By Immanuel James
The reports came in time, with Musa Yar’Adua barely settled as president. Olusegun Obasanjo, his agency to power, had allegedly become an active interference seeking to have a word on everything.
Enter Goodluck Jonathan and similar reports held sway, achieving climax in that famous letter that helped disrupt a political era. Eleven years after Obasanjo left office, his Abiku effect is now haunting President Mohammadu Buhari who, again, he assisted into power. Obasanjo’s political motives remain a subject of curiosity, with many Nigerians wondering what the Otta farmer still wants from the nation.
That curiosity carries a charge of greed. An illustrious presence in Nigeria’s political history, Obasanjo is expected to have had his fill by now. His military career was capped with the office of head of state, yet he served two terms as a civilian president.
There are the privileges of a statesman amid continental and global visibility. Wealth, health, family. He owns a huge ego massaged even by powerful political actors in the country. It is a man lucky enough to command both meaningful and vain glories who, however, wants some more—some more power.
Power, in the sense of continued relevance, is the curse of all men of mighty ambition. Irrelevance is for an ambitious politician what poverty is for an entrepreneur—a fundamental factor to resist, one which, though motivates all actions, remains feared. Becoming an ordinary citizen is a depressing anticlimax for men of power.
They cannot understand a life without a prominent opinion, without charm and public spectacle, without a capacity to shape affairs on a large scale. Except for those who had power thrust upon them without their quest for it, a silent existence is misery.
Obasanjo was created for power. Serving out his tenure with the likelihood of obscurity, he went back to school for a Ph.D. With that in the bag and his bones strong enough to carry him forward, he embraced the current intervention to unseat President Buhari, a political outcome bearing his imprint.
The motive shall be examined later, but the intervention fulfills the bidding of that power dynamic animating his life, keeping him in perpetual limelight unlike most of his peers.
Professor Wole Soyinka, his active antagonist of all time, has since diagnosed him of a messiah complex, never mind that the Abeokuta dramatist and hunter is himself a patient of the same diagnosis performed by his own critics.
On its own, ambition is not a bad thing. While his military contemporaries are content as moneybags, Obasanjo is drawn to letters and higher thought. We have seen a few books and a consistent visibility engaging Africa. A library too.
None of his peers has earned that kind of recognition, nor are they willing, nay, able to apply themselves to the intellectual rigors of international engagement.
In reaching such glories in addition to the banality of money, he must be basking in a certain air of superiority over them. “Read chapters 41, 42, 43 and 47 of my book,” he recently instructed President Buhari, performing the stated arrogance. In the context of Nigeria’s dark gathering of leaders, there is something different about Olusegun Obasanjo—in positive and negative measures.
In fairness, his motives for power show some dints of altruism, even if incidental. For a man whose military generation and personal choices led Nigeria and indeed Africa into dictatorships, these global interventions may be a form of redemption.
He is chairman of the African Export-Import Bank; chairman, West African Commission on Drugs; a Special UN Envoy who has mediated in some conflicts and spoken at prestigious global forums, he is shaping up the image of a pan-African statesman garlanded, yet again, with a new worship as “Baba Africa”.
These recognitions draw from the impact of his various headships of African bodies during his time as Nigeria’s President, especially from NEPAD.
This imagined redemptive drive may issue from a sense of history. With learning comes a consciousness to prop oneself up for history’s generosity. Obasanjo’s quest for relevant power seems poised to replace old legacies with newer ones, deepen historical acceptance, and in the process shape a continent that can leverage its potential.
He appears genuinely in love with Africa and is doing his remaining bit to right wrongs. Although mixed, public opinion about him at both local and international levels shows, by and large, a man admired in spite of himself.
Still his motives will be questioned and rightly so too. His current positioning and undertakings contrast with a past in brigandage and abuse of power. Obasanjo’s Peoples Democratic Party ran wild with impunity, sometimes with his silence if not collusion.
He has been cleared of some corruption charges, but public opinion remains understandably cynical. A purported third-term agenda, unconvincingly denied, lingers in blemish, further deepening the eternal suspicion of the Obasanjo character.
His current political initiatives therefore become a casualty of public incredulity, of a mixed past whose negatives are hard to forget. In wanting to unseat President Buhari, his popularity goes on trial.
Yet a tireless Obasanjo persists in trying to get what he wants. What does he really want? To assert relevance, court public acceptance, and leave a legacy.
Escaping death by the whiskers during the military era, he has since outlived several death rumors, running around with the health and agility of one who has just begun.
In January 2016, a certain prophet Olagunju predicted he would die in the year. Two years after, the man is defiantly alive looking like he’ll live forever, as if he had sworn to die over his dead body.
But Buhari wants to lock him up, he alleges, never mind that in “My Watch”, he said he would rather be locked up by Buhari than have Goodluck Jonathan continue in office. He recently asked the president to read four chapters of the book; the man might have over-read and seen the dangerous wish.