Nigerian leaders are very lucky. So lucky that no matter their output in terms of behaviour and performance, they are guaranteed flowery and lavish post-humors encomiums. This could well be an incentive for bad behaviour. There is the assurance that, no matter what, at the end of the day, good things will be said about them, when they eventually pass on to the other side. This was certainly the situation when for instance the point-man of Nigeria’s Second Republic went the way of all flesh. Even Rutam House, through one of its columnists, had very positive things to say about the man. I was mad.
On a personal level, and at the level of scholarship, I was very much involved with that era. In more specific terms, I co-edited a definitive book on that phase of our national life. And the overall verdict was damning. Even then, we were not alone. Other scholars like, Julius Ihonvbere, Toyin Falola, Larry Diamond, and Richard Joseph, independently and respectively came to the same negative conclusion about that inglorious era. Still, when the politician died, encomiums poured forth. That is simply the way we are.
In other climes, however, the situation is decidedly different. Warts and all, they will review your life and times. Clearly, this is not being done for the dead. Rather, it is for the living in the hope that the governance momentum will be extended and sustained. This was precisely what happened when Richard Nixon died. There was a focus on his foreign policy exploits. But the attentive public was also regaled with his negative showing, on the platform of the Watergate scandal.
The latest target of this frank culture of post-humous tributes happens to be the now-departed Colin Powell, the former American Secretary of State, who against the wind and currents of his times went on to high-level positions in the American policy establishment. Such positions include Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces and the American Foreign Secretary.
We choose in these parts to remember only the positive dimensions. This partly explains why we said earlier on that Nigerian leaders are lucky.
He was something of an iconic figure. A hero. But like all heroes, there was a sticky and human side to him. This clearly showed up in the way, he goaded Washington and her allies into war against Iraq. The reader may wish to recall here that the war was fought on the grounds that, solid intelligence had it that Saddam Hussein was in possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction, (WMD). And as such, he had to be toppled. With a straight face, Colin Powell, briefed the UN on this issue. The rest as they say is history. Saddan Hussein was overthrown. Then the day after, it was found that Iraq did not possess (WMD) after all. But the damage had been done. Thousands on both sides had lost their lives. Luckily, however, Colin Powell’s reputation also took a hit. The emperor had been disrobed.
And for the rest of his life, this was an aspect of his peerless career that continued to haunt him. What is perhaps most important in the context of this exercise is that, by the time he passed on recently and in keeping with the culture over there, he was not given deodorized posthumous encomiums.
Rather, reviewers chose to remember and vividly too, that particularly dark spot of his career. Which is why it was asserted earlier on that, such frankness does not obtain here? In a way that borders on the hypocritical, or if you like selective amnesia. We choose in these parts to remember only the positive dimensions. This partly explains why we said earlier on that Nigerian leaders are lucky. That we do not apply the off-shore kind of treatment that was accorded Nixon and Powell. Certainly, Olusegun Obasanjo, would number among one of these members of the Nigerian leadership that could be deemed to be lucky. His positive credentials are many and largely uncontested.
He was a civil war hero. One of the few Nigerian/African leaders who yielded the throne, and paved the way for the resumption of democratic politics. Such an achievement in the African continent made him a toast of sorts in the international community. Here was a unique African, they gushed.
But then, like all heroes, there was a downside. Towards the end of his second coming as president, it got into his head that a third term as possible. And he set about it, albeit in the shadows with gusto.
But it was like burying a dead body with exposed legs. It could not be hidden for long. The first person to show him up was that ‘enfant terrible’ of a politician in Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose. For obvious reasons, it was possible not to take Fayose seriously.
In recent times, however, more revelations have come forth that our hero is clay footed. One recent book, by Ken Nnamani spoke about the third term agenda as advocated and orchestrated by Obasanjo. It was not a pretty read. Ugly in fact. That here was a man who sought to dismantle the constitutional structures which brought him to power.
These revelations in the memoirs of Ken Nnamani, the former Senate president have since been corroborated by other disclosures from other sources. The first comes from Basil Obi. Obi went into the details of the several intrigues which characterized this exercise, and at the end of the day, the acclaimed statesman was found to be naked, and he could not get his way despite the very huge resources which had been sunk into the project.
And talking of resources brings to mind another book titled:, ‘Too Good To Die: Third Term and the Myth of the indispensable man in Africa,’ by Professor Chidi Odinkalu and Ayisha Osori detailed how huge resources were channeled into self-serving purposes which could have been used to nurture our power systems and other critical variables.
Perhaps the most ironic and galling for me was another revelation from Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki revealed that in conjunction with the former Head of State Abdusalam Abubakar efforts were made to hamper Obasanjo from achieving this inglorious aim. The irony stems from the fact that there was a Nigeria, under the self-same Obasanjo, which used her moral and material resources to ensure the demise of apartheid. In the process, a Thabo Mbeki came to acquire his current prominence and visibility.
Going forward, it was now the self-same Mbeki who at that point in time, sought to ensure that Nigeria was not embarrassed by the Owu Chief. This, to say the least, was a sad blow for this country, courtesy of our former president who is now hallmarked by his expansive presidential library.
Curiously enough, mum is the word from our man in Abeokuta on all these revelations. However, he should not even worry. For such is the contrasting ways in which we mourn the dead, as opposed to what obtains over there, that Olusegun Obasanjo is guaranteed a positive posthumous encomium when it pleases the Lord to call him home.
And as a leader, he is not the only potential beneficiary of such an undeserved accolade. All told, this odd situation goes a long way to explain to us and why we continue to be stuck in this long tunnel.