Obasanjo and His Political Children

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It was a night of nostalgia when those who worked with former President Olusegun Obasanjo came together in Lagos to celebrate his 80th birthday, Segun James was there and files this report

There is a saying that old soldiers never die, they just fade away. But old weapons, on the other hand, hang around stubbornly. This may not adequately sums up Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who has refused to fade away unlike his many contemporaries, he has continued to hang on stubbornly on the political turf of the nation.

It was not the smoothest of starts, but for the gathering of some of the political associates of the former president who gathered under the aegis of Political Children of Obasanjo (PCO), to celebrate the 80th birthday of the cerebral and iconic leader. But beyond this, it was the first signal that the Obasanjo political children are about to storm the polity and stamp their political stage with their imprint.

The past few weeks have witness a flurry of political activities, one of which is the gathering of those at one time or the other worked with Obasanjo.

Under the administration of former president Goodluck Jonathan, the Obasanjo dynasty saw its influence diminished with many of his followers flung out of the political arena and into the cold. However, the 2015 presidential election provided Obasanjo with an opportunity to strike back. The rest today is history. Jonathan’s defeat helped Obasanjo and some of his associates to bounce back into relevance in the political arena. While some of the young people who worked with him in the past are still hoping that the man who had been commander-in-chief twice could still help them land a big political job, they are also quite happy to celebrate him. In a country like Nigeria, the influence of a general whose political sagacity has seen him wielding and playing important role in the political affairs of the country in the last 50 years matters a lot.

There is perhaps something that can be said of Obasanjo: even his enemies agree that he is divinely endowed with “native intelligence” which has come handy at critical period in our peculiar political terrain.

Amidst an outpouring of commendations from some of these political children as they like to call themselves, Obasanjo disclosed how the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC under Malam Nuhu Ribadu probed him and unearthed a foreign account long used by his late wife, Stella Obasanjo. Obasanjo said the account which was opened by the late Stella in her maiden name before they got married was the nearest to what the former EFCC chairman, Ribadu could find against him just after he had been appointed by him. He said he did not operate a foreign account.

The associates of the former president who also converged as “Learners of the Olusegun Obasanjo School of Nigerian Politics” included former office holders in the Obasanjo administration and some of the country’s leading names in the economy.

As the get together commenced at 8.00 p.m. a jovial Obasanjo, who moved around the hall for a handshake with everyone present! charged his political disciples to make it a hearty evening and make it “a reunion, of reminiscences that will make us laugh, laugh and laugh.”

Among those present were Otunba Gbenga Daniel, former Governor of Ogun State, Prince Olangusoye Oyinola, former governor of Osun State, Otunba Oyewole Fasawe, Dr. (Mrs.) Dere Awosika, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, Mr. Akin Osuntokun, Mallam Uba Sani, Dr. Doyin Okupe, Mr. Tonye Cole, Mr. Aigboje Aik-Imoukhuede, Senator Kola Bajumo, Mallam Yayale Ahmed, Otunba Fasawe to mention just a few.

Some of the political disciples took turns in praising Obasanjo’s political steadfastness in the line of duty. Mrs. Awosika particularly praised Obasanjo’s reputation in the international community. She said that there was no better way to market a country than through a leader respected by the international community.

“I travelled with Baba several times and I can tell you that he was well respected and courted everywhere.”

According to her, only two things matter to Baba as he is fondly called; God and Nigeria. “In his service to God and to his country, Baba would not allow anything to stand on his way, not even his family,” she added.

After the words of commendation Obasanjo flanked by his wife, Bola and associates, cut a birthday cake.

It was a night to also remember his days in office. One of the stories that the president told was about the ignoble arrest of a former Inspector General of Police and the way he was disgraced on the streets by agents of the EFCC.

Twelve years after forcefully retiring Mr. Tafa Balogun as the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Obasanjo disclosed that two independent security reports had indicted the former police chief of massive corruption unbecoming of anyone in that position.

Obasanjo said that a first report by the State Security Service (SSS) has alleged that the IGP’s hands were not clean.

Obasanjo said that he was so alarmed that he called the police chief to the State House and warned him about the indicting reports about his activities and asked him to make amend. He however said that not surprisingly Balogun denied it, and continued in his ways.

A few months later, another report, this time by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) not only detailed the alleged corrupt activity of the IGP but that it had continued unabated and without any form of care.

“I called him and said Tafa, why do you have to destroy your name and career even though you will forever enjoy your privilege and salary as a former IGP for life?”

He also narrated how Ribadu threatened to arrest him at the State House. He said, “I told him that if he arrested him there, they will say it is Obasanjo who ordered his arrest.”

According to him, on the particular day, Balogun was at the Aso Villa to see him and the chairman of the EFCC, Ribadu was around and was threatening to arrest the Inspector General of Police right there in the Villa that was when he (Obasanjo) decided to ask for the IGP’s resignation, effective immediately.

He said that while he asked the EFCC not to arrest him at the Villa, Ribadu threatened to arrest the man outside the gates of the presidential abode.

According to him, it was at the point he asked Balogun to immediately tender his resignation or be fired. “I had a hunch that Nuhu may leak the report to the press as he was close to them. I immediately called Balogun to give his letter of resignation. I told him if i don’t get the letter in 30 minutes, I will dismiss you.”

Obasanjo also spoke about how to make the country great. According to him, we have to continue to do the right thing. Even if the policy was introduced by your predecessors as long as it is a good policy for the development of the country, it should be sustained. This, he said was the secret of countries that achieved development.

Obasanjo who was so happy to see the gathering of his former “boys”, asked everyone to be less former and have fun as the gathering was a reunion of some sort and an opportunity to reminiscing on old times.

He told them that those who worked with him should feel free to tell him if he had at one time or the other stepped on their toes to and that he would promptly apologise if it was true, but if it was not “I will step on it further and even hard.”

The former president who was full of praises for his political children, said that he was proud of them and is proud to call them his political children.

Eulogising the former president whom he said was the most detribalised leader that the country has ever had, one who never sorrunded himself with people from his ethnic nationality as other leaders do, Uba Sani also stated that Obasanjo was equally the most misunderstood leader even though he ended up being the most constructive Nigerian leader ever.

Sani said the president would listen to you no matter how young you are. He cited an experience when the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi abused the Obasanjo government. Sani said: ” Baba called me and said, we must respond to Gani and I said, Baba, Gani fought for democracy we are all enjoying today, don’t lest us say anything. And Baba said; ‘Sani, don’t say anything’.”

Speaking in the same vein, Dr. Doyin Okupe disclosed that at every opportunity, Obasanjo is always having good intention for the country.

He stated that even though the former president was the oldest member of his team, he was the most energetic even as the younger men had to struggle to meet up with his schedules.

An enthusiastic Okupe told the former president: “History is going to be positive on you for what you have done for Nigeria and Africa.”

According to him, Obasanjo is the real bad guy. He said: “He is full of energy, he is witty, he is sharp. If you don’t prepare yourself for a meeting with him, he will mess you up.”

Also speaking, Ribadu admitted that whatever he achieved was done through the effort of Obasanjo. “I would not have been what I am today without Baba.” He stressed.

He said that the gathering was to thank Obasanjo for what he had done for his “children”, while also pledging continued loyalty to the former president.

Ahmed Yayale described Obasanjo as a teacher. He said anytime he was going to see him, he always prepared himself for schooling. He thanked the former president on behalf of everyone who had at one time or the other worked with Obasanjo.

For Otunba Gbenga Daniel, who claimed to be Obasanjo first political son, a claim that was disputed by Chief Olagunsoye Oyinlola, he admitted that Baba marched on his toe when he veered off course. He nevertheless, said he would forever remain grateful to Obasanjo.

Daniel explained that Obasanjo was so interested in the development of Ogun State that at very six o’clock in the morning, Baba would call him to ask how the state was doing and if he was committing himself to the pursuit of agriculture.

Also at the dinner was the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina. His immediate predecessor in office, Dr Reuben Abati who worked with President Goodluck Jonathan was also there. So, was the Special Adviser to the late President Umara Musa Yar’Adua on Media and Publicity, Mr Olusegun Adeniyi who took advantage of the gathering to present his new book, Against the Run of Play to Baba. After collecting the book, Baba said: “Segun has done what books writers are not supposed to do. He interviewed people and then used the interviews to write a book.” He asked Adeniyi to explain what the book was all about.

While the gathering was obviously to celebrate the man, could it also be a sign to tell the ruling APC that; “the Obasanjo boys are still here with their captain?”, only time will tell.

If the handlers of President Muhammadu Buhari were expecting troubles as the groundswell towards the 2019 election begins in earnest, it certainly not from the stable of the warhorse. Already, former Vice President, has hit the ground running with his campaign. Will he be counterbalanced by the OBJ boys, again, we need to tarry a little for the answer. After all, almost all known, formidable and troublesome political groups that have reared their heads have been effectively taken care of.

What however is not in doubt is that the OBJ boys’ decision to come together to celebrate him now, was most strategic.

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Eulogising the former president whom he said was the most detribalised leader that the country has ever had, one who never sorrunded himself with people from his ethnic nationality as other leaders do, Uba Sani also stated that Obasanjo was equally the most misunderstood leader even though he ended up being the most constructive Nigerian leader ever.