Four men were gathered around the table, each of them reeking of power, affluence and influence.
“Gentlemen, I thank you for coming to my meeting,” President Goodluck Jonathan said. “I know the notice was short, but Patience insisted that I should call you. And Oronto agreed with her.”
Olusegun Obasanjo shuffled impatiently in his seat, tossing the bulbous left arm of his agbada over his shoulder. “This is what I don’t understand,” he said in his accustomed drawl. “Do you have to conduct the affairs of State according to the wishes of a woman?”
The other two men looked away as Jonathan’s gaze of embarrassment came around. “No, Baba, she is more than a woman. She is always right. She is more of a man. I mean, she is so intelligent she is now a Permanent Secretary.”
As Obasanjo moved to say something, Bamanga Tukur cleared his throat. “Gentlemen, the important thing is we are here, to work in the best interest of the party, to make sure we don’t lose any ground to those people who call themselves All Progressives Congress. I have promised to dribble them like Messi, hahaha…” he laughed.
Obasanjo caught him off. “I was wondering why you said that. I know you were never a soldier. But if your best weapon is a rifle, do you broadcast that to the opponent before the start of a battle?”
“But the fear of Messi…”
“Messi, my foot! Why can’t you wait until Messi has scored two or three times? Or for eight or nine years? Why did your Messi not dribble in Edo State, where we lost disastrously and a common Labour leader made our party look like Boy Scouts?”
That was when Tony Anenih began to rise to his feet. “I knew you were going to start attacking me. I know you…”
Jonathan put his hand on that of Anenih, who was sitting to his right, restraining him. Anenih sat down, but he continued to speak across the table at Obasanjo. “I knew you could not resist the temptation to…”
Obasanjo burst into laughter. “I was not even thinking about you,” he said to Anenih, gesturing towards Tukur. “I was talking to Messi here. He wants to dribble somebody, but he can barely walk without help. Come to think of you, where were you two dribblers, Maradona and Messi, when we were being disgraced in Falklands…I mean, Edo? And now you want a third term!” He had turned to Jonathan.
The three other men looked at each other; then they glared at Obasanjo. “Third term?” they said in unison.
Then, Jonathan, by himself, repeated: “Third term? You were the one who wanted third term in 1999!”
“That is not true,” Obasanjo retorted, banging on the table. “In 1999, I contested for my first term. I know people doubt whether you really have a Ph.D, but sometimes I even doubt whether you wrote your WAEC by yourself: you speak a funny English and reason like a market woman.”
“Sorry Baba, I meant in 2006,” Jonathan said, appearing to be deep in thought.
“I said, ‘Not true!’ In 2006 I merely expressed interest in the extension of my ongoing term to enable me finish some work. That was no third term. I was not going to run for another term.”
Jonathan’s brow appeared tortured by thought. He was grinding his teeth. “Okay,” he said, finally. “But what were you going to finish, Baba? I thought you had done everything. You gave contracts for roads and agriculture and defence. You set up EFCC. You helped Anenih with his N300 billion problem. I think you helped most Nigerians.”
Anenih’s eyes were blazing with anger as he looked at Jonathan, and once again he began to rise from his seat. But Obasanjo would not let him speak. “Yes,” the former President said. “I did help a lot of people in 2006, especially you. I helped you after the Joint Task Force recommended you for prosecution by the CCB for false declaration of assets. But I pre-empted that and made you Vice-President!”
“But nothing!” Obasanjo shouted. “You even recently said you are struggling to build your house in your village. All these make you look bad, and make me look terrible because when you were indicted, the evidence included choice property in Yenagoa and Abuja, as well as a lavish seven-bedroom duplex in Otuoke as far back as 2001 that we never took back from you. How can you in 2013 as President say you are struggling to build a house in the same village? Does the house include a staircase to heaven?”
“Baba, it is just a…”
“You must understand why I am angry. Last year, you said in an interview, ‘When I hear people saying corruption, corruption, I shake my head…’ Do you think I did not know you were talking about me?”
Tukur, alarmed as the meeting ran out of control, raised his hand, like a kindergarten kid about to ask a question in a noisy class. But Obasanjo ignored him.
“Look at the people you have surrounded yourself with!” he screamed, pointing at Tukur and Anenih. “People like Doyin Okupe,” he said. “You dig out relics and make them kings. Can Mr. Fix-It, who lost the election in his own hometown, Uromi, to fix a hole in his own pocket, talk less of Abuja? The man has expired, but first you make him chairman of the Port Authority, and then of the BoT. Why don’t you just make him chairman of the presidency?”
“I am the chairman of two powerful offices because the entire country trusts me and is depending on me!” Anenih said, scratching his head.
“They trust you? Name one person who trusts you…and do not mention Josephine, because I will call her right now!”
Anenih was struggling with his temper. “You cannot telephone my wife,” he grumbled, his voice dropping.
“Try me!” he challenged. “I can even call Patience from here, except that I do not understand her English. You have to admit, all of you, that in all those years it was I who made the party and the government workable and feared. But now, nobody respects us. And APC is coming for us.”
The three other men exchanged glances and spoke across the table. “We respect you, Baba,” they intoned. Of course we respect you.”
And then Anenih found fresh courage. “But you must respect us too. We are not children.”
“Yes, nobody is a child,” Jonathan said.
“Sometimes you are all worse than children,” Obasanjo said. “Chaos in the national chairman’s home State. In Bayelsa, even the president’s kinsmen are criticizing him for granting pardon to a man convicted for corruption. And then you outdo yourself by challenging the Americans and the British to a wrestling match!”
“But your own people in Ogun criticized you too,” Jonathan said. “Your daughter jumped a fence running from EFCC. You lost elections.”
“Yes. But I never scored an own goal. And my team never lost when I was on the pitch. You don’t even have an economic plan.”
“I don’t need one. I have Ngozi.”
“True, she is more than a plan, she is a miracle,” Obasanjo sneered. “Don’t forget you have Diezani too. Do you think it was by coincidence I was my own Minister for Petroleum Resources for eight years?”
Tukur took off his hat and laid it on the table. It was suddenly very hot. “Gentlemen, please let us return to the agenda for this meeting. Our great party is under serious threat.”
Anenih nodded. “And we can start to rebuild the party from this very table,” he said. “The foundation of this problem is the threat to the structure of PDP.”
Tukur nodded. “We must support the national executive,” he said. “We must allow the executive to function as the party’s most powerful body.”
“No, no, no,” Anenih said. “That is a gross misunderstanding. The national executive does as it is told by the BoT. We cannot go forward by going back. The tail does not wag the dog. The NEC and the Presidency are guided and led by the BoT.”
“Yes, that is true!” cried Mr. Jonathan, as if snapping out of a stupor, and then, “No, that is not!! As President, I am in charge.”
Obasanjo rose to his feet, gathering his papers. “What you have all said, and the mess you have made of the party, is proof of my point. Without me you are lost. I want you all to go back and re-examine whether you want to succeed or fail. And remember that failure means that some people here may well go to jail. F-A-I-L, J-A-I-L, everyone should memorize that. But I have to be in control. You have to sort out who is responsible to whom. The one at the top will answer to me in my new role as BoT Chairman Emeritus!”
- Sonala Olumhense