The Yoruba and Obasanjo in Nigerian politics, by Agboola Sanni
Where other leaders used the opportunity of their incumbency to raise their people, the reverse is the case with Obasanjo. The Awujale had just narrated how he dealt the Mike Adenuga. Maybe one day, somebody will also tell the story of Chief Bakare of the Oluwalogbon fame in the hands of Obasanjo
If there is one person whose personage in national polity offers a study case, it is no other than General Olusegun Obasanjo. Whether in his career in the military or his debut into Nigerian politics, he is so far the luckiest person in Nigerian public life.
To some, he is seen as the symbol of Nigerian unity. Some will not even mind giving him the cognomen of one that can lay down his life for the Nigerian cause. What such people may not remember however is that whether in the military or in government, his so-called courage is shielded by mortal cowardice. Various accounts of the war showed him as somebody gifted in hiding himself away from trouble zone only to emerge from nowhere to take credit that he did not deserve.
But even if we do not have details of his military career, the incident of February 3, 1976 when even as number two man, he had to disappear upon hearing the news of the assassination of his principal, General Murtala Muhammed, is a case in point. He was later to be located under the bed, hiding in the room of the late Chief S.B. Bakare in Ikoyi.
Even after surfacing, he could not on his own muster the courage to take the leadership position until the necessary courage was instilled in him by the likes of Theophilus Danjuma, Shehu Yar’adua and others. At that critical stage in his life, Nigeria was not worth dying for. It turned out to be a peculiar idiosyncrasy to him that the first thing he usually did with sword of authority was to turn that sword against those who risked their life to give it to him. Just as it was with the likes of Alani Akinrinade, Alabi-Isama in the war front, so also was it with Danjuma, Ibrahim Babangida, etc, at the Dodan Barracks. The story is not different with those who equipped his wardrobe for presidential garment in 1999. Atiku Abubakar, Danjuma and business moguls like S.O. Bakare, Oyewole Fasawe, Orji Uzor Kalu among others have different stories to tell on the 1999 episode.
One may wonder, why in spite of all these, he is still being seen as the symbol of unity in the country. The reason for this is not far-fetched for those who care. The case of Obasanjo is the myth or paradox of the man who loves his distant cousin better than his direct sibling. The paradox is the passion of sacrificing the blood of his sibling brother to save the life of his cousin.
The political narrative of that analogy is that in selling himself to other federating units of the country, he always sees his own race, the Yoruba race as the pawn or tool to ignite the lamp of Nigeria. Mention any Yoruba man, living or dead aspiring to the leadership of the country, Obasanjo would be quick to portray him to the other zones either as a tribalist or a Yoruba irredentist.
Going down memory lane, it was Obasanjo who as military Head of State coined the slogan ‘the best candidate does not have to win at all costs in a democracy’. He deliberately coined that to quench the flame of the rising profile of Obafemi Awolowo’s four cardinal programmes of the Unity Party of Nigeria.
As if that was not enough, he arranged an official state visit to the eastern part of the country where he held clandestine meetings with the Igbo leadership regarding Awolowo’s role as Federal Commissioner for Finance which changed the face of the currency that finally led to the collapse of the Biafra dream.
That for the East, for the North on the other hand, he would never miss the opportunity to remind their leaders that for him, one of them, Shagari could not have emerged as President in 1979 when he used his executive prowess to foil Awolowo’s aspiration.
As it that was not enough, Obasanjo did not change his colour in 1993 during Abiola’s presidential bid. He did not hide his endorsement of the 1993 election annulment in ‘national interest’. His response to the Abacha clampdown on Yoruba leaders was a tacit endorsement of the anti-Yoruba Abacha agenda until nemesis caught up with him. In a nutshell, anything anti-Yoruba is to him in the country’s national interest. Needless going through the intrigues that brought him to power in 1999, it suffices however to state that all those who contributed in one way or the other for his emergence were to be paid back with the tag of either being a thief or crook.
Although, ostensibly, the presidency was zoned to the South West in 1999 at northern initiative, to assuage the pain of the Yoruba for the annulment, the period turned to be the worst for the South West in the political history of the country. All sensitive positions that should ordinarily go to the South West were given as bonuses to other zones with a view to portraying himself as a nationalist, in fact, as the only nationalist in Yoruba land; as against tribalists, which he had branded all other Yoruba leaders.
Even his Vice President, Atiku Abubakar drew his ire in his bid to revive the SDP confraternity of the Babangida era. Atiku started by initiating a regular progressive meeting with the AD Governors who were his political soul mates in the SDP days. Obasanjo tacitly queried him for undue interference in his political zone.
He found a way of admonishing the AD governors for fraternising with a Fulani man at his own expense. He thereafter initiated his own rapport with his ‘brother governors’. We all saw the end of that rapport. He made sure all the governors, except Tinubu lost their second term bid. Only Tinubu can tell the story of what he went through in the hands of Obasanjo before he could secure his second term.
Where other leaders used the opportunity of their incumbency to raise their people, the reverse is the case with Obasanjo. The Awujale had just narrated how he dealt the Mike Adenuga. Maybe one day, somebody will also tell the story of Chief Bakare of the Oluwalogbon fame in the hands of Obasanjo.
. Sanni sent this piece from Ibadan, Oyo State.