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Ogbodo: Odimegwu Comes Alive Again


IT was a loaded week. The big farmer went wild again just as ex-brewer Festus Odimegwu after an uncharacteristic long silence re-opened his wide mouth in an attempt to outperform all including ex-Central Bank governor, Charles Soludo in the new national past time of lambasting President Goodluck Jonathan and his regime. The brewer spoke in such contradictory tones that it was difficult situating him in context. He was proposing and opposing the same time.

   In one breath, he pinned down the problem of Nigeria to the Hausa-Fulani power oligarchs. Even at that, he remembered to place part of the culpability at the door step of the British colonialists whom he accused of designing Nigeria in a manner that made the Oligarchs a constant in the power equation. In fact, he said the British handed the emergent nation over to the North to possess forever. 

   Hear him: “On their (the British) exit at independence, they found it wise to impose a fraudulent census data on Nigeria that enabled them to rig the elections and hand power over to the northern part of the union in preference to the troublesome (that is enlightened) southern part: in their continued self interest.” He rightly noted that the British “amalgamated the poor North with the rich South with an obnoxious concept of Northern husband and Southern wife of means in a new creation called Nigeria and held the colonized captives without their consultation or agreement.”

   He described as “erroneous the assumption that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable even when all evidence show that Nigeria is never united… This unity in diversity with other nationalities is only possible under certain conditions…  And the basis of this as enshrined in our constitution is that our union must be built on truth, justice, equity and fairness to lead to unity, peace and sustainable progress.”

   Excellent submission! If only Odimegwu had chosen just this one time to be less loquacious and ambivalent and remained on one track, he would have scored a big point.  He abandoned the argument of restructuring the polity to achieve justice and lasting peace and veered off into a needless comparative analysis to enforce a choice between President Goodluck Jonathan and Mohammadu Buhari in the March 28 presidential election. And he chose Buhari. 

   After stating the many sins of Jonathan which are not too different from what everybody else, including Buhari has been saying – corruption and insecurity – and as a result of which the incumbent should be rejected at the polls, he painted Buhari in glowing colours to push across a contrast that did not require further investigation before reaching a decision on who between the two contestants should be inaugurated President and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on May 29, all things being equal. 

   One of Jonathan’s sins was the sacking of Odimegwu as the chairman of the National Population Commission (NPC). There was a background to his sacking. It was for Mr. Odimegwu to work silently and diligently towards exploding the myths surrounding census in Nigeria. He didn’t. He chose instead to be loquacious, proclaiming his prowess and readiness to prove that Kano State was not more populous than Lagos State. He touched off a nerve that unleashed the Northern establishment on him. Kano State Governor Rabiu Kwakwanso made such a fuss about Odimegwu’s attempt to understate the population of Kano vis-à-vis Lagos that President Jonathan had to off load him (Odimegwu) from the chairmanship of the NPC to buy peace, and re-election, according to Odimegwu.

   He stated that his sack among other ‘missteps’ reflected President Jonathan’s “personal vision” that was “uncompromisingly focused on re-election.” He stressed President Jonathan “sacrificed and was ready to sacrifice anything and everything, anyone and everyone for re-election!” If this is taken as a Freudian slip, it readily explains what underlies the anger in Odimegwu’s presentation. It also explains his apparent contradiction. He wanted on one hand a restructured Nigeria that would move things forward, while on the other hand, he desired to extract his pound of flesh from Jonathan’s body for making him jobless and if supporting Buhari could assuage that desire, so be it.

   He did not even list the radical restructuring of the polity or even the strict implementation of the report of the National Conference under Jonathan as one of the key steps Buhari as president should take to get Nigeria back on track. He just wanted Buhari to replace Jonathan. In a know-it-all manner, he gave administrative prescriptions to tackle the perennial issue of corruption – and now insecurity – which are, but symptomatic of a deep rooted ailment – a federalism that is driven entirely from the centre. 

   Altogether, Odimegwu’s attempt at scholarly inquisition into the Nigerian problem with a view to proffering solution lacked sincerity. Simply, he had sensed that the Buhari show might be real  after all and started angling ahead of time to secure some role for himself.  In plain language, Odimegwu is hustling and it is not his first time. 

   As the Managing Director of Nigerian Breweries (NBL) Plc, he had inexplicably made the Third Term agenda of former President Olusegun Obasanjo a fundamental objective of NBL. Nigerians were angry that a topmost officer of the maker of their darling twin lager, Star and Gulder, was a star promoter of Obasanjo’s unconstitutional tenure elongation plan. Messages were floated on all GSM networks asking people to boycott all NBL’s products. 

   A consumer backlash was imminent. The company was not ready to risk so much for an irritant CEO who had expanded his official schedule to include partisan politics. Odimegwu was promptly sent to school somewhere outside Nigeria, apparently to receive training on how not to combine the business of beer brewing with politics. He never returned to his post and it only took a little more time for him to be completely off loaded from the NBL’s system. 

   He noted somewhere in his presentation that the “the predatory ruling cabals in Nigeria,” I guess these should include him, share a wrong notion which sees “Nigerians as gullible and naïve people…” In dramaturgy, this kind of projection is called dramatic irony, which occurs when a character says or reveals more than he intends and leaves himself exposed to the audience, which has a fuller picture of the unfolding events.

  Odimegwu has since moved past Obasanjo. He describes the Obasanjo presidency for which he  sacrificed his top job to perpetuate as a continuation of the military by “other means.” If so, how is this assessment different from the fresh proposal of a Buhari Presidency by Odimegwu? 

   Truly, the man thinks Nigerians are a bunch of fools. He is coming around after his previous ‘sins’ to sound holier than a saint without any proof of repentance or even asking for forgiveness. Only gullible and naïve people will actually  take him seriously. In a good country where the citizens are wise and memories are kept alive to strengthen the institutions of state, his likes shall remain silent almost forever, that is if he escapes being in jail. But here in Nigeria, just anybody can make a dramatic turnaround, appropriate whatever status and mount the national stage to pontificate on values. 

   There is no institutional memory to track and put the records straight for the subsisting and future generations. Even when that is managed to be achieved, this characteristic naivety and gullibility will come to wipe off the entire gain. It is precisely the reason a Buhari can come around after 32 years to preach democracy and human rights without first apologizing for his past misdeeds and gross abuse of these same concepts in the past. 

   Some Professor has said Buhari has been purified into a democratic icon by “an intervening experience” and that we should accept him (Buhari) as the best Nigeria can offer for the presidency in this age and time. The Prof may be right given his depth of knowledge. 

   But the bigger issue, as I noted last week, is not the 2015 presidential election or who becomes President on May 29. The real issue is survival of Nigeria beyond the presidential election. We are going about searching for a good president without first inventing a good nation. It will simply not work and it for this reason that I join the Pan-Yoruba group Afenifere and other well meaning Nigerians to ask for the implementation of the report of the National Political Conference. That, for now, is the irreducable minimum.


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