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Yoruba, Obasanjo and Nigerian politics

If there is one person whose personage in national polity offers a case study, it is no other than General Olusegun Obasanjo. Whether in his career in the military or his debut in politics, he is so far the luckiest person in Nigeria’s public life.
To some, he is seen as the symbol of Nigerian unity. Some will not even mind giving him the cognomen of one that can lay down his life for Nigeria’s cause. What such people may not remember, however, is that whether in the military or in government, Obasanjo’s so-called courage is shielded by mortal cowardice. Various accounts of the war showed him as somebody gifted in hiding himself away from trouble zone only to emerge from nowhere to take credit that he did not deserve.  But even if we do not have details of his military career, the incident of February 3, 1976, when he was number two man in government, show him for what he is: A coward. He  disappeared upon hearing the news of the assassination of his boss and Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed. He was later located hiding in the room of the late Chief S.B. Bakare in Ikoyi.
When be came out, he could not, on his own, muster the courage to take the leadership position until the likes of Theophilus Danjuma, Shehu Yar’Adua and others stepped out.
Interestingly, at that critical stage in Obasanjo’s life, Nigeria was not worth dying for. It turned out to be a peculiar idiosyncrasy to him that the first thing he usually did with authority was to turn the sword against those who risked their lives to give it to him.  Just as it was with the likes of Alani Akinrinade, Alabi-Isama in the war front, so also was it with the Danjuma, Ibrahim Babangida etc., at Dodan Barracks. The story is not different with those who equipped his wardrobe for presidential garment in 1999. Atiku Abubakar, Danjuma and business moguls like S.O. Bakare, Fasawe and Orji Uzor Kalu, among others, have different stories to tell on the 1999 episode.
One may wonder whyin spite of all these, Obasanjo is still being seen as the symbol of unity in the country. The reason for this is not far-fetched. The case of Obasanjo is the myth or paradox of the man, who loves his distant cousin better than his direct sibling. The paradox is the passion of sacrificing the blood of his sibling brother to save the life of his cousin.
The political narrative of that analogy is that in selling himself to other federating units of the country, he always sees his own race, the Yoruba, as the pawn or tool to ignite the lamp of Nigeria. Mention any Yoruba man, living or dead, aspiring to the leadership of the country, Obasanjo would be quick to portray him to the other zones either as a tribalist or a Yoruba irredentist. Going memory lane, it was Obasanjo, who, as military Head of State, coined the slogan ‘the best candidate does not have to win at all costs in a democracy.’ He deliberately coined that to quench the flame of the rising profile of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s four cardinal programmes of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN).
Obasanjo did not change his colour in 1993 during Moshood Abiola’s presidential bid. He did not hide his endorsement of the 1993 election annulment in ‘national interest.’ His response to the Sani Abacha clampdown on Yoruba leaders was a tacit endorsement of the anti-Yoruba  agenda of General Abacha until nemesis caught up with him. In a nutshell, anything anti-Yoruba is to him in the country’s national interest.
Although, ostensibly, the presidency was zoned to the South West in 1999, at northern initiative, to assuage the pain of the Yoruba for the annulment, the period turned to be the worst for the South-west in the political history of the country. All sensitive positions that should ordinarily go to the South-west were given as bonuses to other zones by Obasanjo, with a view to portraying himself as a nationalist. Even his deputy, Vice President Atiku Abubakar, had a taste of his anger, in his bid to revive the SDP confraternity of the Babangida era. Atiku started by initiating a regular progressive meeting with the AD governors, who were his political soul mates in the SDP days. Obasanjo tacitly queried him for undue interference in his political zone. He found a way of admonishing the AD governors for fraternising with a Fulani man at his own expense. He, thereafter, initiated his own rapport with his ‘brother governors.’ We all saw the end of that rapport, as he made sure all the governors, except Tinubu, lost their second term bids.
Where other leaders used the opportunity of their incumbency to raise their people, the reverse is the case with Obasanjo. The Awujale, in his book, narrated how he dealt with Mike Adenuga. Maybe one day, somebody will also tell the story of Chief Bakare of the Oluwalogbon fame in the hands of Obasanjo.

• Agboola Sanni sent this piece from Ibadan.

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1 Comment

  1. Frank Ikemba 12th January 2017 at 12:52 am

    Well done Mr Sanni for your beautiful expose on the man OBJ. You did not mention OBJ’s statement in 1993/94 during the June 12 imbroglio that ‘Abiola is not the messiah that that Nigeria need’ only to turn back and reap the benefit of Abiola’s sweat? By the way, when will the South East be lucky enough to have the presidency zoned to them?

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