“Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved” (Niccolo Machiavelli).
Whether you hate him or love him you have to doff your hat to President Obasanjo. He is at once a fox and a lion: “foxy enough to recognize traps and so lionious that he frightens the wolves.” It is unfortunate that after all these years he is still not well-regarded by friends and critics who think of him as an intellectual featherweight, an opportunist, unrefined, vain and uncharismatic. Yet, he has been able to outlast and outsmart his foes and nemeses. Most are dumfounded and cannot fathom how a man like Obasanjo is able to survive and outfox even the craziest of the crazies when princes and princess were meeting their untimely demise and irrelevance. And even those who helped put him in power in 1999 are today perplexed.
On the surface, this president does not have the grace of Yakubu Gowon or the presence of Jerry Rawlings. No one I know and no one who knows him considers him witty and free-wheeling. In fact, he is bland. And in so many ways, he is a laggard who is unable to motivate the nation or his lieutenants. Other than sycophants, he has no disciples. Yet, at every turn and throughout his foray into our national life he has managed to stay relevant and central and almost indispensable especially since the war years. Leaders have come and gone, yet, Obasanjo remains. How? How is this possible? Damn, this man is good!
Can anyone think of Nigeria in the last thirty-five years or so without Obasanjo? He is the custodian of political-goodies, the man with both raw and refined power and unbridled influence. Hedrick Smith in The Power Game (1988) said, “power is the ability to make something happen or to keep it from happening. It can spring from tactical ingenuity and jugular timing, or simply from knowing more than anyone else at the critical moment of decision.” As a trained military officer, General Obasanjo clearly understood this. But unfortunately, his opponents were simply too arrogant and chesty to realize how brilliant Obasanjo was. And how brilliant he truly is! His brilliance aside, this is not a man one toy with; this is not a man who takes kindly to slights. He has a long memory.
Now, consider Obasanjo’s chess-game in relation to the followings: (1) Femi Fani-Kayode as his spokesman; (2) the dumping of and his handpicking of PDP Chairmen; (3) his flooring of Abubakar Atiku; (4) the incriminating tome he keeps on Parliamentarians; (5) the joker he played on the AD during the last election; (6) the sacking of Senate Presidents who attempted to assert their independence; (7) clipping the wings of governors who acted as gods; (8) the use of the Nigerian Police to fight his wars; and (9) his penchant for sacrificing friends whom he thinks harbor presidential ambition that might derail his third-terms ambition, i.e. General Marwa. Is Ibrahim Babangida next?
There are certain elements of the society President Obasanjo would have loved to slap around, lockup and throw away the keys. But because he couldn’t he hired rascals like Femi Fani-Kayode to heap abuses and invectives at them. At other times he simply sends the police, and some says the EFCC, to gig up dirt. In this regard, only very few men have been able to escape his wrath, i.e. Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Professors Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. Even so, this president has wronged too many people and these people are waiting in the wings to pay him back either in the period leading to the 2007 elections — when he becomes a lame-president — or in the period after he leaves office. I may be wrong on this. Gosh, I hope I am (I have on two occasions postulated that Obasanjo and his government will not survive its constitutionally allotted time).
On the international scene Obasanjo seems to be playing a very active role. He is here and there and everywhere; he is talking to this and that president and wining and dining with this and that prime minister. In other words, he is planting social capitals and favor-seeds everywhere with the hope that he’d cash it in someday. He is also very generous with our oil. You want cheap or free oil you call Abuja. You want interest-free loans you call Abuja. You want patrol cars for your police you call Abuja. Today, Obasanjo is the father-Christmas of the continent.
He is also the continent’s police man. He is the man the British, the Americans, Russians, French, Italians and Germans and the Canadians trust to quench the fire and the rumbling and grumblings in any part of the continent. He is also the fellow they trust to deliver cheap labor and cheap raw material and dumping ground for their wastes and goods. So far, he has been a good General — obeying their calls and yielding to their dictates. For that reason, they are not likely to challenge or denounce his bid for a third-term in office.
President Obasanjo has already cornered the Arewa Consultative Forum. They just don’t know it yet. Yet, some of their members are thumbing their chest and pounding the table in a very threatening manner, waiting for one of their own to assume the presidency come 2007. What a joke! It is also a joke that some of my Ndiigbo brethrens are clamoring to ascend the throne at Aso Rock. Double joke! The vast majority of the descendants of Oduduwa are not even sure of what to do, what to think or what to say. They are all confused — mouth agape and standing askance — they’ve been unable to checkmate Obasanjo. Others like the Nupe, Tivs, Ijaws and countless others are not considered ambitious and threatening in any way.
Consider the followings (as put to me by a retired government official): Would election take place if there is war in the Niger Delta? Would there be election if there are religious conflicts in the Northern part of the country? Would there be elections if there is ethnic strife in the country? Of course not! “Obasanjo is capable of fomenting all the aforementioned…if there are no elections, who succeeds Obasanjo…?” Another retired official painted the planned scenario this way:
“Obasanjo does not trust or respect all those bloody civilians. His actions will lead to grave upheavals which will encourage the military fellas to come in…the Western world won’t bat an eye so long as they continue to get their ways. Did heaven fall when the June 12th election was nullified and Abiola killed? Did the world stop functioning when General Yardua was killed? How many people went on hunger strike or called for national demonstration and campaign against the government? What did the international community do or say?”
From whichever lens one decides to examine this president — either one agrees with him or not or whether one likes him or not — one cannot but marvel at how he has been able to survive and live this long. May be we were wrong about him all along. May be he was the smartest of the pack. May be. Some considers General Theophilus Danjuma — the emperor of military coups d’etat — a genius. Others swear by the elusive maradona, the one and only IBB. Well, may be it is time we rethink that believe and give the crown to someone else as General Olusegun Obasanjo may yet be the smartest of them all…a closet genius.