Much ado about a Failed State

Chief Olusegun Matthew Aremu Obasanjo, farmer, soldier and statesman, recently ran into turbulent weather by telling it the way it is – Nigeria is tottering on the brink of becoming a failed state. We should forgive him for telling the truth at a state function, at a time we are used to people “lai-ing-instate.” To those who are bent on nailing him to some wooden plank for his remark, we may as well borrow the words of the novelist George Martin and ask “Is it treason to say the truth? A bitter truth, but no less true for that.” The elder statesman (and twice head of state) has always had this uncanny attitude of not allowing his inner turmoil to remain inner.

The world should learn to live with this outspoken version of Obasanjo because the update window for him to change is closed, and the man can no more be upgraded. You cannot teach an old and successful farmer new tricks, nor can you teach an old soldier a new way of marching. Old soldiers, like Obasanjo, never “lie”, they just march on.

More so, your grandmother ought to have told you that most farmers speak their minds, no matter whose ox is gored. At least one character, Snowball, in George Orwell’s masterpiece “Animal Farm” showed the same trait to convince us that freedom of speech is a farm-friendly affair.

Snowball intoned, “Comrade, those ribbons that you are so devoted to are the badge of slavery. Can you not understand that liberty is worth more than ribbons?” Obasanjo should have seen what the ribbons of 2015 held for the future. He should have known what they stood for, when he stuck his neck out for General Muhammadu Buhari and gave Nigerians the impression that Buhari was the best thing to happen to Nigeria after the invention of “agbu and ewedu soup.” Now he claims that Buhari is the worst thing to happen to Nigeria after the arrival of Mungo Park. In between both extremes, lay a fine tissue of commonsense – Buhari could do better. But how do you tell Buhari who never allows the facts to interfere with his conclusions to do better? Ever since the pedal met the metal, Obasanjo has evolved in his assessment of Buhari. His political covenant with Buhari ended before the honeymoon actually began.

It is safe to say that Obasanjo’s mild rebukes of Buhari has gradually been supplanted by public displays of caustic, all-out attacks. Hear him: “Nigeria is fast drifting to a failed and badly divided state; economically our country is becoming a basket case and poverty capital of the world, and socially, we are firming up as an unwholesome and insecure country…These manifestations are the products of recent mismanagement of diversity and socio-economic development of our country. Old fault lines that were disappearing have opened up in greater fissures and with drums of hatred, disintegration and separation and accompanying choruses being heard loud and clear almost everywhere.”

Obasanjo is not one to back down from a scrap. When he fired the first salvo against Buhari he sounded the alarm that he was ready for the consequences, “I know that praise-singers and hired attackers may be raised up against me for verbal or even physical attack, but if I can withstand undeserved imprisonment and was ready to shed my blood by standing for Nigeria, I will consider no sacrifice too great to make for the good of Nigeria at any time.” This time the consequences were not long in coming.

Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, fired back by describing the grand, old soldier, farmer and statesman as the “Divider- in-Chief.” Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information, who does a pretty good job in informing and disinforming (depending on the circumstances), on his part, stated that if Buhari did not take over the reins of governance, Nigeria would have failed as a state. He cast Buhari in the role of the messiah and saviour of Nigeria. This may have been the unkindest cut of all because Obasanjo has always seen himself as the defender of Nigeria. His books say it all – “My Command,” (how he won the Civil War for Nigeria), “Not My Will” (how he assumed leadership of Nigeria against his will in order to save the country from collapse) and “The Animal Called Man” (how he endured unjust prison sentence because of his love for Nigeria).

Compared to Obasanjo what has Buhari done to be a “messiah”? Obasanjo does not like sharing the limelight with anyone. But guess who has joined the fray on Obasanjo’s side? His nemesis, Prof. Wole Soyinka, whose dislike for Obasanjo is public knowledge. Soyinka, who claimed to be “notoriously not a fan of Obasanjo” stated that no one could deny “the president went to sleep while communities were consistently ravaged by cattle marauders, were raped and displaced in their thousands and turned into beggars all over the landscape. Was it a different president who, on being finally persuaded to visit the scene of the carnage, had nothing more to offer than to advise the traumatized victims to learn to live peacefully with their violators?” Soyinka has put the matter in the proper context and instead of “lai-ing-in-state” we should take steps to salvage our country. Rome is burning, Nero should not be fiddling.




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