The former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, is a great man from all indications. An enigma Obasanjo achieved greatness by both opportunities offered by the Nigerian peculiar politics and mother luck that always smiled at him at the right moment in the history of leadership in our great nation. As a two-time leader of the most populous black nation on earth ‘Baba’ has succeeded in writing his name in gold in the book of history. And as a statesman (sometimes misunderstood) OBJ is still a political and moral force to be reckoned with in our national life. His interventions carried weight and were widely reported and appreciated. He has as many admirers as enemies or adversaries. He is patriotic, fearless and outspoken often drawing controversy (necessary and unnecessary) to himself.
A quintessential leader, according to some of his admirers and well-wishers. And to the former Prelate, Methodist Church of Nigeria, His Eminence Dr. Sunday Mbang, the former President “is the best president Nigeria has ever had, given the enduring institutions he established.”
We beg however to disagree with the Man of God for his patronizing assessment. Pray! If ‘Baba’ was that damn good in power (armed with an unimpeachable character and stewardship) why has he not won the 5-million Dollars Mo Ibrahim Prize for Good Leadership in Africa? Why was he at odds and loggerheads with erstwhile benefactors and friends? Why was he not able to maintain a decent matrimonial family as every responsible man would?
The gospel truth is that Obasanjo is suffering from the omniscience complex. He is a man full of himself to the point of narcissism. He values and cherishes self over and above every other person(s). Some people mischievously or mistakenly see Obasanjo as a naive village man, but he is smart and ruthless when his interests matter. He outwitted opponents and applied self-preservation measures whenever he found himself in a difficult political situation.
OBJ may not be able to win any beauty contest anywhere (Mr. Nigeria for example) much like the former Senegalese President, Abdullahi Wade, but, like him, he is as fit as a fiddle. A survivalist ‘Baba’ played the politics of blood and iron, (remember the Odi massacre?) bread and butter. He knew his adversaries or enemies and went after them with a ruthless attitude of a Machiavellian. He knows Nigeria too well and exploits every opportunity to cement his legacy.
Obasanjo may be vindictive, hypocritical, meddlesome and ‘godfatheric’ in his ways and attitudes but one thing everyone agrees with is that he loves Nigeria and has indeed contributed his quota towards her unity and progress. He may not possess enough democratic credentials, but he had weathered the storm Nigerian militarily and democratically and came out unscathed. Though scandals have trailed him throughout his military and political career he has become a cat with nine lives as it were. A survivalist, the Owu Chief, has survived every battle thrown his way in and out of office. During his presidential years (1999-2007) he had established two landmark anti-graft institutions (EFCC/ICPC) that have thus far made Nigeria a better fiscal place to invest in. Love him (his methods and tactics) or loathe same OBJ soldiers on! His staying power, his fortitude, and determination to remain relevant in the scheme of things deserves to be lauded.
He turned 80 recently and marked the event with pomp and pageantry. Joining the diminishing club of octogenarians in our challenged society is not an easy achievement from every stretch of imagination. Many world leaders and dignitaries had trooped to Abeokuta to honor a man who always evoked his poor upbringing and challenges of childhood in a family of illiterates! Tributes poured in torrents as ‘Baba’ organized week-long events to celebrate and launch his presidential library. Eminent personalities including the ailing but returnee President Buhari had felicitated with OBJ @ 80 extolling his leadership virtues, landmark achievements, and patriotism.
In his characteristic candor, the chief celebrant had told Nigerians that he never knew his exact date of birth but just chose a convenient date that coincided with the birthday of his peers! Hear him: “Let me say this, I do not know the date of my birth, when I started school, we were asked to give our date of birth. I used to ask my mother; she would say ‘You were born on Ifo Market Day….She said ‘you were born on Ifo Market Day. Tell them you were born on Ifo Market Day. All that my mother, an illiterate woman, could remember was that it was an Ifo Market Day and before the people who went to the market returned, she had fallen into labor”. He confessed that he went as far as consulting an astrologer in India to ascertain the date of his birth to no avail as the astrologer failed to convince him.
During his imperial presidency (1999-2007) Obasanjo was involved in a political superiority feud with the then Vice-President Atiku Abubakar. Things went from bad to worse as mistrust set in. OBJ had accused Atiku of having some marabouts in his payroll to which Atiku hit back by saying that ‘Baba’ himself was a prominent member of some unnamed secret societies! Atiku was a desperate politician who wanted to succeed OBJ after his tenure, but Obasanjo never wanted such a man he considered corrupt and lusting for power to take power from him hence the ‘war’ of succession won by ‘Baba’ with Yar’Adua as the joker.
And during the Goodluck Jonathan presidency, Obasanjo once rose against GEJ, his ‘beloved’ godson, accusing him in a controversial hard-hitting open missive of gross incompetence, corruption and training of snipers abroad to take out the opposition! He had adviced him to quit the presidency at the expiration of his mandate exhorting the Ijaw-man to embrace a “decent descent”. GEJ, perhaps intoxicated with power, ignored the warning of the godfather to his political peril. Today GEJ has understood ‘Baba’ better; he now pays homage and ‘pilgrimage’ to his village and Abeokuta!
And following the acerbic letter to Jonathan to which GEJ responded in kind OBJ’s daughter, Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, soon joined the fray joining issues with her father by intervening forcefully in an unsparing open letter of her own. She dramatically took her father to the cleaners lambasting him for his hypocrisy, meddlesomeness and conveying a false messianic image of himself. Iyabo’s stinker was both eloquent and critical. It was scathing and impressive. In it, Iyabo had lamented the prevailing situation where competent professionals “prostrate before imbeciles and fools in power”.
And she told her father pointedly: “You are one of those petty people who think the progress and success of another takes from you. You try to overshadow everyone around you, before you and after you. You are the prototypical “Mr. Know it all”. You’ve never said “I don’t know” on any topic, ever. Of course, this means you surround yourself with idiots who will agree with you on anything and need you for financial gain , nd you need them for your insatiable ego. This your attitude is a reflection of the country. It is not certain which came first, your attitude seeping into the country’s psyche or the country accepting your irresponsible behavior for so long”.
Obasanjo’s former first wife had shocked the nation when she wrote a book about her marital relationship with ‘Baba’. In the book she narrated how OBJ was a wife beater and a bad father. Mama Iyabo confessed how she had sought the help of a ‘babalawo’ to be able to control her estranged husband and make him love her more only for Baba Iyabo beat her up the same night she administered the substance given to her by the marabout!
It is obvious that Obasanjo has made many enemies and friends in the course of his eventful adult life. These include the Ekiti rogue Governor, Ayo Fayose, the Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, Gen. TY Danjuma, Turakin Adamawa, Chief Tony Anenih and others. But the Ota farmer is neither afraid of controversy nor criticisms. Even his biological son, Gbenga, had once accused him of committing an abominable act of incest! Yet ‘Baba’ remains ever relevant in our national life. He has battled the Senate and tackled the House of Representatives calling them organized crooks!
There is still a mystery surrounding the funding of the monumental facility, the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL), the first of its kind in Africa said to be built with a whopping N6b (about $45m) . It was alleged that during the 8-year long ‘Babacracy’ OBJ blackmailed some politicians and political contractors to contribute funds for the execution of the landmark project. Governor Fayose of Ekiti is even asking for refund of his own contribution! Now as it stands ‘Baba’ needs to come clean on this allegation.
Since OBJ has confessed publicly that he never knew the exact date of his birth (due largely to understandable parental ignorance or poverty) we cannot but offer our best wishes to him @ 80! Eighty hearty cheers, therefore, to the Ota farmer, politician, social critic, author, executive letter-writer and nationalist! May your days be longer, ‘Baba’!