I am not ashamed of this. I am a besotted fan of General Obasanjo. I won’t explain ‘which’ Obasanjo. There could only be one. He is inimitable. No one compares to him. No leader dead or alive in the whole sprawling expanse called Nigeria comes even shouting distant second. His credentials as a patriot and as a selfless leader are a dream. He was the officer, for instance, that accepted the instrument of surrender from the rebels led by late Ojukwu.He was the officer who unwillingly accepted to be Head of State at a very precarious moment of the nation’s evolution. After the brutal assassination of General Murtala Muhammad in February 1976,a reluctant and ‘apolitical’ Obasanjo was, literally, at gunpoint forced unto the saddle of Commander-in-Chief by no nonsense Army Chief General Danjuma. He was the military ruler who willingly handed over power to a civilian at a time it was fashionable to sit tight.
Great nations have great icons and heroes. India has Ghandi. South Africa, Mandela. China, Chairman Mao, though new kids on the block are obliterating his legacy. Germany, Hitler. It is inconceivable to think of the United States without the bearded pate of Abraham Lincoln looming in the mind. And Nigeria? The great Obasanjo. In and out of power, my hero, the great selfless Obasanjo had breathed Nigeria. Asleep, he dreams Nigeria.Awake, he thinks Nigeria.
Across Africa, megalomaniac rulers were killing to consolidate their grip on power. In the late 70s,Obasanjo shell shocked his continental contemporaries who sat tight or who were in the process of transmuting. At the time, his handing over power amounted to ‘culture shock’. At once, he became a reference point in ‘promise made’ and ‘promise kept’. The west fell in love with him.
It was falling over itself to have Obasanjo in its fold. In the mid 80’s the Commonwealth, an association of ex colonies of Imperial Britain, named the ‘father of modern Nigeria’ co-chairman of its Eminent Persons Group (EPG). Under this auspices, the group toured racist South Africa. There, my idol came face to face with the ugliness of apartheid.
Anyone with the vaguest idea of the essential Obasanjo knows that he is a tough soldier with the heart of steel. But at the horrid sight of racism, this heart melted. He grimly concluded that only ‘juju’ could dismantle apartheid.
At home, he was ‘deified’ by most and reviled by some. Northerners hailed him as truly a nationalist with a ‘pan Nigerian’ vision. His ‘people’ pilloried him as a ‘lackey’ lacking in balls doing the bid of a manipulating ‘oligarchs’.
Green in their eyes, Obasanjo traducers set to rewrite the history of this fittingly remarkable son of Africa. ‘Revisionists’ have hawked the tale of a reluctant Obasanjo wanting to stay put in power but for the ‘threatening’ presence of Danjuma who commanded the army, the real residue of power. For years this falsehood has been vended for sale with no customer buying. Nigerians in the category of fawning fans like me recognized the fiction for what it has always been – a perfect example of ‘bad belle’.
A soldier by training, a consummate democrat by disposition. My hero is a man of destiny, if you will allow the use of this over worn cliché. Twice he ruled. First as a ‘military democrat’ and second as duly elected. Twice he scored reverberating record. His stewardship on both occasions were ‘sterling. He left his traducers and critics alike gawking. And green with envy.
The first time he presided over the affairs of a fractured nation, he organized a free and fair election that returned a northerner as President to the chagrin of his South westerners. In 1976,a very popular military ruler was mowed down and a section of the country was restive. Obasanjo was the stabilizer that pulled the country back from the brink.
In 1999,he again answered reluctantly the clarion call to serve. The nation has been dancing on the brink for six years because a popular politician that answered the name of MKO Abiola was coasting home to victory but had his ‘mandate’ quashed by a military junta. Eight years later in 2007, he again, and typically, organized a very credible election and handed over to another northerner at the expiration of his two-term tenure. That was a record first. The first civilian-to-civilian transition. It was almost magical. It was seamless. Even the main beneficiary of the election late President Umaru Yar’adua acknowledged that the election that brought him to office was flawless.
On both occasions Obasanjo willingly and graciously handed over to the next most popularly elected and qualified person. Thanks to his peerless vision, he singly recruited a very urbane, strong and sophisticated Yar’adua as his successor. That uncommon vision also recruited the transformative President Jonathan.
That is why I don’t understand this. A couple of days ago, Obasanjo at a function at the nation premier citadel of learning, the University of Ibadan dismissed younger leaders as having failed the nation. It was a wonderful insight coming from him. He named names. Among them were Atiku Abubakar, his deputy whom he loves like a younger brother, Salisu Buhari, former Speaker whom he loves like a son, James Ibori and Bola Tinubu among others.
If he declared these Nigerians misfits to lead, why should anyone doubt him? After all he worked with them at various times. As the Commander in Chief, he had information which most of his traducers lack to make such profound declaration.
What happened afterwards? Revisionists and critics are yelling and bellyaching. I know their problem. ‘Bad belle’. It is a termite eating up their white blood cells. It is unthinkable to think of Nigeria devoid of the Obasanjo charm and aura. Thanks to him, the country is now positioned to give Africa and the rest of the black world real transformative leadership. I am positive that without Obasanjo second coming the country would probably so emasculated as to stand eyeball to eyeball on continental powers like South Africa without blinking.