Awujale versus Obasanjo by Idowu Akinlotan

It has taken almost six years for the autobiographical book of the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, to attract the attention it richly deserves.

No one is prepared to say how the new publicity happened, but sometime last week, someone sent an excerpt of the book to media houses containing an unflattering description of ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo as a venal, vainglorious and grasping leader. The excerpt has caused an uproar. Chief Obasanjo is predictably peeved, but no one is coming to his defence. He apparently does not need one, for he himself is a one-man wrecking crew. Satisfied that the excerpt has received rapturous attention, the shadowy figures behind the first excerpt, or perhaps someone else altogether, has decided to draw public attention to other scathing parts of the book. Where the first excerpt deals with a duplicitous Chief Obasanjo, the second focuses on the political malfeasance of the equally grasping and venomous ex-military head of state, Ibrahim Babangida.

Oba Adetona’s recollections are detailed and riveting. Perhaps the evasive and epigram-loving Gen Babangida will respond sometime soon. However, the impatient and unreflective Chief Obasanjo could not wait. His response indeed evoked a mystery. For a book that is so well written and elegantly produced, it is a mystery that it has taken so long to foment a fitting buzz around it. While media professionals have proved to be consistently lazy in doing justice to good books, it is intriguing that Chief Obasanjo, who is so mercilessly skewered in the book, has not had the time to peruse the book, indeed study it. And when his attention was drawn to the said excerpt, as he put it condescendingly, it is shocking that he rushed to publish a response without getting a copy of the book to enable him pen a comprehensive and reflective response. It is vintage Obasanjo.

The book is undoubtedly frank and revealing. The now widely advertised famous excerpt in particular shows Chief Obasanjo as a dishonest, unfeeling and unprincipled opportunist. Neither his public service (1976-79; 1999-2007) nor his private image, both as a father and as an individual, disproves the conclusion so poignantly reached by the Awujale. It is, therefore, surprising that there are indications that some Yoruba elders might wish to intervene in what they describe improbably as a quarrel between the ex-president and the Ijebu monarch. There can be no reconciliation between the two, nor should there be, for both gentlemen are the products of very dissimilar backgrounds: one is principled and noble in his carriage and words; and the other has since his military days remained a rake and rambling man. What is there to reconcile? Indeed, how do you reconcile fire and water?

The Awujale autobiography reveals many things about many people. But for the purpose of this short essay, the excerpt in reference should suffice to address the topic of today. It is clear the Awujale is not a fan of Chief Obasanjo, that great and self-righteous narcissist. But whether the excerpt sets out to paint a realistic picture of the duplicitous and unprincipled former president contrary to the one he continues to project falsely, or it simply sheds light on the contrived misunderstanding between the business mogul, Mike Adenuga, and Chief Obasanjo and his Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is not immediately clear. What is clear, however, is that the picture painted of the Obasanjo persona is a terrible deconstruction of a man so morally perverse that it is a miracle he ruled for eight years, not to talk of finding his way out of the presidency in 2007.

The summary of the Awujale thesis is that Chief Obasanjo unreasonably harassed Mr Adenuga in order to get at the then Vice President Atiku Abubakar, with whom he was at daggers drawn, and that, as a condition to stop the witch-hunt, the ex-president opportunistically coaxed the donation of a massive library building out of the business mogul. The uncompleted building is stil on the university campus as evidence. Oba Adetona did not mince word. His account is detailed, restrained, elegant and convincing, complete with instances, locations and sometimes eyewitnesses. Chief Obasanjo was on the contrary truculent, abusive and, for effect, diversionary and deliberately insinuative. It would require a leap of faith to believe the ex-president’s account. There was no conviction behind his response, only chutzpah, and it was obvious he had been cornered. First, he said it was beneath him as president to sit down with Mr Adenuga before the press, suggesting that he had no reason to meet with the business mogul, not to talk of cajoling him to contribute a building block to the Bells University of Technology. Then, most fallaciously, he passed the buck for that cajolery to the genial Professor Julius Okogie, who was at the time the vice chancellor. Of course, no one would doubt that the letter asking for that humongous donation would be signed by the vice chancellor. But to suggest, no matter how remotely, that Chief Obasanjo did not know about the letter to Mr Adenuga and other generous contributors would be stretching credulity to its elastic limit.

It did not require the exposition of the Awujale to tell the public just how deceptive and intimidatory Chief Obasanjo is. But it helps that, using definite examples and mentioning names and instances in his autobiography, the Awujale has done the public the great service of disrobing the masquerade. It would be interesting to find out how the list of donors was drawn up, or whether it could have been done outside the inspiration and connivance of Chief Obasanjo as a bullying president. It requires someone of such quaint and contradictory moral perspective like Chief Obasanjo not to see the contradiction of receiving, assuming he did not solicit, help or donation from a businessman under investigation, if not persecution, by the EFCC. The fact underscored by the Awujale in the short excerpt is that Chief Obasanjo has never been loyal to anything or person, not to talk of loftier and more esoteric matters of ideas and ideology. Furthermore, suggests the excerpt, Chief Obasanjo broke every rule known to the Nigerian constitution, and every moral compass known to man. He got away with nihilism because he was so indecent as to be prepared to deploy every force and evil imagination known to law or even outside the law.

The case made against Chief Obasanjo in the Awujale autobiography is so revealing that it is not surprising the former president immediately opted for ancillary matters and other digressions alien to the book. But the ex-president’s response missed the mark so badly that he began to accuse the Awujale of having stakes in Mr Adenuga’s and Aliko Dangote’s business empires. He forgot that he became the subject of many allegations because he was president and faced accusation of conflict of interest when he asked for donations, directly or indirectly, and covetously established connections with other people’s businesses. Oba Adetona is right never to have trusted Chief Obasanjo, and even more principled by refusing to at first back the retired general for the presidency in 1999. The oba does not give the impression in the excerpt that his view of Chief Obasanjo has changed. Indeed, he is not disappointed.

Chief Obasanjo has done spectacularly well for himself. He is not known to wait until he has left office before feathering his nest, as a former super permanent secretary once recounted in a newspaper article of the moment a former military head of state, Murtala Mohammed, wanted to replace Chief Obasanjo as Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters. And as his first wife, Mama Iyabo, also corroborated, the ex-president is not guided by any moral restraint despite his sham and fulsome display of religiosity. Even some of his children, one of whom he betrayed spectacularly, are aghast at the monstrosities he seems so effortlessly capable of. Nuhu Ribadu, former boss of the EFCC may deny all he wants, but the facts available suggest that the ex-president manoeuvred EFCC to less than salutary duties. The impeachment of Governors Rashidi Ladoja of Oyo State, Joshua Dariye of Plateau State and Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa State prove how disreputably Chief Obasanjo bastardised the constitution and tore to shreds the moral and political fabrics of the republic.

Such a man, so burdened by the cumulative moral baggage mentioned in the Awujale excerpt, cannot find the conviction and logic to fault the poignant allegations against himself. Indeed, it is fitting that he made only half-hearted attempt to dispute the Awujale’s account of his serial betrayals. From all indications, Chief Obasanjo will go back and read the entire book in the hope he can find more materials to deploy as a tool of vilification against the Ijebu monarch. But the true hope is that having spent nearly all his adult years faking a moral credential he is not capable of sustaining, and having vilified and undermined his betters with a severity that is truly fanatical and farcical, at last, someone like Oba Adetona and books like that salient autobiography will finally put paid to the former general’s pretensions. History, it is clear, will judge him very badly. But the real catharsis for a long-suffering people, including some members of his family, forced to swallow his atrocities for the past few decades, will be when his self-confessed thick skin is breached and he is exposed and demystified.


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