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A troubling trend: a letter to President Obasanjo – Tola Adenle

December 23, 2013

Old Magazine/Newspaper essays

[The following essay from 2003 was my first public expression of dissatisfaction with the presidency of retired General Obasanjo, a dissatisfaction that would grow and lead to many other write-ups with the president as main subject or as references. The last I read, the former president is still at it: we all know that his choice of Speaker for a “Dr. Jonathan Presidency” either the House likes it or not will be elected because as perceived by even a lowly taxi driver I reported on earlier, President Jonathan’s presidency will be “Obasanjo’s 4th term” as late President “Yar Adua’s was his 3rd term.”

This was posted on this blog during the first two months on May 20, 2011.]

[The following essay was first published in The Comet on Sunday, November 2003.]

Sir,

Quite a while back, This Day carried a front-page editorial on a visit the President made to the U.S.A. The paper wrote about the President’s failed attempt to see President Bush after which you also went to the State Department without prior notification in an attempt to see Secretary Powell, an attempt that also failed according to the paper.

Before I go on further, Sir, allow me to recall a diplomatic faux pas I made as a social secretary to Nigeria’s Ambassador to Washington thirty years ago. I think Ambassador John Mamman Garba is now late but the real social secretary, a West Indian, had just left to get married and I was given that post, I guess, to put a Nigerian there. Though no greenhorn to secretarial work – I had worked as an assistant personal secretary in the office of Ife Vice Chancellor – I knew next to nothing about diplomat-ese but was working for food while I went to college. I was a locally-recruited staff which meant our tribe – Nigerian college students willing to take the low paying jobs because of visa restrictions – earned pittance…

During my first few days on the job which was just some months removed from my University of Ife job, an African ambassador came calling at the then Embassy on 16th Street. I could have called the Head of Chancery or any of many senior officers to tell me what to do if I knew better but where I came from, you did not keep Professor Fafunwa or Mr. Balmond (Registrar) or K.J. Hamilton-Smith (Bursar) waiting to go in to late Professor Oluwasansanmi. I am sure the elderly ambassador must have been impressed at my eagerness though surprised, nonetheless. I took him straight in to the ambassador who showed no feelings at my big mistake. He stood up, welcomed his guest and said something nice to dismiss me. A mild mannered man, he did not tell me I had done something awful even when I went in after the African ambassador had left. One of the home-based officers called about an hour or so later to enquire whether the ambassador had failed to show up only to learn he had come and left! I remember to this day Mr. X’s scream on the phone when I told him he had come and gone: “You took him in to the ambassador!” I had piled on some more years, knowledge and experiences not taught at Ibadan Polytechnic before I realized the gravity of that stomach-churning mistake …

Sir, you have operated in the rarefied and dignified world of top diplomacy for a total of almost of ten years but you are an informal person, a very informal person who, it seems, try not to let the office of president cloud his carriage and social interactions. I must digress so that I am not misunderstood.

Apart from a core group of writers, there seems to be two main classes into which most newspaper reporters and columnists in Nigeria can be classified these days: the envelope and post seekers AND those who see everything through the politically-expedient ethnic bifocals. I belong to neither. Readers of this column are familiar with my belief, for example, that only the Buhari/Idiagbon administration ever fought the perpetual onslaught of Western lending agencies to weaken the naira. Even in my professional journalism days, I always wrote from the angle that appeared to be unbiased and truthful. Sadly, there seems to be few Nigerian newspaper writers left who play by those rules. To make the point more explicit that I have no hidden agenda, I am one of those who believe that you supply enough darts to any writer, Yoruba or otherwise, to be aimed at your administration. I can move on.

When I read the editorial by This Day, like most Nigerians, I was humiliated but thought there must have been a serious gaffe committed by your protocol people on The Way to Foggy Bottom, seat of State Department …

A news item caught my eyes this past week in The Comet but I must digress, again, Sir, in the African tradition to strengthen this letter. My name gives away the part of the southwest to which I belong by marriage where a massive egungun (masquerade), Gogoru, gave birth to a saying which I love. In Osogbo, home of this masquerade, there is a saying that egun gogoru l’a nb eru… While I can only give a fair translation for the non-Yoruba and a ‘je bota readers – respect the message, even if not the messenger … A direct translation, though, means whoever wears the garb of this feared masquerade becomes someone to be feared.

The Comet
carried “Obasanjo extols Rockefeller” in a story that has left me feeling as I did on reading that editorial:

“In furtherance of cooperation between Nigerian and the U.S., President Olusegum Obasanjo in New York delivered a goodwill message from the former American president, George Bush to Mr. David Rockefeller on his 80th birthday …

“Obasanjo who was a special guest at the ceremony … delivered the hand-written anniversary card from the ex-first citizen of the U.S. …

“I was in Houston, Texas this morning (Thursday) and I informed President Bush that I was coming to your birthday anniversary, and he said I should convey to you this message,’ Obasanjo said before handing the envelope to his host.

“Rockefeller … read its contents aloud: ‘Dear David, this fellow President has gracefully accepted to deliver this card …”

“My God” was all I was able to say as I raced from beginning to the end of the story taking in every word that pierced the heart like a dagger.

Do not get me wrong, Sir, for I am a keen student of history, though not a historian who appreciate the philanthropy of the Rockefellers, not least among who is new octogenarian, David. His grandfather, John Davison Rockefeller (1839-1937) was the great industrialist of Standard Oil fame who had amassed a fortune in excess of a billion dollars before his death. John Davison Rockefeller, Junior (David’s father – 1874-1960) and John D. Senior established many philanthropic institutions among which are the Rockefeller Foundation, founded in 1913. A Rockefeller (Nelsen, died 1979) was vice president to Republican President Ford and another (Jay) is presently a Democratic Senator from West Virginia. He is a great grandson to the original Rockefeller

The family foundation, as you rightly pointed out, Sir, has played a very laudable role in the establishment and development of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan. The work of developing high-yield and low-maintenance seedlings for tropical areas of the world has been of great benefit to Nigeria among other tropical countries, and paying tribute to the grandson of the original benefactor of such an institution is a worthy undertaking but I believe you could have been there without being physically present through a worthy representative, government official or family.

Now, carrying the senior Bush’s congratulatory card to Mr. Rockefeller? What does Nigeria need from America that the senior Bush would help with his son?

Sir, you hold the position in trust for all Nigerians and it is a position that is greater than anybody who will ever hold it. During President Nixon’s Watergate problems in the 70’s, there was a television commentator, Nicholas von Hoffman who called Nixon ‘a rat’ or something worse. It may have been a coincidence but I haven’t seen Mr. Hoffman on tv ever since. The American presidency is respected by all regardless of party affiliation and whoever occupies that position – “rat” or whatever – becomes a direct recipient of that respect.

Finally, Sir and on a different note, I was at a funeral service in my native Ondo State early November. The main Anglican church in my small town (there are three others) was born of activism during the early part of the last century and has always lived by that tradition. Most of the pastors of this main church have always been of the tell-it-as-it-is mold. At a niece’s wedding in ’86 as General Babangida’s let them-eat- from-the-trash reign got under way, the pastor announced as soon as he mounted the pulpit: a ti gbe, o! (we are in big trouble).

The sermon was definitely no anticlimax. As soon as the current pastor had counseled the mourners the usual way, he lowered his voice, resting one arm on the pulpit while the other held his chin: “ boya a ri ninu enyin alejo wa ti o ma nlo si Aso Rock ki e ba wa be Obasanjo pe inira, ebi … l’ a nri lati Aso Rock” (There may be some of our visitors with access to Aso Rock; please tell the president that hardship, hunger, … are what flow from Aso Rock)! The introduction, of course, was an excellent lead for that memorable sermon. I am not sure anybody close to you would deliver that unpleasant message, Sir; so here it is.

MONDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2013.

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