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Obasanjo’s catharsis

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For former President Olusegun Obasanjo, letters are not only a therapy. They serve as a locus of power. He is not a great letter writer, but he writes with great zeal, pouring out the constructions of his emotions through his longwinded sentences.
With his stumbles, he is not an example of how to write a sentence. This is not the age of the letter, but of the text message and email, and they call for laconic entries. Obasanjo wrote an 18-page letter. But it was originally longer. Interventions of close friends and associates compelled him to prune it and defrock it of its libel and vaporous excesses. In spite of the editing and lawyerly emendation, the letter was irredeemable.
Great political letter writers of the past, like Lincoln, Churchill, even Zik and Awo, did not go into meaningless streams of consciousness and interior monologues. Rather they provided insights into their times and roles. Novelist and Nobel laureate Saul Bellow turned his character Herzog into a neurotic letter writer, who wrote to virtually every great mind dead or alive and contended with them on the issues of the day and their days.
Obasanjo has written to virtually every leader since he left power in 1979. Each letter lionised himself and valorised his time in office while mocking the doings of the man in power. Shagari, Buhari, Babangida suffered the most from his irreverent barbs. The only real leader he did not undermine with his epistolary bombs was himself. If he had some humour he might have written himself and titled it, Dear me, in the fashion of the autobiography of writer, filmmaker and comedian Peter Ustinov, who addressed the book to himself. If Obasanjo wrote a Dear Me letter, it might have been to tell the world how dear he was as a great leader, and would have lacked Ustinov’s laugh at himself.
Yet if you read the letter he wrote to President Goodluck Jonathan, you are bound to be in two minds. He lined up a series of weaknesses of the Jonathan presidency but he did not say anything new, except the charge that President Jonathan was arming assassins and had a list of enemies numbering over 1000.
The fundamental question arising from his letter is, who gave Obasanjo the moral authority to say what he said in the letter. He was guilty of virtually everything he said in the letter. He accused Jonathan of running an undemocratic party. He was guilty of that and led to a move by governors to oust him. He accused Jonathan of supporting elements of other parties against his party as he did he not do so. He even sponsored the formation of other parties. He said Jonathan imposed Tukur and could not bring peace to the party? Did he not do that in the time of Audu Ogbeh, and he had to subvert his reign?
He charged that Jonathan promised to govern for one term, but did he not seek a third term? He upturned an otherwise brilliant constitutional effort because he did not get his dream for presidential longevity. He had the effrontery to report at Mandela’s death that he asked Mandela to stay for a second term. Mandela had a superior sense of history and statesmanship.
He accused Jonathan of being insincere about his proposed confab, yet he mobilized state resources and men to organize a conference only to botch it over the third term fiasco. On corruption, he set up the EFCC and ICPC to hound his enemies. Now, he is accusing the president of presiding over a worrisomely corrupt regime.
On the issue of killers, Obasanjo’s time in office witnessed the killings of star politicians, and none of the culprits was earnestly investigated or convicted. Bola Ige was one of them.
But I say to myself, why did Obasanjo not start the letter by apologising to Nigerians since the letter was more to himself than to the president. He should have demonstrated remorse that he precipitated the problem of leadership in the past decade and half. His term in office never set a foundation with his bumbling in the area of leadership by example, fighting corruption, power sector, infrastructure and health. The naira plummeted significantly in his era and more people were out of job when he left office than when he mounted the throne. He also imposed on us two leaders. One was Yar’adua whose physical debility was well known to him. This incapacitated him, the presidency and the nation with the gory tales of constitutional stasis that threatened the democracy. Two, he gave him a deputy he knew was inept and lacked the intellectual rigour for that exalted position. Nothing in his Bayelsa stewardship recommended him.
We suffer the consequences today as he has delineated in his letter. He did not have the humble virtue to accept his role in this tragedy. Rather he wrote with divine delusion, asserting that God used him as an instrument to install Jonathan as leader.
It is clear Obasanjo wrote the letter not so much out of patriotism but because the son has murdered his father on the throne. It is the political equivalent of an oedipal clash. The godfather has lost grip of the godson. The father’s ghost is now bewailing the parricide in public. He admitted that he had written to him in the past, but Jonathan had ignored him routinely. He wrote that Jonathan had told him that next to God and his parents, Obasanjo was the most important in his life. Obasanjo is therefore jealous of the Clarks, Anenihs, etc, whose voices find the president’s ears rather than his.
So Obasanjo’s letter was not about Nigeria. It is like his previous letters. He wanted to draw attention to himself. It is like the lines in W.H. Auden’s famous poem, September 1st, 1939. The poem lamented those who crave what they cannot have, and that is “not universal love/ but to be loved alone.”
Yet, we have to admit that nobody could have made impact with that sort of letter in Nigeria like Obasanjo. It is a testament to the failure of our political class to throw up a personage of Mandela’s mystique that only a person like Obasanjo with all his moral baggage can write such a letter with credibility. I will say I am glad he wrote the letter. I am glad that he said all the things that his party apparatchik would not say, or what his opponents will say with less potency.
Yet, I am sad that I am glad he said them. I am sad that I am glad because he alone could have said them. Yet we need Obasanjo to provide evidence for the allegation of a killer squad, and the list of the over 1000 targets.
President Jonathan will do well to address the nation on all the issues raised. They are grave and several, some of them have been raised in the media and by his opponents. He should not dismiss them merely as a catharsis of frustrated godfather. They have implications for this democracy’s survival, and his legacy if he cares.

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  • Published: 5 years ago on January 29, 2014
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  • Last Modified: January 29, 2014 @ 10:14 am
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