Here I am, comfortably seated in front of him; right in front of one of the most powerful men in Africa. He’s a man of many names and many parts. His name is Chief Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo, popularly called OBJ.
Yes, he has many names. But call him whatever you like, ranging from Ebora Owu to Uncle Segun, the fact remains that this man is very powerful not only in Africa, but across the world. And I consider myself blessed to be sitting here right now, having a personal and friendly discussion with him.
The atmosphere is so pleasant, and this old man is very warm. Contrary to what you read about him in the papers, the man sitting before me is so simple and down to earth. What a charismatic character he is. Now I believe what he said to a lady reporter recently when she enquired why he appeared to have a special affection for women. In response, OBJ asked the reporter to find out from the women themselves because he too didn’t know why they actually run after him. Maybe his warmth is one of the reasons. Women enjoy that, so they must be truly running after him as he said.
One of his Personal Assistants walks into the room to interrupt my joyful discussion with this great man. He announces, “His Excellency is on the line, Sir.”
“On which line?” OBJ asks.
“Line one, Sir.”
He hurriedly picks up one of the six phones on his desk and starts talking. I had initially thought his PA actually meant President Goodluck Jonathan, but as the phone discussion progresses, it is getting clearer to me that the President of one of the South American countries is at the other end of the phone with OBJ.
I’ve made an attempt to excuse myself out of the room to avoid listening to his phone conversation, but OBJ had simply motioned me to stay. He seems not to be bothered.
I don’t know if it’s right for me to tell you about his phone conversation, but I think I can just hint you, hoping that he won’t be crossed with me if he gets to read this article. Guess what (and do not say I told you ooo), these two leaders are talking about the 2012 London Olympics Games. Surprised? I am too. Thought they said this baba doesn’t love sports. Well, I know he is a squash player. But look at the passion with which he’s discussing soccer. Come on! This baba is something else.
A servant walks in. He’s carrying a tray containing a bottle of Maltina, a bottle of water, and two saucers with groundnuts, kolanuts, and bitter kolas. He places the tray on the table before us.
“Yes, don’t worry, Mr. President, I will call her when I’m through with my guest who is still here with me.” OBJ says on the phone.
Call who? Going by what he has been saying on the phone, I think he’s referring to the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. And did I hear him right? Yes, I did. He called me his “guest!” Oh ooo, lucky me, my head is spinning already. So soothing to be a guest of the former president of a great nation – Nigeria.
I’m sure you must be wondering about what brought me before baba today. It was actually a chance meeting. If anyone had predicted a few hours ago that I would be sitting here with OBJ this very moment, I would have accused such person of suffering from hallucination. But it has happened, and it is happening now.
‘Tell me how you met him,’ you must be thinking. You are getting impatient.
Well, bee lan bi ni o. Na so them they ask person.
It’s a simple story. You see, my church has a special annual festival that takes place every December. We call it Jesus Carnival. Every year, people from all walks of life assemble at the church’s praying ground for a week to praise and pray to God. During this carnival, the church provides free food and accommodation for everyone that attends. It is one big occasion that everyone looks forward to.
This carnival takes place on a large expanse of land located outside Lagos, far from where our main church auditorium is. It has to be so because there is no way the church auditorium can contain the crowd. The praying ground is in a town called Ajegunle on the way to Ilaro in Ogun state of Nigeria. It is also close to another town called Ibogun.
Let me give you a brief description. From Lagos, head for Abeokuta. But do not take Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Use the good old Lagos-Abeokuta road which takes you through Sango Otta and Ifo. Yes, that same road that Winners Chapel church members pass through to their Canaan land Headquarter.
Great. Continue to advance as if you’re going to Abeokuta. You will then get to a junction called Papalanto. Here you will find people selling and buying different types of food items such as yams, plantain, sugar canes etc. The road to your right takes you to Ibadan Expressway. In front of you is a clear view of Lafarge WAPCO factory. And the road to your left goes to Ilaro. That is the road to Ajegunle too. Shortly before getting to Ilaro is the small Ajegunle town. That is where my church’s prayer ground is.
That Ajegunle town and the notable Ibogun town are neighbors. They are just about two kilometers or so away from each other. And here is the catch: OBJ is a native of Ibogun and he has a large farm there. If you blow a whistle on our praying ground, Obasanjo would hear you clearly in his farm at Ibogun.
As a member of the Jesus Carnival Planning Committee, I have been assigned the responsibility of obtaining a Police Permit for the event from Ibogun police station. Having booked an appointment with the DPO earlier in the day, I had hopped into my car and headed straight for the station.
Shortly after entering Ibogun territory are long brick walls covering Obasanjo’s farm. The walls are so tall that you won’t be able to see what is inside. But you can see tall trees and hear the sound of chicken and other animals that are behind those walls. The farm is really big; judging by the length of the walls surrounding it.
Anyway, as I was just a few meters away from the main gate leading to the farm, I had a call of nature. I needed to empty my bladder. It was not too difficult for me to locate a comfortable place to do so. I parked the car, came out, and walked through a narrow bush path – careful not to go far off the the main road.
As I battled with my jeans trouser zip, struggling to fish out my pipe, thoughts flashed through my mind. ‘What if something should happen to me here? Everywhere is so quiet. No car is going in or coming out of the town right now. Maybe I should have waited till I get to the police station. At least the DPO would be happy to let me use his toilet. But for me to wee-wee in a police station? Hmm, that doesn’t sound like a great idea. I better be fast. This road may be dangerous, I don’t know.’
“Se o mo‘ye t’angba fun ito nilu yi ooo?” A voice startled me in Yoruba language. What the voice said literally means, “Hope you know how much we charge anyone urinating here in this town.”
I quickly zipped up. Whose voice is that? Could that be a spirit or something? I was scared. I wanted to run back to the car. Oh my! The pipe became weak straightway. The urine rushed back inside. Yes, my bladder remained full, but no discomfort was felt any longer. There was only one thought in my mind – ‘run for your life!’
Then I heard some sound nearby. The bushes moved, there were some ruffling, and I could sight an elderly man doing exactly what I had wanted to do. He was urinating!
The man laughed heartily. He was amused by the speed with which I had zipped up. But I could not see his face clearly. The bush was partly covering him.
Hearing him laugh from under the bush made me feel a little bit embarrassed. As if that was not enough, he added, “Aaa aah, mo ti s’eru ba e, abi?” Meaning: “I have scared you; right?”
“Aaa, baba, e s’eru ba mi o. Ito ti salo kiakia. Yes, baba, you really scared me. My urine has quickly disappeared.” I responded.
“Hun hunn huuuunnn” The man cleared his throat, shook his ‘weapon,’ tucked it back in, and gently tied his sokoto trouser.
He walked out of the bush to the main road. And I did the same.
It was then, only then, did I see his face clearly. It was OBJ!
I was dumbfounded and stupefied.
“Aah, aaah, ah, ojo l’eyin omo aiye isinyi?” He said jokingly in Yoruba. This simply means, “You children of these days are cowards.”
He walked close to me and patted my shoulder. Immediately, I went straight on ground, prostrating for him full length.
“O k’are omo daadaa. Ki l’oruko e?”
I told him my name.
That was how it all started. It became a kind of interview session on the road. He wanted to know my home town, my father’s name, my occupation, my mission to his town etc. He was so inquisitive.
When he learned that I had come to see the DPO, he said, again in Yoruba, “O sheshe k’oja nisin yi ni o. O l’o n’fe yara ri Oba Ilaro.” This means: “He just left a while ago. He said he was going to see the King of Ilaro.”
‘So this man knows the DPO’s whereabouts!’ I thought.
“Come with me into the farm,” he had continued. “Come and wait for him. He will soon return from Ilaro. We can be discussing till he returns. I’m happy to see you because we don’t see you Lagosians quite often around here.”
I was perplexed. He grabbed my right hand and led me gently towards the gate like an excited explorer who wanted to eagerly show his findings to his little child.
OBJ instructed one of the workers to drive my car into the compound and the two of us walked side by side. We passed through the gates to enter into a very large compound containing various kinds of farm equipment. There were also men and women in farm uniforms moving up and down, curtsying and greeting OBJ as we walked past them.
As we moved deeper into the heart of the farm, I kept asking myself if the place was actually a farm or a village. There were activities everywhere. I counted more than fifty buildings of different shapes, and I’m sure people are living in those houses, permanently.
It was quite a long walk from the main gate and, honestly, I made frantic efforts to keep with OBJ’s pace. Oh, my God, this man is just too fast. Was he really walking? I think he was actually rolling like a fast ball! At a point, I stole a quick look at him and another funny thought crossed my mind, ‘How could this old man walk so fast with this big belly of his?’
All the way through, he held my hand and you would have bet we had known each other for long. And did he stop talking as we walked to the main house in the middle of the farm? No way. As the workers greeted, he would respond in Yoruba. You would hear him say something like, “Nle o. Aburo e nko? Boo l’ara omo ee?” Or “Yinka, n’ibo n’iwo ti wa lati ‘jo yi?” He has this special rapport with his workers!
Mind you, he didn’t wait for anyone of them to respond. He kept moving, and any worker who wanted to give a response to his statement would continue to chase after him; answering OBJ’s questions as he did so.
It was a very exciting scene all the way here from the main gate. I can see a man who is totally in control, and well respected within the farm. This man remains the president here.
I was also stunned by the fact that OBJ seemed to know each worker by his/her first name. And he showed concern for them and their family members; at least judging by the personal questions he was asking them as we walked down to this house.
Finally, we came into this house that looks very much like a palace. ‘How could a beautiful house like this be in the middle of a farm?’ I marveled as we entered some few minutes ago.
OBJ had led me into this very large room which he calls his “Review Room.” According to him, this is where he meets with his farm managers to take decisions on chickens, pigs and tolotolo (i.e. turkeys). He equally entertains important guests here. I feel so much honoured.
This room is large but simple. No television. No radio. No computer. No refrigerator. But there are bookshelves and artworks everywhere. Could this be that popular Obasanjo Library? No, we are in his Ibogun farm. The library is not located in this town. But what’s he doing with so many books inside a farm of this nature? A closer look at one of the bookshelves behind me had explained the reasons to me earlier. The shelf contains various books on animal farming, crops, whether, soil etc. ‘Na wa o.’
Immediately we entered the room, OBJ had walked briskly to a large desk at the left-hand corner. That’s his working desk. A huge black reclining chair stands behind the desk. It is surely made for a huge man like him.
He pressed one of the red buttons on his desk and a man ran into the room almost immediately. The man was about 50 years old. Short and sharp-looking. Maybe he was also an old soldier. He looked pretty much like one.
“Meet my friend,” Obasanjo said in a command-like tone. “I want you to make him comfortable. He has come to see the DPO but I’ve hijacked him. He’s my guest for the next hour or so.”
The short man greeted me and requested for what I would like to drink.
“Look at you!” OBJ echoed, “Is that what I sent you?”
The short man tried to explain that he wanted to take my drinks order first.
“No! Go and prepare hot pounded yam for him. My guest is from Osun. They like pounded yam in that part of our country. Give him a combination of Egusi and Efo riro. You can kill one tolotolo (turkey) for him.”
‘Me? Kill a whole tolotolo for me? I’m in trouble today. Truly, aiye oko, aiye a je r’orun ni.’ I thought as he gave the order.
The short man had made for the door hastily. He was eager to prepare the food. OBJ did not even give me the chance to make a choice. It was an order to the short man. How did baba know that I like pounded yam? He was right sha. It’s one of my favorite dishes.
As the man reached the door, OBJ called him back again. Yeee, this baba is so restless.
“Have you eating?” he asked the short man.
“Yes sir. Mo ti jeun sa.” The man responded.
“O ya, se ore mi ti so ohun t’o fe mu?” Meaning: “Has my friend told you what he wants to drink?” Me, OBJ’s friend? Interesting!
Now I know that OBJ is truly an enigma. Was that not what the man first asked me before he commanded him to go and prepare pounded yam? Now, he was also asking if the man himself had eaten!
When the short man had taken my drink order, OBJ asked him to bring water for him too, and told him that both of us would eat the pounded yam.
“Emi na mo‘yan je ke. I also know how to eat pounded yam,” he said, laughing heartedly.
That was the exact point at which the PA had entered the room to alert him of the telephone call; which he seemed to have been expecting.
“Okay, Your Excellency. I will call you next week for further discussion,” he says as he ends the call.
Thank God. The phone conversation has finally ended. How many minutes has he spent on the phone? Fifteen, I think.
“Gebuuuuuu!” he roars. That must be the short form for Gabriel.
“Yes, sir” a voice answers from the kitchen. That’s the short man’s voice.
“Iyan na daaaaaa?” That is: “Where is the pounded yam?”
OBJ’s workers must be so used to him. How could pounded yam, egusi, efo riro, and tolotolo dish be ready that fast? I wonder. Now I can see that once a general is always a general. This baba commands. He wants everything instantaneously.
OBJ walks towards one of the shelves and brings out a book. He hands it over to me. I take a quick look. Yes, it’s his book titled My Command. He sits down next to me and starts telling me everything in the book. It’s an account of his civil war days. The expression on his face changes as he moves from one part of the book to the other.
“Now you can see why I will NEVER allow anybody to break our country. We must remain one.” He emphasizes the word “Never.”
I now feel so comfortable with him. In fact, I like him. This baba is so intelligent.
“There is another thing I must tell you about this country,” he says.
“What’s that, sir?”
He goes ahead to tell me about so many things, not just one. As I’m listening, I am trying to record his words of wisdom. But there is no way I can write everything down.
One thing strikes me though. This baba loves Nigeria like his bride. In fact, the way he’s talking, he seems to see the country as his “baby.” Maybe he even loves his country to a fault. How I wish everyone is like him.
But why do people often criticize baba if he’s this much in love with the country? I think that’s where the contradiction is. And, again, it is not everything that the Press says about people that is quite accurate.
Every attempt I have made so far to divert his attention from national issues has been unsuccessful. Does he ever think of something else? Let me try again.
“Daddy, can I ask you a personal question, sir?” I must just divert his attention.
“O ya now. Go on!”
“Is it true that you have so many women in your life?”
He laughs again, clears his throat, removes his glasses, and gently scratches his chin.
“Eeh eee? So you are one of those people who carry iborun about my love life?” He replies amusingly.
“No, sir. I’m just curious about all that I’ve read in the dailies.”
“Well, I will answer you with another question.”
“No problem, sir.”
“Tell me, is there anything wrong with a man having many women? Mind you, your question is about wives ooo, not mistresses!”
We both burst out in laughter. But he has not answered my question.
“Does that mean you truly have many in your kitty, sir.”
“O daa, mo ti gbo, now tell me the name of any woman that has come to complain to you that Obasanjo treated her badly.”
I am silent.
“O pari. If you can’t tell me, I, Aremu, Okikiola, too won’t answer you. Ko ju bee lo, two ge four.”
“Okay sir; let’s talk about your farms, then.”
I can now see excitement at its best. See how radiant the man’s face has suddenly become. It’s as if I have ignited fire inside baba’s big tummy. Imagine how he has suddenly changed on hearing the word “farms.” He must be so obsessive with the subject.
I don’t have to wait for long to know his answer.
“Omo, you have just opened a tap, and it will be difficult for you to close it. I am going to tell you everything about farming and my farms. Se o gbonju ba orin ti won ma n ko l’awon ile iwe wa igba yen?”
He wants to know if I was old enough to meet one of the commonest songs in the primary schools of those days.
“Ewo ni yen sir?” I want to know the exact song he’s referring to.
Oh my God. He stands up. He’s now clapping and singing. What a funny old man I am meeting this afternoon.
“Ise agbe, ise ile wa, eni ko si se, a ma jale. Iwe kiko, lai si oko, ati ada, koi pe o, ko i pe oooooo…”
“Do you know the song?”
“Yes, sir,” I answer, laughing loudly.
“O ya, stand up and let’s sing together now ooo. Abi you don’t believe the wordings?”
“I believe, sir.”
“O ya, dide jare…Ise agbe, ise ile e waa, eni ko sise, a ma a ja’le…”
“Good boy. Ori e pe o jare, omo daadaa.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Now, I want us to sing the song in English.”
“Yes, ke. Can’t you? O daa, don’t worry, I will guide you.”
“Now let’s go… farming is the work for our father land, whoever does not work will surely steal. Education without hoes and cutlasses is incomplete oo, incomplete ooooooo.”
We both laugh as we landed hard on the couch.
What an interesting baba. I think it is true that elderly people end up becoming little children as they grow old. See what the two of us are doing here, for Christ sake!
“You know what?”
“Nigeria is so blessed.”
There we go again… Nigeria, Nigeria, Nigeria…all the time.
“I will start my epistle about farming by first talking about our country, our land, our forests, our weather conditions, and so forth. If I don’t take that route, it would be difficult for you to understand farming proper.”
“I’m with you, sir.”
A phone rings. It’s OBJ’s cell phone. He reaches for the pocket of his buba dress. He brings out the phone. It is still ringing. It is a slide phone. He checks the screen to confirm who is calling. He appears not to be in a hurry to answer the phone as he continues to educate me on farming.
The sound is now becoming too uncomfortable for me. Why doesn’t he want to pick this call? Who could the caller be? Is it one of his women?
Oh, my phone is ringing too. What a coincidence!
I reach for my pocket. I can feel the vibration of the phone in my hand. All I want to do is switch it off, or put it on silent mode. I can’t pick up a call in the presence of my past president. It would be disrespectful. I can’t. He can.
My eyes are gradually opening. His phone has stopped ringing. Mine is still blaring. I am struggling hard to fish it out of my jeans pocket.
Where am I?
Oh my God! My phone is actually ringing. I left it on my bedside table last night.
I’m awake; fully awake now. Jesus Christ of Nazareth. So I have been dreaming!
Why on earth did this intruding phone wake me up from that sweet dream?
OBJ? I was his guest? Ala ma go oooo. Yes, that’s what they say; “dreams are unintelligent and deceptive”
But it isn’t all dreams that are not intelligent. Some do come to pass in a way. Will this come true?