The Calpurnia in Obasanjo
William Shakespeare’s eponymous tragic play, Julius Caesar, is no doubt a cautionary tale. After all, most of us would agree that it is only a stubborn fly that follows a dead body to the grave. Of course, people need not die before learning life’s often painful lessons. My concern here is to draw a link between an event in Julius Caesar and ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo’s letters to two other eminent Nigerian personalities – the first being ex-president Goodluck Jonathan and the second, the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. I refer to the incident between one of Rome’s strongest men, Julius Caesar, and his third and last wife Calpurnia. And for the record, the said letters are those written by Obasanjo on 2nd December 2013 and 23rd January 2018.
Calpurnia had a premonition about her husband’s murder and tried in vain to dissuade him from going out that day. She even lied to one of the conspirators that her husband had suddenly taken ill and so would not be able to attend that day’s meeting of the Senate. As is well known, obstinate Caesar ignored his wife’s warning and delivered himself into his enemies’ hands.
And they gleefully killed him.
However, before his death Caesar learnt his last lessons. Eyes glazed in death throes, Caesar witnessed betrayal from a most unlikely person. At the time, not even one of Caesar’s trusted allies, Marcus Antonius, could save him. Antonius was only human after all, one who could even barely save himself from danger.
There are a few points that can be drawn from what transpired between Caesar and his wife. First, when Calpurnia urged her husband to stay at home on that fateful day she was not in any grave danger, but her status as a wife was. Her personal life was not under threat, but her love was. Calpurnia knew that her life remained, but arguably her esteem and happiness were about to be taken away from her forever. Second, she understood the full implication of the premonition, quite unlike Caesar. Third, from any privileged angle one might want to look at it, Calpurnia’s importance as both a wife and a member of the more intuitive sex had been undermined. Clearly, she had been disrespected and humiliated. Although Calpurnia meant well, all of her entreaties were spurned by her apparently all-knowing husband. Maybe she was ignored because she was ‘just a woman’; whatever the reason, the consequence was grievous for Caesar.
And Caesar’s fate awaits anyone who ignores good counsel – today. Calpurnia loved Caesar and did all that was humanly possible to keep him a little while longer. But Caesar’s fate had been designed to be a lesson to posterity. The world has not and cannot forget the historical Caesar for his greatness and stubbornness.
How does this connect to Nigeria today?
Like Calpurnia, Obasanjo’s warning had once gone unheeded. When he wrote his famous letter to former President Jonathan, he had warned the latter not to seek re-election in 2015. Jonathan didn’t listen. Entitled ‘Before it is too late’, Obasanjo’s letter had accused Jonathan of many hideous things. Determined to make Nigeria work, Obasanjo had deployed a little bit of propaganda and subtle mendacity in his bid to make Jonathan drop his ambition. Well, Jonathan did run – and the rest is history. Like Caesar, Jonathan learnt his lessons in a most brutal way. Although not Caesar, Jonathan also bore perfidy from those who wined and dined with him. When Obasanjo wrote Jonathan at the time, the former’s political career was neither at stake nor under siege. But the welfare of hapless Nigerians was surely at stake.
Now Obasanjo is once again playing the role of Calpurnia.
With humility, decency and a sense of statesmanship, Obasanjo has advised President Buhari to quit now that the ovation is loudest – and begin his last lap in Daura. This is good advice from one brother to another and I see no malice whatsoever in it. And neither is it self-serving. Those berating Obasanjo for writing the letter know that he has seen enough fame and wealth that will last him even more than his time here on earth. If he wants cheap popularity, Obasanjo knows how to order it. Since assuming the presidency, Buhari has relentlessly exposed himself to deserved public criticism. He has indeed given cause to Nigerians at home and abroad to mock his credibility.
It is no wonder that even his diehard supporters are now disappointed in him and have frustratingly rated him low. If care is not taken, Buhari might end up being rated the worst president Nigeria has so far had. I understand that Governors El-Rufai and Shettima, lost in the cesspool of pride, are egging him on to re-contest in 2019. They should continue in their crusade of shame. But El-Rufai and his cohorts need to be reminded about the blurred line between the present and posterity.
As someone who has seen the good and bad side of the highest office in our land, Obasanjo is well-positioned to know when to advise a Nigerian president to quit the alluring corridors of power. He has given Buhari time enough to show that he can make Nigeria better than he met it, but the reigning president seems not to know how. Buhari has a noble option before him: to heed Obasanjo’s Calpurnian counsel – and head for Daura come May 29, 2019. What may follow if he does otherwise may not be like Caesar’s or Jonathan’s, but may be something that cancels out all that he ever cherished in his well over two scores of active public life.
Ochibejivwie wrote from Department of English, University of Lagos.
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