In his characteristic manner, Mr. Reuben Abati brings words to life. He did not disappoint in “The day Gbadebo became king,” (Guardian, Friday, August 26, 2005). If you read him right, you could actually see his words waltzing on the pages of the newspaper or on the computer screen. He makes writing look easy and soulful. And he makes reading him participatory. Take for instance his description of events at the Lagos home of the new Alake of Egbaland, Prince Adedotun Gbadebo. My goodness, you need not be physical present to see what happened. You need not be present to appreciate the history, politics, arts and culture, power play and human relations he witnessed.
And he tells of the Egbas — the 19th Century nation-state that have produced some of our finest citizens in the persons of Adetokunbo Ademola, Dr. M.A. Majekodunmi, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Professor Wole Soyinka, Justice George Sodeide Sowemimo, Dr. Adeoye Lambo, Mrs. Bisoye Tejuosho and Dapo Tejuosho, Olikoye Ransome-Kuti and Dr. Beko Kuti, Chief Ebenezer Obey and Chief M.K.O. Abiola.
As much as I enjoyed the article, it was what Reuben Abati said of Obasanjo that irked me. President Obasanjo is an Egba man whom Abati asserts is “the most distinguished Egba son in the 20th century.” The most what? Well, may be of Egba land. But as a Nigerian, Obasanjo has been a near total disappointment. This is not a man history and posterity would be kind to. More than anyone in the history of post-independence Nigeria, he had the chance to make all the difference; he had the chance to set the country on the right footing, but he failed. He had his chance three times; and three times he dropped the ball on his country.
When it is all done and said, when he leaves office or passes to the great beyond what will we remember or say about him? What will be on his tombstone? I know what political leeches and his professional praise singers will say. I know that. But what will honest history say about him? That he helped waged and won a civil war? Perhaps! That he voluntarily vacated the helm of state in the 1970s and conducted a national election? Well, not quite! The elections he conducted were a scam and a sham — a sham that regressed the nation for two decades.
General Obasanjo left office in 1979, not “voluntarily,” but at the nudging of the “Northern Power House.” They had just lost one of their own and they wanted back in power. So, they encouraged him to leave in order to “fulfill the promise” made by the late General Murtala Mohammed to hand over power to elected civilians in 1979. If Murtala had lived long enough and stayed in power long enough, he, like all other African military generals before him would probably have shifted the post and stayed in office longer than the promised hour. And no one would have been surprised because such precedents are commonplace in Africa
By leaving, the Northern elite told him, he would cement his place in African and global politics. He would become a statesman, a giant in African politics just like Leopold Sédar Senghor of Senegal. And so Obasanjo left. And Alhaji Shehu Shagari took over.
In the years that followed, Obasanjo’s dream of a United Nations Secretary Generalship did not pan out. His Otta farm was perhaps profitable; but what else did he have going for him? A token position here and a toke position there with Transparency International and other groups? Obasanjo was done and spent and was left to roam the wilderness until Sani Abacha brought him back to the national scene in a crude, rude and injurious manner.
To be “distinguished” is to be characterized by excellence or distinction and dignified in conduct or appearance. To be distinguished is to be “standing above others in character or attainment or reputation.” The aforesaid doesn’t fit Obasanjo and Obasanjo does not fit the bill. To be sure, Obasanjo is a better human being when compared to Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha. He is more decent; but he lacks charisma. He lacks style and grace. No traces or hints of erudition. He stumbles over words. And he is not a man that bears honest criticisms or intellectual challenges. He holds grudges. He doesn’t look like a man who watch movies or read books that matters. His demeanor and style is better suited to the barrack life not the Ivory Towers.
This is Obasanjo’s third coming as the head of government and head of state. What has he done for the country in the sphere of education, national security, power supply, health and medical services, corruption, and diversification of the economy? What has he done or is doing to make viable and independent our democratic institutions? Our public infrastructures are in a state of decay. All over the country, there is a sense of despair, resignation, fatalism, and sadness. What a waste of talent and resources!
President Olusegun Obasanjo may be the “most distinguished Egba son in the 20th century.” Dr. Reuben Abati may be right about that. I wouldn’t know. I am not an Egba man. I am an Ijaw man from Agbere and Odi deep in the grooves of the Niger Delta. But as a Nigerian, I know one thing about him: he is an average president of a nation that is well endowed and whose human and natural resources he has helped to waste and plunder. A distinguished Egba man he may be; but not a distinguished Nigerian.And even as an Egba man, I wonder what his people really, really, really think of him. Is he a source of pride…or an embarrassment? I wonder.