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On the eve of Obasanjo’s first coming

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A new book details the intrigues and anxieties that heralded the emergence of the then General Olusegun Obasanjo as the successor of assassinated General Muratala Muhammed, writes AKEEM LASISI

At a time that 76, a film that dramatises the coup in which General Murtala Muhammed was assassinated in 1976, is still making waves, a new book has given a detailed account of the intrigues and anxieties that produced Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as Muhammed’s successor.

The book, titled Olusegun Obasanjo: Nigeria’s Most Successful Ruler, was written by Adebayo Adeolu, a freelance writer and businessman.

Published by Safari Books Ltd, the 290-page work indicates that Obasanjo was unwilling to become the head of state after Muhammed, especially given the terrible circumstances in which he was assassinated.

What heightened the anxiety for him, according to Adeolu, was the fact that members of Obasanjo’s family were so scared about the situation that they did not want him to step into Muhammed’s shoes.

Among the family, the then nine-year-old Iyabo Obasanjo, a former commissioner and senator, who later fell out with her father, particularly dreaded his taking up the mantle of leadership. In Chapter 21 of the book, titled Iyabo Obasanjo and Her Letter, Adeolu notes that as Iyabo, of whom Obasanjo was fond, displayed unusual wisdom as she grew up. As a result, the family accorded her a lot of respect.

In the heat of the army’s deliberations over who would succeed Muhammed, she, according to the author, shocked the family when she told her father, “Daddy, do not become the head of state.”

Adeolu writes on page 257, “This startled the whole house and silence fell on the room like a graveyard. The drop of a pin could be heard. This was Africa and Nigeria, where superstitious beliefs are rife. Some family members did believe it could be a warning from God that he should be careful and watchful or probably that he should not take the job.”

Well, while Iyabo’s declaration had boosted the family’s hope that the dangerous crown would not fall on their man’s head, top members of the military were fervently scheming for a new ruler.

Adeolu’s account shows that while Obasanjo had indicated his interest to retire “since the army was no more dependable”, the likes of Theophilus Danjuma, MD. Yusuf and Joseph Garba wanted him to be the new head of state. Two major reasons being explored, according to the book, were that he was the most senior among them, while a Yoruba man had never had the opportunity to lead Nigeria.

But the author notes that the likes of Ibrahim Babangida, Mouktar Mohammed and Ibrahim Alfa were scheming for Garba to be the new leader.

Adeolu writes, “Nobody knew how Babangida and his friends expected to install Garba as the head of state. There were senior officers they would need to get rid off: Danjuma and Ibrahim Haruna, Muhammed Suwa, James Oluleye, Emmanuel Abisoye and Olufemi Olutoye.”

Olusegun Obasanjo: Nigeria’s Most Successful Ruler offers detailed information about other aspects of the life of the subject and the socio-political terrain of Nigeria. This is captured in topics such as Early Beginnings, Nigerian Army, Marriage in London, Coups in Nigeria, Genocide on the Igbos and the Aburi Report, Civil War Years, Stella Obasanjo, Obasanjo and the Press and The June 12 Saga: Abiola Offered Premier.

But the way Obasanjo usually attracts controversies, the book is bound to generate a lot of questions too. For one, perhaps because it is a biography written by someone who obviously admirers the subject, many of the issues raised seemed resolved in Obasanjo’s favour. Will history be as generous to him as the book is? This is one of the questions that critics are likely to ask, despite the fact that it is difficult to deny the fact that Obasanjo has, over the years, exerted positive influence on some areas of the country’s life.

Besides, as commendable as his intellectual effort is, Adeolu may have a question to answer concerning his choice of ‘ruler’ in the title of the book, just as there are some grammatical slips that should be tracked in the next edition of the book.

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