Steve Nwosu: OBJ’s Swan Song

I am in a dilemma. And my dilemma is similar to that of the proverbial medicine man who wants to stop making poisonous concoctions but would not be left alone by those desperate to taste his poisons.

It is a sign of the times.

So, try as much as I did, I still could not restrain myself from doing yet another political commentary this week. It is, indeed, a sign of the times. My people say you cannot afford to kill the herbalist who fortifies you while the enemies who want you dead are up and about.

With so much happening on an hourly basis in our polity, it is almost impossible to talk anything else besides the general elections and the politicking around it. While our military men are paying the supreme price in one part of Borno trying to beat the six-week deadline to secure the state ahead of next month’s election, Gen. Buhari is drawing an indescribable crowd to a rally in another part of town. Yes, the same town which the PDP campaign train had to hurry away from, following speculations of a looming bomb attack. There’s no dull moment!

If it’s not about the dubious readiness for election, which INEC claimed (even when it was clear that not all the manpower/expertise needed for the exercise had been primed for the purpose and that the distribution of permanent voters card had left much to be desired), then it was the curious confidence exuded by the opposition party and the go-ahead it gave for the polls to go on as scheduled. Ordinarily, it is the opposition that should be raising alarm over the shabby preparation for the elections, but it does not seem to be too interested. It is carrying on as though it already knows the result (which is obviously favourable) and is not really interested in the process that would deliver that predetermined result. If this were to be under the supervision of a certain Prof. Maurice Iwu, we would by now be shouting, ‘wuruwuru to the answer!’.

And while all these were going on, a certain Olusegun Obasanjo, who feels he (and his interests) should always be the issue, suddenly saw the attention shifting away from him. So, he decided to do something radical. He went to run his mouth in Kenya, and then returned home to put the icing on the cake; he called a press conference to publicly tear his membership card of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

But he was smart enough to hang the responsibility on somebody else’s neck.

How do I mean? I’ve taken time to watch the video clip of the Abeokuta drama over and over again. I noticed that before OBJ handed the card over to the ward chairman, Alhaji Usman Oladunjoye, he had barely restrained from doing the tearing himself. As the small crowd of cronies sang and swayed to songs in mockery of the PDP, the former president could be seen fiddling with the edge, and middle groove, of the two-leaf cardboard paper membership card. He managed to sway through the songs, and finally handed the card to the ward chairman, whom he told, in Yoruba, to shred the card to pieces.

The chairman did not need any further prompting. He gleefully went about the ‘unpresidential’ order like some one under a hypnotic spell. Like some dog thrown a fresh bone by its master.

The last time I saw that level of excitement in an old man was in a Yoruba movie I watched a few weeks ago. In that film, an evil old man whom the youths had surrounded and were about to lynch suddenly chanted a few incantations and in a calm voice, asked the young men to begin to fight themselves. The young men suddenly left the old man and descended on one another with their cudgels and machetes. Of course, it was the power of hypnosis at work. And when they had fought themselves to just one man standing, the old man then ordered that last man to begin to undress himself. And, pronto, the man so commanded began to strip naked, with this incomprehensible toothy grin permanently plastered on his face. But he was no longer in control of his mental faculties. It was the beginning of full blown madness.

I thought the guy who acted the lunatic role over-did it a bit. At some point, it looked so unreal. I felt it could never happen in real life. But I was wrong. After watching Alhaji Oladunjoye tear OBJ’s PDP membership card last Monday, with that unmissable sheepish grin, I now know that whoever wrote the script of that Yoruba movie was at the top of his game. On point!

But since this piece is not about the PDP ward chairman, and since those who later expelled Obasanjo from the PDP did not recognize the role played by Oladunjoye, I will let the poor man be.

However, I must add that OBJ did what he was legally allowed to do, if he was no longer interested in rollicking with his thieving colleagues in the PDP: return the card to the party, since the card is legally a property of the PDP. And who else should he return it to but his ward chairman?

In the future, if OBJ changes his mind and wants to return to PDP, he can always claim he returned his card to the party, as the law demanded. That it was the party chairman in the ward who destroyed the card. That way, OBJ would not be blamed for what happened at his Hilltop residence last Monday. It would not matter that he actually ordered Oladunjoye to do the tearing. After all, if he had asked the ward chairman to put his fingers in burning fire, would he have done so? And with that much excitement?

For now, however, it would seem that on this OBJ saga, PDP’s loss is APC’s gain. But I must not fail to warn the APC: you just embraced a poisoned chalice. Just pray the effect of the poison does not begin to manifest before March 28. As our elders say, the polygamous home only experiences peace and tranquility because the illegitimate child has yet to come of age.

Secondly, let me also remind Gen. Obasanjo that ‘elder statesmanship’ is not commandeered. It is earned. We, the people, choose whom to so rever. Much as age has something to do with it, it is not every old man out there that qualifies as an elder statesman, even if he spent all his working years in public service. Even among Obasanjo’s Yoruba people, there is a clear-cut difference between “Agba” and “Agbaya”.

This, definitely, is the last act of a fading force. A swan song.

But listening to Obasanjo, you’d think he dropped unto these shores from outer space just last weekend. You’d be pinching yourself: is this the same Obasanjo who was party to three national robberies passed on to us, hapless Nigerians, as presidential elections? Is it not in comparison to those elections conducted by Obasanjo that the rest of the sane world now adjudge the 2011 presidential election conducted by Jonathan the best the country has seen since the return of democracy in 1999? Is this not the same Obasanjo of the third term infamy? If there are two areas in which Obasanjo has no moral right to call anybody to order in this country, it is in the area of corruption and transparent elections – mind you, we’re trying to elect, not ‘capture’. This was the same Obasanjo who told us not to deceive ourselves by saying election is not do-or-die, because it actually is.

Today, out of power (and increasingly losing relevance), he has suddenly become St. Obasanjo.

But, like they say, one of the easiest jobs to do is being a critic, especially a government critic. There is always plenty to disparage those in government about, especially, when you’re determined never to see anything good in the government.

But it becomes a different kettle of fish if the table were to turn. The harshest critics usually make the worst administrators. In government, the most passionate of them transform into the most odious dictators from the belly of hell.

Of course, this has nothing to do with the APC and the push to unseat President Goodluck Jonathan. Rather, I’m talking about the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).

First, they tried to form and run a party, but a handful of PDP decampees came into the party and hijacked it from them. The politicians used the Labour platform to achieve their respective ambitions and dumped it soon after. Today, nobody is in doubt that, like APGA, the Labour Party (LP) has become a fall-back platform for those outmaneuvered in the two big parties to attempt to resurrect their dreams of elective office. Win or lose, they invariably return to their original parties after the election.

But that’s not really my grouse with the labour leaders. Watching how delegates of the NLC turned the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua into a boxing ring, last week, I could only come to one conclusion: Democracy is easier yapped about than practised ( the same way Obasanjo is blabbing about it today, but could not practise it in all of his eight years in power as civilian president).

Who could believe that the same labour leaders who posture all over the place as standard bearers of democracy, equity, justice and good governance – the labour leaders who talk down on us and our politicians, are just as base as the rest of us? They proved that we had, all along, been wasting our time going to recruit thugs from the motor parks, when we could simply have invited one or two labour unions, and they’d do a better job of the thuggery business (even while dressed in the best French suits and speaking Queen’s English).

And they proved just that, last week, as they reduced the national congress, where they were billed to elect a new president, into a free for all.

The aborted election had all the trappings (and shenanigans) of APC and PDP combined. There were decampments, last-minute stepdowns, allegations of manipulation of voters register and fake ballot papers. As with the politicians and INEC, some candidate’s names were also missing on the ballot papers. Of course, religion and ethnicity also came into play. They also threw chairs and snatched ballot boxes. The only thing that was missing was a few gunshots (and, maybe, a few improvised explosive devices, to add the Boko Haram flavour).

But, at the end, they, like their politician kindred spirits, managed to contrive a constitutional crisis, out of an otherwise straightforward exercise. Abdulwahab Omar, whose tenure has now elapsed, was unable to hold an election, let alone, impose a successor. Now, NLC is comatose without a constitutional head. Will they settle for a caretaker administration (an interim government)? Will former President Adams Oshiomhole tear his NLC membership card?

I am watching it closely, to know what leaf we can borrow therefrom, ahead of our general elections scheduled for March 28 and April 11.

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