He was a PHD before he had a PHD. The first is an attitude while the second PHD is a certificate. The first played out as student, soldier, politician, head of state and ex-head of state. The second PHD was bestowed as ex-president. The first came on the street, office, family lounge and war room, battlefield and on the street. The second was in the classroom. The first as spoiler, the second as scholar. The first was in his character but the second was written in characters. The first PHD is a study in impiety. The second was in the study of piety.
In my days as a staff writer of the African Concord, my editor Lewis Obi asked me to do a cover story on the man. It was the military era and IBB was president. Olusegun Obasanjo had made news the way he did often: criticising the government. Lewis Obi drew my attention to what his biographers had started to call him. PHD. What did it mean? Pull Him Down. In researching the piece, I encountered a phrase that came from the lips of urbane writer and editor Stanley Macebuh, who had worked with him. Macebuh described OBJ as “crafty, very crafty.” For the former ruler, every good guy must come down.
If you examined the life of the Owu chief, you would learn that he loved that character. He loved to pull down so he alone could be on top. He loved to tarnish others to burnish himself. We saw that when IBB was president. Since he left office as head of state, he only had bad things to say about his successors. He never gave private advice but gushed out public scolding. He knew he had immunity. His former boys would not ruffle him. So, he exercised it in impunity. No one could arrest him until he dared Abacha. He hit Shagari, clobbered Buhari, threw broadsides at IBB. He alone had the pure record. Hence when he became president, he relished the name baba. He was, after all, the father of all. He reveled in it.
Until, of course, he started to reveal himself as what Yorubas call agbalagba akan to kos’inu gorodom. (The mighty crab that fell into a drum). It is eminently untranslatable. But it means an elder who has become a big disgrace. We saw that in Odi when he played a butcher. We saw that in the third term agenda when he was the ‘grandfather of corruption,’ as reechoed in his Hard Talk interview of the BBC. He invoked the phrase “overheating the polity,” when the country sweltered from crisis to crisis. He was the one who visited families, ate pounded yam and danced with the host’s wife as though cuckolding the host. A day after the jollity, he engineered the man’s overthrow from elected office. He choreographed a constitutional conference and torpedoed it. OBJ set up two corruption agencies as the godfather who bribed lawmakers with N50 million each. He had his own phrases. He manufactured “do or die” politics. Where was his holy spirit when assassins shot down foe after foe? He was the one who often evoked God but played Mephistophelian theatre. His intimates accused him of incest, and son kept a wife away from him.
But OBJ came in the news again because he sought to be the man of the new year. He, as he often loved to do, wrote a letter. In picking the LP candidate as his endorsee, he ambushed the word mentee. He does not sully words alone. He is like Fyodor Karamazov of novelist Dostoyevsky’s tome, The Brothers Karamazov. He is the old man who soils everything he touches. That also is OBJ. he calls himself a mentor. When did it start? Even the LP guy cannot even track it. Maybe he was unaware of the mentorship. Not when OBJ was the kingpin of kidnapping in Anambra State. Ngige, a governor, turned into a limp hostage of official bandits. Who was the “banditeer?” Was he not the same man who clipped the LP man from Anambra mandate as an APGA nominee? Is that mentoring or evil monitoring? If it is, then we know the kind of candidate he is pushing: a bandit candidate? Even the LP man will not be so proud as to associate with the man who kidnapped, muzzled and even overthrew people in his state, and for a while made Anambra State into a target of the east wind. Remember, the east wind in the Bible howled and bustled with locusts and plagues and deaths. When his government gave Chinua Achebe a national award, the bard threw it out of the window and cited the bastardisation of his home state. Read part of Achebe’s response: “I have watched particularly the chaos in my own state of Anambra where a small clique of renegades, openly boasting its connections in high places, seems determined to turn my homeland into a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom. I am appalled by the brazenness of this clique and the silence, if not connivance, of the Presidency.” Achebe will not be proud to see that a candidate from his home state who was purloined of his democratic right is hobnobbing with him.
But OBJ does not care. And he loves the hysteria around him. He is a bored old man in search of new excitement, like a juvenile out of school. But what is more fascinating in this narrative is his perennial fear of his own people. He is afraid of anyone with a Yoruba blood who asserts any form of popularity. Unless he is under his shadow until he chokes him. He did it in his letter writing. In a new book, The Letterman, Mojeed Musikilu, unveils OBJ’s epistolary wars. He may be a letterman, but he is no man of letters. He often fought with his kinsmen. He did not want Awo to be president. He fought against MKO. He conned and frustrated Bola Ige. Now, he sees Tinubu as a big and present danger.
He endorsed the LP man, not out of love or principle, but out of what the Yoruba call etanu, or what my folks in Warri call jiga belle. It means malice, but a special type of hatred, silent, sly, malignant. Jigger, called jiga in pidgin English, is a variety of bugs that hides inside toes when one steps into a puddle and you have to cut the skin to scoop it out. That is the sort of malice he abhors. He has a mind of puddle hosting jiggers. OBJ has jiggers inside the belly of his soul. It is a deep-seated pain in OBJ when a kinsman wants to be great. He loves “a kinsman in trouble,” apologies to Achebe, when he bears ambition he despises. He wants to be the only man from the Yoruba race to have been president. OBJ, therefore, sees Tinubu as a mortal threat. It is what the Yoruba also designate as Kenimani complex. It literally means let my neighbour not have it. I am the only one who should have. He hates his folks enough to make them foe. This contrasts with the Omoluabi syndrome.
It does not matter to him that his endorsements have failed over the decades. He is a chameleon who makes a foe of endorsement today into a friend of endorsement tomorrow. Since he abolished history from schools, he thinks he has inflicted the nation with amnesia. We cannot forget that he called Atiku a thief before he endorsed him and before he started calling him a thief again. He cheated the LP man before he started making him his John the Baptist. He wants us to forget our history, so he can be our fabulist. OBJ is a confidence man, like the character in Herman Melville’s novel, Confidence-men. He tries to fit into the shrubbery by assuming the colour green. But he is green in the eye. He is envious of his younger ones. That is a dangerous thing to do to a coming generation.
Was it not the same Owu chief as military head of state who had a dialogue with a fellow tribesman who pointed out geopolitical injustice under his watch? He called in Yar’adua and he fired General Olutoye hours afterwards. OBJ has not denied it. Maybe he has a grouse against his ethnic group. He wrote his book My Command as revenge rather than as history. Hence, Alabi Isama’s A Tragedy of History announced its R.I.P. with dozens of countervailing evidence. OBJ’s war memoir is now no more than an artefact of mendacity.
OBJ grapples with what psychologists call the fear of gratitude. He does that even to his own people in the Southwest. He needs to be grateful for what Yoruba have done for him. He needs to be grateful for education, for breeding, for a career in the army, and for becoming head of state and president. He rose on their backs even when he did not like them. The rest of the country voted for him even when the Southwest did not because he was a Yoruba man. It was seen as Yoruba’s emilokan moment then. He defeated a fellow Yoruba man, Olu Falae, but he got it because he was Yoruba. He rode on Abiola’s back, the same man he campaigned against over June 12. The same Abiola, who had prostrated to Soyinka to beg the Nobel Laureate to stop campaigning against OBJ’s ambition to be scribe of the United Nations. How grateful OBJ is.
We can see how bitter he was. He is not happy that even when he was head of state, his kinsmen did not regard him as the Yoruba leader. He has not even said thank you to General Alani Akinrinade, who worked Biafran surrender when he was in a wild goose chase in Igboland. Maybe he was paralysed by anxieties and intimations about his roots in that part of the world when he took over as commander of Third Marine Commando from the legendary Adekunle.
He may be envious of his fellow tribesmen. It is his right. But neither of his PHD’s is of any righteous value. He often loses in his ward during elections, so the Yorubas have been telling him that for a long time. They are singing to him the words of the bard Ebenezer Obey, Ma gbe keke e lo/ a’o ba e sere mo. – Go away with your bike, we are no longer playing with you.
Source: First published in The Nation Newspaper