Stay Away From The Kitchen

by Dr. Wunmi Akintide

It is fast becoming the rule and not the exception for President Obasanjo to quickly lose his temper before television cameras, and he couldn’t care less what kind of irreparable damage that may be doing to his reputation as a leader of one of the most powerful nations in Black Africa, as well as the corporate image of negritude Nigeria around the world. I am sick to my stomach and embarrassed as a Yoruba man to recall some of the occasions when this President has totally lost his control over his temperament and has resorted to reacting to situations like a hoodlum and as if the word “diplomacy” is totally alien to him as a leader. This could sound to anybody reading this as a very harsh criticism of an individual to whom much has been given in a country of 120 million. As a Yoruba man, respect for elders is an integral part of my culture. But holding our leaders accountable is also an important part of that culture. I am therefore stating this with some trepidation and candor in the hope that either the President himself or his First Lady or somebody close to him in the chain of command would relay this to him, and let him know he has got to do something about his temper in his own interest and the interest of our nation.

Here is a man who could easily have become the Secretary-general of the United Nations instead of Butros Butros Ghali or the unflappable Kofi Annan who eventually had to take over from Ghali. Nigerians must thank God and thank IBB for scuttling that ambition. IBB one of the greatest Nigerian Diplomats of all times, had put up the appearance of supporting his candidature for that job in the public, while quietly making sure that Nigeria did not go all out to put all her bets on him where it mattered the most. Can you imagine Obasanjo with his flammable temper as Secretary-General of the World body? That would have been a disaster. I recall a recent interview conducted on Meet the Press by the great Tim Russert of NBC with the amazing Kofi Annan of the UN. The tough question was whether or not Kofi Annan had considered a conflict of interest to let his son handle a contract in which the UN was a major partner. Kofi’s answer was as diplomatic and thoughtful as any intelligent Head of Government would have given under similar circumstance. Only God can tell how our own Obasanjo would have answered that kind of question. Tim Russert could possibly have gotten a black eye for daring to ask Obasanjo such a question, if his legendary temperament is anything to go by.

Here is a man who in 1999 had dodged debating a worthy opponent in Olu Falae whose performance in such a Debate would have forcefully reminded Obasanjo that losing your temper in the public and political domain belittles your image as a leader, and sells your country short. He had repeated the same scenario in 2003, refusing to debate Mohammed Buhari or Emeka Ojukwu, Gani Fawehinmi and Balarabe Musa, all of whom would have cut him down to size on the issues, and letting the nation see him for what he truly is as a leader Here is a man who has been the major stumbling block to the general consensus in Nigeria to hold a sovereign national conference to reappraise the Nigerian situation, and where we are, and where we are headed. Such a confab would have revisited the inequity of the 1999 Constitution, and all its silly presumptions about the bloated population figures of many states in our country. A population census that puts more people in Kano and says that Kano City, as an entity, is more densely populated than Lagos City has to be seen as an exercise in abracadabra that only naïve leaders like Obasanjo can condone, and wants the entire country to accept as the basis for sharing the national cake. That is so, because Obasanjo does not want to ruffle some feathers or disrupt the false notion of the North claiming to be the senior partner in the Nigerian volatile union based on higher population. The notion that the coastal belt is less populated than the arid region to the north of the coastal belt defies every known rule of demography any where in the world. Sooner or later that inequity has got to be addressed, if not by our own generation, but surely by the generation of our children like has happened in Yugoslavia after Josep Tito.

Obasanjo always seems to forget that he is no longer in the Military, and that he is a long, long way from the days when the military in Nigeria used to behave like tin gods, intimidating poor civilians and treating them like people in bondage. I see his response to a simple question from, Rev. Yakubu Pam, the Chairman of CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria) in Plateau state in that light. The Reverend’s very legitimate question was merely asking why the President had failed to show the same kind of concern he was then showing, when over 40 Christians were massacred in Yelwa in February. The President immediately lost his cool, telling the chairman he was talking absolute rubbish and questioning his judgment to ask such a question. He did not stop there. He went on to add the mother of all insults when he openly told the Reverend he was an idiot. When you call somebody an idiot, the subtle presumption is the belief that you are different. My question here is to ask if any one believes that Obasanjo is truly different. I leave you to answer that as you please. A ten year old child who uses that kind of language in an argument, would rightly have been scolded, talk less of a whole Head of State. The President did not stop there. He went on to add he couldn’t care less about what the Christians, who are no less than 40 per cent of the total population of his country today, feels about the man’s question. It was a show of shame that was enough to tarnish or bring down a President in a civilized society, else where around the world. Answers by presidential candidates in debates in such countries, have been known, in the past, to determine the fate of candidates in elections in some of those countries. I recall President Gerald Ford once admitting , in an answer to a question, that the Soviet Union, in his own opinion, did not dominate Eastern Europe. It was the beginning of the end for his presidential bid in that election. So Obasanjo insulting the whole body of Christians in Nigeria could be interpreted as a more egregious offense, if you ask me. He ought to be more careful and sensitive in reacting to situations. No wonder. Somebody once alleged himself and his Vice almost reached the point of exchanging blows over an argument. How long is Nigeria going to stomach that?

It is becoming a pattern for Obasanjo to get away with total disrespect to we the people in the way and manner he runs our country,, what he says and how he says them. The nation has to show her revulsion, if we want him to stop doing so, time and again. If it is any Muslim President of Nigeria that has insulted Christians like that, many would be calling for a reprisal of sorts against such a president. I join thousands of Nigerians who condemn Obasanjo’ flammable temperament and demand an apology from him. We expect him to show more contrition than the one displayed in his open letter to the Christian Association of Nigeria after the fact. He may be a self confessed born again Christian. Even the great Pastor Adeboye would tell him he has overstepped his boundary and crossed the line of decency and civility by descending so low from his Olympia height, to start using the language of a guttersnipe. We think our President should be not just an image maker, he ought to behave better than that. I give kudos to Rev. Yakubu Pam for restraining himself by not paying the President back in his own coins, by using the same foul language. This President is taking a lot of risk and dragging Nigeria’s name and reputation in the mud by behaving that way. I don’t care what anyone may say. Obasanjo is an adult who should know better. The Reverend reserves the right to ask the President that question. Obasanjo dares not insult any Nigerian Muslim the same way, no matter the level of provocation. He knows there will be a sure price to pay, if he does. That is the plain truth.

A case in point to prove the double standard of Obasanjo, is the Federal Government decision to withhold Local Government funding to a few states in the North and Lagos State, in particular, because the Lagos State Government has created 37 additional Local Government to her existing 20, based on population. Most of the other states that have carried out the same exercise have done so, not so much because of population explosion in their States. They have done so to get a bigger slice of the national pie. If Kano State alone which is much less in population than Lagos State, is given over 44 Local Governments ,to begin with, and an additional 22 after Jigawa State was created out of the old Kano, how could any fair-minded President fault Lagos State for creating more local Governments to effectively service her own people? The bow legged man or the hunch back was once asked how come his gait appears so crooked. He answered back, “can’t you see crookedness begins from the ground” The Military imposed 1999 Constitution which has given legitimacy to a bloated population census in many parts of Nigeria, but more so in places like Kano, in particular, is what is now causing these problems. Nigeria is beginning to witness the fact that our bloated population census figure which have all been skewed to favor the North more than the South, has now begun to haunt us, all over again. Once upon a time in the old Ondo State where I come from, Ikere Ekiti was once projected as having a higher population than Akure or any of the major towns like Owo, Ado Ekiti and Ondo. By that calculus and based on her inflated population figure in that particular census Ikere Ekiti wanted to be drawing more funds, and asking for a whole Local Government to be created for Ikere township alone. It took some time, courage and leadership to put Ikere back into her place. The issue of census is too serious a subject for any rational and fair-minded President to take lightly like Obasanjo is doing. If Obasanjo wants every household to be made a Local Government in Kano or else where, he should be man enough to apply the same magic formula in the South is all I am saying in this submission.

Based on that Census, Kano now believes it is the most populated city in Nigeria, and that it is twice as big as Lagos, if not more. All Nigerians including our President know that to be false, but are probably too scared to rock the boat by telling the truth. The Lagos State Governor knows how many mouths he is feeding, and he knows what the rest of us know, that somebody has to take the bull by he horn, and tell the truth. But our President who is willing to continue to live by the status quo ante bellum for his own sake, is telling Lagos State and other States contemplating similar exercise that they cannot do so because the ugly 1999 Constitution does not permit them. What a stupid logic? The 1999 Constitution was made by man and can be repealed or modified by man, if Obasanjo would let that happen. The brouhaha would have been a lot more deadly, if the President’s Party is not now controlling the great majority of the 36 States of Nigeria. The simple question asked by the CAN Chairman in Plateau goes deeper into the heart of that problem, if you can read between lines.

That question is symptomatic of the larger problem which is being swept under the carpet by successive Federal Governments in Nigeria including the current one headed by the only southerner to ever win a democratically conducted elections in our country two times in a row regardless of all the allegations of rigging. Those who say that Nigeria has a become a time bomb which is sure to explode, any time, are right to say that, because of this and other pertinent observations which the future generation of Nigerians cannot continue to suppress. You can stretch the same argument to account for why Ndigbos as a group are being denied their chance to produce a President in Nigeria, more than thirty years after the Biafran War. The observation is based on an unwritten rule that must be revoked immediately if our fragile union is to survive. There lies the merit of the Reverend’s question to Mr. President who has decided to answer back, by throwing brickbats, while refusing to answer the question.

I can assure the President that many more questions like that are likely to come up, time and again, in the future, when the President visits places like Britain and America where people are more free to express their viewpoint, without let or hindrance, as enshrined in our plagiarized Constitution. Some day, President Obasanjo may have to have a one hour chat on television with Bob Schieffer of CBS, or Charlie Rose or Tim Russert or Chris Matthew or Dan Rather or Larry King or Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings or Brit Hume or Ted Koppell. That will be the day, as the great President Mandela had found out when he was once interviewed by Ted Koppel on Night Line, following his “Thank you” tour of the United States, after his release from prison. I remember the interview as if it were yesterday. Ted Koppell, one of the best and the brightest in the business in America, had questioned Mandela’ motive in his friendship with communists or dictators like Fidel Castro or Moammar Ghadafi at the time. Rather than Mandela losing his cool like Obasanjo would have done, he simply gave Ted Kopell an ear full of an answer in a lucid language and with his characteristic penchant for candor, but without pulling punches. He had brilliantly told Ted Koppell that America must not, and could not decide for South Africa who her friend must be, and that the enemy of America is not necessarily the enemy of South Africa. It was Mandela’s finest moment on that trip, and the world did not fail to take notice that Madiba Nelson Mandela was a breed apart among African leaders. Obasanjo would do well to go understudy that giant of Africa who has made South Africa a case study in good, responsible and stable Government, and how to leave a legacy of inspiring leadership and how to transfer a stable Government from one leader to another. Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki have today proved by their record in South Africa that Africa has indeed come of age. Obasanjo was expected to lay that kind of foundation for Nigeria, but he is busy losing his temper and throwing brickbats.

The bad temper and road rage being displayed by Obasanjo from time to time, is unbecoming of a good leader in a democratic system of Government. Only God can tell what Obasanjo would do, if he is smeared with a broken egg on his dress like the British Prime Minister or any European or American leader has had to encounter from time to time. I recall Obafemi Awolowo one of our best politicians telling Nigerians it goes with the territory for politicians to be insulted and humiliated by politicians and citizens from the opposing camp. He actually once told a political rally his middle name had been changed to “Ebudola” meaning Criticism and insults have become a badge of honor. Our greatest generation of pre-independence leaders in Nigeria did not fight back like Obasanjo is doing at every opportunity. They absorbed the insults or found some ways to deflect them, and to move on, without losing their focus. Sardauna Bello, Ogbuefi Nnamdi Azikwe, Tafawa Balewa, and Shehu Shagari all had to live with those kinds of questions without ever losing their decorum. I recall Obasanjo, like a village Headmaster of old, taking up the whip and openly thrashing an overzealous police man before television cameras in Nigeria, all in an effort to prove he was in charge and could feel the pains of some of his subjects. I wonder what would have happened if that police man, in a feat of rage, like his President, had turned on the President giving him a dirty slap? Obasanjo had gone far too far by behaving that way, and he may be stretching his luck too thin. He similarly had displayed that crude behavior again during the explosion tragedy at the Ikeja Cantonment in Lagos which had killed hundreds of people. The President had the temerity to tell the victims, on that occasion, to “shut up”. He then went on to lecture them, he did not have to be there to begin with. You compare that with the leadership shown by Mayor Rudolf Guilliani in the early hours of 9/11 during the attack on the twin towers, you can clearly tell the difference between two leaders with the same obligations and mandate., but a completely different approach and personality. Obasanjo now has every reason to be concerned about his temper and his intemperate language at all times, and so should we.

I dey kampe! I believe I can say that because I am not a President. How about that? You have a good Day.

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timogose April 6, 2005 - 11:15 am

Well said though I expected this much earlier!

If we dont have a National Conference (sovereign or not) to discuss the anomalies of our federation, and the politicians maintain the status quo (PDP hopes to rig, sorry rule for the next twenty years), then be sure that the Military will come back someday.

Allison Unongo January 1, 1970 - 12:00 am

In Lagos, the streets are dark, largely empty and dangerous at night. We buy water from tankers.Yet the World Bank financed a water program for Lagos in 1988. Massive 3feet diameter water pipes lie rusting underground. The ex-GM of the Water Corporation owns one of Lagos’ largest residences. On the same street as the Canadian and Swiss Embassies. To continue his exemplary good works, he has now been appointed Director of the State bank. These concern me more than Obasanjo’s tantrums

Paul Stannack January 1, 1970 - 12:00 am

It is the brown-envelope media and its choice of issues. The Lagos governor himself took advantage of the 1999 constitution’s immunity from prosecution when it was discovered that he had forged University certificates. Benin, next to Nigeria derives 99% of its $400m national budget from its seaport, because we import cars etc through Cotonou and then smuggle it into Nigeria. Result ? Its 5m people now enjoy a higher living standard than Nigeria’s 130m. Is that Obasanjo’s fault ?

Allison Unongo January 1, 1970 - 12:00 am

Mandela, Mbeki ? They are reaping where they did not sow. South Africa’s prosperous, organised, First World economy owes nothing to our genius as black people. And I doubt if we could ever improve it. I do see however, the great genius Mugabe has applied to Zimbabwe. If either of these two had half Obasanjo’s dilemmas they will go berserk.


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