OBJ Playing Awo?

By Ikenga Chronicles February 13, 2018

OBJ Playing Awo?

— Sam Adesua

The recent letter written by Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo to the incumbent President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, ostensibly to instill sanity in the polity, has been described variously as “explosive, sensational, letter bomb” etc, by different people and even the media in the country. The descriptions aptly show the captivating effect of the letter on the attention of almost all Nigerians, especially the politicians including the addressee and his supporters.

The contents of the letter, which contain the glaring ills of the Buhari regime, and the audacity of Obasanjo to tell the president and all Nigerians the dangerous situation in which the regime appears to be piloting Nigeria, really mirrored the patriotic instinct that dominated the actions and inactions of the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo within and outside the corridors of power throughout his life time.

Obasanjo’s letter could be described as a seed planted in a very fertile ground that is bound to germinate and blossom in such a manner that will be very attractive to people around. The polity under Buhari provides the fertile ground for Obasanjo’s letter to blossom sensationally. Under Buhari, Nigerians have so far witnessed the practical demonstration of nepotism in its stark reality as never before in a multi-ethnic Nigeria. This is apart from the shattered hopes that made the electorate in the country to dump the wobbling and ineffective regime of Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, to put their hopes on Buhari and in his in-coming regime. Unfortunately, the cacophony of the voices of sycophants will always drown the deafening murmurings of the disappointed electorate in the ears of the president. So no one should be surprised if no attempt is made by the government to address the issues raised in the letter. A mark of the sensationalism that Obasanjo’s letter attracted could partly be seen in the newspaper vendors making brisk business out of the ugly situation by selling copies of the letter on the streets of Lagos and Abuja to distraught Nigerians. The radio and television stations and most joint spots also became centres for the discussion of the explosive letter.

No doubt, Obasanjo did what the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo would have done if he were to be around physically. Most Nigerians, including even those who are not Obasanjo’s disciples applaud him for capturing the correct picture of the polity under the Buhari regime. I know that genuine disciples of Obasanjo can’t be many. They are limited mainly to those who had embraced the political philosophy of his “Babaism” for political gains. But almost every Nigerian, especially the suffering masses, saw the letter as representing their interest and position. Awo’s patriotic instinct would also not have allowed him to take the “siddon look” posture or to compromise his patriotic view under the present dangerous social, political and economic journey to the abyss. So by this letter, Obasanjo is trying to play Awo, taking side with the voiceless down-trodden Nigerians. But assuming Obasanjo is able to display the kind of courage of the sage in such a situation (as he has actually done) can he provide the genuine and unbiased solutions to the problems raised in his letter just as the sage would do or rather, did patriotically in his days? Let’s take a cursory look at few examples by the sage.

In 1961, Chief Awolowo stoutly rose against what he saw as ignorant move to mortgage the sovereignty of the country shortly after political independence from Britain. The government of the day under Tafawa Balewa, had perfected everything albeit ignorantly, to put the nation under the yoke of neo-colonialism through what was then called the “Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact”. It was an arrangement between the young nation and her outgoing colonial master, Britain. The pact could have mortgaged the territorial integrity of the young independent nation. Awo, not only went into an in-depth analysis of the contents and provisions of the pact to reveal the inherent contradictions and dangers posed to the nation, he educated most of the elite including students, until the government dumped the obnoxious pact. Although to the wielders of power in the Balewa regime, Awo had committed an unpardonable affront, but the efforts of the sage saved the infant nation from unwarranted military bondage and future neo-colonial slavery. Also in 1977, Nigerian leaders under Murtala/Obasanjo military regime, had planned what they called festival of arts and culture. Nigeria, according to the planning of the programme, would host contingents from all African nations to exhibit their culture including idols. The programme was to gulp billions of Nigeria’s petro-Naira. A whole village (if we don’t want to call it a town) was built in Lagos for this at the end of the day.

As usual, right from the planning stage, Awo’s patriotic instinct saw monumental wastage of the nation’s resources on what would not be beneficial to the generality of Nigerians at the end of the day. Before the federal military government plunged into the programme headlong, Chief Awolowo went into an in-depth analysis of the programme including its cost implications. He warned the government about the colossal waste and went to the extent of suggesting the areas the huge amount could be channeled to improve the quality of lives within the polity. But the sage’s voice of reason was ignored by the military regime under this same Obsanjo. The government of Obasanjo went ahead with the wasteful programme even after the demise of his comrade in arms, General Murtala Mohammed. I doubt if any other African nation since then had had the capacity for the demonstration of such monumental wastage to perpetuate the so-called culture the Nigerian rulers claimed to be protecting. Rather, Nigeria has since then been sinking socially and economically. The third example was under the civilian regime of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. The sage at a point observed the glaring mismanagement of the nation’s economy. He raised the alarm that the economy was heading for the rocks. Awo again patriotically cried out on the need to stem the tide. He offered suggestions on the way out. But because the unfortunate garment of politicking would always be put on by most wielders of power in place of the garment of patriotism, rather than listen and heed the sage’s voice of reason, the Shagari government and its agents called the sage an alarmist and other unprintable names that fancied their detestation of the voice of reason. It wasn’t long before Awo was vindicated.

The economy crashed and threw innocent and hapless Nigerians into socio-economic mess. Incidentally again, it was this same Buhari that led the military junta that booted out the civilian regime under Shagari when the murmurings of Nigerians became too deafening.

Unfortunately, the solution to the prevailing problem wasn’t military intervention (and can never be). This is why the problems persist even till today. It won’t be a surprise if Obasanjo is subjected to unwarranted attacks by sycophants in the guise of supporting the present government or party loyalty. Rather than look at the contents of the letter they will focus on vilifying Obasanjo the writer of the letter, just to defend the dangerous and ruinous status-quo. Rather than focus on the message, it is the messenger they would be attacking.


  • Adesua is a former MD/Editor-in-Chief of ANN Plc