Obasanjo at 83

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DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN, Email: akin.osuntokun@thisdaylive.com

DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN, Email: akin.osuntokun@thisdaylive.com

One of the more dramatic political developments in contemporary Nigeria is the review and reexamination, President Olusegun Obasanjo felt compelled to undertake on the fundamentals of Nigerian politics. It is an indication of the extremist politics of incumbent major political actors- who have invited the rest of us to see Nigeria in all its ugly nakedness and dare us not to come to terms with it. In the process he has had to stake political positions and make pronouncements with the unintended consequence of hurting or bringing out the worst in otherwise admirable compatriots. I have dignified personalities like Malam Ahmed Joda in mind. I believed so much in Joda that I opened myself to the degenerate possibility of getting into fisticuffs in his defence as Pan Nigerian Northerner. My antagonist swore on the evidence he garnered from his friendship with Joda’s son that Joda is as Northern irredentist as they come. The latter soon provided the evidence in his heartfelt rejoinder to the ‘Fulanisation’ debate sparked by his close friend and associate, in and out of government namely Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.

According to Joda, “there is sufficient evidence that the much-touted Fulani political domination is mere hallucination with political motives designed to achieve certain objectives. That is why I cannot understand how this dying clan can fulanise not only Nigeria but the whole of the West African sub region”. I was quite taken aback not so much at his protest as the malicious language he employed in serving the notice. I don’t know how much damage this turn of events had dealt their close and fruitful relationship after this exchange but I got an indication indirectly from Obasanjo. In one way or another, his publicised controversial visit to Kaduna recently had to do with Joda who couldn’t fulfill his obligation as the Chancellor of Bells University (to chair the graduation ceremony-Obasanjo is the proprietor of Bells University) on account of acute ill-health. I extracted the Joda quote from a long extenuating missive on how the Fulani in Nigeria are more sinned against than sinning.

My disappointment at Joda is that nowhere is it indicated in his long essay that action and reaction may be equal and opposite; that Nigeria has endured enough provocation since 2015 and it is time to call the bluff of the agent provocateur. In vain do we search for any self-critical acknowledgement that perhaps, the current Fulani personification in Nigeria is negatively spotlighting the Fulani identity as never before; that this action will dialectically generate the antithetical equal and opposite reaction. It is this self- indulgent attitude and entitlement syndrome that has been the bane of the escapist defenders of the indefensible. Where my clan members are implicated, it is see no evil, hear no evil and say no evil. The point I want to make is Obasanjo’s preparedness to make sacrifice including sacrifice of personal relations, in pursuit of the goal he believes in-and none more so, now, than the admission (and willingness to confront it) that the constitutional article of the potentially disintegrative political structure of Nigeria is not etched in concrete.

Were he to be less offensive, adamant and truculent in pushing his radically conservative ideological standpoint, many of his critics down South would have been proportionally more inlined to lend him a sympathetic hearing. Like we all are, he is a product of his unique history. And that history is rooted in the baptism he received from the politics of the coup and counter coup of 1966. The fate that spared him of implication in the Nzeogwu coup was the same fate that birthed him in the embrace and sanctuary of Northern hegemony politics.

“Hassan Katsina had made a prophetic statement about Obasanjo. We must do everything to protect Obasanjo from harm. Nigeria will need him in future.” “….Obasanjo was always in touch with Hassan Katsina. Then Hassan asked us to prepare to move to Maiduguri. We left our house for the Kaduna air base in a car protected by three armoured cars in front and another three behind,” rendered his wife. The same logic that persuaded the Chief Obafemi Awolowo-led Yoruba political establishment to team up with the Northern controlled federal military government in the civil war was the same logic that informed his adoption of the vision that views Nigeria from pro-Northern lenses. And in this vision, he has been confirmed and vindicated by the providential role he played in the civil war. Whoever receives the surrender of Biafra should be excused for a near fanatical commitment to the unity of Nigeria. Whichever Yoruba became military head of state in the circumstances in which Obasanjo did in 1976 is the least likely to warm up to the idea of rocking the boat of Nigeria’s political status quo.

Fate seemed to have grounded and handed him over in silent conspiracy with the status quo powers. As it has been benevolent to him, so has he been of indispensable utility to the heirs of British colonialism. As captured by his former deputy “No living Nigerian has given as much to Nigeria in peacetime and in war as you have”.

The open secret of the success of Northern hegemony is knowing when to coopt and when to go into recessive and elusive mode. It was this strategic thinking that informed the adoption of General Yakubu Gowon as the cross cutting Northern face of the civil war. “Faced with the threat of an alliance between the Yoruba West and the Igbo East, the Northern-controlled Federal Military Government became visibly alarmed….Gowon studiously drew Chief Awolowo closer to himself….By this act, the East-West alliance foreshadowed by U.P.G.A. was destroyed, and a new North-West alliance was born, lamented Ralph Uwechue. Equally, this was the strategic mindset behind the projection of Obasanjo as the provisional Principal of Northern hegemony-the vaunted Nigerian unity being Northern hegemony writ large. And as I have argued elsewhere, there would have been little wrong with the hegemony were it not for the cardinal sin and double jeopardy of its ruinous incompetence- standing in the way of the cultivation of productivity driven development ethic as of national essence.

In the notion rather than actual existence of a Kaduna Mafia (the fabled personification of Northern hegemony), he has been both the mentor and protege. In the crude but effective intervention of Buhari, this minimally tolerable status quo is under siege and the resolution of the crisis it has spawned, one way or another, will determine the future of Nigeria.

Obasanjo has been a soft target for many wannabe Yoruba nationalists and Nigerian progressives. Yet, howsoever you want to judge him and his political history, he was the one who gave concrete meaning to the opposition against the relentless excesses of the Buhari government and the ominous direction the country is being driven. If he was willing to lend himself to this role in full awareness of its potential consequences especially the tragic Abacha precedent, then he merits a respite and positive salutation. Contrast this with his traducers, especially the idle California domiciled lions and tigers of the social media stratosphere who have nothing to lose beyond being called to order on the penchant for beer parlour criticism.

The theory of the step he has taken going forward is as follows: He has come to terms with the knowledge that predicating the formula for the viability of Nigeria on the right leadership tantamounts to waiting for godot. Anticipating the emergence of the elusive good leadership as the panacea to the problems of Nigeria is the best case scenario- but science is predicated on the worst not the best case scenario. The worst case scenario anticipates all that can go wrong including bad leadership and proceeds to recommend a (near fullproof) formula with an inbuilt mechanism to limit the damage that bad leadership can wreak on society. In Nigeria, this perhaps is the most important practical purpose federalism would serve- limiting the capacity, to the irreducible minimum, of the leader at the centre (in Abuja) to violate the country. The most amenable analogy to this theory is the design of the aeroplane- which proceeds from the premise of anticipating all that can go wrong. And in the words of Professor Wole Soyinka ““Centralisation, in short, has been the bane of the nation – on any level you choose – and nothing will answer the necessity of a harmonious relationship and development of its parts other than a severe curtailment of the control of the Centre over the functioning of its parts”-

Thus I responded to his (Obasanjo) exasperation with the relentless sinking of Nigeria- when he posed the question-“Now what do you really believe is the way forward for Nigeria and you never mind my preferences?. Well, better late than never. I concluded with the considered opinion of Oye Ibidapo Obe-who was old and perceptive enough to know “It is clear that we were individually and collectively happier prior to 1966 than now”. If this assertion is true, it is an indication that the departure point for the downward spiral of Nigeria was the abrogation of the independence constitution. The last I saw him, he left me with this resolve ‘If the assumptions we have held on Nigeria in the past 60 years is now being questioned, then it is time to take a look at the political structure of the country. And one of those critical assumptions is that that the headship of the three tiers of government- the executive, the judiciary and the legislature must not come from one section of the country

By way of my mundane obligation towards wishing him a happy birthday, I adopt the sentiments of an admirer

“What is more instructive about the retired General’s unsuccessful run for the office of the chief executive of the world body is the fact that he did not withdraw into self abnegation or pity, but decided to retool himself in the tiny details of international diplomacy”.

“Perhaps it is on account of his abiding love for the youth as the leaders of tomorrow that life has favoured Obasanjo with enormous grace, such that he remains young in heart and body, never aging and refusing to be caged by adversities or vicissitudes of daily living”.