16 February 2014, Sweetcrude, Lagos – Obasanjo was a Nigerian soldier who became a Nigerian statesman, an African spokesperson and a world figure. In October 1979 he handed power to the civilian government of Shehu Shagari and became an instant hero of democrats all over the world. Many have argued and his “body language” during his “second coming” has been read by many to suggest that he handed over power in 1979 more for fear of receiving the “Murtala Mohammed treatment” than for the love of democracy.
As a member of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons’ Group, Obasanjo wrote a letter to British Prime Minister, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher in which he thoroughly criticised her for her position against the placement of sanctions against P. W. Botha’s Apartheid regime in South Africa. For an African statesman, he stirred controversy by his statements and writings against the tradition of other statesmen before and during his time. After he handed over power to his former deputy, Madiba Nelson Mandela retreated from the spotlight in favour of the rulers of the day until he passed on. Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda and the maverick Ghanaian Air Force officer and former head of state, John Rawlings all kept that tradition in the same manner as our own Nnamdi Azikiwe, Shehu Shagari and Ernest Shonekan, quietly watching their successors with the optimism of sages and the practical expectation of wise men “who had worn the shoes.”
The earliest indications that Obasanjo would not welcome the relative obscurity of retirement came to the limelight when he edged off Chief Tony Anenih and assumed the office of Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP in 2007. Examining his activities through the lenses of history one would find that this is a man who decided that even if he lost political relevance and societal limelight, he would not himself, let go of the limelight! To actualise his dreams, he wrote controversial biographies in which he gave himself credit for events that occurred without his participation; he formed a high profile democratic institution, the African Round Table, although he was himself bereft of democratic credentials apart from his fear-induced hand over of political power in 1979. You may recall that he deployed that platform to criticise the government of Ibrahim Babangida whose SAP policy he famously described as “lacking the milk of human kindness.”
Again for his meddlesomeness he was thrown into jail by the military government of Sanni Abacha. While languishing in Abacha’s prisons, Obasanjo wrote a letter of condolence to the head of state when the latter lost his first son, Mohammed Abacha in a plane crash.
Although this letter stirred no political controversy, it was regarded in intellectual circles as a shameless plea for leniency couched in the prose of condolence!
On the 13th of December 2013 Olusegun Obasanjo sprang out from his Otta Farm abode where only the cackle of the birds he rears, constitute his daily briefings. In his usual arrogance and tactlessness, he published an 18 paragraph letter he wrote to Nigeria’s president and commander-in-chief, Goodluck Jonathan.
Commenting on the letter, the African Herald stated:
“Obasanjo has passed his shelf life
in Nigerian politics.”
In an article published by the Punch on December 29, 2013, one Chido Onumah wrote:
“Obasanjo has outlived his usefulness,
if anyone ever found him useful.”
In our humble opinion, this is Obasanjo’s last effort at fighting the redundancy pressed on him by younger political hawks in the PDP and on the country’s political centre-stage where the combatants are the young and vibrant president and his team of young advisers against the equally young but misguided governors, who like Obasanjo would soon be characterised by the disappearance of their political shadows!