Those who don’t know what time it is may reach for former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s My Watch. But a quick caveat is fitting: The author is an exemplar of anachronism! He has had his day but he would not retire from contending with fade-out. Anything that can draw the spotlight to his corner is fair – obtrusiveness, nuisance, anything.
Obasanjo’s hauteur, easily the dominant principle of his being, drives him to make like he is a moral policeman. Thanks to this hardwired proclivity, he can hardly keep himself from obsessing about the speck in other people’s eyes, even if the log in his own eye is the crying emergency. It is on this wise that he could be accounted one of the most unselfish men around.
Recently, he made a day job off attacking his lost protégé, President Goodluck Jonathan. He would bring his speech up to taste by seasoning it with Jonathan’s censure. He would deride Jonathan for terminal naivety – for failing to master his job description after six years in office. He would chide Jonathan for being too terrific in ineptness to merit full Presidential salary. He would charge Jonathan for directing an orgy of treasury looting. Obasanjo’s broadsides grew more frequent and pungent; bearing all the earmarks of paranoia.
It fell to the restless snoopers of Saharareporters.com to investigate the escalation of the tirades. The scoop emerged – Obasanjo had penned a book of revelations, a leak of intimate secrets of the oligarchy of the day and especially, Jonathan’s iniquities. Suddenly, the seeming antagonism made sense. It was the subset of a sales promotion strategy: the author had been performing foreplay, whetting the market’s appetite.
Obasanjo has reasonable grounds to hope that Nigerians would scamper to kiss his book. His modest open letter to President Goodluck Jonathan, written for the heck of it, was flavor of the month. It energized conversation and readership nationwide. And the demand for it rose so high that the ingenious improvised to match the overwhelming hunger. They photocopied the letter and hawked the copies on the streets. Many people purchased it and stored it as keepsake.
The incredible success of that apocryphal epistle thoroughly surprised him. It naturally suggested the ambition of a book project, a fleshing out of the letter’s theme. My guess is that the idea arose from a linear logic that run thus, ‘if Nigerians fell over themselves to snatch the crumb that fell off his table, the multitude would surely go into raptures if he dangled a whole loaf of bread before them’. He would simply recline in his study and stir the malevolent muse in his head awake, write the manuscript and pass it to the publisher. And he would declare a Sabbath before withdrawing behind the veil, like a contented creator, to watch the lesser mortals go into hysterics – disputing, discussing and debating his genius.
Of course, Obasanjo missed out on the gains of his letter. He had not envisaged that his writing would throw the country into frenzy. He had not foreseen that that scrap of a letter would take a life of its own and even produce brisk black market commerce. It was a miscalculation and that cost him the rewards of his intellectual property. Now he would write again. But this time, he would not wash his hands and crack palm nuts for the picking of fowls. He would write and let pirates eat the fruit of his labor. He, the most famous student of Open University, would make it a closed book, with a price tag to match.
From excerpts published so far, one can venture to extrapolate that the book is no more than an excursion in blackmail. The book is about undressing those who are not in his good books. It is a dish of revenge flung and scattered among seven hills (apologies to JP Clark). But it’s main target is Goodluck Jonathan, the supposed ingrate rescued from the river bank and taken to the palace, Moses style. The book is Obasanjo’s manly answer to the vengeful proverb of a woman who insisted on paying back her implacable child – and robbed it of sleep. The godson who attempted to send Baba to sleep also ordered a backlash.
As you would expect, My Watch was timely. It had to arrive when it would make maximum impact – in an opportune moment in the electoral season, the precise hour when the littlest hit can cause disproportionate damage on Jonathan’s electability and when the poor candidate would be too precariously positioned to muster a reply.
But Jonathan need not lose sleep. Nothing in those pages can give him or anybody profiled negatively therein fatal injury. Instead, what the book would do successfully is backfire. It will dredge the national memory and expose the hollow holiness of the author. As he demonizes others while projecting himself as the saint with an halo crown, he inspires an inevitable comparison that makes him infinitely worse than the characters he judges.
The book cannot force a sea change in the political terrain. Obasanjo himself numbed us with a convoy of scandals, during his stint. He may proceed to stretch words but this is the wrong audience, a people already inoculated against shock.
I’m sorry but that My Watch is a stillborn. It was a flop as an inchoate idea in Obasanjo’s head, even before the ghost writer was commissioned.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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