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Obasanjo’s superman syndrome

THERE is no doubt that the political career of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, has been one of the longest and most successful in Nigeria.

Right from when he first entered national consciousness as the soldier who received the instrument of surrender from the defeated Biafran forces at the end of Nigeria’s Civil War, his rise within the polity has never waned.

Not even the short spell in Abacha’s prison for what is generally considered a phantom coup charge could damage his political fortune. If anything, the Abacha attempt to unravel the Obasanjo enigma only served to strengthen it. With the recent passage of Pa Anthony Enahoro, in addition to his long presence in the corridors of power which has served to give him invaluable insight into the workings of the Nigerian state, he is arguably the most experienced politician currently on the scene.

Obasanjo’s success as a political figure resided more in his uncanny ability to be or be found at the right place at the right time than in his sagacity as a statesman. His appointment as boss of the Third Marine Commandos which had all the gruelling period of the war been under the control of Benjamin Adekunle aka the Black Scorpion- his appointment to the Marines Corps in the last few months of the war placed him at a point that was to prove catalytic to his rise in subsequent years.

The Civil War episode would be followed in just six years by his appointment as Head of State following the assassination of Murtala Mohammed his former junior in the military who was to become his boss in the curious dynamics of Nigeria’s military politics. Obasanjo’s rise from the position of Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, to Head of State was entirely fortuitous as he was not part of the power house of junior officers that shoved out the Yakubu Gowon regime paving way for Murtala to take the stage.

His position as Chief of Staff was in terms of control of forces weak relative to that of the Chief of Army Staff, TY Danjuma who, nevertheless, conceded the HoS position to him. But by the time Obasanjo had served out Murtala’s ‘term’ and, rather unusually for an African leader then, handed over to Shehu Shagari, a civilian, he had become one of the most revered leaders in the world.

He thus assumed the status of an oracle that was widely consulted, one whose pronouncements carried much weight.  His re-turn to power 20 years later as the unlikely and undeserved beneficiary of the June 12 struggle had a lot to do, again, with his good fortune in being found at the right place- at the right time. He served two full terms and, many Nigerians believe strongly, wanted to add an unconstitutional third term to the bargain. Now in retirement, he still exercises such influence on the political scene and today’s people of power as makes his opponents believe he’s indeed doing his third term by proxy.

But the whole point of my historical recollection is to say that, rarely would people as successful and fortunate as Obasanjo not be plagued by a sense of messianism. Obasanjo was the one who famously told Nigerians that Moshood Abiola was not the messiah that they seemed to have made of him in their expectant struggle to have his voided mandate validated. His action following Abiola’s death, no less than his being the beneficiary of the former’s mandate, gives the strong impression that Obasanjo sees himself as the messiah that he thought Abiola was not.

Yet he has not been able to carry well the honour that his extremely good fortune on the political field has conferred on him.

Among his Yoruba kith and kin, in particular, Obasanjo does not enjoy the kind of reverence usually extended to some leaders from that part of the world. In spite of his seeming indifference, Obasanjo wouldn’t mind trading place with Awolowo in the Yoruba imagination. Beyond the Yoruba West there are better respected, if less successful, leaders than Obasanjo.

Much of what may pass for disregard of Obasanjo’s achievements has to do with his lack of temperance- never mind that a major part of his business goes by the name Temperance. He is quick to anger which he puts on display more often than is healthy for an elderly person to say nothing of a statesman. His conduct on the home front is no less contentious.

Notwithstanding these obvious lapses, Obasanjo still wants to be seen as bigger than your average man. Which is why he has, in recent times, tried to put an unseemly spin on certain activities in which he’s been involved. Nigerians would recall the strange episode between him and the unknown man who forced his way into his vehicle at the presidential wing of the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos last November?

The man allegedly pounced on Obasanjo before he was rescued by his armed escorts. The claim would later be that the man was a lunatic- a very convenient way to explain away the matter.

Less than a month later, precisely December 5, it would be Obasanjo and Ayo Fayose, former governor of Ekiti State, at the thanksgiving service organised by Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, former governor of Osun State. The report was that the two exchanged very rude and angry words following Fayose’s refusal to greet Obasanjo when they met. Obasanjo, it was reported, had called Fayose  a ‘bastard’, to which the latter had called Obasanjo the ‘father of bastards’.

But Ojekunle Adeoba, Obasanjo’s spokesman or ‘media consultant’, as some reports describe him virtually denied the entire episode even while simultaneously admitting it. He wondered how anybody could imagine ‘Baba’ exchanging words with Fayose. Fayose, he said, was the one who went on an unprovoked rant.

I would rather find it hard to imagine a much younger person, a Yoruba in particular, standing up to utter abusive words at any one of the older politicians from Yorubaland to say nothing of the legendary figures from that zone that Obasanjo ought to be ranked with. As if that was not enough, Adeoba has come out once more, contrary to wide media report, to deny that Obasanjo slumped/fainted during a church service for Olu Bajowa, a retired general, in Igbotako, Ondo State on 26th December.

In this last episode both Obasanjo and Adeoba made it look as if Obasanjo was neither mortal nor susceptible to human frailty. But in this they deceive nobody for to deny one’s humanity does not make one a superman.


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Posted by on Jan 10 2011. Filed under Headlines, Olusegun Obasanjo (1976-79, 99-07), Presidency. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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