By Osa Mbonu-Amadi
Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka’s long running virulent attacks of former President, Dr. Olusegun Obasanjo climaxed in his latest book, “Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?: Gani’s Unfinished Business” unveiled recently in Lagos.
There was uneasy calm in that hall where the magnificent body of a statesman as awesome as Obasanjo, was being mauled, dismembered and dissected.
If that dismemberment had been carried out by a persona less than Professor Soyinka, no one would have known what the consequences could have been. Obviously encouraged by the on-going caustic diatribe, one elderly man, Mr. Koiki Kolawole, took the microphone and dropped a bomb: “If Obasanjo was not born, Nigeria would have been a better place.” I believe many people’s blood curdled as my own blood did on hearing such a statement being made by a mortal, an elder, to a public audience.
Reading through “Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?…, one cannot but be tempted to ask: what is this about Obasanjo that frets Soyinka so? Has the Nobel Laureate not read Marcus Aurelius’ advice on page 63 of his “Meditations”?: “After all, what is it that frets you? The vice of humanity? Remember the doctrine that all rational beings are created for one another; that toleration is part of justice; and that men are not intentional evildoers. Think of the myriad enmities, suspicions, and conflicts that are now vanished with the dust and ashes of the men who knew them; and fret no more.”
The reader of this latest book by Soyinka would see that what infuriates the Prof, more than any other thing, is that Obasanjo lied serially, especially in his autobiography, “My Watch”. “No matter whom it concerns, there is only one pertinent question: ARE THEY FACTS?” Soyinka writes on page 9 of the book.
Expecting a politician, or a human being created by God for that matter, to always say the truth is a tall order. In Christian morality for instance, there is no such thing as small lie or small sin. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump,” says the Bible. An unrepentant lair that lied only once in his life is not different, in the sight of God, from a serial lair who lies every day.
No wonder Jesus said to the young rich man who called Him “Good Master”: “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.” If the Lord Jesus would refuse to ascribe and disassociate himself from the tag, “good” it then follows that no one on earth, neither Obasanjo, Soyinka, Buhari, all the rulers of this country, nor you and me, is qualified to wear that tag, “good”. I proffer this logic because Soyinka’s grouse with Obasanjo is predicated on moral issues: lying.
On whether Obasanjo has any moral right to participate in (or “hijack”, in Soyinka’s words) any intervention movement or rescue mission designed to wrench Nigeria out of Buhari’s strangling hands, we must recall that God used a prostitute to do good works severally in the Bible.
When Soyinka argues metaphorically on page 10 that “you do not recruit a child molester into a fight to combat drug addiction, claiming that the two ‘disciplines’ are quite separate and do not morally impinge on each other,” the professor discounts the fact that it was on that same moral waiver that the coupist record of Buhari was overlooked by himself and many other Nigerians when Buhari, who had sacked a democratically elected government and truncated democracy, was “recruited” as Nigeria’s Messiah, which has now turned out to be a disaster.
Professor Soyinka did not make any distinctions between morality and politics which have no meeting point. If the professor had stuck to the issues of failure of governance as the basis for his suggestion to Nigerians to be wary of Obasanjo, that would have been more justifiable, because it is on a similar basis that Nigerians, including Soyinka himself, now desire to kick Buhari out of Also Rock.
One important and pertinent question Soyinka was asked that day at the Freedom Park was whether there was no good thing whatsoever that Obasanjo had done. In summary, the Prof said “It is very difficult to find one. It is just that I can’t remember one which Obasanjo has done.” But he admitted that “It is there; it’s got to be there.”
I have searched the internet, trying to find out if Obasanjo had made any reply to Soyinka since August 2 when those latest missiles were fired at Obasanjo but I did not find any. Is it that Obasanjo is afraid, or does not have anything to say? It is unlikely. And you can be certain that many people will admire him for such calm and restraint.
In fairness, however, we must assist the Prof to locate some of the goods Obasanjo has done for Nigeria. I had mentioned them before in a previous essay:
Professionalization of Nigeria’s Armed Forces
By throwing 93 senior military officers out of the army, few days after taking power in 1999, Obasanjo laid a stronger foundation for Nigeria’s democracy and brought professionalism into the Nigerian Army. Many of those retired army generals were practically politicians queuing up to plan coups and takeover the government. Obasanjo went from one military barrack to another, preaching professionalism to soldiers. “Choose between being a professional soldier and leaving the army,” he warned the remaining soldiers.
No other living Nigerian could have lived after having the courage to throw 93 military officers out of the Nigerian army!
Strengthening of the banking institutions
Before Obasanjo’s return to power, banks in Nigeria were collapsing in what was called ‘distresses’ as a result of weak financial bases. After depositing your money in a bank that time, you would just wake up the following morning and find a big padlock on the entrance gate of the bank. The bank had been distressed! It does not matter how many billions you have there, what you will get, according to what I hear the law says, is N50, 000 only!
Obasanjo could not tolerate that. He took Soludo, and together, they recapitalized every bank to the tune of N25 billion. Those banks which could not raise N25 billion had to merge with other banks for a stronger financial base. That way, till this day, Nigerians can deposit their monies in a Nigerian bank and go to sleep peacefully.
Loosening Nigeria from the Paris Club debt noose
As at the time Obasanjo returned as civilian president, Nigeria was almost strangled to death with foreign debt burden. The country was so much indebted to the Paris Club that it was almost using her blood to just service the debt, not to pay the principal amount borrowed.
When Obasanjo saw this scenario, he said for Nigeria to make any form of progress economically, this debt noose must be loosened. And that was exactly what he did with the help of Ngozi Okonjo Iweala.
Giving Nigeria the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM)
Before Obasanjo returned in 1999, NITEL was making minced meat of Nigerians over telecommunications, just as the electricity companies are doing today. NITEL gave people telephone bills they never used, and if you dared refuse to pay you are disconnected for life! Between 2002 and 2003, whatever needed to be done for Nigerians to join the rest of the world in enjoying the magic and invention of wireless telephony, especially the GSM, was done by the Obasanjo regime.
Since then, the multiplier effect of GSM revolution in the socio-economic life of Nigerians has been so huge, and still counting – the same GSM Nigerians were told was for only the rich!
Both Professor Wole Soyinka and Dr. Olusegun Obasanjo are gigantic human institutions in Nigeria and as such, many of us will not be happy seeing both fighting each other. What we want is for them, both the sinner and the saint, to put their heads together and find a lasting solution to the problem of Nigeria. We also need to consider the different professional backgrounds of each man – one is a soldier, and the other, an artist.
If it had been in the era when societies were ruled by force of arms, Professor Wole Soyinka might have had no choice but to use his creative mind to serve Obasanjo, given that they happened to be contemporaries, just as Leonardo Da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli were commanded by Cesare Borgia to be enlisted into his army.