With President Obasanjo in London
When information reached me sometime in 2010 that President Obasanjo had taken interest in my book “Nigeria’s Journalistic Militantism”, I felt flattered and awesomely gratified. I have, for several years in the run-up to the publication of that book, fought a losing battle with the fiercest critics of the former General. Professional and hobby critics alike formed an overwhelming majority of opinion makers, who felt strongly about the need to bring down Obasanjo when he was President. They saw nothing good in him. Just nothing!! His achievements were subjected to a sense of relativism that left no trace of positivity on his trail. I became a subject of vilifying attacks by all these critics not because I supported Obasanjo as a personal fan. All I did was to advocate a balanced sense of evaluation and consistently called on critics never to fail in juxtaposing his negatives with his positives. I characterized the constant and exclusive portrayal in a bad light as not only a violation of the principles of proper journalism but also a futile effort in building credibility since the man cannot just be evil and evil alone. This earned me ridicule with childish jeers of immaturity and denigration particularly by a gang that formed the core of the website Nigerian Village Square.
This spurred me to write the book “Nigeria’s Journalistic Militantism” to provide details and a very clear picture of what I have always tried to say that was constantly dragged and booed down by the pubescent little brains of http://www.Nigeriavillagesquare.com.
Upon receiving information that the former President had taken an interest in the book, my joy did not last long. I was informed that he had detailed a few journalists to read the book and provide him with their independent assessments having read it himself and made up his own mind on it. The over 300-page book devoted one chapter each to the achievements and failures of the two-time President with the other chapters making up the background stories and my detailed analyses of psyches and trends. The chapter detailing his achievements that were enormous, contrary to the heap of stench that his detractors sought to uphold as his banner of identity, was good enough and I was dead sure, he would like it. The chapter that dealt with his failures however, was a stench in itself. In my usual no-holds-barred attitude of blunt and biting jabs sometimes, way down below the belt-line, I addressed the crime of the killing of Bola Ige. I addressed the empowerment of Adedibu as a non-constitutional leader of a state ruling over an elected Governor. I addressed very many other contentious issues in the most brutal words of criticism possible.
My joy did not last long. After all, I have always known through the media that Obasanjo was unforgiving. He would tolerate no criticism – objective or not. He would listen to no other words except his and no other word ever made sense to him except his. One journalist told me (as I wrote in the book) “Who is that person that will dare advise Obasanjo”? I know like everyone else, how powerful he is and I did not want to get stuck under the wheels of his caprices. He was one major force that had just brought Goodluck Jonathan to the presidency in 2010. I was just scared. I called his Personal Assistant and administrative coordinator.
“My brother, I hope the old man does not get mad at me and make me persona-non-grata”
“Why would he?” the Personal Assistant asked.
“I’m afraid I was too hard on him in the chapter that treated his failures as President”
“Look Frisky” he continued “The man does not care about criticism ooo! All he wants is to be treated fairly. I have not finished reading your book yet. If you were fair and balanced on him, you have absolutely nothing to be afraid of no matter what language you used”
Then finally, word came through that the former President wanted to meet me. That was how I met President Obasanjo for the first time ever sometime in August 2010. He hosted me in his hilltop mansion. Treated me like a worthy guest and have me spend the night in his house with excitement on both sides. He commended the journalistic efforts that I put into researching the facts of my work. He drew my attention to a similar book written by a British Professor and pointed out the marked difference between the two books. One was highly scientific with a very good understanding of the motives, psyche and passion driving the man Obasanjo and the other was a journalistic work researching facts and figures to prove a lack of objectivity in media work.
Thereafter, President Obasanjo granted me a personal off-the-record interview on three different occasions, in which he permitted me to ask him any question possible and he would answer in a very unassuming and fatherly atmosphere. His answers were explosive and he would seem never to be giving a damn about the political or legal consequences of the things he was saying. At my own discretion, I refused to use many of his comments in articles for fear of the consequences they would have in the aftermath. Most importantly, I did not wish to lose his confidence or that of his security details, who may become apprehensive of me if I released any bit of information that I was not supposed to. Thankfully, the President himself is now revealing all these facts by himself in his own memoirs “My Watch” – a potential bestseller. People who were closer to him than myself, who met him only on three occasions, knew many of these facts long in advance.
I am so happy to read how clearly he has set out to clean up the media mess that he left behind while President. He had refused to engage the media for image-laundering and in the end, the media soiled his image with lies and falsehood. They said he was unforgiving. They said he accepted no criticism no matter how objective. But my personal experience has proved them all wrong. Now he has stated that Atiku Abubakar was behind the collective media campaign and demonization. This is not hard to believe given the political background of media owners and what they all stood to lose or gain under Obasanjo’s presidency. The greatest victim at the moment is the current President Jonathan, who has a lot at stake.
As a friend of mine has opined, I pray fervently for Goodluck Jonathan to order or tolerate the arrest and detention of former President Olusegun Obasanjo for contempt of court and sooner or later, Nigeria’s Mandela will be no one else but Olusegun Obasanjo of Abeokuta. History is in the making and the gauntlet has been dropped. Segun Adeniyi, Nasir El-Rufai: Their only punching bag has always been Olusegun Obasanjo and now the victim is laying it all bare and for this, I doff my hat as a renegade journalist disowning stench and filth in the noble profession.