The English playwright William Shakespeare described three ways in which mortals become great. ‘Some are born great, others achieve greatness and the rest have it thrust upon them.’
Nigeria’s former President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo a.k.a Ebora Owu represents the third way in which mortals become great. His life’s trajectory is so surreal that it looks more like a story for a Hollywood movie.
Brigadier-General Benjamin Adekunle a.k.a the black scorpion did all the dirty work as the commander of the third marine division during the Nigerian civil war only for him to be unceremoniously removed and Obasanjo drafted to replace him and he was the one who accepted the surrender by Major-General Phillip Effiong after Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu escaped to Cote d’Ivoire to avoid being killed.
Obasanjo went on to be the Federal Commissioner for Works under General Yakubu Gowon and after the overthrow of the latter, became the nation’s number two man – Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters to the then General Muritala Ramat Mohammed. The assassination of Mohammed paved the way for him to become the country’s Head of State. The funny thing was that Obasanjo went into hiding in the home of the Late Chief Sunday Awoniyi after his boss was murdered by Bukar Sukar Dimka. It was General Theophillus Yakubu Danjuma that held forte and ensured Dimka was caught and brought to justice. Danjuma could have taken over power if he wanted to but he respected military tradition and ensured that Obasanjo succeeded Mohammed.
It was under his watch as Head of State that 2.8 billion naira got missing from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) while the current President was his petroleum minister in 1978. Human rights violations were rife during his regime as the mother of Afrobeat maestro, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was thrown to her death from her son’s Fela’s building.
He angered the Yoruba nation when he said that the late presumed winner of the June 12 presidential election wasn’t the messiah that the country needed.
He was incarcerated under General Sani Abacha and was lucky to have escaped death by the whiskers. He then became the country’s President in 1999 as a compensation for Abiola’s loss. Under his Presidency, we witnessed the leveling of Odi and Zaki Biam in one of the nation’s most brutal genocides for which he ought to be hauled before the International Court of Justice for gross human rights violations. About $16 billion was sunk into the power sector but the nation has witnessed more darkness. Political assassinations were at its apogee as the likes of Bola Ige, Marshall Harry, Funsho Williams etc were crudely sent to their ancestors.
It is no news that he allegedly wanted to go for a third term before the then Senate President Ken Nnamani heroically truncated the sinister agenda.
Since his stepping down from office in 2007, he has practically lost relevance which culminated in his infamous tearing of his PDP card in 2014 and the writing of letters to President Muhammadu Buhari.
His latest gaffe was in his ‘tribute’ to the late Senator Buruji Kashamu. The condolence letter went thus: “Senator Esho Jinadu (Buruji Kashmu) in his lifetime used the maneuver of law and politics to escape from facing justice on alleged criminal offence in Nigeria and outside Nigeria,” the former president said.
“But no legal, political, cultural, social or even medical maneuver could stop the cold hands of death when the Creator of all of us decides that the time is up. May Allah forgive his sin and accept his soul into Aljanah, and may God grant his family and friends fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.”
His tongue-in-cheek letter was extremely petty and childish and didn’t speak well of the mien of an ‘elder statesman.’
Why go into the allegations of a dead man who can no longer speak for himself? It is un African to speak of the dead and so why did he go ahead to judge him? Did he hold a grudge against him that the deceased former senator displaced him as the leader of the PDP in his native Ogun state? If indeed Kashamu escaped justice he should leave him entirely to the inescapable judgement of the Almighty God but there was no need to have spewed all that venom as it was uncalled for.
The letter is rather unfortunate and he wrote as if he wouldn’t one day be committed to mother earth. What really are his legacies? How do you explain the fact that a man who was bankrupt in 1998 after his release from Abacha’s gulag suddenly became wealthy overnight to the extent of his former Aviation Minister Femi Fani-Kayode regaling the nation with tales that his Otta farm was raking in a whooping thirty million naira monthly asides the other eye popping investments and assets that he acquired during his eight year presidency. Why doesn’t the international community take him seriously anymore? He who comes to equity must come with clean hands.
Obasanjo has a penchant for not knowing what to say and is not known to be diplomatic with his choice of words. We recall the bomb blast in the Airforce base in Lagos in 2002. When he got there he didn’t commiserate with those who had become homeless overnight. Rather he told them that he wasn’t supposed to be there and that they should be grateful for his coming in the first place. We wouldn’t forget his reaction to the former residents of the 1004 flats when they were forced to leave the quarters after a privatization. When he visited the place, they groveled and went down on their knees in a bid to get him to give them more time but he smiled like one who had just come back home from a conquest and was condescending in his tone to them while he addressed them.
Journalists in the country also faced a raw deal in his hands. At a point he put up a notice in his country home which read ‘Dogs and Journalists’ not allowed. It shows his contempt for the fourth estate of the realm as he clearly is afraid of being held to account so as not to reveal his can of worms that stink to the high Heavens.
God has indeed been kind to him and he has been blessed abundantly by his creator. It is high time he reflected deeply as he is living on overtime having surpassed the Biblical three score and ten. It is never too late for him to learn to be more civil and less uncouth in his choice of diction. He is currently an embarrassment as he sometimes throws needless tantrums like a toddler.
An old cliché goes thus: ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ but that saying shouldn’t be taken literarily as the capacity for learning is high even in old age. If he could go to the Nation Open University and bad a degree in theology at well over 70, then he can learn to be more tactful in the use of his language despite the fact that he has long crossed the age of 80. It is never too late to learn new things.
It won’t be a bad idea if he can apologize for his caustic and insensitive remarks on a man who can no longer defend himself.
The time for him to act is now as Senegalese-American artiste Akon made a summary about life in one of his hit songs ‘Even the life that you have is borrowed as you are not promised tomorrow so live every day as if it is your last.’ Chinua Achebe also warned in his evergreen book ‘Things Fall Apart’ that ‘those whose palm kernels have been broken for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble.’
Obasanjo we are waiting!
Tony Ademiluyi edits www.africanbard.com and wrote from Lagos