Chief (Dr.) Matthew Aremu Okikiola Obasanjo, popularly known as OBJ, invented himself and it is quite arguable that in the narrative of post-independent Nigeria, he has become the singular, most intriguingly complex, topical and consistently visible political figure in the evolution of modern Nigeria.
It is therefore little wonder that with the above description, of the Owu/Ijebu High chief, he has undoubtedly become the major catalyst and virus that jointly contaminates and accelerate the processes in the gradual metamorphosis of Nigeria into the state of systemic dysfunctionality and operational difficulties which we have grappled with as a nation for over four decades now.
The recent thirteen page epistle which Chief Obasanjo directed to President Buhari smacks of hypocrisy, bad Faith and a clear manifestation of animosity against an administration that inherited so much problems from failed past leaderships which Obasanjo ruled ten years . In fact most of the things which Obasanjo accused President Buhari’s administration of being guilty of, are the very things which were planted, sprouted and flourished with unchecked supervision in his regime as the bedrock of this democratic dispensation.
In retrospect, Obasanjo’s role in the resolution or otherwise of the Nigerian civil war that nearly fractured the fledgling post-independent Nigeria, has been well documented, albeit largely by himself in a couple of self authored war novels, in which he mostly treated his persona with excessive kindness only permitted by authorial license and portrayed his military leadership and command in a heroic light that seemingly suggests his central influence in bringing that sad chapter of our national history to a shuddering end.
In the years that followed the civil war, Chief Obasanjo has not only ruled the country both in military uniform and civilian attire for a combined period of 10 years, he has quite literally and figuratively been the major defining force from the South of Nigeria, negotiating, dictating, determining and destroying the dynamics of institutions and personalities, particularly in the economic and political spheres.
It is quite impossible to imagine and discuss Nigeria from 1999 till date without Obasanjo looming large both like a benevolent and malevolent shape shifting ogre in the horizon. The tragic-comic trajectory of his chequered political evolution dates back to the days when he was sprung out of prison, looking ragged, emaciated and withering, with a pantomime, handle bar moustache, dusted and dressed up in fine clothes and foisted on Nigeria as President in a compromise arrangement that attempted to address personal and ethnic distortions.
Obasanjo’s first four years as elected President provided him a great opportunity to consolidate and fully embrace the processes of deepening our democracy, which he midwifed in 1979 but it was obvious that his military antecedents had been forever engrained in him. To his credit, he embarked on some revolutionary initiatives that opened up the Nigerian social and economic space but his political credentials were unimpressive and his efforts to rejig the components of our then nascent democracy were a colossal failure, particularly in his second tenure, which was so turbulent as he battled and was unceremoniously embroiled in a dirty power tussle with his vice president that soiled our aspirations for democratic recognition and excellence.
He was bitten by that power drunkenness bug, which has afflicted and become synonymous with African leaders and like a bull in a China shop, Obasanjo ran riot over all institutions and became typically and uncontrollably brutal, dictatorial and autocratic when his anti-democratic third term agenda went up in smoke.
Obasanjo’s tenure witnessed the beginning of state supported political intolerance and the assassination and elimination of political opponents and friends who had become suspect for advising him or standing in the way of his third term and other political ambitions and decisions. Impunity was elevated to the dizzying heights of statecraft, as Senate Presidents, Speakers of House of Representatives and chairmen of his political party were removed by him at will for failing to either accelerate the passage of one of his autocratic legislations, going against him by vetoing a legislation he refused to give presidential accent or standing resolutely against his third term ambition. Our electoral process suffered the kind of bastardization never witnessed before and which was to become its subsequent norm and method in future polls as elections were rigged massively and imposition of candidates reigned supreme as his handpicked puppets were installed across the length and breadth of the country.
Ironically, Obasanjo preached and was a vocal advocate against ethnicity and ethnic politics, but his quest to ensure that he became the singular, most powerful political figure in his Yoruba ethnic nation led him to deliberately and clinically decimate all opposition politics in the South West, including the irreplaceable Cicero of Isa Oke, the mercurial Bola Ige and the Yoruba would have by now become a toothless dog in national politics if not for the strategically brilliant Bola Tinubu of Lagos state (the Jagaban), who stubbornly stood his ground and as such, suffered immensely.
Another major hall mark of Obasanjo’s junta-like tenure was the rife Human Rights abuses and violations, and the deployment of armed and fatal suppression which was unleashed on decidedly recalcitrant minority groups, aptly captured by the genocidal mass massacres, total annihilation and decimation of the people and communities of Zaki Biam in Benue state and Odi in Niger Delta, where people were killed in their hundreds and houses razed down and deroofed as the inhabitants fled into the surrounding thick and dangerous forests for refuge, all in his tenure.
Realizing that Nigerians had firmly resisted his chances for a possible third term, Obasanjo, possible as an act of malice and revenge on a country that rejected his continuity, decided to wield his absolute powers in the succession race to replace him by hand picking an ailing yet administratively brilliant Umaru Yar’adua, from Katsina state, who was the nephew of his then military second-in-command and also a prominent member of camp of Atiku Abubakar, his Vice President, and made him the sole presidential candidate, thus pulling the rug from under Atiku’s feet. He also appointed the quiet and unassuming Goodluck Jonathan as his deputy.
But Yar’adua’s illness soon overtook him and Obasanjo, still intoxicated by the unchallenged democratic powers he had continued to exhibit and perhaps rattled by the considerable successes which Yar’Adua had achieved in a very short time and most remarkably with the Niger Delta militants, suddenly started calling for his removal even when the President was in hospital. This is the same person he installed as President only a couple of years ago.
Vice President Goodluck Jonathan became the next pawn Obasanjo’s political end game and having vociferously supported the doctrine of necessity which conferred substantive presidential powers on the vice president, proceeded in 2010 to posture like a statesman by becoming one of the major supporters of Goodluck Jonathan to become the president, immediately becoming his ally and touting himself as the benevolent leader who ensured that the minorities were also given the opportunity to lead the country.
As usual that romance was short-lived as Obasanjo, true to type, fell apart with his protégé, when it appeared that Jonathan had not only refused to do his bidding, but seemingly sidelined him, opting instead to give prominence to E.K Clark. Obasanjo’s reaction was to ridicule Jonathan at every opportunity and his public show of tearing his PDP Card in a well orchestrated ploy, all helped the reformed opposition to take over.
The emergence of President Buhari by the popular will of the people was well celebrated and while it is obvious that Obasanjo arguably played a nominal but self seeking role in the ensuring Buhari’s election, he began visiting Buhari in Aso rock ostensibly to try and impose himself on the new president but it seems Buhari too has given him the cold shoulder treatment, in political gambit reminiscent of his “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody” declaration on inauguration day.
Obasanjo in using his thirteen page letter as opportunity to praise former President Goodluck Jonathan whom he vilified mercilessly is sadly deceitful. By proceeding to use same as a backdrop to ask President Buhari not re contest is regrettable. Again, for him to turn around and dismiss the existing political structures and call for a new political movement, after only 3 years of the Buhari administration, not only reveals Obasanjo’s ambivalence but also indicates his frustration at being marginalized from the mainstream of political decision making processes.
Indeed if the truth be told, it is Obasanjo himself who just acquired a PHD from arguably his most enduring pet project, the Nigerian Open University, NOUN, that needs the rest as it appears he has lost touch with the reality of what Nigeria is today.
Dr Thompson Udenwa writes from Abuja.