VIEW FROM THE GALLERY BY MAHMUD JEGA
The Postmaster General of the Federation is busy sending letters to other people but no one is writing a letter to him. That is not fair. During our secondary school days, a student had no wish more exciting than receiving a letter. When the Mail Prefect brought mail from the Post Office every afternoon, every student waited with bated breath to hear if he received one. One day when we heard that a mail van had an accident, there was sadness all over the school and everyone said he was expecting a letter.
Last week, following his New Year message addressed to Nigerian youths, some young lads said on the social media that former president Olusegun Obasanjo is angling to become the Postmaster General of the Federation when Mr. Peter Obi wins the Presidency. According to those young lads, Chief Obasanjo was seen driving a red Golf car to the old Post Office in Owu. There he sealed his letter in an envelope, bought a stamp, affixed it on the top right hand corner and posted it. They said the Owu Post Office’s premises is dusty because few people go there these days to post letters. Newspaper vendors, magazine and novels sellers no longer congregate there as they used to. The Post Office’s most reliable customer is Chief Obasanjo, who has been posting letters there since the 1940s.
Not for him SMS, email, WhatsApp, Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, Telegram, We Chat or any fancy messaging tools that kids use these days. According to one social media wag, when Chief Obasanjo was advised to use Telegram instead of posting a letter, he went straight to the postal clerk and asked him to count the number of words in his letter and to tell him how much it costs per word. The postal clerk was confused. Being a young man, he had no idea that Chief was talking about the old telegram of P&T that he used to send at the GPO [General Post Office], which was the fastest but also the most expensive means of communication in those days because you had to pay for each word.
Anyway, I am sure the Postmaster General will be happy to receive a letter of his own. That is why I am writing this letter, in which I want to ask him a few questions. I will put this letter in the airmail envelop “Par Avion,” use my saliva to seal it, then affix a stamp and post it. I will not pay any stamp duty since there is still a contest between NIPOST and FIRS over who should collect it. I must also wait until Hon. Gudaji Kazaure finishes his probe into embezzlement of stamp duty money.
There are some questions that I have been dying to ask Chief Obasanjo for many decades. Sir, in your New Year message, you quoted the Scripture as saying that if God would take account of all our wrongdoings, nobody would be able to stand before Him. Why then are you writing letters to all the persons who succeeded you in the Head of State/President’s office and taking account of their wrongdoings, against the teachings of Scripture? You wrote letters to General Ibrahim Babangida; you wrote to President Yar’adua; you wrote to President Jonathan and you are now writing to President Buhari, taking account of their wrong doings which even the Almighty said He won’t do. Are you mightier than the Almighty? With your diploma in Theology from the National Open University, why are you ignoring the teachings of Scripture for megalomaniacal reasons? You are the only former Head of State who is writing letters; why?
Anyway sir, there is a question that I have been longing to ask you for nearly fifty years. In your New Year letter you appealed to our youths “to turn the tide on its head and march forward chanting ‘Awa Lokan’ (our turn).” You see, I am a Sokoto man. In 1977 when as military Head of State you visited Sokoto, you went to Federal Government College Sokoto, took a cane and whipped a student mercilessly. How can that boy now march forward saying Awa Lokan? Your reason for whipping the boy was because he left his shirt unbuttoned. Fourteen years later in 1991 when you were trying to become UN Secretary General, one writer said you were not fit for the post because diplomats are known for dressing immaculately but you wear your flowing agbada sartorially. You also said the student did not speak good English. That writer said unlike Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt who spoke Arabic, English, French and Spanish, you spoke only English and Yoruba.
Not only that boy. In 2001 or so when you paid a working visit to Kogi State, one National Civil Defence Corpsman was whipping people who were rowdy during a reception in your honour. You came down from the steps, took the cane from him and whipped him mercilessly. I even blamed NSCDC’s Oga at the Top who stood askance when you were beating his staff officer.
In endorsing Labour Party candidate Peter Obi for president, you said “one important point to make about Peter is that he is a needle with thread attached to it from North and South and he may not get lost.” Since when did you know that? You were PDP’s extra-constitutional Party Leader in 2003 when your party snatched Obi’s governorship election victory in Anambra State, in broad daylight. He had to fight in court for three years before he regained his mandate. Your PDP-dominated State Assembly then impeached him, and after a court brought him back, you engineered INEC to conduct an election in 2007 when Obi’s tenure had not ended. Your Special Adviser Domestic Affairs even occupied the Governor’s chair in Awka for ten days before the courts threw him out and restored Obi. Why are you now praising Obi to high heavens after punishing him that much?
You said in your letter that “it is not right for any of us to be sanctimonious, to see ourselves as saints and the rest as devils incarnate.” We knew you were not a saint because a few years ago, at the launching of Colonel Ahmadu Ali’s autobiography, the two of you told a story about an event that happened during the Gowon regime, which nearly caused a diplomatic row because it involved some embassies in Lagos. As Colonel Ali revealed, it was actually you that caused the problem but he covered you up when the Head of State exploded and even threatened to sack him from the army. General Gowon, who was present at the book launch, remembered the event, laughed heartily and said it was the first time he heard that you were behind it. If you are a saint, why did you hide the truth from your Commander-in-Chief for nearly 50 years?
You said in your letter that “let us agree to move forward together without bias and discrimination.” Colonel Ahmadu Ali told another story, that when he was Federal Commissioner for Education in the Gowon regime, he was busy establishing federal universities, polytechnics and colleges of education all over the country. He said you lobbied him to give you a Federal Advanced Teachers College to locate in Abeokuta. He in turn demanded that you, as Federal Commissioner for Works, must build a road to his hometown, Idah. The two of you made a deal. Is that not bias and discrimination?
You said in your letter, “Let’s stop criminalising and demonising one another.” Were you not the one who had a notice pasted on the fence of your Ota Farm in the 1980s that “Armed robbers and journalists not allowed”? By equating us with armed robbers, you criminalised and demonised us.
Sir, you also wrote in your New Year message that “derogatory attitude and mindset do not build any human institution, let alone a nation.” It reminded me of one incident that I personally witnessed in 2001 when, as Editor of New Nigerian, I was among three journalists invited to interview you on your monthly Media Chat. We sat in the State House studio waiting for you and when you arrived, you asked if the Inspector General of Police that you sent for had arrived. He had not, so you took your seat, ready for the live chat to begin. You were then told that the IG, Alhaji Tafa Balogun, had arrived. From your seat you shouted, “IG!” To my utter shock, Alhaji Tafa shouted back, “My father sir!” He darted across the studio and knelt down before you. You didn’t tell him to stand up. Instead, you whispered something in his ear. Even me who was sitting closest to you, I did not hear it. Alhaji Tafa, may Allah grant him rest in Aljannat, stood up shouting, “My father sir! My father sir!” He then darted out.
My question is, what was it that you whispered into the IG’s ears? Why did you whisper it in very low tones? You sounded to me that day like a policeman at an illegal road block.