By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
A rather tongue-in-cheek observation was posted on a closed internet site last week. In response to the letters that have held Nigerians in thrall these past few weeks, a perceptive observer said unwittingly, in an age of obsession with FDI, Nigeria might have stumbled upon a new export: letter writing! We will export to the ECOWAS region the art of letter writing.
We can even capture the continental market for letters, from Cape to Cairo, with copyright wholly Nigerian (ruling class). Away with flagellations about oil revenues; the Transformation Agenda itself will witness a financial transformation. This is the equivalent of the Euro-American discovery of oil by ‘fracking’!
It was Pliny the Elder who said something new always issues forth from Africa; how the Roman gentleman would have savoured this moment in Nigeria! In a season of letters limitless possibilities appear to shine light into the dark recesses of Nigerian ruling class life. When the old soldier, General Olusegun Obasanjo blazed the trail, he probably didn’t have the foggiest thought that letters were going to take a life of their own. But here we are today!
We were still dissecting Obasanjo’s letter to President Jonathan, when VANGUARD newspaper of Wednesday, December 18, 2013, came out with Iyabo Obasanjo’s bombshell, fille to pere! There must have been hands-wringing gloating inside Aso Villa. Here was the self-righteous General Obasanjo’s daughter putting him in his place in that devastatingly personal manner that only a daughter could have her father.
Iyabo described Obasanjo a liar, manipulator and two-faced hypocrite, attempting to foist on Jonathan what he wouldn’t have taken, while he ruled the roost. He is, she said, possessed of a “narcissitic megalomaniac personality”. To underline her pain, Iyabo ruled out further communication with her father till death, in the OPEN LETTER TO MY FATHER, which poignantly opened with a 4th Century Chinese proverb by Mencius: “The great man is he who does not lose his child’s heart”. Iyabo’s letter was clear evidence that Obasanjo never had his daughter’s heart. As the Holy Bible says, out of the fullness of the hear, the mouth speaketh! Iyabo’s heart spoke loudly through that open letter to her father.
We might state that whatever transpired between Pere et Fille (father and daughter), is not, strictly, our business. But the private lives of public figures seep into the social space, affecting us in often direct and tangible manners, to allow us a peek and obliging us the opportunity for commentary.
Was Iyabo not a senator? Didn’t she serve as commissioner in Ogun state? She even told us how the father wanted to perpetuate political existence through her own political involvement. And despite vigorous denials, Iyabo affirmed that Obasanjo attempted to manipulate the constitution in the infamous Third Term bid! And as the well-educated observer of the Nigerian political space she evolved into, Iyabo saw the manipulative role played by sycophantic aides around Obasanjo, affirming the captive state of leadership in Nigeria, which turns leaders into tin-gods, sitting atop huge resources that they greedily steal in cahoots with fawning courtiers, as the nation gradually descends into an abyss.
But the irresponsibility,
she noted, extends to the followership. A country gets leaders which reflect the state of followership. Nigerians, according to Iyabo Obasanjo, “are people who see conspiracy and self service in everything because…they believe everyone is like them”. This cruelty at the heart of Nigeria is what its ruling class has foisted on the country and in her words, “Nigeria has descended into a hellish reality where smart, capable people to ‘survive’ and have their daily bread prostrate to imbeciles.
Everybody trying to pull everybody else down with greed and selfishness the only trait that gets you anywhere. Money must be had and money and power is king. Even the supposed downtrodden agree with this”. Nigeria is a Hobbesian jungle with the distinction that Iyabo accuses her father of being its architect (and by extension, members of the fraudulent ruling class!).
This “fractured state” that is Nigeria is Obasanjo’s legacy, according to the daughter, and that fracture “you created because, it was always your way or the highway”. In my view, a daughter of the ruling class has provided justification, drawing from the pains of her lived experience, for the Nigerian people, who she has not spared, to find a means to overthrow this fractured state. Because what is on ground today, according to Iyabo, is clearly not sustainable !
The long-expected riposte
from Jonathan to Obasanjo finally issued forth. And the point that came to mind was whether it was a fitting riposte or an anti-climax. Jonathan accused his erstwhile godfather of a deceitful manipulation of facts and figures, in the effort to impugn Jonathan’s credibility. He was also reminded of his hypocrisy since Obasanjo was guilty of many of the crimes he accused Jonathan of having committed.
There was a tit-for-tat element to some of the accusations and they really did not illuminate the essential issues of governance, which would benefit Nigerians. Jonathan for example exhumed ghosts from Obasanjo’s past, reminding the old soldier that he was to have been thrown out of the military regime of Murtala Muhammed in the 1970s for corruption and closer to our times, Obasanjo’s part in the Haliburton and Siemen scandals.
He went further to quote how Afrobeat King, Fela Anikulapo Kuti cited cases of corruption against Obasanjo. It is therefore a question of I have my cases of corruption and you have yours; so why cast stones? Amongst thieves, Jonathan was reminding his old boss, there are unspoken rules. Yes we are all bandits, he reminded, let no one pretend to be saintly!
Don’t endanger the “Republic of Banditry”, otherwise all bandits will suffer dire consequences, when the people, the true owners of the country, wizen up to the wiles of the bandit ruling class. Jonathan’s riposte is clearly a warning that the ruling class project is being endangered by its leading lights.
Meltdown in South Sudan
In 2006, I was the only Nigerian journalist attending John Garang’s funeral ceremony in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. I was in the company of Babagana Kingibe, then African Union Ambassador for the Darfur crisis. Kabiru Yusuf and I had been the first Nigerian journalists to report from Darfur and were on our way back home, when the trip to Juba came up, so my travel was pure serendipity really.
But I had long followed the struggle by the SPLM and the political perspectives of John Garang; he was a socialist, pan-Africanist and despite the huge sacrifices (over three million people died in the Sudanese war!), he was dedicated to the liberation and unity of the Sudan, north and south.
When the Naivasha Agreement ending the bloody war was signed and Garang returned to Khartoum for the first time in years, over one million people welcomed him, Arab and African! I spoke to many people in Khartoum and recall an Arab Sudanese who cried that John Garang died in that chopper crash. He was, the chap told me, the liberator of the Sudan that they lost forever.
There were too many forces who never wanted a united Sudan and removal of John Garang was part of an elaborate script and up till today, it has remained unresolved. Rebecca, his widow, told us an old Dinka proverb, that they were willing to lose two cows to find a lost one. They will forever try to unknot the mystery of the death of a great son of Africa, John Garang. What was clear to me then, and always, was that if he had lived, he probably would have mobilized the South Sudanese to vote for continued unity of the Sudan.
But it seems a speculative point now, as the people voted to create Africa’s newest country, the Republic of South Sudan. It is very rich in oil and has tremendous agricultural riches. Yet it has always carried within its potentials very worrisome portents. It is one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world and after decades of war, its desperately poor people have faced really difficult tasks of nation building.
On the one hand, there was the unresolved border dispute with the Northern neighbour; the economic difficulties of transportation of oil through pipelines in the North; the Abye question; internal insurgencies on both sides of the border which each side claims was being sponsored by the other side and the inter-ethnic rivalries which were being played out within the structures of the SPLM; personality clashes; and the massive corruption, which was beginning to become the talk of town in Juba, even in 2006!
Soldiers of the SPLA were becoming restive even by then, because of allegations of unpaid salaries, while the erstwhile revolutionary fighters were trading military fatigues for smart suits and driving around in four-wheel vehicles on unpaved roads, as the poor people in whose name they had fought and who made tremendous sacrifices, remained in desperate poverty. I always recall with pleasure, that in my trips around Africa, the peoples of South Sudan and the Saharawi, are the most friendly, accommodating and kind, I ever met, anywhere on our continent.
So when Salva Kirr Mayardit, the South Sudan President appeared on television dressed as a full army general, over a week ago, announcing that he had suppressed a coup, which was allegedly led by former vice president, Dr. Riek Mashar, I knew there was trouble in South Sudan. President Salva Kirr was a brilliant military general whose exploits during the war were legendary. He inherited the mantle of leadership after Garang’s death but he was not, in my view, exactly a good politician.
He was a typical soldier, with the military mindset, who has not made a successful transition into the statesmanship which a new country facing enormous challenges like South Sudan requires. On the other hand, there is Dr. Riek Machar, who was always a controversial figure in the war of liberation and was a master of tactical manuvers, which were often very opportunistic, but has always been a great survivor in the quicksand of South Sudan politics. Each is ambitious and egoistic.