Friday, 25 October 2013

In God's name, shut the f**k up!

How I wish that Obasanjo would observe the virtues of silence now that he has twice ruled this country and made a hash of it both times, but then I also wish the media would cease giving him the column inches. Speaking recently at the maiden convocation ceremony at the Afe Babalola University, he opined: ‘I know that those who are thinking that Nigeria has no future will today have a change of heart. This is because one person, Chief Afe Babalola, has been able to make a difference in the field of education. This is an indication that hope is not lost on Nigeria.’
Chief Babalola, Obasanjo’s long-time lawyer, could have counted on his customers’ nuisance value, although the ex-General might do well to enrol in one of the undergraduate courses on offer at this shining citadel of learning and thereby justify his newly acquired honorary doctorate. Perhaps he could take up criminology in the absence of philosophy (the courses offered are relentlessly utilitarian), where he might benefit from elementary logic and thereby grasp the absurdity of claiming that the existence of yet another private degree-awarding high school, where pupils are required to dress ‘decently’ and forbidden from using mobile phones, has somehow ‘made a difference in the field of education’, in the process proving that Hope Nigeria was not lost.
Given the ongoing ASUU strike, now about to enter its sixth month, this was a particularly insensitive moment to remind hopeful Nigerians that the federal universities he once oversaw don’t even rank in Africa, but then Obasanjo is not universally known for his tact, which is why he might also profit from a course in diplomacy. There was the time in 2002 when the Ikeja Cantonment blew itself up, resulting in over 1000 deaths, and the then commander-in-chief, turning up some hours later, shouted down the assembled sympathisers (‘shut up, shut up, I don’t even have to be here’) when asked why high-calibre bombs, grenades, shells and bullets were kept in a densely-populated part of Lagos unless the powers that be felt they might be needed against the enemy within.
And yet, whatever one’s private irritations, Obasanjo is a fact of life in Nigeria. There is no escaping him. Even his most trivial utterances – and they are legion – will be given the prominence they don’t deserve. Given this, it might be as well to ask what he symbolizes in the life of the nation. Soyinka, his fellow Egba, once called him ‘a child of fortune’ and this is indubitably true. But much the same can be said of Nigeria itself when, during his first coming, he helped to oversee the unearned bonanza of oil that he and his kind very quickly turned into a curse. The result is the great army of unemployed graduates from our sub-standard universities – private or otherwise - wandering the streets without hope of ever finding a job while other multi-everything fallouts of empire in the same predicament at the moment of independence – Indonesia, for instance – set about making something of themselves.
‘You have had a good beginning, having graduated from a good university. But this is not enough; you have to build on it. If you don’t, the good beginning becomes nothing,’ our former Number One citizen twice over lectured the assembled graduands, as if his stewardship of the nation on either occasion did anything other than guarantee their wretchedness in an over-endowed nation otherwise described as too rich to be poor. One might go even further and posit that he and his ilk deliberately sacrificed their own children on the altar of power that was never earned, only assumed by an accident of fate, chance, good fortune - what you will. It was Obasanjo’s own son who publicly averred that he knew ‘for a fact’ that his wife ‘committed adultery with and had an intimate, sexual relationship with his own father...due to her greed to curry favours and contracts from him in his capacity as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’. He further averred that his wife ‘confided in him severally while they living together (sic) that she had been sexually abused and defiled by her father, Otunba Alex Onabanjo on several occasions.’
Only the parties concerned know whether any of this is true or not but then only the concerned parties know whether, for instance, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, the former governor of Obasanjo’s Ogun State, really did administer oaths, including ‘blood, cow heads, calabash and other fetish materials’ during the course of which each participant ‘swore to upholding opposition to Daniel at all times and submitted to the death of their first born, should they renege on the oath.’ There was also the case of Ngige, the former Anambra State governor, who did or didn’t swear to an oath at a shrine: ‘I took my Bible with me and followed them. When we got there, I noticed they didn’t have guns; then I said I wasn’t going in. One of them said he could swear for me, I said go ahead, so he did it for me. But I did not believe in what they were doing because I am a staunch Catholic.’
Obasanjo himself refers ceaselessly to God, who must be weary by now of the multiple blasphemies uttered in His name, but it was ever thus with hypocrites – ‘Let me make a solemn pledge before all of you, before the whole world and before God, that I will devote all my energy and all I possess in my power to serve the people of Nigeria and humanity’ – and the devil, they say, has no shame. Unfortunately, we are ourselves prone to seeking God’s intervention for what we should do by ourselves and relegate them to where they belong, instead of which we continue to genuflect before them. Until that day – and may it come soon – we will continue to wallow in our wretched condition.
© Adewale Maja-Pearce
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers.

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