Poor General Olusegun Obasanjo! There are times when, faced with allegations as deprecating as sleeping with your son’s wife and turning the facts on its head on National Television, even battle hardened Generals retreat to lick their wounds.
Olusegun Mathew Okikiola Aremu Obasanjo, did not have a particularly good Easter holiday. And not even he can laugh about this. They are Generals who are regarded as self-effacing and taciturn. But ‘Baba Iyabo’ is certainly not one of those.
He loves the spotlight; ever the rabble rouser, he craves our attention. He loves being feted. The General, like the archetypal village headmaster, loves it when we cower in his presence and let him launch into a harangue bordering on norms and decent practices. He loves to hear himself speak. And in doing so, oftentimes, shoots himself in the foot.
Take his blatant denial of supervising an infamous third term bill in the twilight of his second term as Nigeria’s democratically elected president back in 2007, for instance. It was revisionism at its best. Hear the Ota warlord as a guest of a Channels TV Program-- Network Africa…
“It (third term bill) was not an Executive bill. You are extremely wrong. If I wanted a third term, that would have come from me….none of the people who were close to me will ever tell you that I told them to go and work for me for a third term. So all of you talking about a third term are very unfair….you are mischievous and you are….I don’t know what else to call you”.
For starters, you can call us ‘Stupid’, Sir. You can even add ‘gullible’ and ‘poor students of history’ to your list, Sir. Like the obedient students that we are, we would accept your revisionist theory and believe that that mad scramble by your team to have your name on the ballot again for a third time never happened. Oh, how completely fouled up our sense of recall is!
But please do not sell your theory, Baba, within earshot of Sen Ken Nnamani, who was Senate President at the time and under whose watch billions of money exchanged hands for the purposes of the actualization of the scheme.
“As soon as I became Senate President”, began a visibly flummoxed Nnamani in an interview with pressmen recently, “he (Obasanjo) told me of his intention and told me of how he wanted to achieve it. I initially did not take him seriously until the events began to unfold. I also read in your newspaper that if he wanted a third term, he would have had his way. Well, that man is just a joker. I don’t want to tell you other dubious and unpatriotic things he discussed. If I do, you would really know the kind of person he is.”
But Nnamani wasn’t done. Suggesting the ex president could well be senile, he continued, “At a certain age in life, there are certain things one shouldn’t expect from an old man.”
Draw your conclusions if you may, dear reader. Someone is lying to us.
History has always been fair to Obasanjo, but you could say Obasanjo has never been fair to history.
As a young soldier, fate and history had conspired to thrust on his laps the leadership of the world’s largest collection of black people. Obasanjo would return years later as a democratically elected president a few months after he was set free from General Sanni Abacha’s gulag. It was as though the heavens were urging him on to save Nigeria, wherever he turned.
His rise to the throne at the second time of asking in the garb of a civilian President had been carefully orchestrated by the Nigerian political elite to compensate the South West for a perceived wrong done them -- annulling a previous election won by a South Westerner; one which is still regarded as the freest and fairest in Nigeria’s history.
His first term showed some promise, but to be fair, his administration never really hit the ground running. His second term, whose emergence was aided once again by the now infamous PDP rigging machinery, was blighted by an anti-corruption war which was practically all noise and little action; and one which some suggested was primarily designed as a witch-hunting tool to rein in perceived enemies of the administration while leaving the real ‘criminals’ to savor their loot.
Aware that he wouldn’t be getting a third term, Obasanjo made sure an ailing Umaru Yar’adua was foisted on the Nigerian people by employing all the political sleight of hand in the copy book. Nigerians (not so fondly) will recall the “Umoru, they say you are dead” phone conversation between Yar’adua and Obasanjo at the behest of the latter at a political rally to dispel ‘rumours’ that Yar’adua’s health hung by a medical thread.
Eight years of doing very little to save Nigeria from the scourge of bad governance and his ‘dubious’ reign as the Chairman of his party’s Board of Trustees (BoT) after, (a position which he readily gave up last week) had done very little to sober Obasanjo . Now and again, he would appear in the public eye, ‘laughing’ at Atiku, calling IBB a fool and telling us he really doesn’t care about Nigerian newspapers.
But the good news, however, is that Obasanjo’s days in the sun may be coming to an abrupt end. His decision to tender his resignation as the Chairman of the PDP’s BoT wasn’t altogether unexpected and was one that was well received across the nation.
Obasanjo’s powers, even in a cult as unruly as the PDP, had long been on the wane. His words had ceased to become law. He knew he had well over-stayed his welcome in Nigeria’s political terrain and would be remembered for very little. But he also knew that public perception of his stewardship; in charge of the reins as Nigeria’s President for close to fifteen years, are better consigned to the dust bin of history. So, what did he do?
Few days before Easter, Obasanjo must have been advised to re-write some parts of his role in Nigeria’s history by tinkering with the story of the third term fiasco. Nigerians would understand, sweep his misdemeanors under the carpet and as usual he would get speaking engagements at the next University Convocation grounds with another eye on the next UN honorary appointment, his advisers must have cooed.
It may all have been designed to save him some face. After all, as he would explain, not even his aides at the time could say he had instructed them to pursue a bill to see through his tenure elongation plans. It was not an executive bill, Obasanjo tells us. It was all the National Assembly’s idea….
This still doesn’t explain who authorized the disbursement of the billions of naira which made the rounds before the gavel sounded the death knell on the third term agenda. If he was against the contrivances at the time to insert what was an obnoxious bill into the constitution—a bill which was heating the polity and one from which he would emerge as the first beneficiary--why didn’t he speak up to distance himself from it or raise a finger?
As he sashays into a midnight strewn with his own acts of infamy, Obasanjo will do well not to look back to read his place in history. For somewhere in the distance, history has already scribbled for him a befitting epitaph: “Here lies a man to whom I handed several opportunities to redeem his people, but who must have left his people worse than he met them. Goodnight, Old Soldier; for you lost your most important battle of all—that of remaking Nigeria”.