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Posted on Friday, 13 March 2015 14:55

Olusegun Obasanjo, the history man

By Patrick Smith

Former Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo. Photo©Mark Chilvers for TARFormer president Olusegun Obasanjo was on an international tour to promote his bulky three-volume memoir – My Watch – when the electoral commission announced that the elections due on 14 February would be postponed for six weeks.

The timing could hardly have been better, helped by Nigeria's high-octane politics.

The announcement started nerves jangling as Nigerians argued over who or what was behind the move and who would benefit from it.

Contrary to media reports, I have not endorsed any candidate in the coming elections

The questions hanging over Nigeria's elections ensured that all the seats were taken for Obasanjo's book launch in London on 11 February.

After sweeping into the meeting in a light blue agbada, Obasanjo faced waves of questions about Nigeria's direction of travel and his war of words with President Goodluck Jonathan and the ruling party.

"Contrary to media reports, I have not endorsed any candidate in the coming elections," Obasanjo said, uncharacteristically diplomatic, when asked about his reported endorsement of opposition presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari.

"I will examine the candidates on the basis of their track records and make my decision."

Asked whether the postponement of the elections could jeopardise political stability, Obasanjo said that the military's statement earlier that day to the effect that it could not guarantee security for the elections on the scheduled date of 14 February was ominous.

"In a democracy, the army obeys the elected government," he added. The election delay had prompted legitimate concerns across the country, he said: "There is a real danger of overheating the polity."

At a time when three states in the north-east were under emergency rule as the Boko Haram's Islamist insurgents had seized several local government areas, the government's campaign against it was patently failing, said Obasanjo.

It was a mixture of bad policies and low morale in the armed forces, he argued. "Recruitment has been going wrong, training has been going wrong and equipment has been going wrong."

Introduced by his host Richard Dowden, director of the Royal African Society, as a man whose career encapsulates the history of modern Nigeria, Obasanjo launched into an evocative account of his childhood in Abeokuta, south-west Nigeria, in the 1930s with some jibes at colonial authorities who used to levy fines on his mother's household.

He also spoke about his Christian upbringing and schooling: "We had a strong sense of religion – we had a Baptist church in our village – and a strong sense of right and wrong."

Hardly disguising his nostalgia for an era when Nigeria's government and military were in a more robust condition, Obasanjo recalled his military service during the civil war from 1967-1970.

"There was a principle of public service [...] not for ourselves alone."

Weaved around the historical narrative in his book, Obasanjo spends lengthy sections justifying his decisions and commending the results from his two stints as head of state, firstly as military leader and two decades later as elected civilian president. Play best friv games site.

He seems to maintain a professional respect for several of his contemporaries in the army, but is markedly less generous towards his fellow politicians.

On 16 February, he announced his retirement from partisan politics.

"Some people say they want to send me away. They don't need to bother themselves. Here's your membership card, take it."

In a well-choreographed piece of theatre at his hilltop villa in Abeokuta, Obasanjo asked a colleague to tear up his membership card of the ruling PDP.

Obasanjo's departure from the party he helped to found sparked reactions of frustration and bafflement from its hierarchy.

Friends and critics alike see another motivation in Obasanjo's exit from partisan politics.

He talked about the need to play the role of statesman rather than politician.

As speculation mounts over the political negotiations in the weeks ahead, it seems we have not seen the final act of Obasanjo's historical drama. ●

 



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