Friday, March 27, 2009

Obasanjo's bloated sermon on God

Last Sunday was a special occasion for members of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Lekki, Lagos. It was the day Olusegun Obasanjo regaled the congregation with tales about how God delivered him from the jaws of death during the period of his incarceration at Yola Prison. Obasanjo also told his audience how God transformed him from his pauperised childhood to a situation where he rose to become president for two terms, as well as his elevation to a position where he now owns a large-scale farm and other business interests, most of which have remained hidden from public knowledge.

Obasanjo told his audience: "If I say my life is full of testimonies, I mean it. Is it the fact that I was born insignificant from a poor background without hope of achievements? Is it that I went through prison for years with fear of death surrounding me every second?.. Is it that some of my co-victims did not survive the situation? ... But yet, I am what I am today. It is the Lord's doing through the power of prayers."

Prayers often work miracles for some people but to refer to God regularly in a misleading manner raises questions about Obasanjo's sincerity. In Nigeria, political leaders refer to God arbitrarily even as they commit adultery, even as they embezzle public funds, even as they plot the assassination of their opponents, and even as they conspire to manipulate election results. After eight years of arrogant leadership sprinkled with questionable public conduct, it is difficult to believe Obasanjo when he urged his audience to believe him. The problem is that Obasanjo's characterisation of himself as a man of God does not sit well with his bad habits in public life. In this context, it is important to scrutinise the level of dishonesty inherent in his endless references to God.

Whenever Obasanjo preaches about his faith in God, you feel like shoving at his face the contradictions and personal flaws that mock his moral character. Last Sunday was not the first time that Obasanjo would invoke the name of God to make himself look immaculate and harmless. Unfortunately, each time Obasanjo talks about his faith in God and his commitment to Christian religious precepts, he underlines the treacherous nature of humankind, in particular the difficulty anyone would have trying to read another person's mind by merely looking at the face.

In his sermon instructively entitled "Power of prayers", Obasanjo said: "My life is a bundle of testimonies and I can assure those who care to seek the face of God in prayers that there is nothing the Almighty cannot do". Perhaps it was this exaggerated faith in the power of prayers that compelled Obasanjo to ask Nigerians to pray to God if they wanted their electricity problems fixed.

When journalists ambushed Obasanjo at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, on Tuesday, 22 July 2008, they asked him: "Sir, what advice do you have on the power problem in the country?" Obasanjo's answer was as dubious as you can get. Hear him: "Anything you don't have or you cannot get, then leave it to God." Obasanjo's response confirmed to everyone that the bogus power project was set up to fail. That project never really got off the piece of paper on which it was written. It is this kind of attitude to serious national problems, this treacherous reference to God as a cover for personal failures, which gives the impression that Nigerian political leaders are certificated liars and conmen. A follow-up question to that conceited answer should have been: if Obasanjo knew that regular electricity had become elusive and unattainable, why did his government allocate so much money to the project? It is obvious from Obasanjo's response that the power project was set up to fail.

Anyone who really wants to understand Obasanjo's character trait should ask those who have had the opportunity to work closely with the man. In a two-part interview published in The Guardian on Sunday of February 17 and 24, 2008, former Defence Minister and Chief of Army Staff Theophilus Danjuma appropriately described Obasanjo not only as a celebrated coward but also as "the most toxic leader that Nigeria has produced so far". Although Danjuma cannot really describe himself as a Saint because of his own character flaws and policy blunders when he was in government, his vicious attack on Obasanjo's character forced many people to reconsider their impressions about Obasanjo. Could it be this same Obasanjo who has developed the habit of talking garrulously about his God? Could Danjuma have been exaggerating when he also described Obasanjo as a tribalist and a counterfeit version of a born-again Christian?

A true man of God should be evaluated by the extent to which he keeps strictly to what he preaches. Let's analyse Obasanjo's religious preachings against the background of his public conduct. During his term as president, Obasanjo preached peace but openly condoned violence and conflict in the states governed by politicians whom he did not like. The regular street fights and gun battles between Chris Ngige, former Anambra Governor, and Chris Uba, Obasanjo's errand boy, provide irrefutable evidence that Obasanjo is not a true man of God as he likes to project himself. Worst still, when Chris Uba confessed to Obasanjo that he (Uba) single-handedly manipulated the governorship election that enthroned Chris Ngige in Anambra, all that Obasanjo did -- as the chief law officer of the nation -- was to ask Chris Uba to leave his (Obasanjo's) residence. Just like that?

In Oyo State, Obasanjo shut his eyes and ears as Lamidi Adedibu -- the legendary strongman of Ibadan politics -- terrorised the elected government of Rashidi Ladoja. At the federal level, Obasanjo proclaimed transparency and accountability as the philosophical foundation of his government. Ironically, he regularly used his presidential powers to protect people of low character with whom he associated. When Obasanjo talks about the excesses of former military dictators such as Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha, he cleverly avoids mentioning the notorious dungeon at Ita-Oko, serviced by his military government and infamous for the torture and abuse of people whose views Obasanjo's military government did not fancy.

When you tally Obasanjo's appalling record in government - his unfulfilled promises, his double face, his vengeful style and his obsession with political power -- you get the image of an ungodly man who manipulated his people and the political process to achieve his devious objectives. No sooner did Obasanjo leave office than the entire nation realised - regrettably - how disastrous his government had been. And yet Obasanjo takes offence when his foes refer to him as the most treacherous man to have governed Nigeria.

In spite of all these contradictions and character flaws, Obasanjo continues to invoke the name of God everywhere he goes. It is perhaps good for Nigeria and bad for Obasanjo's ego that all efforts made by Obasanjo to cast himself as a God fearing man, or as the most accomplished president in the history of Nigeria, has been incinerated - thankfully - by his questionable conduct, his lack of moral etiquette and his secret ambition to extend his presidential tenure beyond the constitutionally approved two terms. Politicians and ordinary citizens who describe Obasanjo as a symbol of national disgrace may not be far from the truth. Here is the tragedy of Obasanjo. Rather than retire honourably like every true statesman, Obasanjo now defends himself publicly and privately against mounting allegations of abuse of office, sometimes bordering on corruption. Where his name is not being mentioned frequently at various investigative panels set up by state and federal parliamentary committees, his name would recur in various overseas agencies trying to unlock the secrets to executive corruption in Nigeria. Obasanjo has continued to deny vehemently allegations of corruption against him and key officers of the government he led for eight years.

In an essay published in the New York Review of Books on September 24, 1998, Obasanjo wrote in a self-righteous manner: "After my prison experience, I am committed more than ever to the ideals for which I have lived and suffered - democracy, peace, human rights, alleviation of poverty, transparent government, and popular participation." After eight years of political dictatorship, only a few Nigerians would agree that Obasanjo truly lived up to these lofty ideals.