credibility. It was the same State House he had bitterly criticized Yakubu Gowon for when he dared suggest he might be willing to lead Nigeria again. [“I asked him,” Obasanjo used to say, proudly, “I asked him, ‘What did he forget in State House that he is going back to get?’”]
In 1979, there he was, returning to State House to peel back the carpets and reopen the attic; apparently, it was okay on his part: the place belonged to him. Soon enough, Nigerians began to understand that there is only one Obasanjo. It had taken two helpings to understand him, but we eventually got our full measure of the egotistical man we did not appreciate in uniform. For Obasanjo, only Obasanjo is good enough, and anything Obasanjo does is good enough. Any critic is an ingrate who should jump into a lake of fire.
That is why the press would be wrong to be offended by his remarks of last week, to the effect that he does not read Nigerian newspapers, and that they write about him simply to sell copies. That is just Obasanjo restating that his farm can make N1 million per day. That is Obasanjo telling the world press, following the students demonstrations engineered by his government in 1978, that what had happened was not students’ crisis, but students’ indiscipline.
“Shut Up!” : That is Obasanjo yelling at his compatriot in a Nigerian Town Hall meeting in Atlanta in the United States. “I am not supposed to be here!”: That is Obasanjo threatening to walk out on victims of the Ikeja Cantonment explosions because he was only doing them a favor by his presence. “CAN, my foot!”: That is Obasanjo berating officials of the Christian Association of Nigeria. That is Obasanjo leaving his chair in the President’s office to walk across the room and personally throw out a senior State House official. That is Obasanjo writing to insult the Chairman of his own political party for daring to warn about the devious and dangerous practices of the government. That is Obasanjo explaining that ballot boxes found in Lamidi Adedebu’s home in Ibadan before the last elections was no issue and that the man should be left alone. He was not trying to insult anyone; that is just the depth of the man.
Of greater substance is that the Obasanjo who resents criticism so badly left office three months ago, in a much worse state than he took it in 1999. With all the human and material resources of the world as well as its goodwill, Obasanjo left Nigerians in regret. With the chance to build a mountain, he settled for a molehill. It is Nigerians who should understand that his molehill will grow!
This is a tragedy, but that is the Obasanjo who has ruled Nigeria twice. He loves to hear his name in praise and in song, but that is it. In his mind, he is a mythical hero, a god, and it is sacrilegious for anyone to criticize him. Make no mistake about it, Nigerians, it is not that Obasanjo does not believe in criticism, but it must be criticism of his enemies. As savior of the people of Nigeria, Nigerians should be grateful to him, and hold praisesinging ceremonies. Remember: he conquered corruption, whose name is Sani Abacha.
That, of course, is where Governor Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State comes in. Very conveniently, for the first time, billionaire Daniel discovered in his fifth year in office how appropriate it is to recognize hardworking citizens…with N100,000. It was a trick, calculated to enable Obasanjo to embark on the kind of loud self-praise Aso Rock praise-singers used to prepare for him. Who can sing Obasanjo’s praises better than Obasanjo? That is why we remember none of the people the occasion was meant to acknowledge.
Obasanjo does not want to be criticized, but he wants to reserve the right to criticize, as Gowon, Muhammadu Buhari, Shehu Shagari, Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha would testify; and as Nigerian organizations and citizens all over the world would testify.
The truth is that Obasanjo has never had any regard for what anyone else has to say, unless it is in his favour. He did not serve Nigerians; he used them. By saying he does not read our newspapers, he really means he does not want to hear what Nigerians think. And he wants to bait the press into not reporting the full malfeasance of his eight years in office, as it begins to unravel. He will not get his wish.
There is another truth. He said he does not read Nigerian newspapers. That is half the truth. He does not read, period. We can confirm this because we know that if he read the foreign press (and understood them) he would know they have an even more unfavourable opinion of him.
Obasanjo thinks the Nigerian press does not reflect the views of Nigerians, I invite him to demonstrate his popularity by walking one mile on any city street in Nigeria at midday, or shopping for just one hour.
And he can invite the Times of London and the New York Times to cover his adventure.