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Olu Obasanjo: Politics Of The Garrison Ideologue

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NOT many people know him as Olu nowadays. When the police authorities in Port Harcourt, Rivers State decided to name a police station after General Olusegun Obasanjo, they found the name more appealing or atleast to make the police station look a bit friendly. To a very large extent, the shortened form, Olu instead of Obasanjo or Obj; seems a very practical way to emasculate Obasanjo’s attributes especially his hideous aspect and ignoble designs. At his first coming as military Head of State in 1976, the ready image of Obasanjo was that of a soldier and that image was well advertised by his launch of operation feed the nation, (OFN) programme in the fight against world hunger. Some people do not fail to associate the image of Obj in full military regalia with the Unknown Soldier figurine. In politics, especially at his second coming as democratic president of Nigeria, Obasanjo’s image and public perception changed. That was when the Obj sobriquet came into full application. 

But what happened recently when the members of his Ota ward in Abeokuta, Ogun State; visited him depicted the true character and content of General Obasanjo’s political philosophy.  Nigerians were in shock as they beheld Baba telling the Ita Eko ward chairman, Surajudeen Oladunjoye,”tear it”. As a soldier, the former President loves the ‘command and obey’ style of the military. As Yoruba man, Obasanjo cherishes the traditional respect reserved for the elderly. Perhaps a combination of both roots, the former president appreciates loyalty and does not recoil from using men: he understands the meaning of proxy and master-servant relationship. Baba encourages cronyism! However in all aspects, Obj’s dicta give elucidation to his jackboot mentality. Brutal use of power and ferocious use of words go together to define Chief Obasanjo’s garrison ideology. Those who have come in close political contact with him, especially those whose ideas or stances bifurcate from his do not fail to recount their encounter with the Ebora of Owu. And they are legion:

At the build up to the 2007 election, towards the tail end of his eight-year two terms, Obj descended on his Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. When the Vice President saw that enormous road blocks had been raised against his ambition to succeed Obasanjo on the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) platform, he quickly moved to the Action Congress of Nigeria, (AC.N). But before he could consummate his defection plans, Obasanjo had served the Vice President notice to quit his government. Atiku, who saw the order as a show of ignorance of the workings of a democracy on Chief Obasanjo’s part, decided to ignore it. The bull in Obasanjo was unleashed by that show of ignominy and he ordered that the VPs section of the Villa was barricaded thus literarily sacking his Vice President by fiat. Wincing from that show of impunity, Turaki approached the courts.  So tensed and heated up was the Nigerian polity that on the day the Federal Appeal Court sitting in Abuja, ruled that “President Obasanjo does not have any right to sack the Vice President” people in the wide court precincts went wild in exultant jubilation. A touchy feature of that judgment was that all the Appeal Judges were unanimous in the ruling delivered by the President, Court of Appeal, Abdullahi Umaru that “the allegiance of the Vice President should be to the constitution, not to the President”. 

Many people also see Chief Obasanjo’s tireless tirades against incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan as further evidence of his aversion to young people who show independent affront to his command and control politics. The only posture from young people that is acceptable to former President is that of a crouching, unquestioningly obedient, subservient underling. Perhaps that must have explained his dismissal of the younger generation as incompetent, effeminate and dishonest leaders. Speaking at a summit for sustainable development in University of Ibadan two years ago, Chief Obasanjo declared that emerging Nigeria’s leaders are highly deficit in integrity. From that summit another image of Obasanjo loomed large: that of holier-than-thou! He engages in unconscionable sanctimonious verbifications. Continuing his remarks at the occasion, Obj stated: “During my administration as president, we had some people who were under 50 years in leadership positions. One of them was James Ibori, where is he today? One of them was Alamieyeseigha, where is he today? Lucky Igbinedion, where is he today? The youngest was the Speaker, Buhari, you can still recall what happened to him”. “You said Bola Tinubu is your master. What Buhari did was not anything worse than what Bola Tinubu did. We got them impeached. But in this part of the world, some people covered up the other man. The man claimed he went to Government College, Ibadan, but the governor went to Government College and packed all the documents so that they would not know that he did not go there… I wanted someone who would succeed me so I took Atiku. Within a year, I started seeing the type of man Atiku is. And you want me to get him there?”

Obasanjo’s years as civilian President gave Nigerians few reasons to smile, but greater part of his eight-year reign was lived in tears, sorrow and blood. From the Odi and Zakibiam massacres to the dubious impeachments of state governors he encouraged and supported, Olu Obasanjo sees force as the veritable expression of leadership acumen. The Four governors that received the impeachment treatment included Governors Lateef Ladoja, Ayo Fayose, Diepreye Solomon Peter Alameseigha and Joshua Dariye. While six out of 24 legislators impeached Dariye, 15 out of 24 impeached Alameseigha and 18 out of 32 impeached Ladoja. In the case of Ekiti, out of the 22 legislators that okayed Fayose’s impeachment, 10 later turned back to confess that they were misled. It is not only lowly state legislators that Obasanjo’s misleads into taking wrong actions, wealthy and influential people also fall victims to the man’s guile. It took the confession of one big man for Nigerians to know that.

Mr. Buruji Kashamu, while reacting to Obasanjo’s legendary letter to President Jonathan, disclosed that former President Obasanjo used him in a proxy political warfare to conquer former Ogun State Governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel. Short of shedding tears of regret, Kashamu lamented that Obj was an ingrate stressing that he, (Olu) used him to achieve his political designs. “He used me to fight Gbenga Daniel and I spent over N3 billion to fight his cause and took the PDP structure from Daniel and handed it over to him,” Kashamu moaned. It is not as yet known whether the quarrel between Obasanjo against President Jonathan is the incumbent president’s reluctance to or rejection of any suggestion to hound Kashamu to US for alleged phantom trial for drug related offences.

To former Abia State Governor, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, Obj is a vindictive leader. Kalu had a running battle with the former President during which both were thorns in each other’s flesh. The former Abia chief executive disclosed that he fell out with Obasanjo when he prevailed on the erstwhile national Chairman of PDP, Chief Barnabas Gemade, not to refund the N500 million he loaned the party. Kalu believes former President Obasanjo is the worst leader ever produced in Nigeria since the advent of democracy in 1999. He said that apart from obstructing the refund of his N500 million lifeline, Baba Iyabo ensured the grounding of Slok Airlines, owned by him, (Kalu). In an interview with The Guardian two years ago, the former Abia State governor disclosed that his political quarrel with Obasanjo started when he took the then president on over issues that affected the (Enugu-Port Harcourt) Express way, the Igbo people, and Onitsha-Owerri expressway. “I quarreled with him on issues that bordered on the dry port he promised and never did. In fact I quarreled on issues concerning my people… I have a lot respect for the person of President Obasanjo and his office then, I still love and respect him as a statesman, he loves this country but he applied a different way to different people,” Kalu noted. He added that Obasanjo’s plot to have an unconstitutional tenure elongation widened their disagreement.

Perhaps still reeling from the bitter experience he had with Obasanjo, former Bayelsa Governor, DSP Alameseigha, accused Obasanjo as an expert in corruption by proxy. The former governor while speaking during the last National Confab said Obasanjo has a list of oil thieves in Nigeria who he shielded as the petroleum minister during his administration. Alameseigha had said: “I had one experience. Tankers were loaded in Bayelsa. I got the information and laid ambush for them and arrested them. About 14 big tankers and they were handed over to the police. They were charged to court and the judge ordered that the product should be tested if they were crude oil. NNPC was invited, they came took the sample and after a week the result came out as agro chemical and before I know it all of them were released”. “I went to President (Olusegun) Obasanjo. I even accused him that he is the chief bunkerer, that he should not call me again. I also accused him that those that are involved are also sitting in this arena and if he pushed me beyond that I am going to mention names. It became so hot that I was persuaded to follow him to his office”. 

In Lagos parlance, ‘Obasanjo no send’. That is usually how most people chose to describe the fact that the former cannot be intimidated or shamed. Add that he has an acerbic vocal capacity. When he in 1980 Obasanjo espied the growing popularity of Chief M. K. O Abiola, he said Abiola is not the messiah a lot people believe the late philanthropist to be. Now in order to get even with President Jonathan, Obasanjo remembers espirit de corps to favour General Muhammadu Buhari, who he mobilized Nigerians against in 2003 and 2007. He had once engaged in sordid altercation with former military President Ibrahim Babangida. Watching his politics and style, many people are wont to ask, what makes Obasanjo restless? Perhaps, he loses his cool when he is not in charge. As such feeling uncomfortable with the possibility of joining a political party founded by the Bola Tinubu political engineering and bitter at the reality of staying put in a PDP where new Pharoahs that do not recognize Joseph hold sway; Olu had to invite his former ward colleagues to showcase the vintage Obj style! Chief Obasanjo may not be a Barkin Zuwo equivalent in Nigeria politics but there cannot be another like him. There is a possibility that as he elects to join the late Bola Ige’s party, SLLP (Siddon Look Political Party); more yabis is sure to flow from the celebrated garrison ideologue.  

   



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