Obasanjo and his Worth


May 3, 2023

By Suyi Ayodele

Olusegun Obasanjo publicly endorsed Peter Obi for president on New Year’s Day and the Emi Lokan people dismissed what the former president has done as “worthless”. What does that mean? Now, a bit of academic exercise. Dictionary.com defines ‘Worth’ as a preposition, to be: “Good or important enough to justify; having value of, or equal in value to, as in money”. As a noun, the dictionary enters ‘Worth’ as; “Excellence of character or quality as commanding esteem”. In both definitions, the word has positive connotative and denotative meanings. There is a story of an old farmer and his son that I love so much. I want us to begin the new year with its didactic connotations.

The old farmer, the story goes, was a disciplinarian. His wives, children, relations and friends alike knew him to be a very strict and blunt individual. He tolerated no nonsense. But he was also a kind and loving father. His passion was to make all his children responsible individuals. As a studious father, the old man knew that among his many children was a particularly impatient boy. He was always in a hurry to do anything. The young man had made several costly mistakes in his impatience and his father was genuinely worried. The old man saw the traits and concluded that unless the young man was taught a lesson of life, he would end up very badly. So, the old man decided to impose on the impatient child, a lesson in discretion. He called in labourers and cleared a large expanse of farmland. Together with his other children, he made heaps in their hundreds. Work done; the farmer announced to his children that they would plant beans on the farm at a later day. He went ahead to teach them how to plant and the distances to maintain between the heaps. At home, he brought out a bag of beans and asked the children to count the number of seedlings that would cover the cultivated farmland. Then one morning, he called the impatient young man and gave him the bowl of beans to go and plant, all alone. Before the young man left, the old farmer gave him this piece of advice: “My son, these beans will cover the entire farmland. Don’t run on your way to the farm so that you will not come back late”. What a contrast, the young man thought. “Is it not when I run that I can go and come back quickly”? He asked himself.

The young man left for the farm. As soon as he got out of his father’s sight onto the farm path, he took a dash. He was hardly on the fourth dash, when he stumbled on a stump across the road, and he landed with a thud. The bowl of beans fell, and the content scattered. “Mo gbe” (I am finished), the boy mourned! He remembered his father; he remembered that the beans were counted. He equally remembered the number of heaps and concluded that if he played any prank, the beans would germinate, and the consequences would be grave. He began to pick the beans one after the other. He searched under the leaves, in the bush and everywhere. By the time he gathered the beans, it was almost evening. He gently and cautiously walked to the farm and began to plant, following the instruction of his strict father. It was late in the evening before he finished planting. Those at home, especially his mother, were worried sick about his delay in returning. But nobody dared go out of the house to go and look for him. Only the old farmer remained calm. He knew all along what had happened. By the time the child returned from the farm, the moon was out in full beam. The entire family gathered to ask him what happened, why he came back so late. He told them how, while running, he stumbled and fell. The father merely stole a glance at him and retired to his bedroom. The child repeated his father’s caution to the rest of the family: “Don’t run on your way to the farm so that you will not come back late”. Now I ask, what is the worth of an elder’s advice?

Our elders are wise. You discountenance their warnings at your own peril. Only a foolish child will say the mouth of an elder smells. Again, it is axiomatic that an elder who fails to shout when the need arises, will run for his dear life with arched knees when the repercussions come. Our elders say’ “Agba kii wa loja, k ori omo tuntun wo” – when there are elders in the market, a child strapped at the mother’s back should not suffer a bended neck. The urge to tread this way this early year came through a telephone call from an old friend. The phone rang. I picked it. It was January 1, and I expected the usual season’s greetings of “Happy New Year”. But not with the fella that called. Instead of the normal pleasantries, what I heard is: “Your father has done it again”. I kept quiet. He repeated himself but changed the pronoun: “I said our father has done it again”. I did not respond. Then he added: “Obasanjo thinks he can stop us, abi? Or have you not read his new letter”? I responded with the usual happy new year greetings and the caller merely responded, “same here” and went into his tirade against General Obasanjo. He concluded that the Owu-born former president is unforgiving and he ended the call. I have since read General Olusegun Obasanjo’s January 1, 2023, public letter titled: “My Appeal to All Nigerians, particularly Young Nigerians”. I have a different view of the content of the said letter.

General Olusegun Obasanjo, we all know, is one man that speaks his mind irrespective of whose ox is gored. His hubris, one may say, is his lack of euphemism, whenever issues of public concern are in discourse. Every man answers his father’s name. Obasanjo is an Owu man. Historically, the Owu people are one of the boldest people around here. They are simply courageous and persistent especially in harping on their beliefs and thoughts; they are reputed to stroll into places where Angels dare not tread. The saying which situates an average Owu person, tells you about his tribal identikit. “Owu kii ran ‘ro; awii menu kuro ni ti Owu” – Owu people do not take vengeance; repetition is their weakness, the saying goes. Therefore, in a joke, we are told that an Owu man will say: “o je’yan hun tan, ko dun mi o” – you finished that pounded yam, it does not pain me that you did. And he goes on and on to repeat that whenever the situation presents itself. That itself is a plus in character. It is not for fun that we say in my place that a man who repeats himself is not likely to have his yam burnt in the fire.

The reaction of the caller was that Obasanjo has neither forgiven Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the PDP, for whatever differences they had when they were in government as president and vice president between 1999 and 2003; nor forgiven Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC, of whatever quarrel they had when Tinubu was the governor of Lagos State and he Obasanjo, was the president. In my own understanding, I cannot situate that in the letter under discourse. What did Obasanjo say in that letter that would make anyone think that he is malicious towards Atiku and Tinubu? For instance, the former president said in the choices before Nigerians in the February presidential election, Nigerians should pay attention to the “characters, attributes and attitudes that are necessary in the job of directing the affairs of Nigeria successfully and at a time like this”. He went ahead to list the attributes and reduced them to the acronym, “TVCP”, which he defined to mean: “Track record of ability and performance; Vision that is authentic, honest and realistic; Character and attributes of a lady and a gentleman who are children of God and obedient to God; and Physical and mental capability with soundness of mind as it is a very taxing and tasking assignment at the best of times and more so it is at the most difficult time that we are”. He advised Nigerians to “assess judiciously and choose wisely”.

The Owu man, in his usual blunt manner, warned that the age and mental ability of the incoming president matter a lot and drew example from when he first came into the Nigerian political terrains in 1976 at the age of 39, retired 42 and was called back at the age of 62 to retire again at 70. Obasanjo deposed that: “The vigour, energy, agility, dynamism and outreach that the job of leadership of Nigeria requires at the very top may not be provided as a septuagenarian or older. I know that from personal experience. And it is glaring out of our current experiences. Otherwise, we will be fed with, “The President says” and we will neither see nor hear him directly as we should. Yes, for some, age and physical and mental disposition are not in tandem. But where and when they are with obvious evidence, they must be taken into account for the purpose of reality”.  So where is the problem here? Are the signs not obvious for us to see? Is it not correct that in the past seven years and seven months, what we have been dealing with is “The President says”? Given our present situation, do we need an Obasanjo to tell us that the job of the president will require a “team leader or captain of the team (who) should be up and doing, outgoing inside and outside and speaking to the nation on almost daily basis visibly and as much as possible interactively and meeting his colleagues…all over the world on behalf of Nigeria”? How many of the presidential candidates are ready for live debates? How many of them can speak extempore for 10 straight minutes? How many of them can hold prepared speeches steadily in their hands or read the materials coherently? How many of them can walk on their own without losing their balance unless they are prodded on both sides? Why are we denying the obvious?

Expectedly the APC and the PDP are already drawing Obasanjo’s blood. I find the reactions of the two political parties very embarrassing. In one of their reactions, the Tinubu campaign spokesman, Bayo Onanuga said: “….From our records, President Obasanjo has not successfully made anyone win an election in Nigeria since then. Not even in Ogun State can anyone rely on his support or endorsement to become a governor or councillor…”. I laughed. Where was Onanuga in 2015, when his principal, Tinubu, led other APC bigwigs to the Abeokuta home of Obasanjo and declared him their “pathfinder”? Do you call a politically irrelevant person a “pathfinder”? Or it is just a case of when the hyena fails to catch the monkey it calls the monkey a useless animal without air at its buttock! If the monkey is that useless, why did the hyena chase it for a meal in the first instance? When it was convenient to use Obasanjo to de-market President Goodluck Jonathan, the Owu man was described by the APC as a “good, forthright and nationalistic man; a pathfinder”. But now that Obasanjo is looking in the direction of Peter Obi of the Labour Party instead of Tinubu, the APC suddenly realise that Obasanjo has no political worth. Interestingly too, on Wednesday, August 17, 2022, that was four months ago, Tinubu was in Abeokuta home of Obasanjo to beg for the old man’s endorsement. Obasanjo had worth then; today he is worthless. If Onanuga thinks otherwise that Obasanjo was not part of the 2015 APC success, I commend him to the words of kola Ologbondiyan, his counterpart in the PDP thus: “In any case, Chief Obasanjo’s opinion cannot sway Nigerians who can easily remember how he endorsed President Muhammadu Buhari, whose administration, he (Obasanjo) now describes as ‘stressful years for many Nigerians’, during which our nation ‘moved from frying pan to fire and from mountain top to the valley’.”

The same Ologbondiyan, though a bit civil in his response unlike the cantankerous APC, who acknowledged that Obasanjo “endorsed” Buhari in 2015, became self-contradictory when he said Obasanjo “is entitled to his personal opinion, as remarkable as it may appear, it remains individualistic and cannot redirect Nigerians from their determination to rally with the more experienced, more proficient and more accepted presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, to rescue and rebuild our nation from the APC misrule”. The same PDP, in 2019, when Obasanjo endorsed Atiku, he was praised as a “Pan-Nigerian”, who wanted the very best for Nigeria. But in 2023, both APC and PDP described Obasanjo’s endorsement of Obi as not only irrelevant, but, equally worthless and not in tandem with the wishes of Nigerians! Funny! It appears here that the two parties don’t understand the capacity of Obasanjo and his influence. Agreed that the content of the latest letter appears sententious, Obasanjo cannot be accused of suffering from Pecksniffian disease as espoused in Charles Dicken’s Martin Chuzzlewit.  At least not in this context. The ex-president stated emphatically that the Nigerian presidency is too cumbersome for any septuagenarian. Let the individuals concerned go and check their mental and physical health before they give us another “The President says”. That is our minimum requirement and that should not be too difficult to do if we all claim to love Nigeria. Obasanjo was specific in his letter. He targeted the young Nigerians, whose present and future, the rudderless leadership of the present administration has destroyed; almost beyond repairs.  He advised the young ones not to allow the same mistake to repeat itself. I don’t think the old man should be crucified for recommending what he believes is the solution to his target audience. If the youth fail to heed the advice, they have the repercussions of their failure in the wisdom of the farmer and his son.  Why the two “big” parties seem to be afraid of a Peter Obi they both said “has no structures” baffles me.

Pardon my manners, dear compatriots, Happy New Year, folks.

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