Is Gen. Obasanjo Nigeria’s Marshall Petain? By Remi Oyeyemi No change of circumstances can repair a defect of character. - Ralph Waldo Emerson, (1803 – 1882), American Essayist and Poet - CURRENT NEWS

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Friday, December 31, 2021

Is Gen. Obasanjo Nigeria’s Marshall Petain? By Remi Oyeyemi No change of circumstances can repair a defect of character. - Ralph Waldo Emerson, (1803 – 1882), American Essayist and Poet

Ralph Waldo Emerson, (1803 – 1882), American Essayist and Poet

When former President Olusegun Obasanjo resigned as the Chairman of PDP’s Board of Trustees, the event was considered by analysts as the end of a political era. Some also suggested that it might also signal the sunset on a career that started glowingly but ended with rigmarole. But Obasanjo, being who he is, is yet to conclude what seems to be a solomonic tragedy of a trajectory. Just few days ago, the West African Civil Society had urged the ECOWAS President to save its credibility by ostracizing Obasanjo from monitoring elections. The group insisted that past leaders “with unenviable records and undemocratic antecedents cannot be honoured with the task of supervising a democratic process.”

This suggests that Obasanjo has a permanent defect of character which no circumstance could repair or improve. Thus, once again, there is the necessity to reflect on his role in the Nigeria’s political firmament and juxtapose his place in history. Though, the final chapter in Obasanjo’s salacious story is yet to be written, he seemed to be headed in “Petaineous” direction in History books. Marshall Henry Pillippe Petain was the French military hero who ended up being a villain in French History. General Obasanjo’s story seems sauntering in same direction.

Adored and loved by the French peoples, Petain was a hero who had saved France’s dignity at the Battle of Verdun in World War One. He restored pride to an army on the verge of defeat and turned a potential disaster for France into what some saw as a victory – at least, it was argued, Verdun did not fall to the Germans.

Petain’s reputation among soldiers was that of “a man who cared about the well-being of his men.” In April 1917 when the French army mutinied, Petain was appointed commander-in-chief of the French army to bring forth “healing” rather than “punishment.” He immediately restored morale. In the Summer of 1918, he pushed back the Germans at the Second Battle of the Marne and drove the Germans from France. For his service, he was made Marshal of France on December 8, 1918, in the City of Metz and was invited to attend the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.

Petain furthered his reputation by commanding the force that defeated Abd-el-Krim in Morocco between 1925 and 1926. In 1929, he was appointed Inspector-General of the Army and served as Minister for War between February and November 1934.He retired from the army in 1931 and became the first French ambassador to Franco’s Spain in March 1939. He was re-called to France and appointed Prime Minister on June 16th 1940 - just as France appeared to be on the verge of another military collapse against Nazi Germany. On June 22nd, Petain, to the disappointment of his countrymen, concluded an armistice with the Germans.

The armistice, ratified on July 10, effectively ceded control of the northern and western parts of France to Germany.Petain became "head of state" for the remaining part of France which was governed from Vichy. Petain’s government became a paternalistic Catholic state. His new regime quickly ousted republican administrators, passed anti-Semitic laws, and imprisoned refugees. As a collaborator of Nazi Germany, Petain's France was compelled to aid the Axis Powers in their campaigns.

General Charles André de Gaulle, a former Aide de Camp to General Petain, had argued against an armistice with the Nazis. The collaborationist Vichy government charged de Gaulle with treason and condemned him to death. Unbowed, de Gaulle formed a government-in-exile force, known as the Free French movement to fight the Nazis.

Petain’s armistice and events following it split the French nation.His efforts were seen as treacherous to France. Most French came to loathe him for selling out to Nazi Germany.In September 1944, following the Allied landings in Normandy, Petain and the Vichy government escaped with Nazis to Germany to serve as a government-in-exile.  On April 26, 1945, Petain re-entered France and was taken into custody by De Gaulle's provisional government. He was tried for treason, found guilty and sentenced to death. This was commuted to life imprisonment by De Gaulle. Petain died on July 23, 1951.

Olusegun Obasanjo also a military hero like Petain, became a household name when he was appointed the  GOC Third Marine Commando Division during the Nigerian Civil War (1967- 1970). He led the Division to end the war and accepted surrender of Biafran forces from their leader, General Phillip Effiong, in January 1970. He was appointed Commander, Nigerian Army Engineering Corps and later Federal Commissioner for Works (1970 -1975). He became Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, 1975-1976 after the coup of July 1975.When Murtala Mohammed was assassinated on February 13, 1976, Obasanjo became Head of the Federal Military Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, February 14, 1976 -September 30, 1979 and presided over the transition to civil democratic rule beginning October 1, 1979.

Obasanjo’s role in letting Ibrahim Babangida off the hook in the escape of Major B.S. Dimka who led the assassination of General Mohammed remains the first blot on his image as he began a descent into dissent. His infamous statement in the days leading to the Presidential elections of the 2nd republic – “the best man did not have to win” – remains a most curious and weirdest advice a “statesman” could give his countrymen.

Obasanjo in 1979 by manipulating the rules in the middle of the game, removing a clause, in the middle of the night, from the constitution that prescribed Electoral College to determine a winner, if none of the candidates meet the constitutional requirement in the first ballot was seen by many as a subversion of the Constitution. His indulgence of twelve-two-third abracadabra Mathematics of Richard Akinjide and removal of the Chief Judge of the Federation, Justice Teslim Elias to make way for Justice Fatai Williams in the Supreme Court to carry out a predetermined outcome of the case was another blemish Historians lay at Obasanjo’s feet. Though, he was internationally applauded for at least, handing over to somebody.

Obasanjo was the first ruler in Nigerian history to borrow money when Nigeria did not need it from the IMF. He devalued our currency and destroyed the Nigerian Tertiary Education by taking over the University of Ife, University of Nigeria, University of Benin, and Ahmadu Bello University, to satisfy the demands of IMF and introduced tuition fees. The resistance to his anti–people policy was known in the Nigerian lexicon of infamy as "Ali Must Go" crisis.

Obasanjo promulgated the Land Use Decree No. 6 of1978 and forcibly stole the land from the peoples of Nigeria. This decision was the root of the Bakolori Massacre of peasant farmers in the early 1980s in Sokoto. Obasanjo destroyed Nigeria’s secularism. He personally put Sharia in the 1979 Constitution without consultation and against the wish of the Constitution Drafting Committee.

Like Petain was recalled in1940, Obasanjo was also “recalled” in 1999 to become president. Many were assassinated under his watch. Chief Bola Ige, his friend and Attorney General, was the most prominent one. He ordered the massacre of innocent citizens in Zaki Biam and Odi.In April 2004, Obasanjo doled out Nigerian land and people in Bakassi to a foreign country. Finally he organised the worst elections in Nigerian history in 2003 and worsen this in 2007.

Obasanjo was a hero, who gradually and consistently vitiated the goodwill and love of his own people. Today, he is virulently detested by the majority and seen across the board as a pathological egomaniac with little or no etiquette. In my estimation, his reputation is presently “petaineous.”  But will Obasanjo end up petaineously as in Marshall Petain? Time will tell.

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