Without question, General Olusegun Obasanjo, former Head of State, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is an ‘activist’ statesman. In and out of office, he makes his opinion known to all without mincing words and regardless of whose ox is gored. General Obasanjo handed over to Alhaji Shehu Shagari but felt disappointed by Shagari’s lacklustre leadership. Being so disappointed, General Obasanjo took the Shagari to the cleaners by delivering a sucker punch, political vitriol of vilipend quality. It did not take long before his ‘political boys’ in the military overthrew Shagari and rolled back military rule in all its starkness.
General Muhammadu Buhari who took over from President Shagari did not last long on the throne to incur the open displeasure of General Obasanjo, but General Babangida who seized power from Buhari had himself and his absolutist regime bombed and virtually blown to smithereens.
It is to the credit of Babangida’s state-craft and personal capacity to absorb political irritations that the administration was not provoked to take rash actions against General Obasanjo by way of rejoinders or physical attacks, but such was his lot under another autocrat in the person of General Sani Abacha who nearly killed him in 1995 for his bad mouth equated to coup planning. General Obasanjo had spoken against Abacha and being an acknowledged coup-specialist who sniffs coup potentials from mile long sensed danger and so roped General Obasanjo and his friend, General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua in coup saga which culminated in secret military trial that ended with them sentenced to death.
General Obasanjo was serving his term of imprisonment, the sentence having been commuted to life imprisonment due to local and international pressures from where he was sprung and spruced up and hoisted on the political party of the military establishment’s choice and made President to arrest the drift and state failure trajectory Nigeria was headed in the dying decade of 1990s.
His friend, General Yar’Adua was not as lucky as he died at Abakaliki prison having allegedly injected with lethal substance. For one who has travelled this tortuous road on account of bad verses like Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar’s comic character (Cinna) and survived it, commonsense dictates that he would keep quiet to enjoy the remaining years of his illustrious life. But that cannot be General Obasanjo.
He has remained so many things to so many people. A statesman for many; a vicious politician as seen by yet several detractors alike; a vindictive man by those who had crossed his paths and by all accounts one of the strongest pillars and abiding advocates of Nigerian unity usually expressed in that jejune evocation ‘indissolubility’, ‘indivisible’ and ‘non-negotiable’ that betray the latent fears of those that utter it. When he climbed down from power on May 29, 2007 after ruling for two constitutionally approved tenures he retired to his Presidential Library built by him in mimicry of the United States’ tradition of State-sponsored national library being the only ‘pension and gratuity’ paid to all former Presidents of United States who survived the presidency.
It has been from the citadel of that great institution that General Obasanjo has maintained his observatory over Nigeria and from time to time expresses his views about the state of Nigeria. He spoke against his successors, Presidents Yar’Adua and Jonathan. General Obasanjo had in the maddening transition period of 2014 and 2015 assailed Jonathan ceaselessly and in counterpoise lifted General Buhari as the knight with a shining amour. Expectedly, General Buhari riding the tumultuous wave of that crazy political season berthed on a coalition of political forces massed on the All Progressives Congress (APC) won the Nigerian Presidency on a ‘platter of gold’ as President Jonathan already drowned by hyperactive, but faked public opinion easily succumbed by conceding the presidency even before the final count of the election was taken. Jonathan became history and General Buhari became the messiah.
It did not take long before General Obasanjo fell apart with President Buhari and by series of letters Obasanjo dismissed him as incompetent, nepotistic and a champion of ‘Fulanization and Islamization’ of Nigeria. From then on, to the general election of 2019, General Obasanjo beat a hasty retreat back to his former party, the PDP, and embraced his arch enemy, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and held him up as a good replacement to President Buhari. From the onset of the war between General Buhari and General Obasanjo, Buhari’s handlers and supporters had pooh-poohed General Obasanjo’s antics and told him that Buhari is not that kind of person that can be easily assailed and pushed out from his throne and the 2019 presidential election has proven that assertion. Now the fight between President Buhari and General Obasanjo has taken a dangerous bend as it has not only confined itself between Buhari and Obasanjo.
Now the fight is between the ‘guarantors’ of the unity of Nigeria. You might think that the unity of any country depends on the political charter and the belief and faith of the people in that union or existence of that country as expressed and upheld by them in the sanctity of that instrument usually called the constitution. Nigeria’s case is different. It is held together by vested interests. Nigeria is neither Britain nor the United States that experienced tortuous journeys to nationhood, founded a country based on mutually agreed terms of existence or union. Nobody needs to remind anyone that political charter called the constitution is inviolable.
In Nigeria, Britain considered it a prized possession and between 1945 and 1960 worked assiduously to make Nigeria one country as opposed to its fears that it could not possibly succeed as one country. In trying to make Nigeria one, Britain was not driven by any lofty ideals of creating a purposeful and happy nation whose citizens have sense of nationhood. No, Britain was solely actuated to create an economic facility capable of assuring it a continuation of capitalist exploitation, and a dependable ally in international politics.
These were the two objectives that made Britain to create Nigeria and not the beauty of the country or utility or benefits to its inhabitants derivable from the oneness. Britain distrusted Sardauna Ahmadu Bello who had doubts about the oneness of Nigeria and supplanted him with Tafawa Balewa who had been tutored by a specially trained British agent called Mr. Wright who became a friend and confidant to Balewa. Britain distrusted Awolowo as it was scared by his narrow ethnic politics, which it considered injurious to Nigerian unity. Britain also distrusted Azikiwe because of his radical journalism and civil activism, but liked his commitment to one Nigeria.
So, when ‘katakata’ burst in 1966 Britain was there to manage the mess. Only few history books has captured the diplomatic overwork deployed by British High Commissioner, Cummings-Bruce and United States’ Ambassador, Ebert Matthews in dissuading Major Murtala Mohammed from breaking up Nigeria by declaring the Republic of Northern Nigeria after the Araba coup of July 29, 1966. It was also their effort that resulted in foisting Col. Yakubu Gowon on Murtala Mohammed’s clique, much against his wishes.