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Spellbinders

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By Chioma Gabriel

After reading the letters of  both Obasanjo and his beloved daughter Iyabo, I fell in love with the Obasanjo family all over again.

I love them for many things: OBJ is a hard man and his daughter  was made in his image and likeness. And somehow, in  picking his first wife,  he  found  a ‘babe’ just as hard.

But what I love most about them is that they are very prolific writers of books and letters.

Olusegun Obasanjo and Iyabo Obasanjo
Olusegun Obasanjo and Iyabo Obasanjo

When she was alive, my maternal grandmother used to call her grandchildren Cambridge or London Matriculation whenever  we spoke  big grammar.

I used to help her write letters to her seven children spread across Nigeria and overseas. With the kind of writings coming from the Obasanjo family, I wonder  what  my grandmother would have called them .

The Obasanjos are versatile writers and my grandmother, an illiterate wife of a head-master  would have loved them. She  liked English language but she could neither read nor write. She could only pick some big grammar  spoken by  her head-master  husband, children or grand-children.

The gallant writerFirst I read This Animal

Called Man, written by General Olusegun Obasanjo which clearly portrayed that all animals are equal but some are more equal than others. When Obasanjo came back from prison, he clutched this  book he  authored in detention. Nigerians didn’t know then that the book was very prophetic.

It was a warning to those who would later draft him to the Presidency that they were dealing with a man who would never suffer fools gladly.

In this book, Obasanjo delved deep into  self-adoration and worship. He almost portrayed himself as   superhuman , the father of modern Nigeria  and the conqueror of  Lord Lugard’s Nigeria. Truly, Obasanjo  has paid his dues and has the knowledge of the sages.

He is one of the greatest and Nigeria is perhaps,  lucky to  have a man like him since Lord Lugard. He was the only Yoruba man who had the opportunity of serving as president both as a soldier and a civilian. No other Yoruba man has ever performed that feat! Others ended up becoming the best Nigeria never had or victims of  our porous democracy.

At the risk of sounding sarcastic, he brought Nigeria to greatness both as a military and civilian President. His $16billion  power sector reform during his tenure as civilian president was one big evidence of his greatness.

Nigerians are still enjoying un-interrupted power supply! Under his regime, Nigeria had the best home grown democracy in the world. Individuals had territories to hold and to rule. Indeed, This Animal Called Man is one of the greatest  books ever written  until I read another book written by another Obasanjo.

Oluremi ObasanjoBitter Sweet: My Life with Obasanjo written by Oluremi Obasanjo, his first wife  is another masterpiece.

You wouldn’t know the secret of books until you develop the culture of reading and then you’d discover that the book Bitter Sweet is one of the greatest from  the Obasanjo dynasty. Indeed  one never  knows what darkness lurks between the covers of a book. Bitter Sweet evokes emotions. It is one book that can reduce you to tears and depress you.

It is one book that can draw your ire especially if one is a graduate of the school of hard knocks like Oluremi Obasanjo. It’s ‘un-put-down-able’ and brings real fears that bemoan the fate of  women and children of Nigeria.
Mrs Obasanjo in this  book portrays her  husband as an acrimonious and violent  partner, a man who is horrible and abusive, mean spirited, and nasty to boot. She paints  her husband as a serial manipulator and wife abuser who loves charming all manners of women into his perverse space.

In its spell-binding narrative, Bitter Sweet projects  a terrifying romantic relationship with a narcissist partner . Oluremi Obasanjo portrays  her husband as a ruthless man, one who  is fond of offering unsolicited slaps and merciless beatings to subordinates, house helps and wives. The author  also alleges witchcraft, sorcery and diabolical behaviour on the part of her husband.

I cried through the pages wondering why any woman would hang around a relationship long enough to endure such horrors and my tears dried when I began to read through some interesting anecdotes. There was actually a period when OBJ took care of his family. During the civil war years, he showered her with the kind of attention normally reserved for lovers.

He was such a gentle man. But that was  temporary because more narratives portray she was  treated worse than the wretched chickens of Otta Farms. But in spite of all these, she still remains an Obasanjo and still parades the name with pride. Even till date.

Then came Obasanjo’s critical letter to President Goodluck Jonathan which is still generating heat in the country. Politicians are still having a field day debating this letter, tearing each other apart over its contents when another writer from the Obasanjo dynasty entered the scene.

Enter Iyabo Obasanjo
This first daughter of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Iyabo, went too far; ruling  out further communication with her father till death, describing him as a liar, manipulator, two-faced hypocrite determined to foist on President Goodluck Jonathan what no one would contemplate with him as president.

I’m still trying to recover from this shock. Which child would dare call her father such names?
Senator Iyabo Obasanjo reportedly accused her father of having an egoistic craving for power and living a life where only men of low esteem and intellect thrive.

Iyabo accused her father of orchestrating a third term for himself as president, cruelty to family members, abandonment of children and grandchildren, and also, a legendary reputation of maltreatment of women.

Iyabo denied any political motive for her letter, and described Nigeria as a country where her father and his ilk have helped to create a situation where smart, capable people bend down to imbeciles to survive. She particularly noted her experience as chairman of the Senate Committee on Health when she led the committee on a retreat appropriated for in the budget only for her to be prosecuted for it.

Iyabo’s letter titled Open Letter to my Father started with a 4th century Chinese proverb by Mencius which states: “The great man is he who does not lose his child’s heart.”

“It brings me no joy to have to write this but since you started this trend of open letters, I thought I would follow suit since you don’t listen to anyone anyway.

The only way to reach you may be to make the public aware of some things. As a child well brought up by my long-suffering mother in Yoruba tradition, I have been reluctant to tell the truth about you but as it seems,  you still continue to delude yourself about the kind of person you are and I think for posterity’s sake it is time to set the records straight…”

Iyabo’s letter  was a catalogue of events that plagued her childhood. Children are highly impressionable and childhood events tend to play like movies in their  brains long after they have grown up.

Iyabo definitely had a battered childhood, suffered a battered ego and damaged psyche. She has been depressed  all these while due to lack of paternal love and was waiting for an opportunity to avenge her father.

What I want to contend with in Iyabo’s letter is the place of African tradition in the letter to her father.
It is un-African for a child to talk back to her father in the  manner that Iyabo did. I understand a love relationship that went sour between her parents.

I also understand her pain in being abandoned as a child, leaving her and her siblings in the hands of their mother. I understand equally that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. But I always believe that the best revenge is to live a good life and the fact that she and her siblings became good professionals with little or no contribution from their father is the sweetest revenge ever.

If a man would truly pay for his sins, I believe that OBJ had sober moments  when he regretted his action and tried to make up. But there was always cause to return to old ways.

But should a child carry up his father? His loin clothes would blindfold the child. What does Iyabo intend to achieve by throwing sour grapes at her father openly?

Nobody is giving Obasanjo accolades as the best father in the world. Fatherhood goes beyond impregnating a woman.

Fatherhood is responsibility. But irrespective of  this, the good book enjoins children to honour their father and their mother and their days will be long. It is the only commandment that has a promise.

And the good book also enjoins parents  not to provoke their children. Both father and daughter are guilty of breaking this commandment. And African tradition abhors this.

But this is a pointer to the fact that things are changing in the society. Children are standing up to their parents. Things they observe as kids affect their ego and psyche later in adult life. A child reared in America or United Kingdom would later call his parents idiots if they behave as one.

Politics is a dangerous field that knows no friends and foes. It is politics that made Iyabo stand up to her father and dared to call him names. One would have said that Obasanjo’s political enemies are using his own family against him and that seems likely.

But should one feel for a man like Obasanjo? No. Real men don’t cry. So, one should not shed tears for Obasanjo that his own daughter poked fingers into his eyes . He might have been instrumental in making her senator in 2007. But she just spat that back on his face by insulting him through  an open letter and saying her father has narcissistic megalomaniac personality.

But it’s good to have a daughter like Iyabo Obasanjo. Parents pray to have children that resemble them both in looks and attitude.  Iyabo is the true child of her father. She is Obasanjo all over again in looks and attributes and one hopes the father-daughter relationship grows from strength to strength.

I’m sure President Jonathan is having the last laugh. There is no better  response than  to  have Obasanjo’s own flesh and blood respond to her father’s letter to Jonathan.

What an irony.

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