If you have any doubts as to how proud the retired General Olusegun Matheew Okikiolakan Aremu Obasanjo is of his African heritage, you should find time to read the op-ed piece reportedly penned by him just the other day. In paragraph after paragraph of passionate opinion, General Obasanjo made the case for the strengths of the African tradition and culture - how the African culture is a reputable vessel for some of humanity's better virtues: how Africa's is a "tradition and culture of humanity, humanness, respect for age and maintenance of dignity and honor"; how Africans honor and revere their leaders (even leaders who abuse and despoil their position and privilege as leaders through suppression and oppression?), and so on.
It was immediately apparent, however, that the one-time military head of state and later civilian president of Nigeria wasn't simply on some random mission to promote Africa for her aforementioned cultural or traditional values. Instead he sought to use the power of his educated pen to convey what he viewed as "the shame of Africa and the Arab world", as part of his larger lamentation about the travails of his recently deposed former colleague, the ex-president Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Such was the level of revolt that Mr. Obasanjo felt at seeing his former colleague brought "in a cage" before the court of law in Egypt that, according to him, "I shrugged my shoulders in extreme disgust". I leave you to sort out what it means for one to ÔÇśshrug his shoulders in extreme disgust'.
Mr. Mubarak must of course answer to whatever charges brought against him, argues Mr. Obasanjo, who nevertheless wondered if a trial of Mubarak should involve him being treated "like an animal". In defending Mubarak's entitlement to a better treatment from those in charge of trying him, Obasanjo cited the former's place in Egyptian history as one who led the country "for almost thirty years, raised its economic status high and projected it as a leading Arab country". And for those who don't remember who Mubarak really is, Obasanjo reminds them that "this is a man who, one time in the recent past, was accorded the greatest honor and respectability both at home and abroad", explaining that whatever angst that Egyptians have against Mubarak is expected, given that "nobody who has run the affairs of any human organization for any length of time can escape a hostile inquiry or a hostile court."
In other words, as far as Mr. Obasanjo is concerned, the charges against Mr. Mubarak are probably not unlike the price of leadership anywhere else where decisions made by those in power often bring unfair perceptions of such leaders in the eyes of those under his leadership. He further lamented that Mubarak has been treated "badly atrociously", for an octogenarian who doesn't deserve to be "treated publicly and disgracefully".
The crux of General Obasanjo's position on the issue was however delivered when he made the submission that "rulers, whether former or incumbent, and noble men in the society, are never treated disgracefully publicly. If they commit very serious crime or an abomination, they are secretly presented with what they have done wrong and they are advised to go and sleep. They will behave manly and sleep never to wake up. That way, justice is done but the honor of all concerned is preserved and stability, dignity and wholesomeness are maintained within the community or the society."
Now, given such simplistic recommendation from one of Africa's most influential leaders on how to handle what essentially amounts to a grotesque abuse of power by a former leader, in an era where our world is a far more sophisticated global village than it used to be, one needn't ever look too far to find out why Africa remains at the lowest rungs of social development and progress in a continually evolving world.
Behold, therefore, the standard of leadership in Africa - a standard where the bad but powerful ones amongst Africa's offenders are expected to enjoy at their trial, courtesies and privileges that they never reserved for nor extended to those at the receiving end of their terrible excesses; a standard where those who claim to promote the virtues of African tradition and culture only feel "shame and embarrassment", not when dictators with absolute powers impose themselves and their ill-will indefinitely upon their people, but when these same power-mongers are brought to book by hook or by crook to face the consequences of some of their bigger excesses in power.
One is now pressed to ask of our dear retired General Obasanjo: what did he say or do while Egypt burned for weeks as the Arab Spring swept in from Tunisia, en-route Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria? How many op-ed pieces as the latest one did Mr. Obasanjo write to protest the pains and struggles of the Egyptians upon whom Mubarak's police unleashed its brutal fury for daring to say they wanted out of Mubarak's suffocating 30-year hold on power, only to be answered with the kind of violent arrogance as in Syria?
Mr. Obasanjo says that Mubarak's "treatment" would cause a sit-tight syndrome amongst African leaders; would Mr. Obasanjo care to reveal to his audience, which similar "treatment" as Mubarak's led everyone from Mobutu Sese-Seko to Paul Biya and the rest of many such African leaders to hold onto power indefinitely? If Obasanjo had any son or daughter amongst those who disappeared after being tortured and killed for daring to mount peaceful protests for change in Cairo's Tahir Square, would he be talking about "mistakes" made by the Mubarak regime during its time in power?
Of course those are rhetorical questions which may not mean anything to the Nigerian General. And if General Obasanjo's antecedents are anything to go by, he would simply bristle at the 'effrontery' of whoever posed such questions at him. But the truth must nevertheless be spoken; it is so unfortunate that, of all things concerning the recent impasse in the Arab world, what fed Olusegun Obasanjo's "extreme disgust" more than anything else is not the inhuman brutalities meted against the people yearning for a new era in Egyptian leadership and politics. It is the fact that Hosni Mubarak, the allegedly now ailing 82-year old former president of Egypt, was made to appear in court in a "cage", probably meant more to protect him than to humiliate him. Not a single mention by Obasanjo was made of the victims or their suffering; not a word was spared for the suffering of the Egyptian people whose friends and family members disappeared after being taken captive by agents representing the Mubarak Administration, not a word was spared for foreign journalists that were assaulted or nearly killed.
Mr. Obasanjo said nothing at all about how unAfrican it is to persecute the innocent for speaking out against one man's arrogance. Mr. Obasanjo never found a day to admonish Hosni Mubarak, that at four-score and two years alive on Earth, and after 30 years as the sole strongman of Egypt, it made far better sense for him to relinquish his stubborn hold on power so that Egypt can move on, and so that he can retire gracefully. Throughout Mubarak's repeated defiant appearances on state television beamed across the Arab world and the world at large, Mr. Obasanjo released neither an editorial opinion nor a press statement warning of the consequences of Mubarak's arrogant insistence on holding to power, even as the people of Egypt suffered undeserved assault from Mubarak's security goons and the delicate peace of Egypt dangled from a precarious position.
No, not a peep, not a squeak, did Mr. Obasanjo utter. But now that Mubarak's nemesis appears to have come knocking at the door, Mr. Obasanjo suddenly finds his voice. He remembers to remind Africa and Africans (and the Arab world) of how Africa is a place where leaders, no matter how terrible their failings, are treated with a dignity that these same leaders never spared the least of their fellow Africans - fellow Africans for whom the worst of such leaders' spite and indifference was reserved.
Throughout the time that protests lasted in Tahir Square and across Egypt, the entire world watched in consternation, hoping Hosni Mubarak would at least budge for the sake of Egypt and her long-suffering people. The president of Egypt's strongest ally in the West, Barack Obama of the United States, respectfully prevailed upon Mubarak to back-down for the sake of everything good. Good people from across the world begged, hoped and prayed that Hosni Mubarak, being one of the more civil and less abrasive of middle-east leaders, would budge, if only to put an end to all that instability. But Mubarak refused to budge. And relatively influential leaders in the region like Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo hardly had anything meaningful to say to save the situation ÔÇô well, except until now, to lament Mubarak's travails.
Yet I doubt that anyone who is familiar with the standards in General Obasanjo's part of the world is surprised by Mr. Obasanjo's reaction to the latest developments. In a region where septuagenarians and octogenarians continue to bicker over power and privilege with fellow politicians young enough to be their grand-kids; in a region where those who abuse public trust continue to be celebrated and venerated in or out of prison like Olabode George; in a region where supposedly elected leaders who are in power for eight years or more cannot find it in them to mentor a successor to continue where they left off (and instead seek to bend the rules of their mandate to extend their tenure), doctrines as Obasanjo's are the standard.
If there is any need to prove that societies where men like Olusegun Obasanjo and Hosni Mubarak hold the aces are in dire need of a younger breed of leaders in tune with the demands of our time, here is the proof before our very eyes. While one is not advocating for doing away with the wisdom of our fathers in managing some of the more delicate challenges that we face in life, it is important to know where and when to deploy village solutions to global challenges.
Mr. Obasanjo is one of a few world leaders who still live in that bygone era where cassava-leaves are recommended as cure for esophageal cancer. It is never the treatment meted out to erring leaders that tempts would-be autocrats to hold on forever to their armchairs; a power-monger is simply a power-monger. What is otherwise true is captured in the Yoruba adage that says agba to jin si koto, a ko ara yooku l'ogbon ÔÇô one adult learns from the downfall of the other. Now, some adults will never learn from the mistake of others. To such persons the Yoruba would also say, Aja ti yio s'onu, kii gbo fere ode. Indeed, the dog must listen to the hunter's whistle if it must stay safe in the jungle.
Let Obasanjo's sit-tight leaders in Africa go ahead and sit-tight all they want; like those before them ÔÇô from Hosni Mubarak to Samuel Doe ÔÇô they, too, may face the consequences of their actions. And if Mr. Obasanjo is fretting that the ghosts of Odi or Zaki-Biam (among others) may one day return to haunt him, well then he better continue to be very afraid, for he may yet face the consequences of his actions in power as well - in this lifetime.