On Tuesday, 9 December, at the Lagos Country Club, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, presented his memoirs titled My Watch. In the three – part memoirs, published by Kachifo Limited, under its Prestige imprint, Obasanjo, in his characteristic manner, is very acidic in his portrayals of many prominent Nigerians. These people include President Goodluck Jonathan, the Nobel laureate Professor Wole Soyinka, Atiku Abukakar, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Brigadier-General Godwin Alabi-Isama, Uche Chukwumerije, Gbenga Daniel and a host of others.
On Goodluck Jonathan
“If the consensus Northern candidate kite had flown I believe that, to a large extent, it would have rolled back most of the post-civil war efforts at unity and integration, the foundation of which had been national consensus rather than regional, sectional, or tribal. Shagari made it to the top not solely on the basis or support of the North but on wide national spread. Chief Awolowo swept the South-West and mid-West and Dr. Azikiwe the South-East, to no avail. Better still, in 1999, I was not voted for by the South-West, because I had maintained that I was a Yoruba man who had transcended being a Yoruba leader.
This position irked some Yorubas who believed that I did not embrace or extol my ‘Yorubaness’ enough. They were right and are wrong. The bane of Nigeria since colonial times has been our habit of relapsing into the cocoon of tribalism at the expense of nationalism. I believe that in the interest of the unity, oneness, greatness, development, cohesion, and wholesomeness of our country, tribalism should be scarified on the altar of nationalism. It is a difficult decision to make and hold to, but it is one that has to be made to forge a nation.
“It was in forging that national consensus that I strongly believed that, when the opportunity presented itself for Godluck to be supported, I neither shirked my duty nor my responsibility. It would no longer be that a political leader at the highest level of our nation could only come from the North or from the major ethnic groups. If an Ijaw man could be supported to make it, then any Nigerian can make it. The 2011 elections have sealed that… It was another divine intervention.
It is painful, to a great extent, to hear that some people of the Ijaw tribe keep insulting Nigerians all across the country, claiming that Goodluck Jonathan is their own. It is even more painful and myopic that Goodluck himself did not publicly put a stop to what can never be in his best interest or that of the Ijaws for now or for the future. I, for one, know that these two gentlemen and their ilk are saying and doing what they are doing for personal ‘chop-chop, without minding what really happened to Goodluck, because when the chips are down, they will disappear or sing a different song.
Goodluck did make the situation worse when he claimed, when commissioning Enugu airport, that the South-East had always supported him more than any zone in the country. What an unfortunate statement! It was neither good politics nor statesmanlike. But I had since come to appreciate and understand what Goodluck called his weaknesses, which need not be. Advertently or inadvertently, Goodluck seems to be replacing nationalism with Ijawism. It did not last for those who had acted in the same way in the past. There is enough in Nigerianism for all, but not in Ijawism. God’s positive intervention in the affairs of Nigeria continues and I am absolutely convinced that it will, because I see Nigeria as an unfinished work of God, a work in progress. Project Nigeria is a project of the Almighty God and since God never sleeps nor slumbers He
will not abandon His handwork.”
On Wole Soyinka
“Wole remains an enigma. He is many things to many people. But to me, he is a great Nigerian, distinguished and globally accoladed outside politics. He will not like anybody else to outdo him as a social critic. He enjoys being a loner and may not be happy when he cannot lead or shine. One critic I admire for his gift is Wole Soyinka. He is a great and talented writer, who had done all of us proud as the first Nigerian Nobel Laureate in Literature.
I am, however, often amused by his political comments which are almost always self-serving. For Wole, no one can be good nor can anything be spot on politically except that which emanates from him or is ordained by him. His friends and loved ones will always be right and correct no matter what they do or fail to do. I understand it has been his character from his schooldays. In short, Wole Soyinka is consistent, which is a good thing to know about him and to say for him.
I, and I am not alone, find him a misfit as a political analyst, commentator or critic. It is thus good that he did not foray into politics. He is surely a better wine connoisseur and a more successful aparo — hunter than a political critic, not to talk of what he would be as a politician. I take him seriously on almost all issues except on the political, particularly Nigerian politics.
“Not too long ago, he joined the sober and respectable club of octogenarians and I took the opportunity to felicitate with him on that occasion. I have observed that since then, Wole appears to be mellowing. I am looking forward to his centenary on the surface of planet earth. If I go before him, I will bid him welcome when he arrives at the Great Beyond. I hope he would do the same if he succeeds in getting there before me and we find ourselves on the same side of the divide.”
“Uche was described as a firebrand politico-socio critic in his younger days. He was sincere, fearless and uncompromising. As he grew older and the reality of life dawned on him with the weight of family responsibility, his pen, if not his mouth, gradually blunted and the fire in him started to dim. He became lure-able and he who succeeded in luring him invariably made him a tool. Wittingly or unwittingly, he began to do the bidding of the lurer.
“In the process, the intrepidity waned and the fearlessness disappeared. He became called and coiled. Of course, by going fully into politics, he lost or sacrificed not only the fire but also the brand. The belief in some quarters is that Uche can get his fire and brand back if the conditions are provided. The question is: What are the conditions that will need to be provided to firebrand Uche again?
Somebody who knows Uche very well agrees with me that age is also catching up on him and for that reason, the fire or the brand may never return. But when it lasted, Uche was a politico-social critic of note who made tremendous contributions before, during and after the civil war in Nigeria. He has moved away from his pan-African activism of younger days to a Igbo-centred focus with a view to becoming the conscience and voice of the Igbo nation. If a good calabash decorator is losing ground as a result of age, he will continue to relish and live on his
past accomplishment and reputation.”
On Atiku Abubakar
“In my opinion, the transition programme began the day I was inaugurated for the second term on May 29, 2003. While everything from that day was geared towards transition, I maintained that I would run the affairs of government until my last day in office and I did. I have never believed in the ‘sitting duck syndrome’. I believed also that the aspirants to the office, whether in the PDP or in other political parties, had started in earnest to oil their machinery.
Atiku Abubakar took it to the level of obscenity. Right from the moment we were sworn in at Eagle Square, Atiku’s banner for 2007 was hoisted, and displayed everywhere in the arena. I, of course, ignored it. He had showed his hand much earlier when his marabout assured him that I would not complete the first term before he took over. He believed it and acted accordingly. He touted the Mandela model, in expectation that he would take over in the second term.
The third prank he played was trying to get Na’Abba to impeach me. The final one before the 2003 election was his arrangement with Alex Ekwueme to be his running mate, and after Ekwueme had won, he would serve only three years, and then resign for Atiku to complete the term. As a result, they would have no competitor in the 2007 elections.
“In the morning of the day before the primary in 2003, the BBC reported that Atiku had not decided who to support in the primary, but he was sure that whomever he supported would win. I went out all night visiting delegates and campaigning till almost 6 a.m. Andy Uba kept chasing Atiku to make another statement, but he insisted that only on BBC would he make another statement. He was hoping that the BBC reporter would not be located. She was located just before dawn and Andy brought her to Atiku. When Atiku saw that I had tilted the scale by going out the whole night, he restated what I had given as an answer to the question at the Adamawa delegates’ location that Atiku would be my running mate. After the election, while Atiku was manoeuvring and planning to put himself as the most consummate politician for 2007 elections, I was wholeheartedly engaged in running the affairs of government. I totally ignored Atiku and his co-planners.
I was told that he had even prepared his list of ministers, just as Ekwueme had prepared his acceptance speech on the evening of the PDP primary at the Eagle Square. Ekwueme came to the Square with two wives. But before the counting got halfway, one of the wives left, by the end of the counting, the second wife departed. This might have been caused by disappointment at the high number of votes I was getting.
“Atiku was not working on one option alone, he had the option for 2003 and 2007. One of his schemes in preparation for his ascension in 2007 was to get the whole South west AD Governors to support him. Without informing me, he went to work out a deal with the six AD Governors. He told them that PDP would not contest against any of them in 2003, and in 2007, they would not present any presidential candidate, but adopt and vote for PDP Presidential candidate which, of course, would be Atiku.
When the news of the deal got to me, I was furious for two reasons. One, such a deal to me was undemocratic, two, if any deal would be reached at all, it must involve all the national party leadership. I expressed my feelings to him. I stuck to my gun that in a democracy all interested parties must be in the field to allow the will of the people to prevail in the choice of their leaders. We campaigned vigorously in the South West and PDP actually won in all the six states except that Lagos State governorship election was stolen as it was meticulously explained to me by an insider, R.B.T. Tinubu, the then Head of Service of Lagos State Government.
“As I moved on with my programmes for the second term, I had no clear indication about who would succeed me. If Atiku had been a loyal, faithful, dutiful and committed second-in-command, I would not have doubted. After all, I picked him purposely for that in mind. What informed my position was the question my Chaplain, Revd (Dr.) William Okoye, asked in the beginning of May 2006 about who I had anointed to succeed me, since we were almost one year away to the election. I told him no one yet. He was curious but he believed me. We moved on as all sorts of clouds started to gather around Atiku if not at home, surely in the US, with his newly acquired wife to complete his total Nigerian husband outlook — Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani and Igbo wives. Here, he achieved Federal character.
In addition, he acquired indiscriminately chieftaincy titles all over the country. By 30 May, I told Revd. Okoye, at a morning devotion session in my residence that I wanted to embark on one month fasting and praying in June for God to show us PDP how to proceed in getting a successor candidate. He joined me in the fasting and prayer with some other members of the Red Carpet Prayer Group. Within three weeks of our fasting and praying we received a letter dated 22 June 2006 written by the US Department of Justice Criminal Justice Office of International Affairs, which was brought to me by Nuhu Ribadu, the Head of EFCC, requesting us to investigate a number of Nigerians for suspicion of criminal activities in the US.
“Atiku Abubakar’s name was among the names sent to us. Up to that time, EFCC had enjoyed a close cooperation and collaboration with law enforcement agencies in the UK and the USA. I gave the green light to Nuhu for the investigation as requested by the US Authorities. He carried out the investigation and forwarded his report to the US. The report was a bit uncomfortable and unsavoury for Atiku and his associates. I thought it was bad enough that the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was under investigation for corruption, when my Administration had made fighting corruption one of its cardinal objectives as it turned out, the investigation in Nigeria and in the US led to Atiku’s house being searched by the US Bureau of Investigation, FBI, the arrest and detention of his newly married wife, Jennifer. She was also declared wanted at one time. It was so embarrassing for our Administration and Embassy in Washington under Ambassador
On Brigadier-General Godwin Alabi-Isama
“The Tragedy of Victory, which he wrote in 2013 to criticise my book, My Command, which I wrote in 1980 to give a personal account of my operations and exploits during the civil war, is typical of him – clever but dubious, unreliable, and arrogant. Following a cursory look at the book, I realised Alabi-Isama had at least two objectives for writing it: one, to denigrate Obasanjo and rubbish his achievements as a military leader. Two, to try to make money from the book as he complained that most of them who participated in the civil war were wallowing in abject poverty. True to his character, he wrote a book of fiction, which he wanted people to believe as factual. If Alabi is complaining of abject poverty, one wonders what the families of our colleagues who died in the civil war should be complaining of.
“Alabi-Isama’s position that the war had ended before I got to the war front could not be supported by writings and reports from all sides of participants and journalists during the civil war. If the war had ended before I went to the war front, Alabi-Isama would not have unceremoniously withdrawn himself from the Third Marine Commando War Front, claiming unbearable atrocities by his own commander, my predecessor. When, on assumption of command, I investigated reasons for the unilateral and unceremonious abandonment of the war front by Akinrinade and Isama, I found Akinrinade’s case excusable and I called him back and appointed him my Chief of Staff.
“Alabi-Isama saw mercantilism in participation in the war; it was this mentality of his that partly disqualified him from being on my team. In Alabi-Isama’s case, his actions were an offence against military conduct and discipline, and he was not found worthy to be a member of my team, which
ultimately brought the war to an end. He did not change and it was no wonder that his own course mate, Yakubu Danjuma, as Chief of Army Staff took appropriate action to get him out of the army as he was a bad egg.
“I have known Alabi since he was an officer cadet at the Nigerian Military Training College, NMTC, along with Akinrinade, Obeya, Danjuma and others. That class as a group was fairly exemplary. At first Alabi claimed he was from Ilorin, as he felt that saying he was from the North would bestow some advantage for him. When that did not work, he claimed he was from Ibadan. Being from Midwest was his last claim and he added Isama to his name. What is this if not fraud? As an officer, Alabi was the only one in the military that I played a game of squash with who cheated on the court by counting more points for himself. What a character! Alabi’s reputation was notorious when I took over the 3 Marine Commando. He could be in bed with a woman and yet radio his commander to say that he was in pursuit of the rebels.”
On Bola Ahmed Tinubu
“None of the non-PDP governors in the South-West or Edo and Delta ever threw insults at me, except for Bola Tinubu whose actions I see as a product of his birth, upbringing, education and character. He set up media organisations and bought media establishments and practitioners to carry out his mission. Gbenga Daniel was in the same boat as Bola Tinubu. I used to describe Bola as being completely fake in everything except in being a human being. However, when APC party leaders including Bola Tinubu paid me a courtesy visit on December 22, 2013, I did not hesitate to say that whatever view or opinion one might hold about Bola Tinubu, (and I hold a strong one), he was a different political animal in 2014 from the one he was in 1999. One must give him that. I also pointed out that he would need to mend fences and to change tactics.”