Former President Olusegun Obasanjo used to be a chimera. His influence was mythical, yet sweeping. In the past, Nigeria was too small to contain his stature – as he dominated the horizons across Africa and beyond. He lived up to his legend of being a human Orisa. He is, perhaps, still one of the most respected leaders out of Africa.
But Obasanjo’s influence within Nigeria appears to have ebbed over the years. His words seem to have lost lustre and his presence vacant of command. Perhaps, when a masquerade comes out to perform all the time, and sometimes without an invitation, it loses its allure and charm.
From 2007 (after he left office) up until 2014, Obasanjo had his wonder and thunder. His position on national matters mattered and was sought after. His missives were denominated “letter bombs” for their sheer quality to inflict maximum casualty on the target and sway public opinion.
In 2013, former President Goodluck Jonathan suffered “casualty” from one of Obasanjo’s missives. Obasanjo wrote an open letter which technically put a nail to the re-election bid of Jonathan.
In the letter titled “Before it is too late”, Obasanjo accused Jonathan of many malfeasances. He said: “Allegation of keeping over 1,000 people on political watch list rather than criminal or security watch list and training snipers and other armed personnel secretly and clandestinely acquiring weapons to match for political purposes like Abacha and training them where Abacha trained his own killers, if it is true, it cannot augur well for the initiator, the government and the people of Nigeria.”
He also accused Jonathan of cleaving Nigeria apart – along the weak seams of north-south and Christian-Muslim. According to him, Jonathan was favouring and promoting his Ijaw kin to the disadvantage of other Nigerians.
Obasanjo’s letter was well-celebrated. It was held up as a definitive and summary verdict on the administration of Jonathan. Obasanjo himself was hailed for his “courage and forthrightness”, and for his audacity to look power in the eye and spit the truth. But all of that changed after the 2015 elections.
In 2018, just three years after President Buhari came to power, Obasanjo applied himself to his accustomed enterprise. He dispatched an open letter to Buhari, accusing him of incompetence. According to Obasanjo: “The lice of poor performance in government – poverty, insecurity, poor economic management, nepotism, gross dereliction of duty, condonation of misdeed – if not outright encouragement of it, lack of progress and hope for the future, lack of national cohesion and poor management of internal political dynamics and widening inequality – are very much with us today.”
In 2019, Obasanjo fired a salvo. He accused Buhari of failing to address insecurity, of nepotism and of sundry ineptitudes.
Obasanjo’s uppercut: “For over ten years, for four of which you have been the captain of the ship, Boko Haram has menacingly ravaged the land and in spite of government’s claim of victory over Boko Haram, the potency and the activities of Boko Haram, where they are active, remain undiminished, putting lie to government’s claim. The main issue, if I may dare say, is poor management or mismanagement of diversity which, on the other hand, is one of our greatest and most important assets. As a result, the very onerous cloud is gathering. And the rain of destruction, violence, disaster and disunity can only be the outcome.”
In 2021, Obasanjo reprised himself in another letter to Buhari. But over time, his take or opinion on national matters has become tepid, vapid, and lacking in magnetism to hold public interest and to sway public opinion. His opinions have lost the power to cause mortal damage. And those who once eulogised him as the incarnation of courage, truth, and honesty, when it was convenient to do so for political reasons, are now his fiercest critics.
Has the Ebora Owu been demystified? What is the worth of Obasanjo’s endorsement? Recently, Obasanjo’s hilltop mansion in Abeokuta, Ogun state, became a cynosure of political pilgrimage as politicians fell over themselves to seek his endorsement of their bids. The rat race for Obasanjo’s endorsement. Some supporters of Peter Obi, presidential candidate of the Labour Party, even claim that the former governor has the blessing of Obasanjo. Although Obasanjo has not publicly declared support for any candidate, there are reports that he is favourably disposed towards Peter Obi’s candidature.
Even at that, Obasanjo’s endorsement cannot take Peter Obi to the presidency. It cannot even take him anywhere.
Obasanjo is a big masquerade. His place in Nigeria’s political progression is undisputed. When iconic leaders are to be counted, Obasanjo will have a place. But in the cycle of life, there comes a time when the big masquerade will have to retire – when there is no one left in the crowd.
•Fredrick Nwabufo; Nwabufo aka Mr OneNigeria is a writer and journalist.