By ONWUASOANYA FCC JONES
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has in recent times presented himself as a darling of the Igbos and a willing ally in their economic and political pursuits. From attending the Southeast Economic Summit, where he advised the Igbos to shun the attitude of individualism and unite among themselves in order to achieve their goals, the former President has dropped what some people consider a political bombshell, when he became one of the first top Nigerians to declare his support for the Igbos to produce the next President of Nigeria come 2019. As expected, this comment by a man of his age, caliber, connections and knowledge of Nigerian politics has got tongues wagging and political scientists analyzing, while the man sticks to his guns.
It takes a friend to support the political aspiration of a people, especially, as the Igbos have for long made it known that being shut out of the nation’s top job is one of the evidences that they are being marginalized. However, a foe can as well latch on a peoples’ aspiration to either taunt them or lure them into danger. An enemy may see that you are closer to realizing your dreams and lure you away from it, by presenting a fake promise of how you can realize that dream faster than the right time. When you fall for such trick, you will most likely lose every chance of realizing that dream or delay it further. This is why it is necessary for Igbos to be very careful about who they listen to and whose idea they follow in their bid to win the Nigerian presidency.
The longer a man lives, the better he understands who his true friends are and also if he has chosen the right people as his enemies. Longevity also affords a man more opportunities to be understood by those who may have made some wrong assumptions about him. For a man who has seen wars, coup de tats, assassinations and made several narrow escapes from bullets targeted on his head and bullets flying from many places at the same time, reaching the landmark age of eighty years is not something to be glossed over by anyone. Writers of varied persuasions understand this, hence, the buzz on social, print, and electronic media about the man whose signature is in many historical watersheds of this country. You can argue about everything concerning Chief Olusegun Obasanjo; you can be forgiven if you attempt to debate that he was never Nigeria’s President, but it will be a most foolish endeavor to attempt arguing that he is not one of Nigeria’s politicians who has reaped most from the proverbial national cake. We cannot also argue successfully against the fact that God has truly shown him immense love and the concomitant favours. Where the argument will continue to be is on how well or badly he utilizes this special love bestowed on him by God, especially in directing the affairs of this country and Africa at large.
It is correct to posit that there is no Nigerian, living or dead, who has benefited from Nigeria more than Obasanjo. While some people may argue that he has also put in much more sacrifices than any other person dead or alive, it remains debatable. For if sacrifices are determined by the number of years one has put into public service, then, no one has put on more sacrifices than Obasanjo, but if it is to be rated based on how many things one has deprived himself of in serving the nation and making sure it succeeds, then, there will be more people pouring spittle on Obasanjo’s record than there will be, pouring encomiums. That too, is the fate of leaders; they are as misunderstood as they are loved. Very many people will not argue against the reality of Obasanjo’s contributions in ensuring that Nigeria remains one. What may form a debate is whether this insistence on Nigeria’s indivisibility is borne out of genuine love for the unity of Nigeria or because his personal interests are best protected by that.
Talking about friendship, there is no tribe in Nigeria who is unanimous in agreeing that Obasanjo is their friend, neither is there anyone who agrees that the Owu Chief is their enemy. While it is on record that Chief Obasanjo, especially in his second coming as civilian Head of State had made some policy concessions to favor the North(Like denying the West support on the invasion of Iraq, the suspension of National Identity Card as requirement for voters’ registration, etc), the North still see him as being responsible for their woes. His involvement in the selection of an Ijaw as Vice-President of Nigeria and subsequent elevation of the same Ijaw as substantive President is prominent, yet, the Ijaws remember him most for the massacre at Odi, which he ordered. Even within the own Yoruba ethnic group, where he hails from, he shares admirers almost in equal proportion with haters. In 1999, when he ran for the presidency of Nigeria under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, the six States of the Southwest who are predominantly Yoruba, voted overwhelmingly for the APP/AD presidential candidate, Chief Olu Falae. Chief Obasanjo even failed to garner enough votes in his own local ward, LGA and Ogun State in general. This was as the former Army General garnered massive support from the Southeast, South-South and majority of the Northern States that consequently swept him to the presidency. If we are to use voting pattern to determine which tribe loves or hates Obasanjo more, we may as well conclude that the Yoruba tribe from where he hails are his biggest enemies, while the Igbos are his best friends.
In political leadership, friendship by a political leader with a political group or in this context, ethnic group is not determined by the individual political leader’s relationship with some individuals from that group, rather, by the benefits that accrue to the group as a result of actions and utterances of the political leader. These benefits may be in the form of infrastructural developments, job and wealth creation, political patronage and siting of political offices, concessions granted in policy formation and implementation in deference to the interest of the people and also alliances formed while out of power, which favor the interest of that group. Lie in every other relationship, political relationships are beneficial when they are symbiotic and harmful when they are parasitic. If it can proved that President Obasanjo has always sought for alliances with the Igbos that would be mutually beneficial to both tribes, then it can be argued that he has always being a friend to the Igbos, but if it can proven that he only seeks this political alliance when it will benefit his political interests more, then, it will not only be right to say that he is a selfish manipulator of the Igbos’ love for him, but more straight to the point to conclude that he is an enemy posing as friend when it suits his interests most.
Understanding how Chief Obasanjo feels about the Igbos will not be possible without making reference to his involvement in the 30 months long Nigeria-Biafra civil war. Obasanjo it was who received the instrument of surrender from the Biafran Army as presented by General Philip Effiong, who was the second in command to Ojukwu. As the commander of the Third Marine Commando Division, the then Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo orchestrated the final onslaught against the blockaded State of Biafra, ensuring that no one who stood up in resistance of his troops’ advances was spared. Obasanjo is a major partaker in the killing of over three million Igbos, most of whom were civilians. Such was his involvement in the unprovoked massacre of the Igbos, that the Federal Military Government under Yakubu Gowon found him worthy to receive on behalf of the Nigerian Government, the instrument of surrender from the Biafran Government represented by Philip Effiong. I have not read in any impartially written account of the Biafran genocide, that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo made any reasonable effort at any time to ensure that the casualties among the Biafrans were at any rate reduced. Someone who loves a people as much leading the charge to ‘concede’ presidential powers to them would have looked for ways to minimize casualties among them, especially, when he had such opportunity.
From 1976 till October, 1979, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo reigned as the military Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces. There are no records of him doing anything to show a special love for the Igbos in those three years. Apart from statutory appointments and projects, there is not a single policy of the Obasanjo military administration that was specifically aimed at helping the Igbos of Southeastern Nigeria, rather, the marginalization of the zone was more pronounced during this time. The Obasanjo military administration followed through General Yakubu Gowon’s obnoxious post-civil war policies which made Igbos who had properties outside Igboland lose their properties while Igbo millionaires became paupers as a result of the change of the Nigerian currency, resulting in Igbos been given a paltry Twenty Pounds, no matter how much they had left in the banks. If Chief had any love for the Igbos, he would have influenced General Murtala Muhammed under whom he served as Nigeria’s Second-in-command to change that policy. He didn’t, and when he eventually became the Head of State in 1976 after the assassination of his boss and friend, Murtala Muhammed, he made no move to repeal that decree, nor did he take steps to ameliorate the sufferings of the Igbos. on exiting power in 1979, he did everything possible to ensure that power was returned to the North, in the first military to civilian handover which he midwifed.
In 1999, Obasanjo became a beneficiary of another military to civilian handover of power, when General Abdulsalami Abubakar handed over the presidency to him on May 29th 1999. He stood for another election in 2003, and ‘won’, gifting him a second term in office and securing him another page in our history books as the man who has ruled Nigeria the longest. In the eight years, he ruled Nigeria as a civilian President, the Owu Chief was noted for giving some concessions in his policy formulations for the benefit of the North, his Yoruba people and even the Ijaw and other minority tribes, but no such policy was formulated or suspended specifically for the benefit of the Igbos; who incidentally are his in-laws, as he married an Owerri woman, Mrs Evelyn Olusegun-Obasanjo.
For a man whose paternity is controversially traced to the Igbo (section of the media holds it that he was sired by an Onitsha Prince. Even though he vehemently denies this, he is yet to provide a compelling evidence of who his true father is. This is as, those who sell the story of his being the son of Igwe Okwudili Onyejekwe remain insistent in their claims) and who has enjoyed the consistent political support of the Igbos more than he has enjoyed that of any other ethnic group, it would not have been too much for him to at least site a legacy federal project in the Southeast. The second Niger-Bridge became something he used to mock and deceive the Igbos, at every election season. He never set up a single brick on the site of that all-important bridge.
Three times, the man we like to call Baba had a direct opportunity to help an Igbo man or woman become the President of Nigeria, three times, he spurned that chance. Today, with his influence seriously reduced, Chief Obasanjo has come out to tell the Igbos to warm up for the presidency come 2019. This is as his friend and former aide, General Muhammadu Buhari has not declined to run for a second term. I align with some commentators who have pointed out that it is either the former military general and war veteran is trying to mock the Igbos or he is trying to deceive us into shooting ourselves on the foot, by jumping into the presidential race at the wrong time, thereby, hurting our chances of producing Nigeria’s President when it will be our turn.
As I join many Nigerians to wish the traditional Chief of Owu Kingdom, the three times President of Nigeria, the most experienced Nigerian politician alive, the self-confessed wily Ogun Chief and controversially, the father of modern day Nigeria, a splendid 80th year birthday and constant good health and happiness, I remind him that the Igbos know what is good for them and cannot be lured into taking a plunge when it is not right.