By Chido Onumah
You couldn’t miss the headline. I am referring to the conclave of gerontocrats that took place earlier in the week. It centred on former president, Olusegun Obasanjo.
“Anenih in secret meeting with Obasanjo”, was how The Guardian headlined the event. If there was any doubt about the purpose of the meeting, Anthony Anenih, chair of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and successor to Obasanjo in the very lucrative post of BoT chairman, dispelled it when he told reporters, “In 2015 we (PDP) will do what we know how to do best”. Of course, we all know what the PDP knows how to do best. And we have Obasanjo to thank for that.
For whatever it is worth, Obasanjo is still held in high regard in the PDP family and he may well continue to direct the affairs of the party as long as he is alive. “I am here to see my leader (Obasanjo). I am here to pay my respect and indeed I am here with my colleagues, some members of the Board of Trustees of our party to discuss some issues that affect the corporate existence of this country,” Anenih gushed after the meeting. “As you can see, we are all smiling, don’t you see me smiling? And my leader too is smiling. So, we are quite happy about the outcome”.
Unfortunately, the Nigerian crisis is no laughing matter. It would be tragic to leave the discussion about the corporate existence of Nigeria to the Obasanjos and Anenihs amongst us.
Chief (Gen.) Olusegun Matthew Okikiola Aremu Obasanjo, GCFR, is an enigma, in and out of office. I am sure he cherishes that role. Nobody, dead or alive, has had more impact on the course of post-independence history of the country than the retired general.
Obasanjo evokes different memories for different people. Academics and students in tertiary institutions in the late 70s would remember his assault on students, academics and education in general. Those in secondary schools also have memories of that era of despotism. In a remarkable show of defiance, Afrobeat icon, Fela Anikulakpo-Kuti, withdrew his son, Femi, from Baptist Academy in Lagos State when Obasanjo deployed soldiers to secondary schools.
Like President Goodluck Jonathan, Obasanjo took charge of the Nigerian state after the death of his boss. It was in February 1976. The head of state, Gen. Murtala Ramat Muhammed, had been assassinated. That was when Obasanjo came into our consciousness. Before then, the much we knew about him was from the conflicting stories of his exploits during the civil war.
Ever since, Obasanjo has refused to go away. Through a combination of luck, guile and opportunism, he has managed to remain a constant figure in our political evolution. To his admirers, Obasanjo is the “father of modern Nigeria”; the “Mandela” of Nigeria. After all, like the legendary Nelson Mandela, South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and president (1994 to 1999), he moved from prison to the presidency.
A few weeks ago, after my article titled “IBB’s two-party solution”, a responder had noted, “I always take the view that Obj (Obasanjo), IBB and Gowon — in that order — more than any of our ex-rulers had the best opportunities to set our country on a path to true greatness and all of them failed woefully. It is the enduring tragedy of our (potentially) great nation that the incumbent may yet surpass them all in terms of cluelessness and damage inflicted on our country”.
Of course, this is not hyperbole. In 1979, Obasanjo had the chance to launch the country on the path of genuine democracy, but he bungled it. Twenty-eight years later, in 2007, after eight years as civilian president, he had the opportunity to make amends, but he squandered it in his characteristic devious manner.
If you do not know Obasanjo, you would probably mistake him for a global expert sent by the UN to oversee events in Nigeria. Ever since he reluctantly left power in 2007, he has never missed an opportunity to remind us of how ungrateful we are as a people for not recognising his trailblazing role as the father of democracy in Nigeria.
Obasanjo has warned about revolution. He has talked about unemployment, corruption and what they portend for the country. “I’m afraid, and you know I am a General. When a General says he is afraid, that means the danger ahead is real and potent,” he told the West African regional conference on youth employment in Senegal, earlier in the year. “Today, rogues, armed robbers are in the State Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly,’’ Obasanjo said not too long ago. Of course, he is right; except that he failed to take his share of the blame for the emergence of these scoundrels who have taken over our democratic space.
In a keynote lecture at the Agricultural and Rural Management Training Institute (ARMTI) in Ilorin, Kwara State, Obasanjo again warned, “We are sitting on a keg of gun-powder in this country due to the problems of unemployment of our youths. We have almost 150 universities now in the country turning out these young Nigerians but without job opportunities for them”.
Recently, Obasanjo blamed poor leadership for the country’s woes. He forgot to add that apart from his forgettable leadership (1976-1979 and 1999-2007), he carefully orchestrated the poor leadership we had in 1979 and again in 2007. Fortunately for him, we have in President Jonathan a ruler who has redefined the meaning of poor leadership which in a way makes Obasanjo look like a messiah.
That is Obasanjo’s modus operandi. As one writer noted, “In 1983 when the Shagari government started to wobble, he came out to play prophet”. It was the same government he installed four years earlier. When the Babangida regime was at its wit’s end and its demise looked certain, Obasanjo attacked the regime’s disastrous economic policy dubbed Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), arguing that the policy needed a “human face”.
Obasanjo understands what democracy entails, but he does not have the moral courage to be guided by its rule. When Gen. Babangida annulled the June 12, 1993, presidential election won by Chief Moshood Abiola, Obasanjo told a bewildered nation that, “Abiola is not the messiah”. Like an addict hankering after a fix, it was his way of saying he needed the job. It was that ambition that landed him in Abacha’s prison after he reinvented himself and became a “born-again democrat”. It’s been twenty years since the annulment; and three disastrous elections (two supervised by Obasanjo in 2003 and 2007) after, we are still talking about Obasanjo.
In a 2008 piece titled “Obama’s election and the needed change”, Obasanjo, while congratulating then President-elect, Barack Obama, noted, “The feeling of change that Senator Obama engendered through his campaign for the White House represents a significant theme of change we have all aspired and fought for in different areas, regions, cultures and historical times. The desire for change has never been the question nor has it ever been in question. It is the extent, the range, the tone, the quantity, the quantum and the sustenance of change that has always been the question”.
“Rooted in the achievements of Senator Obama is a far more significant theme for people aspiring to lead their communities, particularly for young Africans in Africa. It is the aspirations, the determination, the energy, the strategic thinking, planning and execution that Senator Obama and his campaign team have brought into what is being regarded as a movement. Entire generations have been roused and invited to bring about a change that they and the rest of the world desire”.
It is a measure of his hypocrisy that Obasanjo has remained the greatest threat to change in Nigeria. How can young Nigerians aspire to lead their communities when men who are almost 80 years old like Obasanjo and Anenih have sworn not to exit the political space? Clearly, in tackling the PDP and Jonathan in 2015, we must realize that we have to contend with the Obasanjo factor.
With all due respect, Mr. ex-President, you have earned the right to leave us the heck alone!