Obasanjo against Abacha – How Futile and Delusional a Comparison
There is a new game in town. It is a game currently gaining currency in some Nigerian media houses and Nigerian related websites. The way I see it: it is a sickening and nauseating enterprise. Only in Nigeria would people clamor for iniquity and the hideous; only in Nigeria would people approve of evil deeds and venerate the totally deranged. What’s the sense in idolizing and clamoring for a man who took pleasure in the suffering of others? What’s the sense in comparing the rule of Abacha against Obasanjo’s leadership? What is so preferable about the late-maximum leader?
I wonder what is setting in. Why this sudden longing for General Abacha? Wasn’t this the man who deprived many a Nigerian family of their sole bread-winner? Wasn’t this man who maimed and killed some of our nation’s brightest and best citizens? Wasn’t this the man who, along with Ibrahim Babangida, was said to have institutionalized corruption, savagery, barbarism, and callousness? Wasn’t this the man who turned Nigeria into a pariah nation?
Today, some Nigerians think fondly of Abacha. Sani Abacha? Is collective amnesia setting in? Wasn’t this the man who, not too long ago, made our country a burning hell at night and a frigid wasteland in the daylight hours?
We seems to have forgotten that there was a time in our country when some men and women went into hiding and others went into exile in other to preserve their lives and their self-esteem; we have forgotten that there was a time when our dignity was taken away from us; and those who dare oppose or challenge the maximum-leader either rot in jail or rot six feet under. We seem to have forgotten what Abacha and his clique put us through.
This could be a case of collective amnesia, or, may be we are just suffering from Abachariasis or battered nation syndrome. Mental Health Care workers talk about “battered women syndrome”: when an abused woman believes that the violence against her was her fault and then places the responsibility for the violence elsewhere. Until now, I didn’t know a nation-state could suffer such a disorder. Now I know.
It has become fashionable for some Nigerians to compare President Olusegun Obasanjo against General Sani Abacha. There is no basis for comparison. Pound for pound, brawn for brawn — Obasanjo was/is a choir boy compared to Abacha. When he was a military leader, General Olusegun Obasanjo used the instrument of state to terrorize Fela Anikulapo Kuti. He used the instrument of state to punish some Media Houses. He used the instrument of state to “deal with” Chief Awolowo. Even so, how much money did Obasanjo and his cohort steal? How many people did Obasanjo execute at the Church altar? How many mothers and fathers did Obasanjo hang? How many people did Obasanjo send into exile? How many?
While General Obasanjo built gallows for his critics; but General Abacha built steel coffins and mausoleums for his victims; while General Obasanjo slapped a few people around; General Abacha chopped off their heads; and while General Obasanjo looked at his enemies in the eyes and spit in their faces; but General Abacha plucked out their eyes. How soon we forget!
It could be said that this president does not have the grace of a Bill Clinton or of a Yakubu Gowon. It could be said that this president surrounds himself (mostly) with sycophants and political vultures. It could be said that…well, still, he is not an Abacha. When it comes to managing resources and motivating people, President Obasanjo may be a laggard; but he is not incompetent. He may not be a smooth and charismatic fellow; but he is not a chameleon; he may not have a witty and free-wheeling spirit; but he does not have a callous soul. He is definitely not an Abacha by any stretch of the imagination. President Obasanjo is a better human being and a better leader.
Mr. Obasanjo, both as a military head of state and as a civilian president, is miles ahead and far better than Abacha. It is possible to teach Obasanjo to be a more efficient manager of resources; but I wonder if one could have taught Abacha how to be compassionate, less greedy, and “less thirsty for human blood.” Some people are beyond redemption, you know. Abacha was. He had no compunction and was a man without any redeeming values.
It could be said that the current government of President Olusegun Obasanjo is not taking the bold initiatives and the steps necessary for quick economic and political recovery/development. But this president is under a different set of circumstances: He has Emirs and Obis and Kings and Obas tugging at him. He has the very rich and the very poor tugging at him. He has those Parliamentarians and Party faithful and every conceivable interest groups tugging at him. Everybody wants a piece of the action and a piece of the president.
But it wasn’t so for Abacha. It is never so for dictators. When it comes to governance, dictators have an easier life. They need not consult a large group of people. They need not take peoples’ feeling and sensibility into account. They need not take ethics and morality into account. In fact, dictators like Sani Abacha do not take anything into account – save for their survival and perpetuation. They do not account for anything and are not accountable to anyone.
Dictators generally do not give a damn. But President Obasanjo does. Take a closer and careful look at the man and you will see a man who cares about his place in history.
Because Obasanjo is not Abacha – some commentators and writers do not give a damn. And so, they write all kinds of inflammables and untruths about him. They dare him. They haul personal insults at him. No one seems to be afraid of him. Democracy must be intoxicative. But weren’t we scared stiff of General Abacha? I guess some Nigerians are never satisfied unless someone is sticking it to them, beating the crap out of them and violating their constitutional rights. How times change!
The great Chinua Achebe once said there is nothing wrong with the water we drink or the air we breathe; and that our problem is primarily that of “leadership.” Well, I must disagree with this eminent Nigerian and say there is plenty wrong with the water, the air, and the land we walk on. Otherwise, why would we yearn for the same person that belittled and disparaged us, hunted and lynched us and then poisoned our humanity? Why? What hold does Abacha have on us that some of us are still awed by him? This was a man who tortured our soul!
How many Peruvians are clamoring for Alberto Fujimori? How many Chileans are romanticizing the reign of Augusto Pinochet? How many Ethiopians want Mengistu back? How many Bolivians, Ugandans, Argentines, and Haitians want their oppressors back? General Abacha extracted more blood, more sweat, and more bone-marrow from us than all of the aforementioned clowns combined. He was a master of incivility, barbarism and savagery; yet, we want him back?
We seem to have forgotten the past; and so we compare this government to the brutal regime of Abacha or the totally corrupt and manipulating regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. Even Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie is impressed with Babangida, and is awed by the kind of “leadership he provided the country during his tenure as president.” Oh, hogwash! The Pope’s emissary is unhappy with the president all because the president was “slow and unenthusiastic” in sending greetings and in paying homage? Oh, brother!
For well over 25-years we ruined our country. We abused and disrespected our legal and democratic institutions. We dismantled all the gains we made during the era of Dr. Yakubu Gowon. And now we have some dimwitted Nigerians blaming President Obasanjo for all that’s wrong with our country. The blame is not his and his alone. Most Nigerian over the age of 20 has contributed to the soiling of our country and our institutions.
In as much as I understand the anger and blame that’s being directed at Obasanjo; I can not and do not understand the current yearning for Abacha. I do not share this sickening and perverted nostalgia for a brute and a savage. I do not share their neurotic and psychotic fascination with Abacha. For Abacha was a man who dug deep and dug wide and far to bring about pain and mental anguish to anyone who crossed him. A man who scorned some of the ruling houses of Northern and Western Nigeria. He was the kind of man that would have disrespected the much respected Ahmadu Bello and the much revered Tafawa Balewa.
Abacha saw himself as a god. He behaved like a god; and gods are insatiable when it comes to power and adulation, and are megalomaniac and therefore do not tolerate opposition and rivalry. He made that known to the late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Moshood Abiola and a host of others. And so, what is this yearning all about? What is this comparison all about? The comparisons are silly, stupid and uncalled for.
If we want to look to the past for inspiration, comparisons, or nostalgia, then I would suggest we look to the glorious days of General Yakubu Gowon. Because, when it is all said and done, General Yakubu Gowon had class, had grace, and had eminence. He still does. He was a man of substance. He still is. He was bright. He was humane. And he was compassionate. He is still all that and much more!
On the other hand, General Abacha was a man of sordid and soiled past – a past that almost extinguished the humanity in us; a past that was unlike any we’ve ever experience in our young history; a past that we are yet to recover from. Therefore, his history should repulse any decent human being.
If Abacha is the good guy and Obasanjo the bad fellow, then, I shudder to think of how Nigerians will label their past leaders — most of who were nationalists, heroes, heroines and role-models: Azikiwe, Boro, Balewa, Awolowo, Mbadiwe, Mrs. Kuti, Okpara, Enahoro, Solarin, Ajuluchukwu, and others. I wonder what will become of the history of these patriots in years to come.
Look at how some Igbos are casting aspersions at Chief Odumegu Emeka Ojukwu. I was reduced to tears after I read how some Yorubas gave the great Awolowo the Baghdad treatment. It was sad. And if the indomitable Isaac Adaka Boro had lived long enough, would the Ijaws have rubbished him, too? Without these types of men and women, Nigeria would have become a vast land of emptiness: a nation devoid of culture and character, and hope.
And so I say to all those Nigerians clamoring for and comparing Obasanjo with Abacha – please stop! General Abacha does not deserve our love and regard – only our total condemnation. Obasanjo does not deserve condemnation and denigration – only our support, encouragement and proper criticism. Our personal feelings and motives aside, we cannot allow him to fail. We cannot allow our country to fall by the way-side. Therefore, do not clamor for those inglorious and ignominious years. Let us embrace this new beginning…as slow and sluggish as it might be.