Olusegun Obasanjo: From Your Watch, Please Take A Good Look At Your Time
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel, so hear the word I speak and give them warning for me. When I say to the wicked, 'You wicked person, you will surely die,' and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person to turn from their ways and they do not do so, they will die for their sin, though you yourself will be saved.” – Ezekiel 33: 7 – 9(New International Version)
In Nigeria, 2013's yuletide was a season of open letters. Last year, rather than tow the all too familiar road, our letter writer–in–chief, President Olusegun Obasanjo, outdid himself by launching a three–volume memoir titled; My Watch. With renewed vigor and bravura, he sentenced a court injunction restraining him from proceeding with the publication of his book to damnation with his fist clenched and raised for all to see and his middle finger protruding towards the sky.
In a manner reminiscent of a nasty storm in a teacup, this doing of his stirred up a hornet's nest. I wouldn't know if it was due to the jibes he threw at almost everybody, except himself, or the issues his scribbling bordered on or his well calculated timing, I sure know It led to a motley of reactions from Nigeria and Nigerians. It served as fuel to bickers championed by anonymous hecklers and social sycophants on and off social media spaces. It earned him condemnation from those who claim to have experienced a legendary case of maladministration under his watch, hence, believes he lacks the moral clout to blow a shofar or vuvuzela at anybody's failings, worse still, the seeming cluelessness of a candidate he surreptitiously foisted on us, and admiration from those who claim to admire his bravery and courage. It has prompted counter publications and many more are keenly anticipated. Trust our social commentators – those who have risen above the dictates of their conscience and dedicated their time and resource to public intellection – they spared no second in diving into the undulating waves Baba Iyabo's publication initiated.
For the benefit of those who do not know, his choice of coinage – My Watch – is rather biblically inspired. According to Ebora Owu, as he is fondly called by his acolytes, his work is a chronological and detailed account of his stewardship to man and to the God who made him a watchman over us; a claim he further substantiated with the scriptural verses that served as a prologue to this piece and appeared in all of his three volumes.
You see, nobody really gives a hoot if our old soja (a domestication of the English, “soldier”) – as it is fondly called in rural habitations – who now prefers to play watchman, publishes a million and one volumes of his autobiography, a campaign to situate his place in history. Whether someone, somewhere adjudged his book a compendium of exaggerated claims of his heroic grandeur or a reader who couldn't hide his disgust after reading excerpts of his book tags him a disgruntled, confused and vindictive politician, is not necessarily our position to justify. But asides the titillations of reading his perceptions on his role and place as the father of modern Nigeria, the sentience of civics behooves on us to raise a brow when our history is being distorted, right in our very before. The onus falls on us to cry foul, remind our leaders of their failings and never fail to be generous with the truth, whenever they are being thrifty with it. For this cause, some reminders shall be poised under three salient themes. So let the recall begin.
Theme Number One: Impunity. Odi, a village in present day Bayelsa state, still lies in shambles. What transpired in this town, under the command of our former president remains a classic case of how liberty can be endangered by the abuse of power. A small group of youths took law into their hands by killing some police officers. Rather than adopt a civil conflict resolution approach, the small town was ravaged by soldiers in their armored vehicles and trucks. The town was leveled. Lives were lost. Only a church building and a bank survived the operation. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has tried to spruce up the place by being a respecter of the rule of law – by paying 15 billion out of the 37.6 billion naira ordered as compensation to victims of the holocaust. Yet, the scars the incident came with still abides. The stench and toxins and empty, uninhabited landscapes still remains.
Just as in Odi, the violence that was let lose at Zaki Biam and her neighboring communities, as of now, amounts to one of the worst violations of human rights in Nigeria, since we embraced democracy. The animalism of the military was brought to bear in full glare by an inter-ethnic crisis which led to the death of 19 soldiers between the Tivs and their Junkun neighbors. As a reprisal, their houses and shops were burned down, cement walls crushed, walls poked with bullet holes and their fresh air bartered with the odium of the putrid smell of amputated body parts, while blood coursed the perimeters of their streets.
These are just two of the recorded cases. Of course, his litany of impunities includes; the Uba and Ngige drama, withholding of Lagos state's allocation for upwards of 3 years, running the petroleum ministry as a personal fief, forcing unpopular candidates on the people through gross electoral malpractices and many many more. Whether or not our Ota farmer admits it, if his administration will ever be remembered, like a disabling blemish, it will forever stink of his countless irredeemable impunities.
Theme Number Two: Third Term Agenda. “Dictators who rule by the force of power, oppression, and intimidation seldom relinquish power and control voluntarily to others,” were the words of President Obasanjo in his book, This Animal Called Man. It is difficult, if not impossible for someone who made such an assertion to allude to complicity in passing a tenure elongation bill into law. Hence, the blame gaming and serial denials. But at this point in time, it is appalling our former president haven't come to terms with the fact that blame gaming serves no utility.
If you remember, amidst the tripe and bric-a-brac raised by the failure of this bill, some shocking truths were revealed. First, Senator Ken Nnamani, the senate president who presided over its passage assented to money changing hands – over 8 billion naira doled out to national assembly members by the presidency to see to the bill becoming law. Second, Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary to the Government of the United States of America, wrote in her autobiography how president Obasanjo told former American President, George Bush, how he intends to amend the constitution so he could stay beyond May 29, 2007, but was sternly rebuked. If his current claims of having nothing to do with the bill should be taken seriously, how come he never opposed the bill, at least, not in public?
Theme Number Three: Electricity. It is rather unsettling that someone who presided over an administration that grossly failed on its promise to fix our epileptic state of Power in its first 6 months, through our very first Minister of Power, Late Chief Bola Ige, could muster the courage to call this current administration “inept and a colossal failure.” That such a statement was ever made by a former president whose tenure is hallmarked by failed promises, is laughable, to say the least. Let's assume 6 months was too short a time. Was 8 years and the billions of dollars pumped into the Independent Power Project(IPP) too short and the sums too small?
E.B. White said it best when he asserted that “no one can write decently who is distrustful of the readers intelligence or whose attitude is patronizing.” Painting everybody, except you, black, makes your memoir susceptible to folklore. Even at that, for pretending to be a hero, insulting our collective sense of reasoning and making of yourself a giant and Nigeria a land of dwarfs, it is at best, a crass work of fiction. As a former president, there is absolutely nothing wrong in critiquing the administration of your predecessors. But sir, from your watch, please take a good look at your time.
Joel Pereyi, a freelance copywriter, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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