Musikilu Mojeed, the editor-in-chief of PREMIUM TIMES and author of “The Letterman: Inside the ‘Secret’ Letters of Former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo,” has revealed the inspiration behind the book.
The 492-page book, released in December 2022, examines the role of letter writing in leadership, governance and politics.
Mr Mojeed said he was fascinated by the documentation culture and the content of letters written by the ex-President.
He revealed this at the CORA (Committee of Relevant Arts) Book Trek, held at the RovingHeights bookstore at the Landmark Event Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, on Sunday.
The fortnightly event was attended by CORA officials, including Jahman Anikulapo and Toyin Akinosho, book lovers, journalists, and other distinguished guests.
The award-winning Nigerian poet, Odia Ofeimun, also attended the event while other distinguished guests followed the reading and interacted with the author via Zoom.
Speaking of his experience writing The Letterman, the author recalled visiting the former president to discuss a report on the late Buruji Kashamu. The deceased was Mr Obasanjo’s political-associate-turned-enemy.
Mr Mojeed said it was while touring the ex-president’s then-newly built library that he chanced on his trove of letters.
He recalled, “I asked him about the state of the library he was building; the library was just being completed, and he offered me a tour of the library. As we went around the library, I saw lots of books, documents and and I saw boxes with letters.
“They were labelled letters to Heads of state, letters to former heads of state, they were all properly labelled since they were preparing to open the Library, so they were preparing all those documents.”
Mr Mojeed, who initially set out to produce exclusive stories from the letters he came across, had to exit the archive that day because his host suddenly left the building. He then decided he would return to interact more closely with the letters.
“It took me a long time to go back, but when I returned, I said I would spend a day but ended up staying three days in Abeokuta, and I saw it was much more than writing a news story; it was something one needed to work on extensively into a book.”
At this point, the author said he did not inform the ex-president of his intention of writing the book and cited reasons.
“You know, I didn’t discuss with him about writing the book because, as most of us know, Obasanjo likes to write his own stories because he wants to control the narratives, and there is nothing you want to write about Obasanjo he hasn’t written himself.”
“I felt that if I mentioned to him the Idea I had about the book, he would tell me no, and I would not have access anymore, so I went ahead to write and publish the book and took copies to him after I was done.”
The author went on to read some of the letters he included in the book, most of which contained and expressed the ex-President’s thoughts and ideologies on domestic policies, politics and diplomacy.
The Letterman, Obasanjo, and consistency
During the interactive session, an audience member asked if all the claims contained in the letters could be considered to be gospel truth.
Responding, The Letterman author explained that the debate regarding the truth or untruth of claims made by Mr Obasanjo in his letters is an interesting one and that was why he contextualised almost all the events referred to in the letters.
He said factchecking the claims in the letters would need additional work.
“Regarding if the things Obasanjo wrote in his letters are all true, remains questionable, even in the letter he wrote to Jonathan, he did not provide evidence about the snipers he alleged Jonathan was going to use. Maybe he did have the evidence and withheld it but we would not know.”
“This is not a book to state if Obasanjo is a good person or a bad person, it is not a book to say if his letters are true or not, neither is it to say he is a better character than the people he wrote about. I tried as much as possible to put these letters in perspective.”
When another audience member asked if the letters contained in the The Letterman were duly written by the President and not his aides, the author highlighted the pattern of consistency he noticed when analysing the letters.
He said “I’m not a linguist but the language of the letters appeared to be consistent. Maybe if you do a stylistic analysis you might find inconsistencies but if you follow Obasanjo’s letters and the way he speaks, his letters usually read his thoughts. Of course, that is not enough to claim he wrote all the letters himself.”
The author, however, added that the letters he saw spanned different years and stages of the ex-president’s life.
“The letters that I saw were letters he wrote when he was at the war front, head of state and even past that. Would we say he had the same people writing for him all that time? That’s difficult to say.”
The Letterman, a captivating non fiction, has been widely received by book lovers interested in Nigeria’s political history.
The likes of Matthew Kukah (catholic bishop of Sokoto), Emeka Anyaoku (former Commonwealth secretary-general), Toyin Falola (well-regarded professor of history), and Kadaria Ahmed (founder of Radio Now) gave The Letterman rave reviews.
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