Re-visiting, Obasanjo’s, faux pas,
ALMOST contemporaneous with and similar to the sizzling antics and peculiarly dramatic persona of the late Barkin Zuwo is General Olusegun Obasanjo’s socially hilarious mien or carriage. The former Governor of old Kano State, Alhaji Zuwo, was the butt of many apocryphal jokes, funny stories, ridiculous memorabilia, etc. Zuwo is reputed to have listed “Fanta”, “Coke”, “7up” and “Sprite” as some of the many minerals that abound in his native Kano State. When the army struck in 1983 and sent politicians packing from their serene conveniences, Zuwo jocularly expressed his consternation regarding the query as to why money [raw cash] was found in his Government House residence. He reportedly quipped, “Government money in Government house, what is the problem?” Attempts to classify Obasanjo along lines that are different or far from the perspective of the Barkin Zuwo conundrum are sure to mislead or present us with an unfulfilled aspiration regarding our quest. Alternately profound and profane, Obasanjo is a bundle of impish contradictions. This classification affords us a proper grasp of the difficulty in understanding the “enigma” that is Obasanjo.
The main distinguishing characteristic of General Obasanjo is his style [or lack of it]. He pays little or no attention to style, diction, imagery, rhythm and arrangement of ideas. The proper arrangement of words in a manner which at once best expresses the individuality of the author and the idea and intent in his mind is generally the goal or quest of speakers or writers or of persons who simply want to communicate effectively. Usually given to verbosity, short, pithy statements of general truth are not Obasanjo’s forte. He is adept at running caustic commentaries, making acerbic remarks and jocularly rebuking desultory or irresponsible conduct of political office holders. He is direct, undisguised and unabashed. A tradition of conventionality is not part of his intrinsic make-up.
The metaphor inherent in the reported party membership card tearing by Obasanjo imaginatively identifies or invests the act with the emotional or psychological qualities or attributes generally associated with him. The card tearing exercise is the idea being expressed while the character of Obasanjo is the image by which the idea is conveyed or the subject matter communicated. There is an obvious direct resemblance that exists objectively between the idea and the character or persona of the General. In more complex situations, the relationship between the idea and the character is in the mind of the maker of the metaphor.
It is perhaps appropriate to start with the complimentary stance of certain contributors to the debate or discussion of Obasanjo’s want of bon hommie. This group, made up primarily of Obasanjo’s erstwhile virulent political adversaries is loudly applauding his insurgent self-assertion. A particularly resounding expression of this position is the facile or ready deployment of the group’s arsenal [in the form of its prime possession of media apparatus] to the protection of their perceived Obasanjo values or worldview. Obasanjo is right after all to choose what banner he intends to queue behind, they sardonically contend. To this group, the aphorism “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, holds true. They hope to benefit from Obasanjo’s “apostasy” or conscientious objection and this, they seem to expect, will be to the sulky chagrin of those who think of him as a spent or disused force.
It is a reflection of our general social predicament that we know or learn little from our leaders’ prognoses or are unable to make or form a judgment about which direction their trajectory is likely to proceed. The gory details of the Nigerian civil war, its accompanying misery and despair including its grim potential for the hardening of positions have added their gruesome consequences to the emotional, psychological and physical make-up of many of the combatants who survived. The details of that irresponsible tragedy have sadly produced for us or in us a comprehensive philosophy or attitude about oppression, dehumanisation and a crude survival instinct. In them, we have come face to face with the tragic immediacy of life. The negative effect of all these is amplified or concretised in such socially embarrassing themes like turbulence, anger, impatience and opportunism which today beset our entire landscape. The epic achievement of Gen. Obasanjo and his men in completing the rout by concluding the civil war in favour of Nigeria is drowned or pales into insignificance by the rupturing of communal innocence, the brow-beating of subtlety and the enthronement of bravado exemplifying themselves in death, decay, putrefaction, impunity, a forgiveless upturn of public morality, unspeakable corruption and economic mismanagement all of which have remorselessly trailed the end of the war and have remained with us ever since.
The open letter of Obasanjo to President Jonathan in December, 2013 even though it raised a number of strategic and/or controversial issues of state is blighted by its lack of finesse. It is totally lacking in diplomatese in tone, content and form and may have achieved its “goal” in the reverse i.e. instead of gearing the President to positive action may have jarred already taut nerves or may have hardened positions. The apocalyptic or “the heavens will fall tomorrow” suggestions of its message truly derogate from the prophetic and lucid expectation of pronouncements from his high office as a former President. As a member of the National Council of State and of other notable national concourses, it is not arguable that diplomatic channels are open to him for the exhaustive discussion of extant issues of state with the President. Or if there are impediments on the way, a college of members of some of these august bodies is properly or suitably positioned to clear the way for broaching vexed issues of national concern. It is gauche or impolitic for a prime member of the political class to make public or play to the gallery concerning matters that touch or impinge on the tender tendons of the polity; or to do or say things that may incite or instigate the populace or cause them to be exasperated or confused. Obasanjo’s thinly-veiled reference to a perceived perilous circumstance regarding the prognosis of some of the alleged activities or actions of the President is untidy.
So much is expected from someone who is supposed to have a clear conception of government and politics. Judging by their experience, political leaders are supposed to have a full grasp of the mechanics of governance and be acquainted with the vulnerability of its under-belly. They ought to know that as the occupier of the office of President is the axis of the people’s political relations, the symbol of their unity and exclusiveness and the embodiment of their essential values, he may not be ridiculed, embarrassed or otherwise or harangued. Since the whole power of the ruler is necessarily derived from the people and held in trust for them, the notion of popular sovereignty lessens power struggle of a disintegrative genre. Leadership through popular elections is positioned to promote and preserve the system even as it is considered as an irreducible imperative.
Viewed even from the prism or point of view of popular notion of the African value system, Obasanjo’s public wolf-crying is culturally in-apt. As the autochthonous or primordial state was almost personified and took precedence over every individual, more emphasis was placed on the group than on the individual. Obasanjo’s fiercely individualistic approach to matters of public concern or to issues which require our collective co-operation and effort has no historical support or basis. A Yoruba age-long aphorism is to the effect that the elderly does not involve or engage himself in unnecessary exertion of his jaunty physique [Agbalagba kii se langba-langba].
Or what does one make of the public show of an otherwise private affair – a private person’s renunciation of the membership of a political party.
How many people gathered as he registered to become a member at the beginning?
Some of Obasanjo’s posturings evince fundamental questions regarding the abuse of certain time-honoured social values by the elite and the resultant infective anarchic social ethos, which is willy-nilly foisted on a bemused or distracted society.
• Rotimi-John, a lawyer and commentator on public affairs, contributed this piece from Abuja