FEATURE ARTICLE


Dr. Wumi AkintideMonday, May 5, 2003
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Wumione@AOL.com
New York, NY, USA


FOR NIGERIA, OBASANJO IS A STANDOUT GUY,
FOR THE YORUBAS, THE KHALIFFA HAS EMERGED


oughly a year ago, on May 20th, 2002, I made a prediction in my article titled "Obasanjo, a profile in Courage" posted on Nigeriaworld. I want to recall for you precisely what I said in that piece, and in another one titled "Obasanjo is anything but a coward" also posted by the Nigeriaworld on June 19th, 2002. I said in the first article that "Obasanjo has always been an enigma of sorts, all his life" If you have been privileged to read the latest article of the doyen of current Nigerian columnists, the one and only Rueben Abati, you will agree the wizard of Oz himself has come away with much the same sentiment and judgment on Obasanjo in his award winning thriller titled "Obasanjo, Obasanjo and Obasanjo" posted by the Nigeriaworld on the 3rd Of May 2003. You need to read that article. Nobody does it better than Rueben. Whao!

I said, inter alia, in my Obasanjo's profile in courage that "Obasanjo is rough and rugged, sometimes colorless and crude to a fault, with a bland and dry sense of humor. But behind that facade is a rock-solid guy who knows where he is going, and the road map for getting there. He is not just courageous, he is also self assured and lucky always finding himself in the right place when it counts the most" I said in another paragraph, "Obasanjo for all you know can hardly be called a genius in terms of his academic achievements, but he is clearly a breed apart, in the way and manner, he is able to grasp complex issues of State and Diplomacy that will easily have dazzled a lesser mind. Despite some of his glaring mistakes and blunders in Government, he remains the man to closely watch in Nigerian Politics, and the candidate to beat in the Year 2003, if the truth must be told. I added a curtain raiser in my peroration in that article that "I do not agonize on whether or not the rank and file of the Yorubas would rally round Obasanjo, when the rubber meets the road. I know the Yorubas would surely come on board for Baba Iyabo, unless we just want to self-destruct. I made all these predictions long before the murky waters of Nigerian Politics was as clear as it is today, with the outcome of the 2003 Elections.

I am neither Professor Peller, and I can tell you I have never spoken in tongues, although I wish I could, and I have tried some rehearsals at that, to no avail. I am not "Asogadumole." If you live in Ondo State, you may have heard of him. I know the Ondo State outgoing Governor could possibly have been his client at one point in time in his desperate bid to hold on to power, before our peoples had finally decided to take him out on the 19th of May. I have just made it my business to study Obasanjo for quite some time, ever since the guy got so upset with the report of a Task Force chairman by the same Oluyemi Falae that ran with him in 1999, that he threatened to defrock him (Falae) as the then Director of Central Planning in Nigeria. I was the Secretary to that Task Force, and was clearly a party to the spirit and content of that report that was believed to have crossed the line by criticizing the Federal Military Government headed by the man who had appointed us.

That was unheard of in Nigeria, but we did it all the same, because all the members of that Task Force had believed we were not appointed just to tell the Government what it wanted to hear. The panel was made up of the late Rex Akpofure, one Gambo Gubio, one S. Awoniyi from Kogi, and one Ralph Okpara of Radio Nigeria. Who ever named me Secretary to that Task Force, probably did not know that Oluyemi Falae and myself had come from the same town. To cut a long story short, Obasanjo was livid. He had Falae summoned to his Office and blasted him for criticizing the Government. He even threatened to lock him up as the story goes. I naturally became curious, and was wondering if the rest of us are not going to have to pay a price. It happened that nothing terrible happened to any of us after that. As a matter of fact, Chief Oluyemi Falae was eventually promoted Permanent Secretary, Economic Department of the Cabinet Office, soon after that.

I started paying more attention to Obasanjo from that time on, trying to find out what kind of man he truly was. I believe I have written more on Obasanjo than I have done on any Nigerian dead or alive following that encounter. For Nigeria, Obasanjo is, without doubt, a standout guy, and for the Yoruba race, I say the successor or the Khaliffa has finally arrived, and I will tell you why in the remaining part of this essay, if you tarry with me.

Why a standout man for Nigeria? Good question? Before I answer that, let me tell you one thing that most of us Nigerians agree on regardless of our faith or religious persuasion. The White world always see us as either animists, Muslims or Christians. You have to agree with that characterization because it is correct. But the number of Christians had quadrupled in recent times making the animists population to considerably go down. Thank God. But regardless of that characterization, and even though tongue and tribes may differ, we all agree on one thing by faith. We all agree that no one makes it to leadership in any position, the presidency inclusive, unless that person has been permitted or allowed by God so to do. I used to have problems with that when I think of some world leaders like Adolph Hitler, or some African leaders like Idi Amin Dada, Mobutu Sese Seko, and even our own Sani Abacha and IBB, if you have read the authorized biography of M.K.O. Abiola written by Moshood Fayemiwo.

On a sober reflection on that statement, however, one would have to agree, because, if God did not actually play a part in how some of those leaders have emerged, there is no way many of them could have risen to the height they had all achieved in their various countries. Why would I say that? I say so because I know that becoming a Head of State in Nigeria, in particular, is not as easy as it may sound. Sometimes, a candidate has to be willing to die, because the intrigues that go with the process are mind boggling. You will recall Obasanjo telling the Nation, at his inauguration, in May 1999 when he described his ascendancy to power in Nigeria as "walking under the valley of the shadow of death" You cannot beat that description because Obasanjo has seen it all, having been President two times, and getting ready to take another oath of office in less than three weeks from today. In 1999, he had to be rescued from Abacha's dungeon, awaiting life imprisonment or death by attrition or poison, only to come out and be proclaimed King of Nigeria. Neither Musa Yar Ardua nor Abiola was that lucky. So I agree there has got to be some divine intervention of sorts for anyone becoming president in Africa as a whole, and in Nigeria in particular.

IBB, probably the most dangerous and clever by half of all our leaders, had many a close call that would have prematurely retired him from the Military or even killed him outright, if God or Destiny had not been on his side. He was to be charged for aiding and abetting Drug Peddling by his wife before his "God father" the same Obasanjo we are talking about, had agreed to help persuade and encouraged the strong man, General Tunde Idiagbon to travel to Mecca, thus paving the way for the Buhari/Idiagbon Government to be toppled in his absence. Idiagbon had flown out of Lagos to Mecca the strongest man in the regime. He returned to Nigeria, a few days later, a nobody who was immediately handcuffed and detained on arrival on orders the new Head of State, and the self acclaimed "evil genius" of Nigeria. Sani Abacha who was later to lead Nigeria for five years, also had many a close call with death, and possible discharge from the Military.

The Emperor Mamman Vasta who had probably nursed similar ambition, had ended up facing a firing squad in the hands of his bosom friend, IBB who had to take him out, to pave the way for himself. You have to overcome a beehive of conspiracy and intrigues to get to power in Nigeria, and to hang in there for any length of time, with your head over your shoulder. Yakubu Gowon was there for nine years. Murtala Mohammed was there for only 200 days. Obasanjo was there for three years the first time around. Buhari was there for less than two years. IBB was there for eight. Abacha who had never passed any exam at Sandhurst or the Defense Academy, was there for five, and Abdul Salam Abubakar was there for about a year. My point is that our people are right to conclude that nobody gets to power in our country, unless it has been preordained by God.

I submit, by that logic, that Obasanjo ascendancy to leadership of Nigeria was clearly the hand of God. I am inclined to add one more name to Obasanjo's longest names in the Guinness Book of records. I am inclined to call him "Akosa" in Igbo language. It is impossible to beat Ndigbo when it comes to beautiful names. Names like Ofonagoro, Kalu Ndika Kalu, Chuba Okadigbo. Ikejiani, Ozumba Mbadiwe, Mbazulike Amechi. Chike Obi and so many others are just too tempting, believe me. Akosa simply means "aka Olisa". Those who want to fight Obasanjo over this Election had better be warned, lest they may be fighting God. Of course, you know as much as I do what that means. Not only that you are not going to win. There is a chance you could even lose your life in doing so, only to go to Heaven 'or "Allujannah" to continue your punishment. Better be careful is all I can tell you, because Obasanjo is not only an Akosa. but a something extra. Like him or dislike him Obasanjo is a standout guy among the leaders of Nigeria. Somebody wrote a piece in the Nigeriaworld recently, describing in some detail how Obasanjo has walked his way from the land mines that the three power blocs of Afenifere, Arewa and Ohaneze Ndigbo groups have set for him. It takes a lot of guts for one individual to do that. We have got to give Obasanjo credit. for some clever move.

I'd rather wish for a lucky leader than make do with an unlucky one, if I had a choice in it. Wouldn't you? Obasanjo has shattered all the myths in Nigerian politics, and is waxing stronger everyday. Obasanjo has shown there can be an antidote to the time honored concept made popular by Awo that he could not be a good Nigerian, if he was not first and foremost a good Yoruba man. Obasanjo's life and career to date have proved there is another way. Obasanjo had started by being more pro Hausa and the North than any southerner seeking the office, with the exception of Abiola, and it seems to have worked out for him than most people had expected. By so doing, he has achieved a feat that even Awolowo could not achieve.

Obasanjo has broken yet another myth. Somebody once wrote a book where he forcefully argued that your attitude determines your altitude. Some who know Obasanjo very well have described him as a very arrogant man who always believes he is the wisest man in the country. His persona does not easily lend any credence to that fact, because he looks to me like the typical farmer who could be easily manipulated. I honestly believe the North trusted him more than they ever trusted Awo who was far more urbane and glamorous as young man. A former civilian President, Shehu Shagari and Sunday Awoniyi, a former Federal Permanent Secretary and a former top member of PDP, have all had occasions to describe Obasanjo as arrogant, opinionated, and even selfish. If that was in deed true, those adjectives don't represent the best attitude that any leader should have. But has it helped or handicapped Obasanjo in meticulously planing his rise to power and prominence in Nigeria? I personally don't think so, if you ask me. Obasanjo has managed to bulldoze his way to the mountain top of Nigerian Politics so many times, proving that his greatest weakness to be his greatest strength. His finest moment has to be the ongoing Elections that his Party and himself would appear to have won very convincingly, if not in the whole of Nigeria, but at least in the South West. I am not understating the fact that the elections may have been riddled with irregularities here and there. But when all is said and down, I believe the PDP under Obasanjo's leadership had performed better than any other Party in those elections. I will be for instance, if the Election tribunals would do their work with all fairness and honesty, and cancel any of those elections that deserve to be canceled. Doing so can only be in the best interest of Democracy in our country, and serve as a deterrence against similar occurrence in the future.

I want to examine another myth shattered by Obasanjo. Normally in Nigeria, once your regime ends or is taken out by a coup, you totally disappear from the scene and lie low. Not so with Obasanjo. He always found some way bounce back and to remain relevant like leaders in the civilized world. A good example is Jimmy Carter who has set a very unique and endearing example of how to be an Ex-President. Carter is probably more active today in Geo. politics than he was when he was. President. Obasanjo is another man like Carter. I saw a little bit of his activities, for a short time, when I worked at the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations from 1988 to 1989 under the late General Joe Garba. No ex Head of State that I know from Nigeria or indeed from any African country has been able to match the activities of Obasanjo around the corridors of the UN and other multi lateral institutions around the world. Little wonder that he had nursed the ambition to become the first indigenous African Secretary-general, to complete the term of Boutros Boutros Ghali. If IBB's Government had supported his candidature in private like they had done for our home audience, Obasanjo would probably have been successful. The Western powers and the all powerful members of the Security Council would have seen him through. I think the evil genius merely played up to the gallery feigning support for him while doing very little to match their rhetoric with action at the highest diplomatic level.

IBB probably thought that Obasanjo might overshadow him in the scheme of things in Nigeria, if he allowed Obasanjo to add one more feather to his glorious career track record. Obasanjo was almost as active, out of power, than he was when he was Head of State. He was the only African personality to do that, capitalizing on the mileage he had gotten from being the first military man to ever voluntarily and peacefully hand-over power to a civilian Government in the whole of Africa. If you have read the Fayemiwo's book on Abiola, you will have seen that Obasanjo's Ota Farm had become the center of gravity in Nigeria, second only to Dodan Barracks or Aso Rock. Every coup that had taken place after he had left office in 1979, had to be always cleared with the Ota God father. That was how Sani Abacha was able to pin on Obasanjo, the fact that he had met with some coup plotters in his Farm. Most of the top brass in the Military including IBB and Abacha always found some way to brief or confide in Obasanjo about what they were thinking because they trusted him as their big boss.

When I suggested that Obasanjo was probably the best "electable" candidate to win in 2003, those are the factors I had reckoned with. Could you imagine what would have happened if Oluyemi Falae had defeated Obasanjo in 1999. The Military would have been back longest time. The top echelon of the Nigerian Military knew and trusted Papa Iyabo, and Papa Iyabo knew them and the way they think and react to situations. If you wanted stability and continuity in Nigeria, one of the names you cannot ignore is Akosa Olusegun Obasanjo, the bridge.

I, for one, had gone all out to support him, in my own little way, because it had become very clear to me, he was the best in the pack of candidates available for that office, based on the unspoken and unwritten parameters for picking our leaders in Nigeria. All those trump cards that work so well for emerging leaders at Westminster or the Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, and other capitals of the civilized world don't work in Nigeria, because we are only practicing a variation of Democracy as defined in America and Western Europe. You have to understand your patient and where he or she is hurting, before you can successfully medicate or heal him or her. I thought the veteran politician and tactician from Nnewi, M.C.K Ajuluchukwu, had done his own homework and had come to the same conclusion when he described Obasanjo as "the best of the worst" while advising Ndigbo to support Obasanjo, and to stop believing that an Ndigbo

President was possible in 2003. He had argued that it was conceivable in 2007, and I strongly believed he was right.

The Ndigbos, I dare say, with some trepidation, may have again hurt their chances in 2007, by sponsoring far too many Ndigbo candidates just to muddy the water for Obasanjo. Even though that was to be expected in a Democracy, not in Nigeria. There is some hell to pay if you do. I believe Professor Omo Omoruyi, had eloquently made the same point in some of his articles on the same web site. The decision as to who the next President would be is never made, with any certitude, ahead of time, because it is often times, in the hands of the voters. But because we are operating only a variation of Democracy uniquely cut out for our own society and environment, I can almost tell you, here and now, who our next President will be in 2007. How can any rational person then complain that the election is rigged, when all we are doing is working to the answer already decided, four years earlier? That is where we are today as a nation, and we have got to live with that until we are ready to change. Don't ask me when that would be, because I need to talk to God on that, or reach out to Asoga in Akure, if God will not answer me sooner. That is what a good Nigerian will do, and I can assure you I am one.

Benito Mussolini once made a statement that "It is far better to live for a day like a lion than to live one hundred years as a sheep." That was Mussolini. Obasanjo belongs to a different kettle of fish. If the statement credited to Mussolini works in Italy, it certainly does not work in Nigeria. Nobody understands that better than Obasanjo. Like the late and revered Speaker of the US House of Representatives the Honorable Tip O'neil of Boston, Obasanjo understands that "all politics is local" He is an expert in using the bully pulpit to govern and to achieve his goals like he has done in the last Elections by positioning himself in a way that is totally impregnable and unassailable, making it impossible for candidates like IBB to run or to openly challenge him by quitting the PDP. It was IBB that had bankrolled two or three of the newly registered political parties, while not repudiating his membership of the Party in power. Obasanjo had managed to box IBB into a corner from where he was never able to extricate himself till the landslide polls started rolling in, and all IBB could do was to get on board before the mighty train, before it pulls out of the Station. You have to give credit to Obasanjo for playing his card with the wisdom of Solomon and the persistence of a demon.

Now Obasanjo can now start addressing himself to leaving behind a legacy as the foremost Nigerian leader of our time. The second term offers him that chance because he is now the de facto and de jure leader of the PDP, the majority Party in Nigeria. Gone are the days of the Muppet show when the President's appointee like Abubakar Rimi could go on television, and on the campaign trail, daring the toothless bulldog of a President to remove him as Chairman of the Security Minting Press. Abubakar Rimi had crossed the line of decency so many times in his dealings with Mr. President. But Obasanjo could do nothing about it until he became the President of his dream and not a puppet that he had been in the last four years. We made you President would never again be heard on the corridors of power in Abuja, as most PDP winners now know they have done it riding on the coattail of Mr. President. Obasanjo like Abraham Lincoln knows how to destroy his enemy by making him or her his friend. Above all, Obasanjo has always understood like Winston Churchill that "Courage is the first of human qualities, and that it is that quality which guarantees all other qualities." Obasanjo is a cut above the rest on how best to go about acquiring leadership in Nigeria.

I want to end this article by stating very categorically that the touch of Yoruba Leadership has been passed. The Khaliffa has finally arrived with all the clout and leverage needed to continue the race started long ago by Oduduwa. Awolowo, our greatest leader since Oduduwa, had played his part. The touch was momentarily passed on to Adekunle Ajasin who had held it with honor and integrity before passing it on to Abraham Adesanya as caretaker pending the emergence of the Khaliffa who is now here, and must assume the full responsibilities of his new status while not abandoning his first obligation to Nigeria in the next four years The last Election in the South West has clearly shown the Khaliffa whom I also predicted in one of my articles on Obasanjo on the Nigeriaworld web site in 2002. The only thing I need add, at this point, is to thank our people in the South West for making that prediction resonate louder than I ever anticipated. They did it in Ondo State with flying colors by rejecting Governor Adefarati and putting in Governor Agagu. It was our finest moment, I might add.

I repeat that Awolowo who had always wanted the best for the Yorubas and Nigeria as a whole would be happy that Democracy has been consolidated in our country with one civilian Government handing over, in our lifetime, to another civilian Government, like is done in the first and second world. Obasanjo the bridge has done it, and we can all take pride in the fact that he is one of us. While others are busy making hysteria, Obasanjo is busy making history for Oduduwa and his descendants in Nigeria. Alleluyah. Stay tuned as Obasanjo now addresses himself to leaving behind a name and a worthy legacy like Awolowo had done before him. I could almost shout "Nigeria kwenu" as I end this piece.

I rest my case.