Current events in Nigeria have got me thinking about the words of George Santayana in the book â€˜The life of reason'. This great philosopher said â€˜that those who can not remember the past are condemned to repeat it'. Indeed the question can be asked do Nigerians ever remember?
Whatever people may think of former president Obasanjo we can not run away from the fact that this man with all his faults has played perhaps the most pivotal roles in modern Nigeria. Therefore hate him or like him we must study what it is in this man that makes his name a recurring one at different stages of our country's development. Let us consider a bit about this man.
When he was handing over power to former president Shehu Shagari Nigeria had a buoyant economy (seehttp://www.independentngonline.com/poli/lead/article01) , our national airline had 29 planes, and a functional Nigerian National Shipping Line had 17 ships. There are many other tangible things that he did but I mention just our national airline and shipping line because these are actually two very important symbols of pride to any country.
Yes Obasanjo's military regime also had some nasty incidences such as the fate that befell the late Fela Kuti's kalakuta republic. But the point I am trying to make here is that this was a regime that was an aberration, and knew that it was and made plans to restore normalcy by having a genuine transition plan which led to the handover to president Shagari.
Those who think deeply in sustained ways and have due recourse to memory will recall that there was a much publicized probe of General Obasanjo's regime during the Shagari era. The figures bandied about then were 2.8 billion naira and the probe panel was headed by Justice Ayo Irikefe. This celebrated probe only served to distract Nigerians and focused negative attention on the person of Obasanjo who eventually emerged justly or unjustly (depending on who you ask) unscathed and unblemished by the probe in a legal sense. But while this was going on the administration of the day thought it wise to distance itself from its predecessor as personified by Obasanjo and came under the influence of clever and quick fingered persons who soon became the strange bed fellows of a mild mannered gentleman whose only ambition was to be a senator.
Obsanjo was used to distract attention from the squander mania that happened between 1979 and 1983 and the very docile president Shagari was made to see Obasanjo as a personae non grata. This scenario reminds me of a historical event. It is good to learn from history. In medieval Spain there was a lord called Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar popularly called â€˜el Cid'. When the Spanish king died and his son and heir Sancho was killed, Rodrigo felt it was too convenient that his hated brother Alfonso suddenly was recalled from exile. He declared that he would not recognize Alfonso as king until he swore a public oath that he did not have a hand in his brother's death. Alfonso grudgingly took the oath and spitefully banished Rodrigo upon ascension to the throne. At night he had a dream that he had fought with a man and eventually caught of the man's right hand, but when the hand fell he realized it was his own right hand!
It is obvious to those in the know that by alienating Obasanjo, and surrounding himself with the carpet baggers whose identity are too well known for me to recount, Shagari like King Alfonso caught of his own right hand. Imagine what Nigeria's history would have been if Shagari had suffered the over bearing nature of Obasanjo and managed the relationship better. Would there have been a coup in 1983? Do not forget that General Babangida himself has now come out to publicly confess that the coup was launched to return Obasanjo to power but that he refused! See-http://www.nigeriansinamerica.com/articles/2638/1/Babangida--His-Life-And-Times-Part-2/Page1.html.
The average Nigerian is not temperate and is a slave to his/her emotions. They easily forget that everything in life is judged using duality. You must take the bitter with the sweet. Judge things by presence and absence.
We must remember that in making a well rounded judgment we should take into account the good and the bad. Taking into account only the good will lead to an inordinate worshiping of the subject akin to a personality cult. Appraising only the bad will lead to witch hunting.
This is where my admiration for Maj. Gen. (retired) becomes evident. Despite the fact that he felt cheated by former president Obasanjo, Buhari will still speak the truth about him knowing that the truth cuts both ways. In his recent interview with the Independent ( 03/08/08)8he said â€˜having been involved in the previous administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo by being a governor, and minister of petroleum, I knew he handed over a government and a country to the civilian that was economically and physically secured.'
As a nation we must begin to pay attention to the fact that a man who wanted the bride that Yar'adua is now married to (in a figurative sense) and who was once married to this bride and was only forcefully divorced from her is now sitting in judgment over Obasanjo. He has the money to manipulate in the media and our population is not sufficiently educated enough to withstand this subliminal message. The Prince of darkness has indeed deceived the very elect! How can a man who squandered a king's ransom and left the kingdom in debt sit in judgment over a man who paid the kingdom's debt?
Obasanjo is brash, sometimes crude and has a fatal flaw in that he finds it hard to forgive. He is vindictive and this does not make a great civil leader. But lest we forget, he was trained to be a soldier and these traits are traits that make a successful warrior and if not for our peculiar circumstances as a nation he would not have emerged as president. But we had peculiar circumstances! In fact Alhaji Bamanga Tukur said in 1998 that with the state Nigeria found itself in in 1998, we did not need a limousine driver (Ekwueme) what we needed was a molue driver.
He is also the man who helped Nigeria cross three major milestones in her journey as a nation. Three milestones that all the major powers in the world today had to pass through. He returned Nigeria to civil rule after the civil war and he set the precedent of a transfer of power from a civilian administration to another civilian administration. He also paid off Nigeria's debt that some of his traducers actually accumulated! And if not for Obasanjo, who would have stopped the evil men who would have ruled us had we had a gentleman rather than an Obasanjo?
So as a people we can demonstrate our legendary docility and allow our actions be guided by the mood of the day or that of the current ruling clique and applaud while Nuhu Ribadu and his former lieutenants are turned into the hunted after doing a noble job that did more than any PR stunt in cleaning up our image abroad. We can jubilate and insult mallam El'rufai while Abuja is returning to its pre-El'rufai levels to the extent that foreign ambassadors had to cry out recently. We can even say â€˜told you so' to Obasanjo while the media is gleefully carrying headline news to the effect that â€˜PDP serves Obj quit notice'. But we should remember the popular adage â€˜fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me'.
Finally, with the benefit of history to enlighten us, we should probe if we have to, but we should not get so carried away that we focus on demonizing Obasanjo while the folks whom Nuhu Ribadu warned us about become modern day Umaru Dikkos and Meredith Adisas, buying private jets and having champagne parties and laughing at us because we are incapable of learning from history. And lest I forget, Umaru Dikko and Adisa found their way to a cozy exile when the military struck leaving the rest of us to suffer under their jackboots.
Bemigho Omokri is Vice President Africa for Joe Trippi and Associate.