It was inevitable that a deluge of stirring tributes and a contagion of saccharin smiles would pervade the unveiling last weekend of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s latest monument, the Presidential Library in Abeokuta, Ogun State, to mark his “estimated” 80th birthday.
Doubtless, OBJ’s odyssey in the past sixty years is intricately woven into the nation’s own trajectory, as Acting President Yemi Osinbajo pithily observed.
But hard as family, friends and fans tried at the august occasion, the avalanche of eulogies still cannot, in all honesty, obscure certain truths. Justice is hardly done anyone desirous of fully isolating the facts and contexts of that segment of our recent history. Especially those still too young to understand things at the time of such momentous happenings.
Out of charity, let us even evade the propriety or otherwise of a sitting president literally using the incumbency factor to arm-twist state governors (as already attested to by Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti) and business tycoons into parting with a whopping N6b (then approximately $45m) for an undertaking that is entirely personal.
It is in the curious absences that day of some national figures who yet graced the fundraiser twelve years ago (and some of whose paths had also significantly crossed OBJ’s during his life journey) that some of the missing links of the said narrative will undoubtedly be found. The circumstances of their epic falling out should then offer some illumination on the other dimension of the OBJ enigma.
Clearly the most notable among the absentees last weekend was General T.Y. Danjuma. In the power triumvirate that evolved after Murtala Mohammed’s assassination in 1976, Danjuma, as Army Chief, was the third leg, the second being Musa Yar’Adua and OBJ as commander-in-chief.
Upon OBJ’s release from Abacha’s gulag in June 1998, his erstwhile Army commander was among a powerful oligarchy that offered him quick rehabilitation and virtually railroaded him back to power on May 29, 1999 as civilian president. While deploying his awesome financial war-chest ahead of the February 1999 presidential polls in support of an old comrade, Danjuma famously declared “I will go on exile if Obasanjo loses.”
At the inception of the Obasanjo administration, the Taraba-born general came out of political retirement by accepting the draft as defense minister.
But six years later, their relationship had deteriorated so irreparably that Danjuma would sensationally declare, “I will throw Daisy out of my house if she voted for a third Tterm for Obasanjo.”
As a parting shot at the twilight of OBJ’s second term in 2007, he unequivocally told an interviewer that “Aremu of Ota deserves another term in jail.”
Whatever happened to the old brotherhood, the camaraderie forged during a grisly civil war to keep Nigeria one? An account has it that after Danjuma was dropped as defense minister, OBJ rubbed salt on his wound by tampering with his Sapetro oil bloc considered the source of his fabulous wealth.
Neither lost on anyone at the launching was the absence of Abubakar Atiku. Yet Turaki Adamawa was his deputy for eight years, with their relationship particularly tumultuous from the beginning of the second term. When the going was good, OBJ used to refer to his deputy affectionately as “my hand bag”. After a long-drawn murky fight, both ended in 2007 mutually bruised with the shameful distinction of constituting what is now commonly identified as the most acrimonious presidency in Nigeria’s history.
Nor could anyone have also failed to notice Aliyu Gusau’s absence. The General had literally anchored the high-level mission that paved OBJ’s way from prison to presidency in 1999. He was named the National Security Adviser immediately Obasanjo took over. But few years down the line, the duo had become so estranged that the commander-in-chief was rumored to have resorted to offering covert support to opposition governor in Zamfara State then to whittle down Gusau’s influence at home.
We also did not sight Ibrahim Mantu at the event. At the height of OBJ’s imperial presidency, the senator from Plateau State was his key ally in the upper chamber and, as deputy senate president, widely seen as the arrowhead of the powerful lobby to ram the Third Term pill down the throats of other senators. In fond recognition of his past exploits, he was often hailed as “the magician” in OBJ’s inner cycle.
Curiously, during an outing recently, the same Mantu allowed himself to be publicly introduced and complimented as “one of the key strategists that killed Third Term” at the senate in 2006.
No less illustrious on the absentees’ list was Dr. Mike Adenuga Jnr. At the 2005 fundraiser for the Presidential Library, the Globacom boss shelled out N200m (then roughly $1.5m). The next moment, there was a rumour of some grumbling on the high table that the sum was “too small”.
Few months later, the EFCC was viciously unleashed on the businessman over what events have proved to be nothing but a witch-hunt.
Even when the dust raised by the EFCC arrest had not settled, OBJ, according to Awujale’s memoirs, still did not consider it inappropriate to invite embattled Adenuga over and, during a car ride together, allegedly asked him to donate an edifice to his private university in Ota.
Equally missing in action was Chief Tony Anenih, the now retired political godfather of Edo. At the fundraiser in 2005, Anenih topped the list of PDP bigwigs who turned up to give Baba “moral support”.
Earlier in his reign as civilian president, Anenih was the key sorcerer OBJ relied on to navigate the treacherous waters of party politics as “Mr. Fix It”. But he did not hesitate to trade in the Uromi-born chief for Atiku Abubakar to support his second term bid in 2003. He was booted out as Works minister.
After several months in the “wilderness”, the retired old cop eventually found rehabilitation as chairman of PDP’s Board of Trustees. But in his desperation to wangle for himself relevance, no matter how illicit, after his third term adventure came to grief, OBJ masterminded the change of the pre-qualification for the BoT chair in a manner that clinically stripped Anenih bare. Before the old cop could figure out the hand that dealt him the sucker punch, OBJ had been coronated PDP’s new BoT chair. Put differently, he practically “stole” Anenih’s “pot of soup” (apologies Tom Ikimi).
That marked the final dissolution of a political partnership that had weathered many dirty wars in eight heady years. Once, when Anenih was invited to lead the prayers after Umar Yar’Adua had taken over in Aso Rock and began to cut off OBJ’s apron strings, he reportedly started by beseeching God in heaven to furnish the new landlord the enablement “to clear the mess he inherited”. Of course, the missile could only be meant for OBJ. Momentarily, not a few among the supplicants present were said to have opened their eyes to exchange alarmed glances while Anenih intensified his ministration.
Trust OBJ never to allow any dart or slight pass without exacting a pound of flesh. Once Comrade Adams Oshiomhole meted a humiliating defeat to the PDP godfather in the July 14, 2012 governorship polls in Edo State, Baba would soon made a stop-over at the Government House in Benin to pat then opposition governor on the back for “a job well done”.
Truly, bizarre are the ways of the “Ebora” (strange creature) of Owuland.