375 Days To Go


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375 Days To Go: A Case Study Of President Obasanjo




Jaafar Jaafar



“Democracy is not synonymous with unhealthy competition for power, neither does it unnecessarily mean getting, at all times, the best man or the best team to run a government. Rather, democracy means …we must be guided by the wishes of the majority in the interest of all” – General Obasanjo in a nationwide broadcast in 1978 that heralded the coming of the Second Republic




May 16, 2006 



375 Days To Go, is a bold-written reminder on a 2x3 strip advert sponsored by a group named 2007 Movement and appears on the pages of many national dailies today. It urges President Olusegun Obasanjo to leave when “the ovation is loudest.” I too, like many others who don’t want Obasanjo to cast blight on his hard-earned reputation, join the frenzy.


On the 21st day of September 1978, exactly 375 days to 1st October, 1979, the day General Obasanjo handed over the reigns of power to democratically elected president, Alhaji Shehu Aliyu Shagari; Obasanjo read an epochal broadcast to the nation. In the speech, he blew the whistle of politics to begin. If President Obasanjo would help relive that historic day, the tension, cynicism, apprehensions that bedevil the country would be doused. How I wish so.


Now that the senators did a good job on Tuesday, but Nigerians are still apprehensive because as the third term apostles proved so desperate, nothing seems to hamstring the efforts of Hambagda, Obj’s handbag, a man of hammy political game, to hammer out another option that might hamper the political progress of this country. Nigerians even prefer the spontaneous deus ex machina that marked the end of General Abacha – God. But I think kind words, reminder or anecdote (that will conclude this piece) might help instead.


I have already roughed out this piece penultimate week, when the idea of reminding President Obasanjo in my own little way to repeat what he did exactly 375 days to 1st October 1979 as he read the historic broadcast to the nation. However, to revise and put it in its final form, I had to spend my last kobo touring the libraries astride achaba, while the scorching sun of Kano darkens my swarthy face once more. It’s out of sheer love that I feel so disposed to remind Baba that the “ovation is loudest.” Nonetheless, I managed to glean and unearth some dog-eared documents, books, newspapers and magazines germane to President Obasanjo that were long interred.


Of all the heap of materials I laid my hands on, what still holds me captive was the content of that speech. No one would believe that Obasanjo was really the person who uttered those words. In the speech, Obasanjo says: “There is need to remind ourselves and especially those aspiring to rule this country of the fact, that no matter, how good a constitutional document may seem to be, its ultimate and utilitarian goodness depends on the will, disposition and vision of its operators,” he said. “Whether it (constitution) is a vehicle of justice, fairness and progress or an instrument of oppression and tyranny will depend on the maturity, the sense of purpose and responsibility of the political leadership,” he stated. Given that Obasanjo believes that the “ultimate and utilitarian goodness [of the constitution] depends on the will and disposition of its operators,” Nigerians will ask, to what effect are they now engrossed in this constitutional review politicking with indecent haste? I have observed the situation for quite a long time, but I couldn’t make head or tail of it.


In another special broadcast on the 21st day of September, 1978, Head of State, General Obasanjo said in a frank and tough tone: “But let me sound a note of  warning,” he barked. “This administration is committed to bring an elected government in 1979 through a peaceful process of free and fair elections and we will not tolerate from anybody or group any act that is capable of diverting us from this goal,” the Head of State, Obasanjo, warned. But I wonder why he today tolerates Odimegus and other foreign shylocks that are ‘capable of diverting’ him from his ‘goal.’ From his tone one would think the ‘goal,’ General Obasanjo wanted to achieve was 3rd National Development Plan 1975-1980 (that was similar to the present day NEEDS) he bequeathed inconclusive on the succeeding government in 1979. The said ‘goal’ was nothing but democracy. “I want to be a man of my words,” he said.


Since he retired to farming, Obasanjo comes across a hard-hitting elder statesman with passion for making comments, delivering lectures and campaigns for democracy at various local and international fora. A man who had always preached the gospel of democracy even at the risk of being put into slammer. Very solicitous as Obasanjo was, he condemned any reform that is detrimental to masses. “Our sensitivity is deadened. Our psyche is being twisted and perverted so much that we now strive for a bare existence,” NEWSWATCH of April 6, 1992 quoted him berating his then whipping boy – IBB regime. Fellow Nigerians, how are we today? If it’s another person as a president, Baba will doubtless describe the polity as such.


In his book, Not My Will, Obasanjo snubbed the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo as a person with inordinate ambition for power, ethnic jingoism, arrogance and deification. Hear him: “Self confidence not borne out of truth and reality but borne out of deceit, deification and untruth by his failure was some of the chief’s cheapest failure.” He added that “…He liked to hear what pleases him and his associates who considered him uncompromisingly ruthless only told him what he wanted to hear as anything contrary would earn them the appellation of saboteur and cruel sanction,” he wrote. What is now Chief Obasanjo’s cheapest political failure? Now we have Fani-Kayode, Madueke, Gana, Aneni et al, kowtowing to president telling him what only pleases him. Yet we have people like Fasehun (who fought for the democracy he now enjoys and wants to keep enjoying) facing a charge of treason! To borrow his words, we now have “administration in credibility deficit.”


On the issue of profligacy that has now become the order of day, Obasanjo in those days preached ‘austerity measures.’ It was his incessant admonishing of IBB regime to shun flamboyancy that made Philip Ogunade to ask in 1993: “If low profile programme was so successful, how come all the richest retired generals in Nigeria today are those who served under Uncle Sege?”


Notwithstanding, the credit of blazing the trail goes to the same Uncle Sege who ironically blazed the trail of being the most prodigal president Nigeria ever had. The recent N9bn jet is good example. In the same light, he was the first leader in the 70s to ban the use of Mercedes Benz as official vehicle – a culture we still maintain. He also banned the importation Champagne, which newly-married couples had to patronize the local brands. But what has really changed today? Why would a proponent of ‘austerity measures,’ a person ever vainglorious of his humility made such volte-face? I still can’t understand nor believe that Obasanjo is a transplant of the elder statesman I knew. Rather, sort of misbegotten hybrid. “Jeep, me jeep, it’s too expensive,” was one of his pre-1999 utterances. Those at the vantage point of 70s like former Kaduna State Governor, Alhaji Balarabe Musa might have something to say: “I think something is wrong with him. What I think is that some mighty forces are controlling him. Otherwise I don’t think a man can change just like that from being a saint to devil…” Musa said. Beats me too!


As I have mentioned earlier that the concluding part of the essay will be a story, thus: One day a house fire trapped a boy and 45-day old baby in a storey building. The man who was called upon to rescue them was called Pagbenga. He was ambidextrous goalkeeper with impressive goalkeeping prowess. Avowedly the best in the soccer firmament. He was even better than Aleks, the former assistant captain when Sheu was the captain. But that fateful day put a spanner on this otherwise rolling soccer carrier.


The building had no fire escape and the only safe haven the boy, named Salami, could carry the baby to was the balcony. The crowd had gathered in no time. The fire brigade was not forthcoming. A pall of thick smoke puffed and hovered around. The baby was still crying. A voice believed to be that of Maradona (aka Pamoha) filtered through the altercation and asked: “Where is Pagbenga?” He appeared in his usual goalie strip after persuasions. The crowd started chanting “Pagbenga, Pagbenga, Pagbenga…” The crowd was now ordered to clear away so as to give him enough space to dive for the baby before it touches the ground. “Raise the baby aloft and throw it to me,” Pagbenga ordered Salami to throw the baby therefrom. Salami heeded. Pagbenga adeptly dived and caught the baby unharmed, while Salami, cleverly clung to the drainpipe and climbed down poste-haste and left the scene. He was still holding the baby jumping triumphantly, acknowledging cheers while the crowd still chanted “Pagbenga.”  The rapturous ovation did not cease. The situation flattered and instantly overawed him.


Now reader, listen to the fatal punch-line: On an impulse, he raised baby up, put it on his left palm and violently kicked (or shot) it away, as any good goalie was wont to “play away” after saving a ball! The baby succumbed to the law of gravity and died on the spot.


The story may sound hilarious and off-beet humour to some, but hackneyed to many. Whether it sounds comical or misfires, the story aptly matches the polity. Its only those around Pagbenga could tell his “achievements” and “greatness.” What ovation Pagbenga needed to hold the baby “a little longer”? Had he handed the baby over when the “ovation is loudest,” he could have been hero to many; his name could have been written in the good side of history. The custodians of the baby would not have disregarded the trophies he had won to the neighborhood. Although a savvy sportsman, they did not forgive him.


Likewise, Baba saved this country from political conflagration that razed the country during the military era (at least he was elected in 1999). Like Pagbenga, who only those around cheered him. Baba too, only a tiny cabal of scoundrels who want to see more “greatness” cheer, praise and want him to continue holding the baby (sorry, Nigeria). Anenih, Gana et al did so to Abacha. If Obasanjo continues to acknowledge the cheers of the crowd around him, he may end no body’s hero; the trophies he won for himself would not be seen. He would be taunted by all, and his Mandela-like image will be disfigured. The cheers would make him end in shame and bury all the good things he had done. The tiny crowd of Odimegus should leave my Obasanjo to hand over the ‘45-day old baby’ to its parents – Mazi, Chief, Are, Alhaji, whoever! I want him to put to shame journalists (who invented the bogey and Onyenma Ugochukus who now shamefacedly own up the bogey), cynics, ethnic jingoists, and of cause the Whites (who predicted the ‘death’ of the ‘baby’ he rescued because he does not want to hand it over). Why do I love Baba? Although it’s now a taboo to say you like him, I say so, because I don’t want him to end like Pagbenga –in utter shame and disrespect. It even makes me wish I could pull the old man’s baggy agbada and tell him to hand over when the ovation is loudest.


Jaafar writes from Kano



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