Who Will “History” Honor?

by Michael Oluwagbemi II

The press had to take the lecture once again from that braggadocio. Obasanjo, waxing philosophical at a wuru-wuru “honor” ceremony held by his political godson (the Governor of his home state) in his honor declared that Nigerians are ingrates. He pilloried the press for sowing the embers of discord between the people and their leaders. No one was spared of his usual oral diarrhea save his bootlickers and cheering crowd. To the rest of his critics, he felt betrayed. I feel Obasanjo. Even he knows that rubbish honor, “father of primitive Nigeria” or whatever is called, do not actually hold water.

Obasanjo by virtue of history and opportunity should stand tall among all Nigerian past leaders if he did right by the people. Here is a man, even if symbolically, can be compared to America’s Ulysses Grant. Obasanjo like Grant obtained the instruments of victory from secessionists that threatened the territorial integrity of their respective nations. Grant won victory after repeated and fatal loses by many Federal Generals to the indomitable secessionist south. Obasanjo snatched victory at Biafra after a long fratricide claimed the lives of our compatriots on both sides of the conflict.

Coincidentally, the same disgraced, sordid record that muddied up Grant’s standing in history also stood between Obasanjo and posterity. Grant like Obasanjo emerged president after his Civil war heroism. But he was notoriously corrupt and asleep in the wheels; conscripting him eternally to the pantheons of those great warriors but mediocre leaders. Today, if you skip the American civil war years you will hardly know who the man Ulysses Grant was. He is better known as a General than a president of one of the greatest edifice created on earth by mankind: the United States of America. In fact, put the words “Grant” and “Corruption” in Google search engine and see what comes up!

Obasanjo recently confirmed his miserable position in history, when he made comments at a third rate ceremony to the effect that history will judge him. Press stories even had it that one of such event was intermittently punctured by series of power seizures! Such is the validation of history! Obasanjo should not and cannot rely on history for vindication. For history cannot be kinder to any man in the world than him. At every point, he had numerous chances to mould Nigeria. Obasanjo than any leader could have invested in the people of Nigeria ; probably greater than Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikwe, Tafawa Balewa, MKO Abiola or Tai Solarin could.

The man Obasanjo, like Ulysses Grant, became a tragic and comedic character of history: men better laughed at than being found worthy of our collective sympathy. For pray tell, why one whose first adventure in the halls of power was heralded by an honorable step down (no matter how contentious) which turned him to an instant international hero, be contented with being a local champion? Ogun state award ceremony my feet! Not even the collective Yoruba nation found it worthy to honor their “son” like they did Pa Awo? Even if his PDP clowns put one up, only the fat rats and cats will find it pleasurable to be found in such filthy assembly! Here he is suffering the repercussion of his last act debauchery – massive rigging – and alienated from the international stage he craved and nurtured (and probably over did) in his heydays.

But I would not have done justice to this piece if I do not draw a parallel between the paradox of the state of existence or inexistence of this tragic character and the conscience of our nation. For, having spent the past week in the national capital of the United States, first built like ours in the middle of no where, I cannot but ask who will be remembered as the true architects of our nation. Forget that dubious ceremony, where your baba was crowned by his committee of infantile sycophants as some father of a primitive nation. I am here talking real business, not comedy.

In Washington DC, there are monuments and memorials. The memorials like the Vietnam or World War II memorial remember the nation’s tragedies or triumphs, while the monuments and some memorials honor the nation’s heroes. But the definition of heroes who find themselves remembered in the historic National Mall is not to be taken for granted. Not all Presidents are honored here; in fact, specifically Ulysses Grant has no memorial there. Even some “great Americans” like Benjamin Franklin or Teddy do not have a monument of their own here either. The monuments honor those who more than others have contributed immensely to the character that have shaped the American Conscience, Society and Government. That threshold of contribution eliminated even the second President, John Adams and perhaps the likes of Madison, Monroe and Jackson.

In place at the National Mall are icons like Thomas Jefferson whose memorial stood as a testimony to a philosophy of liberty (albeit how narrowly defined in the mind of Thomas) but whose elucidation came in handy years later for another man whose monument would soon stand in place at the same strip of priceless real estate: Martin Luther King Jr. Thomas Jefferson crafted the declaration of independence; he was also the founder of one of the pioneer truly American university i.e. the University of Virginia. His love for education, science and technology was ahead of his time. But above all this, it was exposition of the divine equality and ideal liberty of mankind that was ahead of his time. Borrowing heavily from philosophers of his time, he gave an American character to many foreign thoughts and to him the nation remains eternally grateful.

On the same strip you will find Lincoln. The contribution of the greatest American president that ever lived can also be tied in to the concept of Liberty and Freedom. Fighting to keep the nation one, and in the process taking the first step to realizing Jefferson’s dream of a nation where all men are born equal and where all citizens are treated equally, Lincoln expanded the boundaries of freedom in America. He fought the Slave South, abolished the slave trade, begun the movement towards granting citizenship to freed slaves and accelerated the concept of freedom many light years ahead of the likes of his immediate predecessor or successor who for all I care most of us do not know today by name even though they equally lounged and dined in the White House!

The end game of Jefferson’s elucidation and Lincoln’s action was fulfilled some one hundred and fifty years later when a man of great character, a black man, arose to the occasion. Drawing from the inspiration of Jefferson’s words and Lincoln’s action, MLK promised to lead America to the Promised Land. Like Lincoln, he paid the supreme price. But him though, not his detractors or killers, will soon occupy this priceless strip of eternal remembrance. For as long there is a nation called America, history will not forget Jefferson noble words, or Lincoln’s courageous actions. Neither will it vanquish Martin Luther King’s pivotal leadership in navigating America’s dead and corrupted soul to the promise land. Of course, FDR and George Washington’s memorials also stand tall in the National Mall where their immense contribution to the making and re-making of the American nation is forever remembered. Can we say the same of OBJ?

Who will occupy Nigeria’s own national mall? Who are the true heroes of the Nigerian nation? Who more than any contributed to the character of our nation? Are we talking here of a Herbert Macaulay? Will the first President like his American counterpart be remembered? Will Pa Awo – a major contributor to human capital development in our nation be found worthy of being an occupant of our own national mall? Will MKO and Kudirat Abiola’s courage be remembered? Will Tai Solarin or even a Fela Anikulapo Kuti be the MLK of our national strip? How about Balewa’s humility? How about Gowon’s tenacity? This much I can tell you though – if we are honest with ourselves – there will never be an IBB, Abacha or Obasanjo on that future strip because their roles are better consigned to the dustbin of history where charlatans and mediocre leaders are best remembered. Heroes are not perfect; we do not expect them to be. But the minimum we expect is that they contribute, shut up, and let the rest of us judge whether they did a very good job worth remembering at all!

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Michael September 7, 2007 - 4:49 pm

This article should be on the front page of every Nigerian (albeit African) Newspapers so that OBJ can read it and shut the heck up! (Then again that illiterate might just not read it).

Thanks for the intriguing piece!

Godwin Kwushue September 4, 2007 - 1:44 am

Worthy Nigerian your have done justice to this topic, it cannot be better said. The non performance of recent rulers has turned villified leader of yester years to todays heros amongts whom General Yakubu Gowon and Great Awo are numbered

Nice juxtaposition, appropriate parallels. Let this offer be your benchmark, more grease to your elbow brother.


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