By Dele Sobowale
“One, the lingering doubts about his health, while the other was a very pervasive allegation that he had a manipulative wife who had too much influence on him.” Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in Segun Adeniyi’s book, AGAINST THE RUN OF PLAY, pp 133-134.
Last month, in my column advising former President Jonathan and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, not to write any rejoinder to the statements credited to them, the confession was made that the book had not been fully read. I also vowed to obtain a copy – “beg, borrow or steal” – and to read the entire book. I did not have to beg, borrow or steal.
Segun Adeniyi came to the rescue by sending me a free copy. This is my open appreciation for the generosity – even if undeserved. It took me exactly two days to finish it and there was red ink on virtually every page – right from the Acknowledgements. I start reading every book with a red biro in my hand for underlining and question marks.
Any book is discarded if by page 30 there is nothing to underline or query. Segun’s book had so many, such that it would require another 204 pages of comments just to address all the queries and notes. More than ever, I am convinced that no politician mentioned in the book should attempt to write a rejoinder in self-defence.
“You cannot adopt politics as a profession and remain honest”; according to Louis Howe, 1871-1936. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 192). He must have had Nigerian politicians in mind. None of them in the 204 pages of the book ever admitted fault whenever anything went wrong or against their wishes or expectations. It was always somebody else’s fault. Olusegun Obasanjo, OBJ, was typical of how each of them blamed somebody else for the disasters they created. The quotation at the top was OBJ’s response to questions regarding his imposition of late Umoru Yar’Adua, as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in 2007.
That was his reply when asked why of Yar’Adua who later died without completing his first term for illness that was well known prior to OBJ’s imposition. In addition, those who knew Yar’Adua had pointed out that the man was hen-pecked and frequently manipulated by his wife. Nigeria’s former Comedian-In-Chief, C-I-C, gave an answer which should be cracking our ribs if not for the tragic consequences which followed and which we are still experiencing till today. But, before laying out Obj’s reply, it is important to point out the man’s open admission of violating his oath of office as President.
Obasanjo openly and proudly admitted that he single-handedly imposed Yar’Adua and Jonathan. For a President in a democracy, sworn to protect our constitution, it was unpatriotic in every sense of the word. He deprived the PDP of internal democracy and the nation of electing the President of their choice. More damning was the fact that Yar’Adua had fainted on the podium during one of their campaigns and had to be hurriedly flown abroad for treatment by the Federal Government. The signs of weakness were there for anybody to see that the man might not be fit for the office. That incident provoked the first rumours that Yar’Adua had passed on leading to the celebrated phone call by OBJ to the patient – “Umoru are you dead?” Only a certified clown could expect a dead man to answer that question. Having paid for the treatment the least Nigerians expected was for OBJ to find out what ailed the patient. That was too much for Nigeria’s leader to consider.
Now we return to the statement credited to Baba Iyabo . He was told that Yar’Adua he was hell bent to impose was terminally ill and he was strongly under the influence of his wife. So, how did our 70-plus Head of State investigate to find the truth? He goes to Yar’Adua (please don’t laugh; this is not funny) and asked, “Old boy, is it true you are at death’s door and does your wife wear the trousers in your house?” – or words to that effect. Even the fools, over forty, know the answer to give to that sort of inquiry from somebody presumed to be wise.
Yar’Adua too must have been surprised that an old man could be so simple-minded when the fate of Nigeria rides on the answers he gave. Naturally, the man did what any man, especially a politician would do. According to the book, “Yar’Adua dismissed the allegation against his wife, suggesting that people were merely jealous of their closeness….On the health from, Yar’adua gave to Obasanjo the medical report he requested.” Let us pause for one minute and ask: is this the best way for even the smallest organization to conduct health check on a prospective Managing Director? But, that was the OBJ way. We move on.
History would record that Obasanjo was wrong on both counts – especially the health report. In order to avoid accepting blame for the shoddy manner he conducted the investigations he had this to say about the health report handed to him by Yar’Adua. “Not being a medical practitioner, I gave the report to a friend and renown professional in the medical field who reviewed it and told me that the person in the report was not on dialysis, which meant either he didn’t have a kidney problem or that he had successfully undergone a kidney transplant.” It will amount to utmost politeness, and undeserved, to call that statement drivel.
Must one be a philosopher like John Webster to declare that “I know death hath ten thousand several doors for men to take their exits?” Again, millions of fools after forty know that not all death occur on account of kidney failure. So, why did the report focus on that one alone among all fatal diseases? It should be obvious that Obasanjo is not telling the whole truth. What we have from him is an after-thought to cover up grievous and deadly mistakes. It is either that or he must admit to monumental stupidity.
In the end, he pushed a sick man to accept a job which ultimately tasked his fragile health to the limit until he succumbed. Meanwhile, the domineering wife actually revealed herself when the man was bed-ridden. The so-called jealous people were right on the button. She was central to the web of secrecy which surrounded the man in his final days.
The imposition of Yar’Adua was fatal enough for the country, based as it was on puerile investigation of allegations; the choice of Jonathan compounded the blunder. When Obasanjo claimed that “You know of course that Jonathan was not my first choice as running mate…”, he again reaffirmed his sordid role in derailing our fledgling democracy. A man who was elected to office on votes turns his back on democracy and is proud to admit it.
In reality, Jonathan should not have been the hundredth choice. Until he became Deputy Governor, the man never held any leadership position. As governor, he was “spare tyre” for about seven years and had only one year of actual executive experience – certainly insufficient for such a task as Presidency in case Yar’Adua failed to make it. In addition, Jonathan had the same problem of an uncontrollable wife as Yar’Adua. He and his wife also had a heavy moral baggage to carry. In short, GEJ, had everything signaling “DON’T TOUCH”. Yet, OBJ ignored all the warning signs.
Yar’Adua was hardly in the grave when Obasanjo was thundering, “Jonathan, you must run for President. Don’t tell me you won’t run.” People listening to him then would have assumed he was wise. Less than four years after, the man who got us into GEJ’s clutches was his loudest critic. It is an axiom in management that decisions about people to appoint are the most important for any executive. Get that wrong and the organization is in trouble.
Obasanjo got two wrong at once and instead of apologizing to the people of Nigeria wants to deceive people by pretending amnesia. That is not honest behaviour. But, as Chidi Amuta said in the book “Collective amnesia is the hallmark of every political culture”. I absolutely agree. All I want to add is: any political culture which has the likes of Obasanjo as leaders is doomed.
Just as I was going through the excuses offered by Nigerian politicians for committing disgraceful acts in Segun’s book, the catalogue of deliberate falsehoods and half truths reminded me of another book titled INNOCENT NIGERIANS by Mrs Ngozi Nkikura Chukwuka – a first time writer embarking on a writing career. I have never met the author, but she sent me the manuscripts for comments and editing. It was a powerful indictment, not only of our political leaders but of all of us. Central to the book is the revelation of how almost everyday and everywhere Nigerians deny obvious facts which they find embarrassing.
Even the kleptomaniac caught embezzling billions of naira still pleads innocent and attributes the charges to his enemies or jealous people.
Reading the two one after the other, the reader might begin to get the idea of where we can start to create a better Nigeria.
We have the politicians we deserve because of the way we are.