This is an opinion piece written by Abimbola Adelakun for PUNCH. Please read…
In Chinua Achebe’s published collection of essays, The Education of a British Protected Child, he narrated a story told to him by his father, Isaiah Okafor Achebe.
Pa Achebe was a convert to Christianity. In his zeal to make a disciple of all nations, he approached his maternal uncle, Pa Udoh, and tried to win his soul for the Lord. The man refused to be proselytised by his nephew and to make his point, he pointed to a row of insignia of traditional titles he had taken and asked his nephew, “What do I do with these?”
Like Chinua, I find the question quite instructive.
The paraphernalia of titles Uncle Udoh put on display were not just mere items, neither were they a trophy of his vanities but they were history. His history. The materials were “culture” and Pa Udoh, from what Achebe described, was an epitome of Igbo culture and traditional values. Those items he showed his nephew disembodied the narratives of who he was and the roads he had been. He could not shed them off to take up a new identity in Jesus Christ without giving away his entire essence.
The question of “what do I do with this?” is also a reflective one. It shows foresight. It asks, if I give up who I am, who I have been and all that defines me, who – or what – do I become?
The Achebe parable is useful to interpret Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s latest act: He recently tore his Peoples Democratic Party membership card before the very eyes of the world.
Or rather, he handed the card over to a fawning underling – his ward chairman, one Usman Oladunjoye – to do so on his behalf as if the indignity of ripping that piece of paper was beneath his imperious personality.
Obasanjo card-tearing act is not the beginning of the story –and, perhaps, not a climax of it– although it is one of the most dramatic moments of the melodrama that has been playing between the political actors in the PDP for some time now.
Like Achebe’s great uncle, one cannot get rid of one’s association to one’s history and antecedents without having to face the question of identity.
One thing to never forget is this: Obasanjo is the PDP and the PDP is Obasanjo; neither is indistinguishable from the other. For all the faults of the PDP, one cannot deny that they are a formidable political party, strong and resilient. In fact, it is the only party in Nigeria that transcends personalities, for now. The history of the woes of Nigeria cannot be narrated without a significant portion attributed to the PDP and the roles the men that make up its cabals have played in superintending the denigration of the Nigerian essence.
For the past 16 years, Obasanjo has been a member of that party and a prominent one at that. There is nothing that we accuse the PDP of that he does not personify. He has been enabled, ennobled and obscenely enriched by virtue of his PDP membership. When he returned from prison in 1998, looking gaunt and haggard from the late dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha’s hovel, it was the PDP’s political machinery that rescued him and made a prince out of him.
So, who is Obasanjo without the PDP?
The man gave his reasons for divorcing himself from the party and all of them were quintessentially Obasanjo in nature: self-righteous, self-vindicating and zero reflection. But these should surprise no one. Obasanjo’s narcissism kisses its own reflection in the mirror. He must simply imagine that the world revolves around him such that he is always all over the place, heckling and disrupting everything without acknowledging that the wall crumbling around us was built from his own pack of cards.
There is no Nigerian – dead, living and unborn – that can hope to rise to the level of egotism at which the man operates. Obasanjo even announced his departure from partisan politics and stated his decision to become a “statesman” as if it was some kind of career move.
Watching Obasanjo, you would be forgiven for thinking being a statesman is some kind of job and no longer a status that is derived from years of noble acts to the nation state.
Now that he is cutting away the insignia of his PDP titles, who is Obasanjo now? What is he becoming and what does he do about his past? Does it mean that he is cutting himself loose from the corruption and odium that the PDP currently represents? If that is his move, like he wants us to believe, what does he do with himself considering that some people see him as a repository of all the values he denounces in the PDP? It is tempting to think of his tearing ruse as renunciation of the PDP infamy which he embodies but anyone that knows his antecedents very well will not be blamed for seeing his card-tearing move as sheer multiplication of his infamy.
What is particularly interesting about the spectacle of tearing his PDP membership card into pieces – through a proxy – is the crass drama of it. It would have been wholly sufficient for the former president to have issued a press release dissociating himself from the PDP. It would have been unsurprising if the release was laden with the now familiar menu of Obasanjo-sized nuances that myopically seek to crucify others for sins he himself is seem not to be free of. But no, he needed the klieg lights of reporters as witnesses. Just as he did on the occasions when he wrote a letter to President Jonathan and then wrote a book dedicated to his self-possession, he had to turn the whole episode around himself. There seems to be no end to his cunning.
The video of Obasanjo and Oladunjoye, in their card-tearing mayhem recalls other incidents -in myths- where the act of “tearing” was especially significant. Think of the symbolism of King Saul in the Bible (inadvertently) tearing Samuel’s clothes and having a curse pronounced on him; the instance of Jesus’ crucifixion and how the temple cloth was torn from top to bottom. In both instances, the tearing was the harbinger of a new order. Political actors lost their gamble, power changed hands and another era began.
So, perhaps one should ask what Obasanjo “tearing” portends – for him and for the political atmosphere where he has dominated all these years. Has he sensed a change in Nigeria’s political misbehaviours and, therefore, jumps ship before a new order comes and spots him on the wrong divide?