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Obasanjo, his many critics and apologists

By Adisa Adeleye
To me and others of my thinking, theformer President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo would always remain an enigmatic personality – confusing to many Nigerians but more perplexing to himself.  He might easily wear the coronet of a split personality with bundle of contradictions. 

This is why many observers may be wrong and sold a dummy by a clear_headed soldier turned farmer, and a wily politician.

At the end of his second term in office in 2007, many chorus boys started to sing a new song of praise by calling the departing President the ‘Father of Modern Nigeria‘  Before Nigerians could catch the fever of adulation, the Northern cabal started to warn the new President then, (now late) to keep clear of his predecessor.  Also things started to fall apart with the consequences of dilapidicated infrastructures, rising unemployment and deepening poverty.

The puerile idea of modern Nigeria quickly dissolved into reality of Nigeria as a failing state with epileptic power supply, collapsing industrial structure and political uncertainties which harbor kidnappings, religious and ethnic killings and armed robberies that defy security operations.  Unfortunately, the late President Yar‘Adua struggled unsuccessfully to come to terms with the country‘s complex problems.

Of late, former President Obasanjo (who holds a Diploma in Religious Studies) was severely strictured by the clergy and prominent Christians for holding Jesus Christ in derision by stating in Washington that ‘with all due respect if Jesus Christ could come to the world and be Chairman of INEC, only election he would conduct will be disputed.‘

Some apologists would suggest that what Obasanjo had in mind but abnormally twisted by his caustic tongue was that, ‘only Jesus Christ could organize an election in Nigeria that would not be disputed‘,

Observers also refer to the incident in Jos when former President Obasanjo was reported to have said to the chairman of Plateau CAN, Rev Yakubu Pam, ‘you are an idiot, a total idiot and I have no apology for that‘.  To these observers, words like ‘idiot‘, ‘stupid‘ and ‘bloody‘ civilian are typical military in context and should be taken lightly since the prestige of the office of the President does not normally fully remove the odious traits of a soldier, even in a civilian toga.

To many conscientious analysts, Chief Obasanjo is one of the lucky few in history who had risen to prominence on the misfortunes of others.  During the Biafran Civil War, Col. Obasanjo (as he was then) replaced the ‘tired‘ Black Scorpion, Col. Adekunle and went on to accept the Biafran surrender.  In 1976, Obasanjo became the reluctant ‘Head‘ of State after the assassination of Gen. Murtala Mohammed.

In 1999, Chief Obasanjo was available as the Civilian President after the demise of Abiola whose presidential victory was annulled by the military President Babangida.  By that time, the former Head of State, Abacha who was preparing himself as a civilian President and who had put Obasanjo in prison, suddenly answered the call of nature.

By way of appeasing the troublesome Yorubas of the South West, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired army general and a practising Ota farmer was readily available and was supported by the Northern Cabal.  It should not be easily forgotten that the seemingly reluctant Head of State who took over after Gen. Mohammed‘s murder in 1976 brightened the fading image of the military by handing over to a democratically elected civilian (Shagari, a Northerner) in 1979.

Chief Obasanjo, a former army general, a farmer and a later_ day politician contested and won the presidential election in 1999.  He was re_elected in 2003 amidst cries of irregularities and electoral frauds; but his election was confirmed by the Supreme Court.  His opponent, a former Head of State, Gen. Buhari is still active in politics, moaning his defeats of 2003 and 2007.

Is Chief Olusegun Obasanjo a very lucky man as popularly believed?  He gave the answer tactfully in one of his books; (NOT MY WILL pg 226).  He wrote, ‘some who see themselves as being charitable say he is very lucky, those not so charitable say he is an opportunist, some friends say, ‘he works hard and he is good.  None of them is totally right or correct.

I believe that three ingredients must be present for success in any human endeavour, physical preparations, mental preparations including attitudinal and character, opportunity must avail itself and that may be due to luck, fate, destiny or chance.  But as an old classmate of mine put it, ‘if you are three or four times consecutively lucky, it is worthy of note if not close study‘. As for his would be critics, he warns, ‘the bottom line and the point to note is that success invites envy and envy is not easily cured.‘

To me and to some laymen, Chief Obasanjo could be placed second to Chief Awolowo among Nigeria‘s past political leaders who were real planners and thinkers.  According to Chief Obasanjo, ‘I leave nothing to chance.  I prepare and after preparation, I leave room for the will of God which passes human understanding, I have never been seriously caught off_guard or disappointed because I always leave room for the worst after preparing for the best.  And if you do not achieve the best you avoid the worst‘.  That is vintage Obasanjo, the Balogun of Owu.

Having been put on the throne in 1999, by the Northern Cabal, Obasanjo‘s greatest critics came from the North and East, accusing him of unproven case of ‘marginalization‘ in the distribution of political booties.  Some old members of Arewa Consultative Committee (ACF) expressed serious doubts about his re-election in 2003 and the former Governor of Sokoto, Bafarawa advised the Northerners to be looking seriously for an alternative to Obasanjo.

On his part, the Ndigbo leader, Justice Eze Ozobu saw nothing good in Obasanjo and advocated for an Ibo President in 2003.  But the year 2003 was eventful, Obasanjo was re_elected with higher majority of votes, presumably with votes from ‘fishes, cattle and ghosts‘.  The ruling party jubilated and approved his victory inspite of justified criticisms by well_meaning Nigerians.

As for the ‘Northern Hegemonists‘, Obasanjo appeared to have paid his due.  The Northerners put him in power and he handed power to a Northerner.  Yar‘Adua, a fine gentleman, well educated and a man above corruption.  Before his untimely death, President Yar‘Adua laid a solid foundation for necessary electoral reforms by constituting the Uwais Committee.

During the eight years of Obasanjo‘s reign as President, there were severe conflicts and positive resolutions.  In my understanding of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, I am guided by the remarks of the late General James Oluleye.  He wrote, ‘in terms of craft, he looks deceptive, but he can sketch good and bad schemes with equal celebrity.  He is an expert in confrontational tactics‘. Do Nigerians need to know more?


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