The President, The Colonel, And The Columnist

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

There was so much hoopla surrounding Colonel Abubakar Umar’s letter to President Obasanjo that I had to read the letter in its entirety – twice! After which I said to my self, as did Roger Shattuck, in Candor and Perversion: “Everything has been said. But nobody listens. Therefore it has to be said all over again– only better.” In other words, there was nothing new in Umar’s open letter. Every single one of his misgivings and complains, truths, observations, insults, exasperations, and disappointments have been written about time and time again.

The only difference was that all these were being brought to us by the well-regarded Colonel Umar. And Reuben Abati — considered by Dr. Wunmi Akintide and a host of others, including this writer, as the “barometer, or the gold standard in good and fearless commentary on Nigeria” today – thought it necessary to analyze the Colonel’s speech. And in so doing, advised President Obasanjo to be careful of the “thunderstorm that comes after rainfall,” and to also “pray for the protection of the thunderstorm!” Only this time, I disagree with some of the alluded import and implication of Colonel Umar’s letter as dissected in Dr. Abati’s commentary.

Simply put: I do not see the early stages of a tsunami; neither do I hear the fear-inducing whistle of a tornado or the roaring sounds of thunder. There is nothing in the eye of the storm; therefore, this noise and commotion too shall come to zilch!

I like Colonel Abubakar Umar. He is different, and a better “officer and a gentleman.” I am not sure I have read him until now; but I find his Obasanjo piece well thought out and well constructed. There is fire in his belly. He feels wounded. He feels for the country and he’s passionate about his convictions; yet, did not come across as the kind of man who kept pounding the table and the keyboard (in anger) as he wrote. If nothing else – his piece made Nigerians take note of Obasanjo’s stewardship and the state of the nation, and also allowed us a window into what the elites in the Northern part of Nigeria are thinking about.

Colonel Umar may not have sought anyone’s permission in penning and displaying the letter, but he certainly knew what is going on in the “mind and psyche of the North” – which is exactly what we have in that exposition: a pervasive disaffection with Obasanjo. Fortunately or unfortunately, the elites in the East and the West also feel the same way about the president. But here is the caveat: because of greed, selfishness, and competing interests nobody wants to take on Obasanjo. For they all know who butters their bread; this in addition to knowing (that) to take on this President is to self-destruct.

General Gowon was slightly a sinner but mostly a saint; General Babangida was a “sweet-talker,” a schemer who knew when to let you go and when to hang you high and dry; General Sani Abacha was a brute without style or substance and didn’t know how to protect his flanks. President Obasanjo on the other hand, is the grandmaster. How do you suppose he was able to remain relevant and almost indispensable in our national affairs since the war years? Can anyone think of Nigeria, in the last thirty years or so, without Olusegun Obasanjo? He is the custodian of political-goodies; he is the man with both raw and refined power and unbridled influence. Hedrick Smith in The Power Game (1988) allowed, “…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, President Obasanjo clearly understood this. This is not a man one toy with. And I am sure the Colonel and his friends know this.

Without speaking to a specific region or people, this is what Nigeria boils down to: ethnic or regional self-interest, self-preservation and self-perpetuity. No one cares about Nigeria as a whole; no one cares about ideals and ideals. Some ethnic groups believe and behave as though other groups don’t amount to anything. Tell me: what does the Hausa/Fulani think of the Igbos? What do the Yorubas think of their Northern brethren?

The Hausa/Fulanis complain when they feel they are being left out of the loop; they also complain when they think their share of the pie is getting smaller. They whine. They complain; and accuse Obasanjo of being an ingrate and a disappointment. The Igbos do the same thing: They whine and they let the world know that they are being abandoned by Obasanjo. For the Igbos, the buzz word is now marginalization. Instead of acting as a cohesive unit, they fight amongst themselves; and some even go as far as pitting their tents in the “alien” camp so they don’t appear “tribalistic.” In their free time, some berates their national hero, Chief Emeka Odumegu Ojukwu. Today, they have another shinning star in the person of Governor Orji Kalu. They may chop him down tomorrow…politically speaking! Could it be that the Igbos have “Germanic complex”?

President Obasanjo is now everybody’s punching bag. Even some of his own people would rather send him into exile than have him around. But they lack the temerity and the impudence to do so. Well, not only that; they know he is the man for all hours. His heart may be elsewhere, but his home is in their homes. He has done more for them than any other person save for the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo who did more for Nigeria and the Yoruba nation and was the most important Nigerian public servant in the history of Nigeria!

I am not terrible concerned about the significance or implication of Colonel Umar’s letter. Self-interest and self-preservation is of utmost concern to all parties involved (privately or publicly). Soon, very soon, we are going to witness the “aggrieved” or those with “grievances” cozying and making up with the President by either (1) paying courtesy call to, or meet with OBJ at a mutually agreed place; (2) be told, “Oh, the President and Colonel Umar are friends and have mutual respect for one another”; and that it was all a mistake, a misunderstanding and miscommunication of some sort; and (4) blame the Media for blowing the matter out of proportion. In no time every one will forget this public spat, this “family affair” ever took place!

This president will survive. How did he survive Abacha? The story would be told someday by someone else. Overall, this is a man who gets the better of his enemies and would-be executioners at every turn by being smart and by being forward-looking, and by making them desire what they otherwise shouldn’t have and by giving them what they need. The closest to OBJ is IBB. And IBB have present wahala and future tribulations to contend with.

We have a corrupt country and a very corrupt group of ruling elite. From Maiduguri to Bauchi to Markurdi and Ilorin down to Enugu, Port Harcourt, Akure, and Ikeja – these elites wants more and more of everything. And in their decadent pursuit of power, influence and money, they want a certain amount of order, stability and predictability. This is what President Olusegun Obasanjo can give and has been giving them. And because everybody knows who, when and how their bread gets buttered – they will “take it easy” on the president. Therefore, Colonel Abubakar Umar’s letter is not likely to have the “intended consequences.” Like I said — it is all about self-interest, self-preservation and continuity. The columnist knows this very well!

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1 comment

Nathaniel Oriasotie April 3, 2005 - 8:06 am

I like what you wrote. However, I am unable to deduce your stance on the issue. Which sides are you; obasanjo’s or umar’s? Only then can we really say whether you are a Nigerian or a pathetic observer of the Nigeria nation.


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