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“It is conceivable that others have their own stories too, which they could tell by writing books. Sadly, an enduring minus of the country’s political class is the poverty of mind that prevents many of its major players from documenting their experiences for whatever it may be worth.”
For a book that is so explosively controversial, the reviewer, Patrick Okigbo, was correct in describing My Watch, the new three-volume autobiography by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, as “thought-provoking and revealing,” although he probably never intended certain meanings. To start with, it is remarkable that a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Southwest pillar, Prince Buruji Kashamu, moved to legally restrain Obasanjo from publishing his book. Also, it is striking that Obasanjo on December 9, despite a restrictive court order, unveiled the book at the Lagos Country Club, Ikeja.
Interestingly, there was a dramatic continuity as Justice Valentine Ashie of the Abuja High Court, in reaction gave Obasanjo 21 days “to show cause, via affidavit, why he should not be punished for contempt committed by publishing and distributing for sale to the public, the book, My Watch, in plain disregard of the pendency of the substantive suit and the order of this court made on December 5, 2014, restraining him from doing so.”
Still dramatically, Jusice Ashie ordered the Inspector General of Police (IG), the Director General of the Department of State Services (DG,DSS), and the Comptroller of Customs to recover the published book from all book stands, sales agents, vendors, the sea and airports, and deposit them with the court’s registrar pending the determination of the substantive suit. It is not clear how far this particular order has been carried out, and whether the mentioned officials may also be eventually accused of contempt.
It is noteworthy that the pending substantive suit in question is a libel case brought by Kashamu, relating to Obasanjo’s public letter to President Goodluck Jonathan in which he alleged that Kashamu is a fugitive wanted in the United States. Also, it is worth mentioning that Kashamu’s action to stop the publication of Obasanjo’s book was based on his fear that it would contain a reproduction of the allegedly libellous letter. So, his anxiety was a product of anticipation.
The developing drama expanded when the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL), in a statement by Mr Vitalis Ortese, said: “Chief Olusegun Obasanjo wishes to state that the media report which conveyed the impression that he intended to “dare or confront a judge or the judiciary” is highly misleading. Far from this, on the contrary, the former president is a law-abiding citizen, who will only pursue his rights within the law and will not “dare” a judge or knowingly flout an order of a court of competent jurisdiction.” The spokesman further said: “The former president wishes to make it clear that in the first instance, no formal order from Justice Ashie was served and received by either himself or by proxy regarding any injunction restraining the publication of the book, “My Watch” which from the records was already in circulation.”
More importantly, however, Obasanjo himself said at the ceremony to release his book: “The book had already been published and printed three months ago, only for the court to be asked to put a stop to it. Buruji went to a court to stop the book from being published and the hearing was fixed for yesterday (Monday). When that was not enough, he went to another court by 5pm on a Friday and got an injunction, saying the book should not be published. Unfortunately, the book was already completed three months ago. Secondly, I want the judge that gave such an injunction to be penalised.”
Against the background that Obasanjo has challenged the “contempt of court” charge, and indicated his intention to seek a suspension or stay of execution of the court’s orders, it is clear that the unfolding show is far from a finale. Indeed, there may well be even more fascinating twists and turns before the denouement.
Of course, the thought-provoking quality of Obasanjo’s book is not limited to these extra-literary gyrations. In content, the book is a veritable trigger of contemplation. To illustrate this point, it will suffice to concentrate on Obasanjo’s pictures of his immediate successor, Umaru Yar’Adua, and the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan who succeeded him.
Obasanjo wrote in his book: “I was heavily involved in the transition and exit process that saw me leaving office for my successor, Umaru Yar’Adua, as recounted in Chapter 37, the ninth chapter of the second volume of this book. The unprepared and unplanned transition from Yar’Adua to Jonathan was a more difficult exercise in some respects. One reason was the ‘cloak and dagger’ manner in which Yar’Adua’s illness was handled.” He continued: “The illness of a President cannot be regarded as private. His health has implications for the security and wellbeing of the nation. For the president and those around him to have attempted strenuously to keep the fact of the severity of his illness from public smacks of ignorance of the enormity of what the job entails and the level of provinciality of their understanding, attitude, and approach.”
On Jonathan, Obasanjo wrote: “Jonathan is lacking in broad vision, knowledge, confidence, understanding, concentration, capacity, sense of security, courage, moral and ethical principles, character and passion to move the nation forward on a fast trajectory.” He added: “Under Jonathan we seem to have gone from frying pan to fire. If in the past corruption was in the corridors of power, it would seem now to be in the sitting room, dining room and bedroom of power. If what is called ‘corruption’ is stealing, under the watch of Goodluck Jonathan, then government has become legalized and protected robbery.”
There is no doubt that these portraits have revelatory features, but not only concerning the portrayed characters. In a profound sense, they also represent a self-portrayal by the portraitist, who is fixated on the canvass and cannot appreciate that he may need to remove the log in his own eyes, which suggests a hypocritical hypnosis. Obasanjo was fundamentally, and perhaps culpably, the prime puppeteer in the plots that produced Yar’ Adua and Jonathan; and so he may, with believability, make magisterial pronouncements on their political careers. However, he cannot offer these insights in order to achieve self-exculpation.
It is conceivable that others have their own stories too, which they could tell by writing books. Sadly, an enduring minus of the country’s political class is the poverty of mind that prevents many of its major players from documenting their experiences for whatever it may be worth.
Written by: Femi Macaulay