In my last article on Obasanjo, I concluded there is a chance the enigma of a uniter could end up a divider of our country and an embarrassment to his Yoruba base. I still hold that prediction to be self-evident, but I am having a rethinking on some of what the president has done. A bunch of Internet commentators have agreed with me for drawing that conclusion, but there was one particular commentator, (name withheld) who has totally disagreed with me, even calling me names for always criticizing Obasanjo. I have nothing to gain from criticizing Obasanjo, but my children and I and my extended family in Nigeria have a stake in his failure or success in Nigeria. I’d rather see him succeed than fail, if I can help it. If that means criticizing him, once in a while, so be it.
As a matter of principle, I pay more attention, however, to those who disagree with me than those who do not. They may have a point I may have overlooked because what a man is seeing or saying, is often a factor of where the man may be sitting or standing. It was Professor Emeritus Harold Seidman of my alma mater who first crafted that statement in his one time best seller, titled “Politics, Position and Power” I agree with the dissenter, it is far much easier to criticize than to build. It is far much easier to destroy than to build.
Based on that prism I have forced it on myself to go back to the drawing board and to take a second look at the jigsaw of a man called Obasanjo, right from his days at the Abeokuta Baptist Boys High School where I understand he once attended with the likes of late M.K.O. Abiola and late Afolabi of Osun State. I did not stop there. I followed him through his epoch-making career in the Nigerian Military which has moved him from rag to riches, so to speak, and conferred on him, with some legitimacy, the right to be called a patriot and one of the founding fathers of our nation.
I don’t take it that it is only our post and pre Independence leaders that qualify to be called our founding fathers, because laying the foundations of a country is not something that you do in a few years. It is like running and winning a Marathon Race. You don’t win a Marathon in the first 100 yards for sure.
I did go back to Obasanjo’s activities and achievements in the Biafran War, his activities and performances as one of the hatchet men in the Murtala Mohammed Administration, decidedly the best in our history of military outfits in Nigeria. Mohammed had led the country for only 200 days, but within that period, he had set a pace and a standard in public probity that our country could not forget in a hurry. The enigma called Obasanjo had positioned himself for succession to Mohammed in a way that our brothers, to the North of the Niger, could not ignore.
He may have stepped into the vacuum left by Mohammed on a quid pro quo contract with the power brokers in the North. What is important is that he did it, and he faithfully kept his own side of the bargain, and forever put himself in the good books of the Northerners as the only southerner of consequence who can be trusted? The North was therefore willing to give to him the kind of concession and trust they could not, with any confidence, give to either Zik or Awo, regardless of their eminent qualifications to lead Nigeria. Of course they did agree to have late Zik play the role of a ceremonial President with powers to attend the funerals of some other Heads of State outside our borders, and with powers to be seen and not heard.
The North had trusted the school teacher from Bauchi more than they trusted the Ogbuefi with his chains of Degrees from God’s own country, and with his pen which was reportedly mightier than the pen in those days. They couldn’t care less about Awolowo’s degrees in Economics and Law which are, by far, the two major disciplines so critical to Politics by conventional standards elsewhere in the civilized world. In the mindset of the North, it was Obasanjo that precisely fits the bill from the South. He did attain an HND in Engineering at a time that HND was not considered as an equivalent to a University degree.
They saw him as acceptable to the North not only because his temperament suited the North. He fits their characterization of a “Babu Turenchi,” and he was one southerner who was willing to call Awolowo a tribalist to his face, and get away with it. Above all, he speaks Hausa, the Lingua Franca in the Nigerian Military till tomorrow, with the fluency of a Dan Maraya. He had not yet discovered his penchant for the orthodox evangelical obsession which makes easy for him to quote the Bible with the effortless ease of an Adejare Adeboye. If he had any strong faith at the time, he had kept it to himself. He even had the temerity as an Egba man to declare war against the Reformed Ogboni Fraternity and all secret societies in Nigeria. All those attributes had made him a gem to the Northerners who saw him as different from all the other southerners before him. To them, he was more trustworthy to be Commander-in-Chief than the late Aguiy Ironsi, the late Brigadier Ogundipe, Colonel Adeyinka Adebayo or Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu. He was their man.
He did promise he would keep the Murtala Mohammed timetable for handing over to civilians. He not only kept his words, he had created a conducive environment for his Northerner of choice to win, putting Awolowo in a quandary, so to speak. So when another chance for another southerner to be considered as Head of State, one more time in 1999, the only answer the North could find was to turn again to Obasanjo. They took him out of the Abacha Gulag to crown him king for the second time in 20 years without spending a kobo of the money they knew he did not have.
Whether you hate or like Obasanjo, the fact remains that he has got to be doing something right to have remained a constant factor in the Nigerian equation for so long. He, sure, has a point, if he now starts believing that without him, the nation cannot survive. He has a point, if he has now reached a point in his life that he is no longer afraid to really lay down his life, and to die fighting for Nigeria without any regrets. He has got as much out of Nigeria than any Nigerian dead or alive. If the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs theory is anything to go
by, Obasanjo may now be heading for the self actualization phase in his life journey. When a man reaches that phase nothing else matters. He has been anything he wants to be in Nigeria. The last thing that interests him may be second-in-command to God, if not God Himself.
I think the man really wants to follow the example of Jesus, by sacrificing himself for Nigeria and hoping that that he would be immortalized and loom larger than life in death when Nigerians look back, with less prejudice, on his legacies and records in public office, and see what a great Nigerian he has been all along.
I was compelled by the criticism of that one commentator, I hinted earlier, to go take stock of the good that Obasanjo may have done in this his second or third odyssey of leadership in Nigeria. The first thing I could see is his courageous and iron determination to reform the Nigerian Economy which is already paying off, if you are paying attention, as closely as I do. He had made a great decision when he went after the one Nigerian he firmly believed could get the job done when he settled for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Finance Minister. I can tell you Ngozi is doing a marvelous job without any question. Obasanjo has not stopped there. He had looked around and found other distinguished Nigerians like the current Governor of Central Bank, and the likes of Mrs. Akinyuli to complement Ngozi’s work as Finance Minister.
Going side by side with that observation is Obasanjo’s declared War against Corruption in Nigeria. Corruption has become a running cancer in the Nigerian political system. It is the very nerve center of our problems. Any leader who would decide to take the bull by the horn and fight it, up front, deserves our commendation and support. Obasanjo has therefore identified two of our deadliest maladies and doing something about them with the persistence of a demon, regardless of all attempts of spin masters to distract him. He may not be 100% successful, but he is giving it his best shot from all we can see.
With the possible exception of Murtala Mohammed, and Buhari, to some extent none of our political leaders at the Federal level, has done as much as Obasanjo to confront these two problems with as much fortitude as Obasanjo. Obasanjo finding a no-nonsense hatchet man like Numa Ribadu to lead the War against Corruption has been a special blessing to our country. I can tell you that no southerner, however competent and powerful, could be doing what the young man, Ribadu is doing, and still keep that job for as long as Ribadu has done. Another firebrand of a Minister is his Capital Territory Minister in Alhaji El Rufai. You could say all you want against these two Nigerians. They both constitute a round peg in a round hole in my opinion. They are doing their jobs to the best of their abilities and getting good results, which if sustained, can change our country for good.
In that context, Obasanjo is blazing a new trail that could possibly cost him his life. What is consoling, however, is that Obasanjo sees his mission as God-ordained, and he is doing it with puritanical dedication and courage, as much as humanly possible?