OBASANJO, as he has done repeatedly since writing these lines, was only betraying his absurd and consuming loathing of a man whose monumental accomplishments continue to dwarf his public record and mock his inflated ego – despite having had the opportunity of leading Nigeria twice. Before he wrote his book, Obasanjo has made the ridiculous claim that Awolowo had failed to achieve what he, who was only a shoeless boy when Awolowo visited his high school in the 1950s, had achieved –that is, becoming head of state. In his absolute lack of moral imagination and political vision, Obasanjo could not reconcile himself with the deification of Awolowo and the fact that, in Yorubaland, he will forever live in the shadows of Awolowo in spite of the positions that the skewed nature of the Nigerian federation had permitted him to attain.
H.I.D had a response for him. “It is a pity that Nigeria has been what it is and Papa always said he would not like to die leaving behind the type of Nigeria of today…. He worked outstandingly hard. He had a well-documented programme to transform Nigeria into a symbol of pride for us all. It is a pity and it is shame really that the nation is allowing such a rare talent to slip away”.
She then zeroed in on Obasanjo without mentioning his name: “though some ignoramus have said that Papa has not achieved his life ambition because he (had) not become president, I won’t say he (had) not fulfilled his ambition. To become president is to help. The only thing I think he has not realized is his desire to use the potentials of Nigerians and Nigeria to better the lot of this generation and coming ones. But some people, for reasons best known to them, (swore) not to allow him…..”
Obasanjo was being meager with the truth regarding his encounter with Awolowo. How could Murtala have “thundered and expressed disgust and anger at the report of “Chief Awolowo’s subversive activities”, without giving his deputy any details? At any rate, as anyone with a minimal understanding of how government worked – in that era – knows, the Chief of Staff gets regular security reports just like the head of state. Obasanjo knew when he was writing this drivel that the only two people (Murtala Mohammed and Obafemi Awolowo) who could either corroborate or contest his claims were dead. He left office in 1979 and had nothing but his glorified farming to delay his publication of his memoirs about his time in office. In any case, he published My Command, his account of the Nigerian Civil War a year after he left office in 1980. He and another seven years to publish Not My Will while Awolowo was still alive. But in what many saw as a crass and craven attempt to deny the old man a right of reply, Obasanjo waited until three years after his death before attempting to malign him.
As H.I.D planned to commemorate the third posthumous birthday of her husband in 1990, Folu Olamiti and Oluseye Taiwo wrote that, “Perhaps the only thing that would be missing this year, as it was in the last years, is Papa’s physical presence, his well-measured words of wisdom and his wise-cracks. For example, the sage would have taken (on) General Olusegun Obasanjo….and would have debunked beyond every reasonable doubt, all the baseless allegations and insinuations against his person.
In his absence, H.I.D rose up to defend her husband.
“Omookunrin yen o feren Baba”, (“That man doesn’t like Baba) H.I.D says to me in 2006 when I asked her about what Obasanjo had said about her husband.
Obasanjo himself acknowledges that Awolowo was a meticulous person who kept records of every transaction and engagement with people. In the morning after his visit, Awolowo told H.I.D the purpose of Obasanjo’s visit. As she revealed, when she heard in the early morning of February 13, 1976 that there had been an abortive coup, she asked her husband “why would that man come here the day before this (coup)?”
She was genuinely worried about Obasanjo’s visit. Every administration from the one that jailed him on false charges to the one in power when he died had mortal fear of Awolowo. As Babangida – paradoxically, the only one, apart from General Gowon, who treated Awolowo with great respect – attested, Awolowo was “the issue in Nigerian politics”. Whether people were with him or against him defined the politics of his era – and beyond. No one could be indifferent to him. Therefore, in his post-jail life, every administration was wary of what Awolowo thought (of them) or was planning. His statements carried so much weight, particularly in the most informed part of the country with his activist press. In this context, low quality rumours and gossips constantly circulated among the usually unimaginative ruling cabal on what Awolowo was planning to do. As it happened in the First Republic, such rumours and gossips were usually the first in the unending plots regarding how to “rein” Awolowo in or “demobilize” him.
That Obasanjo sought to elevate such low quality gossip into “security report” was a reflection of the quality of people who have ruled and ruined Nigeria….
According to H.I.D, the night of his visit, the man who supposedly brought a very important message about state security to Awolowo, Obasanjo, came in a Volkswagen (“Beetle”) car. Chief Awolowo told her in the morning that, as usual with him, he wanted to see Obasanjo off to his car, but the soldier asked him not to bother because he had some “exhibit” in his car.
“Sogbesan, who was then the Head of Awolowo law chambers, got close to the car when he noticed that someone was there”, revealed Odia Ofeimun, who heard the story of Obasanjo’s visit from Awolowo later in the early 1980s. “He saw a woman in the car whom Obasanjo had brought along. Sogbesan saw that mosquitoes were biting her in the car, so he asked her to alight and come into the house to wait for Obasanjo. But she refused. She said Obasanjo will kill her if she dared to leave the car”.
Another close confidant of the Awolowos told me that the woman in the car was actually the wife of a medical doctor based in Ibadan and the daughter of yet another eminent man known to the Awolowos.
What was Nigeria’s number two man doing with another man’s wife in his car in the night? And why didn’t he want Awolowo to see the lady?
It was obvious that having been contacted a few years earlier about his first wife’s allegations of philandering, Obasanjo didn’t want Chief Awolowo to see him with yet another woman who was not his wife.
As it turned out, after reporting back to Murtala that night, Obasanjo didn’t go home. When Dimka and his boys struck, Obasanjo was hiding somewhere else.
Ofeimun says Obasanjo too should answer the question about what he knew the night before the coup. Awo’s former private secretary alleges that if he had lasted longer, Murtala was planning to sack Obasanjo from the Army for some alleged offences.
Ebenezer Babatope, Awolowo’s strident defender published a book in response to Obasanjo’s misrepresentations, Not His Will: The Awolowo-Obasanjo Wager, for which Obasanjo has not forgiven him till date.
TO BE CONTINUED
EBINO TOPSY – 0805-500-1735 (SMS ONLY PLEASE)