Former Nigerian President, General Olusegun Obasanjo gathered journalists together at his Hilltop Abeokuta residence on Friday, to disown the claim that he had called for a fresh round of do or die politics in 2011.
But hardly has he ever shown due respect for the contributions of the media to the making of the Obasanjo persona, or even to the country’s development process, rather at every possible opportunity, he abuses journalists: he either says we are worse than dogs or that we are “ignorant, misinformed, uneducated or mischievous”. Well, to borrow an Obasanjo expression, “I dey laugh o.” It is noteworthy however, that Obasanjo did not deny being the author of the phrase, if not the concept, of “do or die” Nigerian politics. He certainly did not disown his copyright of the phrase. He only said “I didn’t say so this time: I sang a Yoruba song.” It would be interesting to have a full text of that song and to deconstruct its literal and embodied meanings, just to determine who between Obasanjo and the reporters who attended the Lagos PDP Presidential campaign is misleading the public. Obasanjo said he sang “lau erebe..”, a popular Yoruba folk song but which version? Did he modify it? “I still dey laugh o.” Hei he hei…
More rib-cracking laughter is to be further extracted from President Obasanjo’s claim at the Hilltop press conference that he was tricked into attending the now controversial welcome church service for the PDP prison-returnee, Chief Olabode George. Who tricked him? Chief Bode George. How? Hear him: “He (George) sent a passionate message to me from prison, urging me to attend a family church thanksgiving and I believe that whatever reason any family is giving thanks in church or in mosque and he invites me and I am able to go there, whether it is for marriage, burial, housewarming, christening of a child, I will go.” But when Obasanjo got to the church, he suddenly “found that the atmosphere was more than a family affair.” I can’t but laugh. Obasanjo found an atmosphere that “was more than a family affair” when he got to the Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina? And he expects anyone to believe him? Obasanjo travelled from Abeokuta all the way to Marina, in the heart of Lagos to attend a church service for a man who was returning from prison that every day, and he expected that the ceremony will be a simple family affair? Oh, Baba, come off it.
Bode George is not an ordinary citizen, but a Very Important (ex-)Prisoner, just released, a party chieftain who had been jailed for corruption. Still, he had been holding court in prison and Obasanjo himself says he knows this to be so. To have attended a reception for such a man amounts to an expression of support for him, and an endorsement of his conduct. There is no beating about the bush about this. In fact, Obasanjo sat directly behind George at the church service. And yet he says he was tricked? Obasanjo is 74, and very agile, and active. He could not have forgotten so soon that when he himself returned from prison a few years ago, he had a family thanksgiving at the Baptist Church Owu, Abeokuta, and although that was also a family thanksgiving, the church was jam-packed. So, there is no prescribed shape for a family thanksgiving, even if Obasanjo was a different kind of prisoner, and in any case, the Bode George event took place at the Cathedral not in a small, family church or chapel. Tricked? Let us even assume that Obasanjo was tricked; when he got to the church and he discovered that the Thanksgiving “was more than a family affair”, why didn’t he leave the church immediately? Why didn’t he register his displeasure on the spot? It has taken him a whole week to disown the event! This is an afterthought, surely, and it is very much unlike Obasanjo who is so readily talkative when incensed. Seventy two hours after the same church service that he now deplores, the same Obasanjo was sitting in the same VIP stand at the Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos with the same Bode George, both attending the PDP Presidential Rally! Walahi, I dey laugh too much...
Instead of claiming that he was tricked and taking out his anger on hapless reporters, Baba should just have confessed that he made a mistake attending the Bode George church rally, apologise, and state his position on the matter. Following the Feb. 26 reception, there had been serious outrage in the media, with concerned Nigerians insisting that the loud celebration of Bode George’s return from prison amounted to a disregard for values, and a show of contempt for the Nigerian state, particularly the justice administration system. Obasanjo was a special target of the criticisms: he who had claimed to be an anti-corruption campaigner and indeed a Board member of Transparency International, dancing with Bode George with the prison stink still glued to his robes. Was Obasanjo advised by his friends at Transparency International to disown Bode George, a week after joining others to thank God on his behalf? Wherever the impetus came from, we should take special notice of Obasanjo’s U-Turn on the Bode George case: He says “Bode George did not comport himself properly in the task (port authority assignment) given to him.”That should be comforting to the trial judge who was being made to look like a villain.
Obasanjo adds: “And when he was in prison, he was conducting himself like the Lord of the Manor. I called him and told him that the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the original founder of the Action Group but when he (Awo) was in Calabar, he was not running the Action Group and for Bode George to be in Kirikiri prison and still run the Lagos PDP was not the right thing.” Indeed, the conduct of the PDP chieftain while in prison has been a recurrent theme in his story. There may well be a need to order a probe into how the Kirikiri maximum prison became an extension of the PDP Lagos secretariat with Bode George holding court with the party faithful who thronged the prison on a daily basis, and what role exactly the prison authorities played in making such mockery of the justice system. If the latter are found guilty of complicity, they should be sanctioned accordingly. We cannot afford to have a prison system which can be compromised by the highest bidder at will. Obasanjo says he “called him.” Called him? How? I am not aware that the Nigerian prison system allows prisoners to use phones while in custody. And Obasanjo does not know that? Any statement that the ex-President makes a posteriori does not absolve him. He is guilty by association.
Obasanjo also added: “I don’t see why PDP as a national party that is trying to form a national government and in 27 states in the federation would be celebrating criminality because whatever we may say, the reason Bode George went to prison should be condemned by everybody and I have condemned it because he did not go to prison for political offence. PDP as a party must dissociate itself from celebrating criminality.” How nice it would have been if Obasanjo had said exactly this at the Bode George event on February 26. But even as an afterthought, it is very well articulated. Obasanjo is Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees.
His condemnation of criminality within the PDP is well taken, particularly as this is coming at a time when the party is fast developing a reputation as a party of bomb throwers, kidnappers and ex-convicts. For the PDP to dissociate itself from criminality, its leaders and foot-soldiers must resolve to go to the 2011 polls to play fair politics, not do or die politics, and they must dissociate themselves from Bode George’s promise of “tsunami politics”. Obasanjo has disclaimed Bode George, so who is next? Perhaps the Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina, which lent its premises and pulpit to the Bode George jamboree? And still on the Obasanjo attack on journalists, has anyone noticed the ironic fact that Baba may also soon enrol as a member of the Nigeria Union of Journalists? He now writes a weekly column titled Global Connection, for the Saturday Mirror newspaper. In a sense, Obasanjo is in fact, one of us –“people in the press.” I kuku ma still dey laugh o…
Reuben Abati writes!