OBASANJO STIRS UP THE BEES
"What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself." - Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
Did you know that Before It Is Too Late, former President Olusegun Obasanjo's controversial and provocative open letter to President Goodluck Jonathan last December was meant to redouble or heighten the belly ache and caterwaul between the two prize-fighters as well as stir up some advance publicity of sort for Baba's recently published memoir, My Watch, launched a year after (exactly on Tuesday, 9th December 2014) against a Court order?
A Federal High Court sitting in Wuse Zone II, Abuja had granted an order which restrained the former president from going ahead with plans to publish or have someone publish on his behalf his memoir, My Watch. Fact is, ex-President Obasanjo, like a dead skunk whose bad smell putrefies nearby, has caused his fellow Nigerians ceaseless troubles in the past and present. He has stirred up the bess once too many.
This time around an Ijebu-Igbo born businessman and multi millionaire, Prince Buruji Kashamu, also a PDP South-West leader and an Obasanjo former associate, who has since crossed part with the former president over statements credited to him bordering on the prince's alleged drug running past as well as pending drug related cases in the United States, had prayed the court on Friday, 5th December, 2014 to grant the exparte injunction stopping the publication of the said book, following a libel suit he had earlier instituted against the former head of state. The unrepentant Obasanjo, however, stated:
"I had given the book to my editors and to the publisher. As far as I am concerned, my job is done. I had written the book and printed it before the court injunction."
Obasanjo, according to him, never one to "be part of illegality", would seem to have likened Kashamu to a man who bolted his stall after his horse was stolen, when he told his audience at the Ikeja Country Club venue of the book launch on Tuesday, 9th December, 2014 that the interlocutory order came rather late, thereby making the publication to have predated it. Put another way, the book which the order purported to stop had already been published, and that even its printed copies (running into thousands) were already in circulation. Too bad, and too late. (Aso o b'Omoye mo....). Abi, isn't it settled law that an injunction does not lie to restrain a completed act?
One hot Sunday afternoon in Abeokuta (January 2014), as he made to explain why he has distanced himself lately from his party- the People's Democratic Party (PDP), Obasanjo caused quite a fuss, shocking the Adamu Muazu-led delegation of the party that had visited him at his Hilltop mansion, Agbe Loba House, Ogun State, when he exploded like a dark, baleful sky portending a tornado:
"There are for me, issues of principle, morality, honour, integrity, commitmemt and character which are paramount. For instance, as a former president of Nigeria, the chairman of West Africa Commission on Drugs and a member of Global Commission on Drugs, I cannot accept that the zonal leader of my political party and, worse still, in my zone, will be an indicted drug baron wanted in America.
"How do I explain that to friends outside Nigeria? This is only one of the many issues that I have pointed and still pointing out."
However, to Kashamu, who continues to maintain his innocence that he has been exonerated by a U.K. Court, Obasanjo is nothing but a relentless and unyielding stammerer, who keeps repeating the same thing, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Obviously, obduracy bordering on obtuseness has assisted the soldier-turned politician sustain his unappeasability. Said Kashamu of Obasanjo's contempt treatment of the 'do not publish' order:
"He has shown that he does not have respect for the judiciary, and that he is above the law."
Having stubbornly gone ahead with the public presentation of the said book, which contained some obvious faultfinding and judgmental views he holds against certain persons, events and institutions in Nigeria, Obasanjo, like a bull in a China Shop, went beserk, accusing everyone in sight except himself. Trust the headstrong general, even at a time he should be in hiding for his role in creating some of the challenges bedevilling the country (which he likes to blame others for), he not only repeatedly consents to lame publicity stunts, he continues unblushingly to insist that he must chart the country's political future, polluting the system with yesterday's failed nostrums and heating up the polity without a care in the world.
By going ahead with the public presentation, the ex-president secured the wrath of Justice Valentine Ashi of the Federal High Court, Abuja, who not only dismiss Obasanjo's November publication claim that preceded issuance of the interim orders, but quickly ordered security agents (police and operatives of the Department of State Service) to consficate copies of the said book. Now, and possibly so, by this additional act of the Court, we may have a well-sought-after book- a bestseller, to say the least, on our hands, which in itself may have checked with Baba's expectations and mindsets. (Baa ti fe o ri.)
In doing what he did, Chief Obasanjo may have looked up to Harry Reichenbach (1882-1931), an American press agent, publicist and pioneer member of the Association of the Associated Motion Picture Advertisers, who conjured up "sensational publicity stunts to promote films in his days." Early in his career, Reichenbach promoted a woman called "Sober Sue" who was incapable of laughter (since she actually suffered from Mobius syndrome (face muscle paralysis). He got her a contract at the Victoria Theater on Broadway, having made the owners offer $1,000 to any New York comedian who could make her laugh.
Earlier, in 1919, Reichenbach was contracted to arrange advance publicity for a movie called, The Virgin of Stamboul. He went straight to work. Being one who despised functioning the popular way, Reichenbach chose to tap from his vast experience as a former carnival barker who got "the public into his tent" by simply standing apart from the crowd of his fellow barkers; just doing his own things differently!
In Manhattan a few days later, Reichenbach came up with some shaggy Turks whom he dressed up in beautiful and colourful attires. He then rehearsed them thoroughly inside the expensive hotel room where they were lodged. Reporters soon laid siege on the hotel upon hearing that a delegation of Turks, who were on a secret diplomatic mission, had arrived in New York, and were invited up to the suite of Sheikh Ali Bin Mohammed, who headed the mission. Mohammed told them the story of his brother's betrothed, a girl named Sari, a.k.a. the Virgin of Stamboul, who had eloped with a U.S. soldier, believed to be hiding her in New York. Hence their "Coming to America" to fetch her.
This romatic tale, told in clear prismatic language, had completely spellbound the reporters who lavished the pages of their newspapers with stories of the Virgin of Stamboul. Not long after, the film, The Virgin of Stamboul, opened in theaters all over New York. The story suited the "real" event just ended. Gosh! A quickly made film in the mode of the "true" story. A coincidence? No way! The public wasn't sure anymore, and they didn't care. That was how The Virgin of Stamboul became a huge box-office success.
For this his important book, My Watch, which runs in three volumes, with pages spanning more than 1, 500, to catch everyone's attention like The Virgin of Stamboul and other such greats, Obasanjo refrained from doing what the normal publicist would have done, that is, "mount a campaign with alluring posters and advertisements." Aware that the reading public want to be entertained, and are so fascinated by what appears both sham and bona fide at the same time, the former head of state, ensured that Before It Is Too Late preceeded My Watch, which he was already writing when he wrote President Jonathan in December last year, and which finally took a whole year to arrive the bookshelves. He was going to hold the public's attention long enough with whatever it takes- controversy, stubborness, arrogance, disobedience, contempt of the court, judgement appeal (Suit No. CV/472/14), anything. Gripped by a fever of excitement, the reading public would flock to
the bookstands for copies of the book. Simply put, the restraining order, criticisms and threats would all fail to prevent the people from going to look for the book Baba has publicicized and the court is seeking to consficate.
Apparently as well, the former president knows too well how to feed the need and desparation of the media for events that command, posses or enjoy both drama and value with hardwired, or in-built humour and entertainment. A cognoscente in his own right, Obasanjo exploits the public's weakness for whatever appears "realistic and slightly fantastical". He did it with "My Command", which was launched Monday, 2nd November, 1981 by his friend and then former governor of old Oyo State, Chief Bola Ige (1930-2001), and which the government of President Shehu Shagari accordingly banned for almost a similar reason. Ditto for his other book, Nzeogwu (1987), during the Babangida years. Today, the author describes as highly misleading the impression conveyed by media reports that he intended to "dare or confront a judge or the judiciary", and further says:
"I'm not guilty of contempt for pubishing my book."
Obasanjo's events are always certifiable or dinkum, even real to often command, as in every case, a favourable advantage or acuteness for him. Every now and then, he poses to be argus-eyed and hides in between raising the bar and raising alerts for the nation in such a way that the media find them irresistible and so treat them as news. He stages his events and publicity stunts in the way of Harry Reichenbach, who leaked to the media the details of his 1931 book, Phantom Fame, written with Romanian-born American playwright and biographer, David Freedman (1898-1936), reknown as the "King of the Gag-writers" at the inception of radio. These leaked details formed the basis of the 1932 film, The Half-Naked Truth.
While preparing to push out his latest effort, Obasanjo, like the Canadian-French singer and songwriter, Avril Lavigne, 30, was ready to keep his image really his, and like Donald Rumsfeld, 82, an American politician and businessman, he quite understands that the amount of criticism he would receive will correlate somewhat to the amount of publicity he would rapidly gain. That must have encouraged him, and provided him the rationale to bounce back to the podium of national consciousness the way he did last week, having settled for the soft sell technique.
For keen watchers, Chief Obasanjo has over the decades developed such a thick skin to be bothered anymore. In the seemingly endless self-promotion of himself, he became so fearlessly watchful and vigilant (which is also just publicity) such that anyone who thinks he is not scared out of his mind whenever he does one of his stunts must be crazier than he is. [Apology to Jackie Chan]. So when he decided to do that launch, he was ready to portentously take control of the mood of the nation as well as hit the reading public like the earthquake and damn the consequence (he flatly demanded for Justice Ashi's head.)
He wanted something more; to become the public's only cynosure. He craved the attention of the people, their engrossment, their preoccupation, their enthrallment, their immersion. He desired their accord, their understanding, their comprehension, their agreement, their sympathy. At the same time, he wanted to cause a fleeting stir, to disturb the relative quiet in the country once more.
Fair enough, he also eagerly wanted to tell his own side of the story, to appeal, attract, lure or entice the public to his side. What with several pages of docments and private letters (included in the book to confirm or refute certain claims) involving him and some other power brokers and supposed leading lights occupying the country's political space. In his watchman's role, he carpeted Atiku Abubakar, Bola Tinubu, Nasir El-Rufai, Tony Anenih, etc,. Trust, these people will definitely not like to give him the benefit of the last word. The nation, on the jumps to know what actually happened, will doubtless benefit immensely from their rebuttals, if and when it is made available.
The author also wanted to sell his memoir (for his publisher's sake at least) and needed not only to become the public's friend, but also enter their spirit. He hopes they slacken, chill out, loosen up, mellow, or hang loose- to be able to listen to him or at least buy and read his book. Wichever will work. He was going to engender "a confluence of real life and fiction- the essence of any seduction", hence he must ensure that his "events and publicity stunts", with facts and figures, remain both credible and believable.
The great chalatans of 17th century Europe have been credited with inventing the soft sell technique which they used to "peddle their elixirs and alchemic concoctions". In the process, they sold in large numbers, where they normally would have sold just a few. "In the centuries since," wrote Greene [in TAOS] "publicists, advertisers, political strategists, and others have taken this method to new heights, but the rudiments of the soft sell remain the same."
From Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), who created an inclusive image which attracted and excited "people on a basic; almost unconscious level", to Ronald Reagan (1911-2004), who saw to it that most of those who worked on communication for him had a background in marketing and so appreciated "the importance of telling a story crisply, sharply, and with good visuals...capable of getting the president into a video opportunity", the soft sell, for its inherent entertainment, remains richly replete with "the potential to draw in millions", whether it is signposted to win elections or hype up films, books, etc.
Back home, even the noted Yoruba film marketer, Gbenga "Bayowa" Adewusi, employed a similar strategy to boot some years back. To jack up the sale of lewed-Fuji crooner, Abass Akande Obesere's then yet to be released VCD, "Egungun Becareful", he proclaimed on his TV show that the songbird had been kidnapped by possibly, the traditional masquerade adherents. The kidnap news ruled the airwaves in and around Lagos for weeks. In the end, for those who wanted to be entertained, Egungun Becareful became an unforgetable hit, and was everywhere on their lips.
It cannot be contested that former president Obasanjo is intellectualy gifted. In fact, his literary acumen has no doubt continued to excite many, having shunned out 14 books to date. He may be "willing to engage in rigorous debates irrespective of your political leanings, ethnic group or personal convictions", but his incessantly disturbing paroxysms, in spite of claiming that they were borne out genuine patriotism, particularly against President Jonathan, in pursuance of an agenda shrouded in obscurantism and which only he can explain, have continued to concern all well-meaning Nigerians. As if he is the only surviving former head of state around, Obasanjo's has grown to emerge such a dangerous man with all the stubbornness and obstinacy built into him. Yet, he couldn't help worrying obsessively about what would or may happen to the Nigerian project. Unfortunately, his absurd pastime these days include lampooning, deriding, ridiculing, and scorning
his next-but-one successor, who has since stopped being astonished or stupified by his subtle, contrived, and bogus absorption. Truth is, Obasanjo is an anti-seducer who feels so insecure that his nostalgia for power, his anxieties and his self-consciousness continue to push him away so that he begins to construe the minuetest disagreement with President Jonathan as a slight to his once powerful ego; to such a level that he sees the man's merest inkling of interest in a second term ticket of the ruling party as a betrayal, and he is doing a bad job of it; complaining bitterly about it, threatening, cursing, and swearing all the way.
The Commander of Nigeria's Third Marine Commando and accepter of Biafra's surrender way back has become excessively judgmental and, almost like a school headmaster, he criticises President Jonathan, his "wayward pupil", with unusual tenacity that he drops all pretences of protocol as well as throws all caution to the wind, even saying it to his face that he is failure.. As God's Watchman over Nigeria, the last thing Baba would do, even as a former president, is to neglect his divine or numinous duty of 'supervising' the country's matters and concerns.
Finally, how Obasanjo wriggles out of his present donnybrook and batlle royal with Justice Ashi and co. (Baba's appeal notwithstanding) remains to be seen. Ebora Owu will do well to mellow on the acrimonious acridity constitutional to his numerous examens and probations of society, or continue to make everyone feel that he has clearly obtruded his jealousy of the incumbent president beyond healthy comprehension. One thing is almost certain though, by failing to learn from the experience of the raconteur and novelist, Chinua Achebe (1930-2013), who in the twilight of a geat career wrote himself out of the fondness of the people, this "father of modern Nigeria" may also be intriguing or scheming his own ruination through unceremonius bluntness and insatiable accumulation of publicity.