Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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In 2015, a big unusual political event took place in Nigeria. On 31st March 2015 as the results of the presidential election trickled in, Goodluck Jonathan, President of the Federal Republic put a phone call through to Muhammadu Buhari, his main rival in the contest. For the first time in the history of democratic Nigeria, an incumbent president conceded defeat in an electoral contest. The beauty of the Jonathan concession was that he did it even before the final vote tally was taken.
A few days after that historic event, I was watching the NTA prime time network news at nine with a very senior statesman in his house. There was Olusegun Obasanjo actively ingratiating himself to the new President-elect. The statesman looked on with evident disgust on his face. Then he exploded; “Buhari will spend the next four years trying to manage that man, Obasano.” The man knew Obasanjo intimately and proceeded to give us an insight into the former President’s capacity for mischief.
As it turned out, his prediction was only partially fulfilled. The chummy relationship we saw between Buhari and Obasano on television did not last for four years. I am not sure it lasted for two years. By January last year Obasano wrote a damning public letter to Buhari condemning in detail all activities and policies of his government.
This has been his hobby since he left government in 1979 as a military Head of State. He did it to his immediate successor, President Shehu Shagari, did it to General Muhammadu Buhari who at his prompting took power in a military coup against Shagari at the end of 1983. General Ibrahim Babangida did a lot to accommodate him but was not spared the vagaries of his tart mouth. When General Sani Abacha took over power, he thought it was business as usual and the attacks continued. But Abacha did not have Babangida’s tolerance so he roped him into a coup plot, tried him in secret and sent him to prison. Saved from the hangman’s noose after Abacha’s sudden death, he was elevated to president from prison.
But as the time worn saying goes; “old habits die hard”. On completion of his eight year term, he resumed his favorite habit of relentless attacks on his successors. He did it to President Yar’ adua even when he was terminally ill and on his death bed. President Goodluck Jonathan whom he personally hand-picked enjoyed a brief honeymoon with him before he resumed his relentless attacks. He even defected from the party, the PDP that sponsored his election at two elections where he won the presidency. This he did in a very crude manner, shredding his party card at a public meeting as television and other news media recorded in horror. He then went on to support the candidacy of Muhammadu Buhari.
In his various quarrels with those who succeeded him, Obasanjo presents himself as the model president whom they will do well to ape. As Chief Audu Ogbe former National Chairman of the PDP when Obasano was president and current National chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum noted, Obasanjo has appointed himself the supervising prefect of all Nigerian presidents and he is perpetually on tour looking for an audience here and there to lambast every sitting president. But is Obasanjo the saintly leader he claims to be?
Some of us who have lived in Nigeria under his leadership as adults from the time he was a military head of state and an elected president do not think so. In 1975, the army staged a coup to remove the government of General Yakubu Gowon. The incoming government presented General Murtala Mohammed as Head of State and Olusegun Obasano as Chief of General Staff, making him a kind of deputy to the Head of State. A few months after, a group of military upstarts attempted a coup and assassinated General Murtala Mohammed. As university students, we went on the streets protesting against the military mutineers even before the coup was foiled. It was a dangerous and reckless risk. If the mutineers had succeeded, they could have rounded and shot us.
Happily the coup was foiled and Obasanjo who took over from Murtala Mohammed promised to continue with the policies of his predecessor. We were happy, thinking that the government we loved and risked our lives in support had survived a deadly attack. Obasano was very friendly to us at first. He reduced the cost of feeding in the universities from 70k per day to 50k. We were happy. Then only after one year of the new feeding policy, he doubled it from k70 to N150 per day. We protested but Obasanjo refused listen. Then we went on strike and held public demonstrations. Obasanjo sent armed troops to the university campuses who proceeded to shoot and kill in large numbers unarmed and harmless students from Lagos to Zaria. It was the first time a Nigerian leader would order the mass massacre of university students in Nigeria. Then he purged all universities in Nigeria of the most brilliant academicians who made life very lively and intellectual pursuits stimulating in Nigeria. If anything, Obasanjo’s most prominent achievement as Military Head of State is that he destroyed university education in Nigeria.
By the time he came back as an elected President in 1999, education had been completely destroyed in Nigeria so he settled on destroying human life. He did it with relish in Oddi, a sleepy rural community in Bayelsa state. Not satisfied with wasting human life in the creeks, he moved further inland to Benue state in central Nigeria. There he found the home of General Victor Leo Malu, a man he had earlier dismissed from the army because of his opposition to Obasanjos order that he should hand over the Nigerian army to the US army. Under the pretext that his soldiers had been killed in Zakibiam, he ordered the army to invade General Malus village almost 20 kilometers from Zakibiam. The invading troops burnt the whole village, including General Malus’ 92 year old blind uncle who was thrown into a burning hut with his wife where they perished.
This much I know about Obasano and I cannot help but agree with Audu Ogbe that Obasanjo “enjoys this policy of mischief, going around and looking for audience that would applaud him saying nasty things about those who came after him.”