I recently had cause to counsel a close friend of mine who was formerly very close to former President Olusegun Obasanjo that he should try and seek reconciliation with the man some of us who admire, honour and respect him call affectionately ‘’Baba’’.
I said that I cannot place my finger on the precise good reconciling with Baba would serve him or save him from but that I am giving him this unsolicited advice because I love him so much and want him to succeed in life and live in peace. I said that Baba is not a god and does not therefore have the power of life and death over anyone but that I am nevertheless of the conviction that it would be wise for him to be unantagonistic towards him. I said further that I may sound superstitious but that seriously speaking, I am very surprised about the way former staunch haters of the former President find it very necessary to seek reconciliation with him at one point or another after it looks like such persons have become irreconcilable enemies of the former number one citizen of Africa. (I want to emphasise for the sake of those who may have missed it , that I refer to Obasanjo not as the former number one citizen of Nigeria but of Africa and I do so advisedly because I consider him one of the foremost leaders Africa has produced in the past fifty years).
Having made this aside, let me move on. I told my friend that there must be something in Obasanjo that would compel a long list of very powerful Nigerians who once fell out with him to go back to him soon after or years later to ask him for pardon and a burial of the hatchet. I then proceeded to name to him names of many who is who in Nigeria who have beaten a retreat to such reconciliation. I will not name any names here mainly to spare them some embarrassment. If Obasanjo was not in any way important to their lives, I pursued my argument, why do these big and powerful men find no qualms in eating humble pie by going back to him? I concluded by saying that as a person, I rely very much on the wisdom of my village folks who in one of their innumerable expressions of wisdom said that if in your estimation a man looks overpowering or superior to you in strength and everything and you think you cannot match him, wisdom dictates that you seek for the slimmest of chances and slip away from his mortal grip or use guile to escape from possible harm’s way! We both burst into laughter, with him promising to take what he described as a difficult step.
Because I see my vocation not merely as a commentator but essentially as a teaching priest, I try to take time to reflect on things and get inspiration from above. In the course of my reflection on African leaders, one of them that fascinates me a great deal is Obasanjo. This man is intensely hated by some and equally loved by very many. No one is indifferent to him. Surely, that is the mark of a man of tremendous influence. The tons of responses to my series So Obasanjo did not do a single good thing? which was published in my column in the Daily Trust in 2009 as well as posted on the internet news site Nigeria villagesquare opened my eyes to the passion of deep hatred and love which Obasanjo enjoys especially among Nigerians and the especially warm regards he enjoys among thoughtful Africans.
While some think of Obasanjo as a foresighted, brilliant, bold, pragmatic, courageous and decisive man and one of the most nationalistic leaders Nigeria has ever produced, there are some who swear that Obasanjo is an irredeemably bad man. He is held as no more than a clever thief who knows how to cover his tracks well, an unforgiving, petty, spiteful and brutal man who anyone who loves himself should give a wide berth to. Many more evil things are said about him which out of my deep respect for him, I will not glorify by repeating here.
But whether you hate him or you love him, there is one thing you cannot take away from Obasanjo: in the past 13 or so years since the return of democracy, he has been the main issue in Nigerian politics. Obasanjo has been on one side or the opposite of some of the most contentious social, economic and political issues that have come forth in the past 13 years. Whether it is zoning, privatisation, debt repayment, Third Term, reform of the power sector, reform of the public service, reform of the health sector, pension, you name it, Obasanjo has been the ‘main man’. On all these and many more issues, it is correct to say that you are either for or against Obasanjo.
What I find most intriguing about Obasanjo is that in the course of the chequered history of this country and at every critical juncture in its life , either God or the devil finds it pragmatic to cause this man to come to the fore while many of his ‘betters’ are relegated to the background. He has the uncanny ability to pop up at the right place at the right time to get the right result. He is always available to claim the prize for a contest he did not enter in or has no good claim to. Yet time and time again those who have a vantage position to decide things find him the least objectionable person to get the diadem. Just have a quick search through his life and you will agree with me. During the coups and counter-coups of 1966 Obasanjo was not around or else he would have been consumed by the upheaval. Destiny spared him and allowed him to play a pivotal role in the resolution of the civil war.
In popular imagination, the man who dealt the Biafran revolt the greatest mortal blows was the GOC of the Third Marine Commando, Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle, The Black Scorpion. But when it was time to get the surrender documents who was it that got it? It was Obasanjo who got it and the glory reserved eternally for such a historic moment. Adekunle lived the rest of his life rueing his misfortune.
When General Murtala Mohammed was assassinated in the abortive coup of 1976, Obasanjo who did not plan any coup inherited the rulership of the country because he was the next in rank and the most suitable in terms of geography and religion to succeed the late leader. Again, in the early 1990s the late business mogul M.K.O. Abiola fought doggedly and won the presidency of this country but he was denied the fruits of his victory. And who did destiny think was the man to reap where he did not sow? It is our man Obasanjo. Abiola had metaphorically used his head to crack the coconut for Obasanjo to eat!
Looking at all these things I have come to the conclusion that whether Obasanjo relies on his sixth sense or gut feeling or he relies on juju power or the power of God Almighty to know when to move, there must be something in this man that propels him to show up at the right place at the right time.
Some who hate Obasanjo so much try to begrudge him this his rather good fortune and seek to downplay it and to say that the man is no hero at all but a villain without any redeeming virtues and that his seemingly uncanny fortune of being available when he is most needed is no more than the capricious acts of fate. Some go a step further to insinuate that he plays a perfidious role in placing himself at a vantage position to reap from where he did not sow but the evidence on the ground does not lend credence to their mischievous insinuations and plain bad -mouthing of a man whose role as Nigerian leader is worthy of re-examination and worthy of higher estimation. Why do I say so? I will provide the answer next week, God willing.