Recently, in Ghana, General Obasanjo refreshed his a-social vision. It is an unethical vision for a closed society. He gave us something to chew, but nothing to cheer-rather Obasanjo chilled us completely. This is the Obasanjo story.
General Mr. Obasanjo was at the head of the ECOWAS monitoring team in the recent Ghanaian election. First, when he was addressed as General (which he is) and asked if he was a dictator, he said in Nigeria his enemies and opponents call him General, while he sees himself as a Chief or perhaps simply Mr. Unknown to him, he seemed to be saying that while he thought he had accepted democratic ethics, the Nigerian society thought otherwise. By addressing him by his first calling-“General” and the ethics that implies for Obasanjo’s politics, the society is telling him he is still steeped in military command and obey ethics.
General Obasanjo has the capacity of saying the truth and at the same time trivializing it for effect. He is the master dissembler. He knows it is true that he has not accepted democratic ethics and therefore he is a consistent opponent of the open society. Yet he wants to trivialize it by dissembling that truth.
I recall a chance meeting a friend of mine had with him during the defense by Nigerian people of the June 12 1993 elections won by Mr. Moshood Abiola. One of Nigeria’s weekly news magazines, TheNews, had just exposed how the sitting military Generals under the then head of state General Ibrahim Babangida, aborted the June 12 elections, and, my friend had this chance meeting with General Mr. Obasanjo in Kaduna, Northern Nigeria. The detail exposure in the democratic press jolted the military conspirators against June 12. It exposed the long night of the long knives against June 12 by the military conspirators. On sighting my friend, Mr. Obasanjo (he must have forgotten) said “eh you again, you people, you just hit, hit hit gbam gbam, you do not know that you have to do it little by little, and guide the bull in the China shop away …”
In public, Mr. Obasanjo had given the impression of being an unwavering “democrat”. But here he was chastising the media-through my colleague – for the media’s direct challenge (through the detail press exposure of their betrayal) to the conspirators, the negators of June 12. Perhaps “doing it little by little” was to allow the “authority”-IBB, the Generals and their co-conspirators- “supervise” a democratic process and eventually to ambush and negate it, as they eventually did with Mr. Abiola’s June 12 1993 democratic and electoral mandate.
So, General Obasanjo’s Ghanaian declaration against the open society has antecedents. Perhaps he was saying then in 1993 during the defense of the June 12 mandate by the media and the people that Nigerian people and the media have “right” to information but not freedom. My friend, who directly bore the grunt and brunt of General Obasanjo’s salvo against democracy, is still very active in the public square. He is a living witness to this story.
The media exposure of the military conspirators against June 12 as a component of the Nigerian peoples’ resistance was what General Mr. Obasanjo wanted us to do “little by little”. That story was one of the fore parents and what triggered what came later to be known as the underground press in Nigeria–one of the major tools of Nigerian working people in their resistance of Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abacha’s military dictatorships and defense of June 12, 1993 democratic mandate.
Thus, in the aftermath of the Ghanaian election, Mr. Obasanjo asserted that he believed in the right to information and not freedom of information. He re-echoed what he did in the June 12,1993 democratic process in Nigeria and his covert unethical role in that process when he said “M.K.O Abiola was not the messiah Nigerians were looking for.” Those are General Obasanjo’s words. General Obasanjo forgot that election is about people’s freedom, it is not about a military General’s definition of a messiah for the people. In other words, General Obasanjo is suggesting that there has to be a “guardian” of democracy and he sees himself as the military guardian of our democracy. Unfortunately, he is not, he cannot be, he does not possess democratic credentials, he has never shown them. Therefore, he cannot be a guardian of democracy for by his words and actions he is an opponent of the open society.
So when on the basis of his untenable distinction between “right” to information and freedom of information, he concluded that the result of the Ghanaian election ought not be directly relayed by journalists but that journalists should rely on the official announcement from the electoral body, General Obasanjo’s connected himself back to his tale of “doing it little by little” which was an immoral frame for the termination and burial of the 1993 June 12 election in Nigeria by the military dictatorship, and their supporters like himself.
“Doing it little by little” simply means “Do Not tell the truth, truth scares, let us guide and gag the truth, let us water it down a bit until it becomes useless.” With this, one understands why all the elections Mr. Obasanjo had supervised or involved in from the infamous twelve two third in 1979 when he said about Mr. Obafemi Awolowo’s candidacy in the election, and I quote “the best candidate needs not win”, and his own election and re-election -all these “elections” can reasonably be declared moral fraud against our freedom. This is based on Obasanjo’s “thesis” of “doing it little by little” sacrifice of merit for personal undemocratic causes framed in terms of “best candidate needs not win”, and his Ghanaian empirical frame of subordinating freedom of information to “right” of information.
By the singular act of drawing a morally questionable distinction between “right” (which can be suspended) to information and freedom(which define our humanity and therefore cannot be suspended) of information, General Obasanjo declared himself an enemy of the open society. As Wole Soyinka correctly argued, “freedom is the first condition of humanity.” In other words, contrary to General Obasanjo, and in view of Soyinka, freedom co-exists with and is inseparable from humanity. So to take one’s freedom away by subordinating it to a tenuous “right” that is waiting to be determined and “guaranteed” (and therefore can be withdrawn by the fiat of a dictator-whether military or “civilianized”) is to negate one’s humanity, it is to take one’s humanity away.
This is a straightforward reasoning which a military politician like General Obasanjo will never accept. This is evident in 1979 when he openly worked against Awolowo when he, General Obasanjo, saying the best candidate (in other words General Obasanjo thought and knew that Awolowo was the best candidate for Nigeria in the 1979 elections but that he would work against him) for the presidential election needed not win and in the June 12 1993 elections when he said ‘Abiola is not the messiah we are looking for” and hence covertly and by deliberate act of omission worked against the June 12 1993 democratic mandate freely given by Nigerians. It was that mindset that he took into the 2012 Ghanaian presidential elections when he argued against freedom of information in favor of a vague, woolly and ill-defined “right” of information. General Obasanjo can logically be said to be an enemy of the open society in Nigeria, in West Africa and in Africa generally.
But the social and political credentials of Nigeria’s democracy are richer and more profound and they are qualitatively different and beyond General Obasanjo. Those credentials are products of the works of Nigerian working people. Thus General Obasanjo is not the face of Nigerian democracy and his democratic credentials are not morally worthy to be treated as such by the international community.
In our next presidential elections, contrary to General Obasanjo’s military democracy of “doing little by little” Nigerians must go against General Obasanjo and the press must report the results of the elections as they are announced directly from the polling booths as it is done in civilized societies. This is the way to build a respectable Nigerian democracy. This is the honourable path. It is the ethical path.
Adeolu Ademoyo (firstname.lastname@example.org) is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.