By Morak Babajide-Alabi
In recent times, like many Nigerians, I have been forced to ask what the man Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo is “looking” for. With the development in the political scene and Obasanjo’s domineering role, we get a bit confused if he is a kingmaker or an irritant. A few Nigerians think the old man might have passed his “sell by date”. While he may be an irritant to some, you can not describe him as irrelevant in Nigerian politics.
Here is a man who has had the unequalled opportunity to rule his country three times. His first shot was as a soldier who happened to be at the right place at the right time. When on February 13, 1976, a group of brigands in military uniforms assassinated the then military head of state, Murtala Muhammed, Obasanjo as the second in command, was handed the reins of power. His administration achieved two major things – ushered in the Second Republic and launched Operation Feed the Nation. Although his critics believe that despite the huge funds invested in the programme, the only beneficiary of the is Obasanjo while his Ota farm stands as a legacy.
Obasanjo was the first Nigerian military ruler to become a civilian president. He, at various times between the journey of “delivering” the Second Republic and his comeback to governance, received many “accolades”. He was a hero, an elder statesman, a coup planner, a prisoner of conscience, an enemy of democracy, among many others. He did “suffer” enough for the country.
No man in the history of Nigeria has enjoyed as much goodwill as Obasanjo had when he got out of prison after the death of the maximum leader, Sani Abacha. I still recall his first public appearance after emerging from the prison in June 1998. He was in jail for a few months, but his physical appearance was of a man who had spent the full 15 years sentence behind the bar. He was “spent” and looked like a man in need of descent grooming. It is understandable, though.
As compensation for his “sufferings” and to appease the Yoruba gods after the death of MKO Abiola, a Yoruba man and the winner of 1993 annulled Presidential elections, Obasanjo was the compromise presidential candidate in 1999. It is on record that by the end of his first term, many Nigerians had given up on him. They had concluded that he was no different in approach, attitude and mode to other Nigerian politicians.
Despite his lacklustre first term, Obasanjo was voted back to power in 2003. This was another opportunity to finish up on whatever he started in the first term. Unfortunately, rather than get down to work and write his name on the good side of history, he busied himself canvassing for a “historical” third term. Ever since this failed ambition, he has become an expert in political manipulation.
Like the run-up to the 2015 General Elections, Obasanjo’s home has, once again, become the Mecca for politicians of all sorts. The Ota farmhouse is famous, not for the chickens hatched there, but the bumper to bumper of a motorcade of politicians. Politicians of all tribes covet his endorsement, as they make the journey to ask for his blessings in their political ambitions. And being a generous man, his doors are always open.
A peep into history will refresh our minds of how Musa YarAdua, Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammad Buhari ended up at the Aso Rock. They have one thing in common – they had visited Obasanjo for his blessings. The 2015 visit of the All Progressives Congress (APC)’s Buhari and vice Yemi Osibanjo was a spectacle of “caravan” to behold. Their customised “high rise” caps were eyeful.
No one can identify the source of influence that this man pulls. Is it mystical? Or is it a case of overrating his relevance in the political landscape of Nigeria? Puzzling this may be to the uninitiated Nigerians, Obasanjo is a man the politicians prefer to have on their sides and not against them.
The latest in the long line of visits is that of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Presidential candidate, Abubakar Atiku. Going by history, it was a surprise to discover that they sat together “to plan on” moving Nigeria forward. Atiku was Obasanjo’s Vice President in his two-term government. During this time, they were not the best of friends as Atiku lost face with his boss for opposing his third term bid.
The relationship between these two had been very toxic. Obasanjo had repeatedly told the world that his deputy could well be the most corrupt individual who had graced the corridors of power in Nigeria. As if this is not an indictment of his government, Obasanjo had cited many corrupt cases against this one-time political ally.
His recent claim that he would never support Atiku for any political office is the backdrop for the surprise. He had said: “… my position has not changed. If I support Atiku for a political office other than the one I supported him in the past when I did not know him, maybe, but not now that I know him, God will not forgive me.”
In his choices of the candidates he had supported in the past, God may be very forgiven but few Nigerians won’t. The best example of this was when he “rammed” Ayodele Fayose down the throats of the people of Ekiti State. Till date, no one can explain why he preferred Fayose over well-qualified candidates from the Fountain of Knowledge.
Fayose who was presented as “son” to the Ekitis, soon became a “bastard” in Obasanjo’s reckoning. Like many of his chosen candidates, Fayose and Obasanjo do not see eye to eye on any issue anymore. Obasanjo may not have recounted his regrets of supporting Fayose, but the fall out between these two may soon become a topic on the study of political loyalty.
Talking about loyalty, one thus wonders if Obasanjo values this or he is only willing to gamble based on his personal interests. It is imperative to identify this in the nation’s journey to the 2019 General Elections. As these political activities gather momentum, and new alliances are formed, there is a need to check Obasanjo’s position in the current polity. Is his support for candidates based on national or selfish interest?
The endorsement of Atiku by Obasanjo has raised many pertinent questions about him than answers. More importantly, it has brought Obasanjo’s interjection in Nigerian politics under proper scrutiny. While the reconciliation of these two was facilitated by notable Nigerian religious leaders and clerics, Obasanjo’s sincerity to the country, rather than self, needs explanation.
We get confused sometimes what his role and mission are. On some occasions, you hear him sound off on the side of the masses, and in a little while, he acts as if he cares not who is at the bottom of the ladder.
What place will Obasanjo occupy when the full Nigerian history is written? Unfortunately for him, the history will not be a personal memoir; it will be authored by all Nigerians. Till then, we take him at his face value.
As written for the Diaspora Matters column, Sunday Vanguard, November 11, 2018.