Baba Iyabo: Between Villainy and Heroism

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Last Monday will go down in history as the Day of Judgment for President Olusegun Obasanjo. It was not the first time the General would stir up controversy; but it was the very first time he would put up a most unexpected act that would elicit so much venom yet so much praise from the Nigerian public. He was in a hall with a group of ward members of his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), with the party chair, all gathered, waiting for Godot. Then in a sudden atmosphere of frenzy, created by his preliminary heroic speech of willingness to “sacrifice everything for Nigeria, and not for a party”, and putting national interest above party interest, the crowd beheld Baba Iyabo (the Godot who came) as he handed over his party card, symbol of his membership and instrument of his eight-year rule, to the clueless party ward head, who was beseeched to rend it to pieces. The old man tore the card apart and the crowd went wild the second time.

Was that the end of Obasanjo’s membership? He did not mince words on the fact that he was no longer a party member and would certainly remain a statesman. This foreclosed any act of decamping to the opposition party, but the move was seen by the ruling party as a deft and strategic one to deplete the PDP and galvanize support for the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). The immediate reaction of the Ogun State chapter of the PDP, was to, some hours after the public card-tearing exercise in Abeokuta, save their blushes and balance the terror, by passing on the General the expected humiliating sentence of expulsion from the party.

Obasanjo’s open but unique show of renouncing his membership of the PDP was the culmination of previous sequence of similar events underscoring his contempt for the party, or towards its leader, President Goodluck Jonathan. Earlier attempts by PDP leaders on a visit to pacify him and bring him to support the President’s re-election were diplomatically rebuffed. Subsequent last-minute moves by the President, just before February 14 2015 to beg his predecessor in his Abeokuta home had ended also on the cliffs. Other covert approaches to appease Baba also produced no results. Chief Obasanjo had apparently made up his mind to dump PDP and throw away his baby, Jonathan, the water and the bathtub. At a book-launch in Kenya, he had strongly expressed confidence in the ability of his fellow military General, Muhammadu Buhari to steer the ship of Nigeria, which he had described as a sinking one under the present administration. At another forum days later in London, where he had gone to launch the same book, zyban cost buy generic zyban online My Watch (in which there are also details of his disdain for Jonathan’s ineptitude and lame attitude to leadership), President Obasanjo had clearly described the administration and its staff as “mediocre”.

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All of these controversies had brought out in context, the earlier episodes of Open Letter to the President and public criticism of Jonathan. This sequence of events had incensed Jonathan and his supporters, with the former describing diflucan costogeneric of diflucan buy zoloft online australia100mg of zoloft for anxiety Baba as a statesman who had degenerated to the abysmal level of a “motor park tout”. And for those who had been Baba’s victims in the past, who had been harbouring nothing but contempt or hatred for the former president (people like Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, Bode George and the likes) this was the time to pour out their venom. The “tout” tag was re-echoed from this category of people, adding other despicable terms as “unstatesmanly”, “senility”, “deranged old man”, et cetera to spite Obasanjo. The Facebook and other social media also went up in flames as supporters and critics of Obasanjo went for one another’s jugular, lampooning and sometimes cursing the General or defending and celebrating his act.

So, who and what is Obasanjo? A statesman, a hero, or a villain? The overwhelming verdict from the critics is that the card-tearing act was not statesmanlike. But the other half, including APC supporters and those sitting on the fence say emphatically that Obasanjo is a fighter, a retired General who is unfazed in the face of tyranny and the only Nigerian who tells the truth to the face of whoever is concerned, which qualifies him as a role model and a hero. While pardoning him for some flip-flops in the past, they rank him higher than any Nigerian head of state since independence, outlining his track record as a national leader and his international personality that towers so high. They do not see anything wrong in dumping the PDP, under whose umbrella he reigned for eight solid years. They are however divided over the manner of the open show in Abeokuta- some distancing themselves from it, some considering it as no big deal, and some seeing it as a big political joker to deplete the PDP and a call to his supporters all over to move and work for the Change party. They see it as part of politics and liken the open show to when statesmen, world over, go on hunger strike or lip-seal as a passive, non-violent way of rejecting a national policy or leadership. For them, the drama might look too dirty from a Nigerian point of view, but the message in the act was the main object.

Is Obasanjo then a hero? Heroes are persons who had gone out of their way to engender great and redemptive deeds for their society. If one considers the Civil War encounters up to the direct surrender of the Republic of Biafra, a Nigerian secessionist entity, to General Obasanjo in 1970; his dynamic foreign policy in the 1970s and during his coming as civilian president in the early 2000s; his handing over to a democratically elected administration in 1979 and all his policies (some controversial, some golden) during his eight-year rule up to 2007, Obasanjo will go into the annals as a hero. If one considers his building of PDP into the biggest and strongest party ever in Nigeria, ability even after tenure as President to determine who is party Chairman, Chairman of BOT, Governor, House of Reps Speaker, Senate President, President and Vice-President, Obasanjo is then not only a cult figure but a god. It is also a known fact that he set up in 2007, a Niger Delta man, Goodluck Jonathan to emerge as President of Nigeria. If we consider all that, Obasanjo becomes a “heroic god”.

But, has Obasanjo crossed the line and become a villain? In the eye of many who neither like nor dislike President Obasanjo, in the present circumstances that the polity is heating up, which requires elderstatesmen to provide stability and douse the tension, Obasanjo may have crossed the line. He is now even compared to his political sons and juniors such as Shagari, Babangida and Abdulsalami, and to his predecessor, General Gowon, dismissing OBJ as a self-serving, imperious statesman who feels Nigeria and the presidency belong to him to manipulate.

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In the final analysis, Obasanjo has just acted like a human being. The so-called condemnable act only reinforces the fact that there are no gods but mortals, and that heroes are human. They too can err. But we must also note that heroes are people who do unusual and sometimes unpopular things that may not make sense today but be precedent for liberty in the future. Obasanjo stood up against IBB during his endless democratic transition; he rose strongly against Abacha and ended up in the dictator’s gulag. He rose against the current military high command for their shabby display of professionalism. Let us note that IBB and Abacha are his juniors and sons in the army. These heroics later brought him back as President of Nigeria. So, could he be wrong today for rising firmly and “dirtily” against his son, Goodluck Jonathan? Time will tell.

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