By Bola Bolawole
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Comrade Yinka Odumakin (aka YO) died on Good Friday last year, specifically on April 2, 2021 but because of the importance attached to Good Friday by the erstwhile Afenifere spokesperson, the first anniversary of his transition is taking place not on April 2 but on Good Friday (April 15th) . The event will be marked with a book presentation and an inaugural lecture at the Lagos Sheraton Hotel. It is beyond dispute that YO, in the short time he lived, left his footprints in the sands of time; one of the gifts he left for us is his book of courage – “Watch the Watcher”; which I consider most appropriate to re-visit at this point in time.
Describing the book as “A book of remembrance of (the) Obasanjo Years”, YO was driven, most certainly, by considerations of overriding public interest to say it as it is; for, as a Yoruba adage posits, failure to unmask a vendor of wickedness will have him queuing up as one of the builders of his society! I have it on good authority, though, that YO and Obasanjo made up before the former passed on to eternity. Watch the Watcher kicked off with a quotation from Psalm 51:20: I kept a quiet patience while you did these things; you thought I went along with your game. I am calling you on the carpet now, laying your wickedness out in plain sight” – New Message Translation. This was followed by Odei Ofiemun’s poem titled HABA 1 in “Go tell the Generals”: He said: A General tilling the soil/Is better than the General under the ground/Making manure for the peasant. She said: “The Peasant deprived of land/Is better than the peasant under the ground/Making manure for the General!”
Watch the Watcher is dedicated to the memory of three fearsome souls: The first, “Oloye Obafemi Awolowo” whom YO described as his “political leader…who became the best president Nigeria never had, partly because Obasanjo (had) said ‘the best candidate may not win’”; the second is the Afro-beat music maestro, “Abami Eda” Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, “who suffered incalculable losses for his lyrical compositions on the excesses of Obasanjo’s reign: and the third is “Bashorun MKO Abiola on whose blood Obasanjo marched to power in 1999 (but who) never got any recognition in his (Obasanjo’s) eight years (in power as President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria)”
Watch the Watcher is at once a direct response to one of Obasanjo’s books, My Watch, where, like in an earlier work, My Command, the author emerged as the only saint while everyone else was a villain. So that silence may not be misconstrued as consent, YO chose to “call out” the pretender and lay his “wickedness out in plain sight” not just as a matter-of-fact plainly setting the records straight but also serving notice to others of his ilk to watch it: Your lies and falsehood will be challenged! Your feet will be held to the fire!
In the Introduction YO stated his purpose: To fill in the gap in “The shortness of our collective memory. We do not only remember very little but we also forget so easily. There is a sort of collective amnesia within us, partly occasioned by overwhelming events which cascade over us dizzyingly”. Morning, they say, shows the day; so the “Introduction” to Watch the Watcher set the tone for the entire book, revisiting our contemporary history and interrogating the roles played by Obasanjo in some very important events. For instance, is it true that Obasanjo, the second-in-command to the then Head of State, Gen. Murtala Muhammed, “was hiding in business mogul, the late S. B. Bakare’s house” during and or after the Bukar Sukar Dimka-led abortive coup that killed Murtala on February 13, 1976? Did Obasanjo have privileged information about the coup? Obasanjo succeeded his assassinated boss as Head of State and three years later in 1979, he made history by voluntarily relinquishing power to a civilian government. Twenty years later (in 1999), the same Obasanjo was back in the saddle, this time, according to YO, “using the blood of Bashorun MKO Abiola as his red carpet” YO bemoaned that “In all his years in the saddle, Obasanjo had the best opportunity to put Nigeria on a sound footing but messed up the chances due to his own many contradictions. It is whenever he leaves office that he suddenly remembers how to do things right. He teaches what he could not practice, even when opportunities abound on a platter”
How many still remember those giddy days of brazen abuse of our fundamental human rights under the Obasanjo military junta when soldiers menacingly brandishing horsewhips were posted to secondary schools nationwide to maintain so-called discipline? I was at Ilesa Grammar School, Ilesa for my Advanced Level studies in 1978 and, like many other students, had brushes with those horsewhip-happy wanton troopers. We may recall that Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, in protest, withdrew his son, Femi, from school. YO said he “detested those ‘Zombies’ carrying horsewhips all over our school” as well as began “at that tender age…to associate his (Obasanjo’s) unkempt looks with the contents of his mind”
The 1978 “Ali Must Go” students’ protest against the commercialization of education in the country got a mention in Watch the Watcher. Many destinies were truncated not only with the pricing of education beyond the reach of many Nigerians but also with the highhandedness visited on lecturers and student leaders’ all over, resulting in avoidable deaths and rustications. YO was a vibrant and vociferous student leader in his days at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
Anyone seeking to understand how Obasanjo deployed a combination of deceit and military tactic of surprise attack to rattle and uproot Afenifere and the Alliance of Democracy in the South-west in the 2003 election should read Watch the Watcher. YO said of Obasanjo: “After the results of his manipulation (of the election) were out, he (Obasanjo) was reported to have (caressed) his rotund tummy, saying, ‘This belly is full of strategy and tactics’”!
YO was hauled into detention after he wrote a scathing critique of Obasanjo in The Guardian newspaper titled “The Owu in Obasanjo”. Another Afenifere chieftain who had a taste of Obasanjo’s legendary vindictiveness was Prince Dayo Adeyeye. According to YO, Adeyeye’s nomination as Minister by the then President Umaru Yar’Adua was truncated by Obasanjo “because he (Adeyeye) had issued uncomplimentary remarks about him (Obasanjo) as an Afenifere member”
In Chapter One of Watch the Watcher titled “The portrait of another patriot”, the declared ancestry and age of Obasanjo were both called into question; a word about his rumoured indiscriminate and undiscriminating promiscuity is also found here; so also his alleged “bitter” hatred for Awo; and an alleged “third term” bid which ended in a fiasco but which Obasanjo has publicly denied. Like he reportedly did not want Awo to be president, Obasanjo also reportedly worked against the presidential aspiration of MKO Abiola. Interestingly, YO described Obasanjo and the vile dictator, Sani Abacha, as two of a kind; “a kindred spirit”, he said, inhabited both. Yet, it was the same Abacha that nearly snuffed life out of Obasanjo, framing him up in a contrived coup and sending him to jail. Varying stories of how Obasanjo survived the harrowing experience which, however, claimed the life of his erstwhile second-in-command, retired Gen. Shehu Yar’Adua, trend in popular culture.
YO must have spoken to the frustration and bitterness of many when he lampooned Obasanjo over the Lagos-Ibadan expressway which he said “is almost done (and) the credit would go to a non-Yoruba man”. It is not just over the Lagos-Ibadan expressway that Obasanjo would forever rue what came over him to have made him lose such a golden opportunity, the same goes – perhaps, even more so – for the Lagos – Abeokuta road that leads to Obasanjo’s home state. Without asking for favours, these are roads that are critical and crucial to the country’s economic well-being. I recall an incident in 2006 when my principal was chasing the presidential ticket of the ruling PDP and we had gone to the palace of a prominent traditional ruler in Ogun State to seek for his blessing. The only request made by Kabiyesi was that my principal, if he succeeded, should extend the Lagos-Ikorodu expressway to Shagamu. Touting how close he thought he was to the then President Olusegun Obasanjo, Kabiyesi said he twice visited Obasanjo to make the request but was flatly turned down on each occasion, once in Abuja and the other at Ota!
Space constraints will not allow us dwell point-by-point on the 262-page Watch the Watcher. Chapter Five of the book contains what other people, including family members and political associates, said about Obasanjo: Obasanjo’s first wife, Oluremi aka Mama Iyabo; Iyabo herself; Gbenga Obasanjo; erstwhile chairman of the PDP, Chief Audu Ogbeh; Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark; Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; erstwhile Senate President Adolphus Wabara; erstwhile EFCC boss, Nuhu Ribadu; stormy petrel and human rights crusader, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, among others.
Regrettably, however, there is one other book Yinka Odumakin was unable to write – the one on Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Those close to YO said he had vowed to write a damning book on Tinubu but death cheated him to it. Why death acted the way it did, only DEATH can tell!