Sunday, 22 December 2013

My baby she wrote me a letter

The former president, Olusegun Obasanjo (that name again!), recently wrote an 18-page letter – almost 7000 words - to the current president, Goodluck Jonathan, which has excited much controversy. Even more controversy was generated by a subsequent letter purportedly written by Iyabo, the former president’s first daughter, which, at just over 4300 words, was equally garrulous, defined here as ‘excessively talkative, especially on trivial matters’.
To be sure, Obasanjo made one serious charge, that Jonathan was ‘training snipers and other armed personnel secretly and clandestinely acquiring weapons,’ which he compared with the bad old days of General Abacha when death squads were deployed to assassinate awkward voices, often in broad daylight on the public highway. Indeed, this was the one issue in Obasanjo’s epistle which many have pounced on (as well they might), and have asked the House of Representatives to launch an investigation, which they are bound to do anyway, at least if they take their responsibilities seriously. Not that anything will come of it even if they do. Nigeria is a country of rumour and hear-say where hard evidence rarely if ever comes to light, like the story that Obasanjo himself kept a killer squad in Aso Rock which eliminated Bola Ige, Funsho Williams and Marshall Harry (among others). The fact that nobody in these and the other cases was ever charged would seem to give the rumour substance.
For the rest, Obasanjo’s letter was full of generalisations which only served to indict the person who wrote it. Accusing the Jonathan administration of corruption is laughable against, for instance, the $16bn his own administration looted in the process of not giving us electricity, as the interested parties publicly confessed to the House of Representatives. Worse again was casting aspersions on his successor’s ‘honour’ for wanting to contest for a second term after privately promising otherwise when his own honour allowed him to try for a third term against the provisions of the Constitution he had publicly sworn to uphold. But Obasanjo is the avatar of the Nigerian condition, one who embodies everything that is wrong with this awkward colonial creation; as his daughter’s purported letter put it: ‘Nigeria has descended into a hellish reality where smart, capable people to “survive” and have their daily bread prostrate to imbeciles.’
Which just about sums it up and this whether Iyabo did indeed pen her fortuitous epistle in her unlikely, melodramatic prose:‘This is the end of my communication with you for life’. At least one person has insinuated that it bears all the hallmarks of a certain garrulous (that word again!) ‘sycophant’ of the current president’s inner circle who writes the opposite of what he used to when he was on the outside, itself testimony to the harsh reality of survival in a country ruled by imbeciles. Or perhaps it is just a manifestation of the ‘greed’ she also deplored in the national psyche. Besides, the letter describes her as ‘a child well brought up by [her] long-suffering mother in Yoruba tradition’ with its injunction of not insulting your elders (but especially your father), which is what allows our fathers to continue to chance us with ‘impunity’. In his own letter, Obasanjo deplores the current administration’s non-effort to tackle the corruption he helped foster, and corruption in a deeper sense than he ascribes to his successor. It was the same Obasanjo whose own son accused him of sleeping with his daughter-in-law in exchange for oil contracts, which might very well qualify as ‘oil stealing’ but in any case could hardly be expected to ‘improve the present poor management of the industry’ - as Obasanjo faults Jonathan.
Jonathan’s reply, a full nine days later (and coming in at a tad under 5000 words), was altogether more respectful – he addresses his adversary as ‘Baba’ five separate times – but also suggested the iron fist: ‘Your letter is clearly a threat to national security as it may deliberately or inadvertently set the stage for subversion.’ He also refutes the allegation of training snipers to assassinate political opponents as ‘incomprehensible’ and comes clean on 2015:
You will recall that you serially advised me that we should refrain from discussing the 2015 general elections for now so as not to distract elected public officials from urgent task of governance. While you have apparently moved away from that position, I am still of the considered opinion that it would have been best for us to do all that is necessary to refrain from heating up the polity at this time. Accordingly, I have already informed Nigerians that I will only speak on whether or not I will seek a second term when it is time for such declarations.

This is somewhat disingenuous given that not declaring is itself ‘heating up the polity’, a cliché in the Nigerian lexicon first used by General Abacha when he was equally anxious about extending his tenure, tenure extension being the sole ambition of Nigeria’s rulers, Jonathan no less than Obasanjo, hence the corruption Obasanjo makes such a great song-and-dance about, thereby leaving the way open for Jonathan to desecrate the memory of the late Fela: ‘That corruption is an issue in Nigeria is indisputable.  It has been with us for many years. You will recall that your kinsman, the renowned afro-beat maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti famously sang about it during your first stint as Head of State.’
But reading all these 18,300 words, one question kept nagging away at me: Does any of this matter? Does all this English grammar help ‘move the country forward’, another of the clichés our rulers glibly trot out? I fear not. Indeed, at the end of it all, I felt as if I had been privy to a marital squabble which had little or nothing to do with me unless I made it so, but to what end? Where is my own in all of this, itself the tragedy of a nation that has sunk to this level of banality.
© 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.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:


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