Obasanjo: From Your Watch, Please Check Your Time, By Joel Pereyi


“Son  of  man, I  have  made  you  a  watchman  for  the  people  of  Israel, so  hear  the  word  I  speak  and  give  them  warning  for  me. When  I  say  to  the  wicked, ’You  wicked person, you  will  surely  die,’ and  you  do  not  speak  out  to  dissuade  them  from  their  ways, that  wicked  person  will  die  for  their  sin  and  I  will  hold  you  accountable  for their  blood. But  if  you  do  warn  the  wicked  person  to  turn  from  their  ways  and  they  do  not  do  so, they  will  die  for  their  sin, though  you  yourself  will  be  saved.” – Ezekiel 33: 7 – 9 (New International Version)
In Nigeria, 2013’s yuletide was a season of open letters. Last  year, rather  than  tow  the  all  too  familiar  road, our  letter  writer–in–chief, President  Olusegun  Obasanjo, outdid himself  by  launching  a  three–volume  memoir  titled; My  Watch. With  renewed  vigor  and  bravura, he  sentenced  a  court  injunction  restraining  him  from  proceeding  with  the publication  of  his  book  to  damnation  with   his  fist  clenched  and  raised  for  all  to  see  and  his  middle  finger  protruding  towards  the  sky. 
In  a  manner  reminiscent  of  a  nasty  storm  in  a  teacup, this  doing  of  his  stirred  up  a  hornet’s  nest. I  wouldn’t  know  if  it  was  due  to  the  jibes  he  threw  at  almost everybody, except  himself, or  the  issues  his  scribbling  bordered  on  or  his  well  calculated  timing, I  sure  know It  led  to  a  motley  of  reactions  from  Nigeria  and  Nigerians. It  served  as  fuel  to  bickers championed  by  anonymous  hecklers  and  social  sycophants  on  and  off  social  media  spaces. It  earned  him  condemnation  from  those  who claim  to  have  experienced  a  legendary  case  of  maladministration  under  his  watch, hence, believes he  lacks  the  moral  clout  to  blow  a  shofar  or  vuvuzela  at  anybody’s failings, worse  still, the  seeming  cluelessness  of  a  candidate  he  surreptitiously  foisted  on  us, and  admiration  from  those  who  claim  to  admire  his  bravery  and  courage. It has  prompted  counter  publications  and  many  more  are  keenly  anticipated. Trust  our  social  commentators – those  who  have  risen  above  the  dictates  of  their  conscience and  dedicated  their  time  and  resource  to  public  intellection – they  spared  no  second  in  diving  into  the  undulating  waves  Baba  Iyabo’s  publication  initiated.
For  the  benefit  of  those  who  do  not  know, his  choice  of  coinage – My  Watch – is  rather  biblically  inspired. According to Ebora Owu, as  he  is  fondly  called  by  his acolytes, his  work  is  a  chronological  and  detailed  account  of  his  stewardship  to  man  and  to  the  God  who  made  him  a  watchman  over  us; a  claim  he  further  substantiated  with the  scriptural  verses  that  served  as  a  prologue  to  this  piece  and  appeared  in  all  of  his  three  volumes.
You  see, nobody  really  gives  a  hoot  if  our  old  soja (a  domestication  of  the  English, “soldier”) – as  it  is  fondly  called  in  rural  habitations –  who  now  prefers  to  play watchman, publishes  a  million  and  one  volumes  of  his autobiography, a  campaign  to  situate  his  place  in  history. Whether  someone, somewhere  adjudged  his  book  a compendium  of  exaggerated  claims  of  his  heroic  grandeur  or  a  reader  who  couldn’t  hide  his  disgust  after  reading  excerpts  of  his  book  tags  him  a  disgruntled, confused  and  vindictive  politician, is  not  necessarily  our  position  to  justify. But  asides  the  titillations  of  reading  his  perceptions  on  his  role  and  place  as  the  father  of modern  Nigeria, the  sentience  of  civics  behooves  on  us  to  raise  a  brow  when  our  history  is  being  distorted, right  in  our  very  before. The  onus  falls  on  us  to  cry  foul, remind  our  leaders  of  their  failings  and  never  fail  to  be  generous  with  the  truth, whenever  they  are  being  thrifty  with  it. For  this  cause, some  reminders  shall  be  poised under  three  salient  themes. So  let  the  recall  begin. 
Theme Number One: Impunity. Odi, a village in present day Bayelsa state, still lies in shambles. What  transpired  in  this  town, under  the  command  of  our  former  president remains  a  classic  case  of  how  liberty  can  be  endangered  by  the  abuse  of  power. A  small  group  of  youths  took  law  into  their  hands  by  killing  some  police  officers. Rather  than  adopt  a  civil  conflict  resolution  approach, the  small  town  wa s  ravaged  by  soldiers  in  their  armored  vehicles  and  trucks. The town was leveled. Lives were lost. Only a church building and a bank survived the operation. President  Goodluck  Ebele  Jonathan  has  tried  to  spruce  up  the  place  by  being  a  respecter  of  the  rule  of  law – by paying  15  billion  out  of  the  37.6  billion  naira  ordered  as  compensation  to  victims  of  the  holocaust. Yet, the scars the incident came with still abides. The stench and toxins and empty, uninhabited landscapes still remains.
Just  as  in  Odi, the  violence  that  was  let  lose  at  Zaki  Biam  and  her  neighboring  communities, as  of  now, amounts  to  one  of  the  worst  violations  of  human  rights  in Nigeria, since  we  embraced  democracy. The  animalism  of  the  military  was  brought  to  bear  in  full  glare  by  an  inter-ethnic  crisis  which  led  to  the  death  of  19  soldiers between  the  Tivs  and  their  Junkun  neighbors. As  a  reprisal, their  houses  and  shops  were  burned  down, cement  walls  crushed, walls  poked  with  bullet  holes and  their fresh  air  bartered  with  the  odium  of  the  putrid  smell  of  amputated  body  parts, while  blood  coursed  the  perimeters  of  their  streets.
These are just two of the recorded cases. Of  course, his  litany  of  impunities  includes; the Uba  and  Ngige drama, withholding of Lagos  state’s  allocation  for  upwards of  3  years, running  the  petroleum ministry  as  a  personal  fief, forcing  unpopular  candidates  on  the  people  through  gross  electoral malpractices and many more. Whether  or  not  our  Ota  farmer  admits  it, if  his  administration  will  ever  be remembered, like  a  disabling  blemish, it  will  forever  stink  of  his countless  irredeemable  impunities.
Theme  Number  Two: Third  Term  Agenda. “Dictators  who  rule  by  the  force  of  power, oppression, and  intimidation  seldom  relinquish  power  and  control  voluntarily  to  others,” were  the  words  of  President  Obasanjo  in  his  book, This  Animal  Called  Man.It  is  difficult, if  not  impossible  for  someone  who  made  such  an  assertion  to  allude  to  complicity  in  passing  atenure  elongation  bill  into  law. Hence, the  blame  gaming  and  serial  denials.But  at  this  point  in  time, it  is  appalling  our  former  president  haven’t  come  to  terms  with  the  fact  that  blame  gaming  serves  no  utility.
If  you  remember, amidst  the  tripe  and  bric-a-brac  raised  by  the  failure  of  this  bill, some  shocking  truths  were  revealed. First, Senator  Ken  Nnamani, the  senate  president who  presided  over  its  passage  assented  to  money  changing  hands – over  8  billion  naira  doled  out  to  national  assembly  membersby  the  presidency  to  see  to  the  bill becoming  law.Second, Condoleezza  Rice, the  former  Secretary  to  the  Government  of  the  United  States  of  America, wrote  in  her  autobiography  how  president  Obasanjo told  former  American  President, George  Bush, how  he  intends  to  amend  the  constitution  so  he  could  stay  beyond  May  29, 2007, but  was  sternly  rebuked. If  his  current claims  of  having  nothing  to  do  with  the  bill  should  be  taken  seriously, how  come  he  never  opposed  the  bill, at  least, not  in  public?
Theme  Number  Three: Electricity. It  is  rather  unsettling  that  someone  who  presided  over  an  administration  thatgrossly  failed  on  its  promiseto  fix  our  epileptic  state  of Power  in  its  first  6  months, through  our  very  first  Minister  of  Power, Late  Chief  Bola  Ige, could  muster  the  courage  to  call  this  current  administration“inept  and  a colossal failure.”That  such  a  statement  was  ever  made  by  a  former  president  whose  tenure is  hallmarked  by  failed  promises, is  laughable, to  say  the  least.Let’s  assume  6 months  was  too  short  a  time. Was  8  years  and  the  billions  of  dollars  pumped  into  theIndependent  Power  Project(IPP)  too  short  and  the  sums  too  small?
E.B. White  said  it  best  when  he  asserted  that “no  one  can  write  decently  who  is  distrustful  of  the  readers  intelligence  or  whose  attitude  is  patronizing.”Painting everybody, except  you, black, makes  your memoir  susceptible  to  folklore. Even  at  that, for  pretending  to  be  a  hero, insulting  our  collective  sense  of  reasoning  and  making of  yourself  a  giant  and  Nigeria  a  land  of  dwarfs,it  is  at  best, a  crass  work  of  fiction.As  a  former  president, there  is  absolutely  nothing  wrong  in  critiquing  the administration  of  your  predecessors. But  sir, from  your  watch, please  take  a  good  look  at  your  time.
Joel  Pereyi, a  freelance  copywriter, writes  from  Lagos, Nigeria. He can be reached on Jpereyi@gmail.com
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