He is gradually becoming Nigeria’s proverbial witch that cries in the night, and the child dies the following day. His letters to sitting presidents, military or civilian, often serve as prologues to their sundown. He commands an impressive followership as well as an army of die-hard opponents. Those who claim to know him and how he played to the drums of Northern military officers after the assassination of General Murtala Muhammed in 1976 would readily describe him as timid, but in his providential comeback in 1999, he danced where even angels fear to tread.
Seen as a lackey of the North who was trusted not to bite the fingers that fed him, Obasanjo’s eight years in power as civilian president set fire in the camp of his Arewa political godfathers. By the time he was through in 2007, he had reconfigured the political dynamics of the North and turned the once peaceful Sardauna’s House into a combustible home between the ruling Hausa-Fulani class against its politically enslaved minority ethnic groups
Hate him or like him, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has become the defining political phenomenon of our nation. From Sokoto to Port Harcourt; from Maiduguri to Lagos, only the politically naïve and the undiscerning mind would underestimate the relevance of his influence. Though guilty of the country’s present predicament, Obasanjo, both in and out of uniform, has become a talisman that guides and sometimes destroys governments before or after him. More than a Nostradamus that sees through the future and predicts what tomorrow holds, Obasanjo, the Ebora Owu, is our political prophet and oracle rolled into one. In politics, he has no competitor. Endowed with amazing native intelligence on the dynamics controlling the centrifugal forces in our politics, the chicken farmer personifies the Nigerian quintessential leader.
When Obasanjo speaks or writes, everyone, especially those in the corridors of power, must pause to listen or read. Ignoring him is always at one’s distressing peril. And the consequences may be shattering for those unwilling to heed his message. The former president, who recently bagged a PhD in Theology, is an indefatigable godfather, neither wary nor weary of any fight. Against him, dogged and experienced fighters have lost battles, while those who have escaped his fangs of vengeance for disloyalty still grope in the dark, licking their wounds.
Like all mortals, the Ota Farmer has his shortcomings, but his footprints on the sands of the country’s political life bear indentations of divine conspiracy with mortality. Though passed four scores in age; the former president remains sprightly and of sound brainpower. Amidst allegations bordering on morality, nothing has diminished Baba Iyabo’s awesome status in the nation’s socio-economic and political discourse. Those who fell apart with him have bitter tales to tell. If you doubt me, ask former President Goodluck Jonathan, who forgot the source of his elevation to the nation’s top position and attempted to wrestle his ‘chi’, the Egba chief. Out of power, Jonathan is now more knowledgeable and quick to advise former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to clear with Baba and obtain his blessings before embarking on yet another presidential march.
The road to Obasanjo’s recent ‘Special Press Statement’ is fraught with patience and behind-the-scene maneuvers. For those close to Obasanjo whom the gods love to dine with, his frustration with the current government became public over a year ago. Apart from abstaining from visiting President Muhammadu Buhari for photo shots, as was his practice in the early life of this government in 2015, he had restrained himself from commenting on national issues.
When finally Obasanjo released what some describe as a blistering assessment of Buhari’s performance profile since assuming power on May 29, 2015, opinions differed both content and rationality behind the statement. While critics lampooned him for not possessing the moral high ground to excoriate the Buhari-led government, the club of wailers has warned against emphasising the messenger, rather than the message. Reading through the lengthy epistle that took the nation by storm, it was a studied silence from the seat of power that had initially said it was studying the statement before coming out with a full response.
The day after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC), the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, thanked the former president for his statement, but went ahead to reel out what he considered as highpoints of the Buhari government. Unlike Jonathan’s men who had sought to denigrate Obasanjo, Buhari’s men were smart enough to avoid opening flanks for further sparring or stone-throwing sessions.
Beyond the various issues on Obasanjo’s statement, the advice to Buhari to perish the thought of seeking re-election has also attracted varied responses. While the Catholic Bishops have called on the President to heed Obasanjo’s advice on 2019, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo explained at this year’s World Economic Forum that 2019 race is not presently Buhari’s pre-occupation. Though the Ota Farmer commended Buhari for tackling insecurity, he nevertheless warned that the rampaging footprints of murderous herdsmen in various parts of the country portend uncertainties for the country’s security.
Agitations to set up of a Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM), following Obasanjo’s condemnation of both the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), hold double-edge implications for 2019 and Nigeria’s political future, including the current clouds of economic uncertainties hovering in the nation’s skies. Calling on Nigerians not to allow politicians control the political process, the former president has urged critical stakeholders to confront challenges bedeviling their country in order to change the embarrassing narrative trailing the nation’s democracy.
Certainly, some of us may not like Obasanjo, but we can’t repudiate the enviable position he occupies in the courtyard of Nigeria’s politics. Maligning him as one bereft of morality does not destroy or obviate the truth contained in his statement. Let those who have powers to tackle the dangers of Obasanjo’s truth work hard to avert the fire next time, as we may not be so lucky to escape the wrath of power merchants plotting to either secure a fresh term of power or access the corridors of power in 2019.
Reef writes from Lagos