By Azuka Onwuka
Over the weekend, Senator Buruji Kashamu, a member of the 8th National Assembly (between 2015 and 2019), reportedly died of complications from COVID-19. As usual, condolence messages poured in. However, the condolence message from Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, former president of Nigeria, to Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State over the death became the talking point because of its wording.
The condolence message of Obasanjo read as follows: “I received the sad news of the demise of Senator Esho Jinadu (Buruji Kashmu), a significant citizen of Ogun State. Please accept my condolence and that of my family on the irreparable loss.
“The life and history of the departed have lessons for those of us on this side of the veil. Senator Esho Jinadu (Buruji Kashmu) in his lifetime used the manoeuvre of law and politics to escape from facing justice on alleged criminal offence in Nigeria and outside Nigeria. But no legal, political, cultural, social or even medical manoeuvre could stop the cold hands of death when the Creator of all of us decides that the time is up.
“May Allah forgive his sin and accept his soul into Aljanah, and may God grant his family and friends fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.”
Some have argued that Obasanjo, as an elder, chose to speak the truth in his condolence message rather than give the usual coated message said about the dead. But was Obasanjo’s condolence message truly about the truth?
Given what is known by many about the former President as a man who rarely forgives nor forgets, it will be naive of anybody to assume that Obasanjo was motivated by the need to speak the truth about Kashamu. He was clearly settling political scores with Kashamu. The late former senator was a political associate of Obasanjo, who worked with the former President in the power tussle between Obasanjo and then incumbent Governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel. Obasanjo and Kashamu ensured that the favoured candidate of Daniel (Prince Gboyega Isiaka) did not emerge the PDP’s governorship candidate for Ogun State in 2011. Daniel’s loyalists eventually left the PDP for the small Peoples Party of Nigeria (PPN). Obasanjo and Kashamu also worked together in Ogun State to make Goodluck Jonathan emerge president in 2011. But shortly afterwards, both fell apart over the control of the PDP in Ogun State, leading to the emergence of two PDP factions, each loyal to one of them.
The two PDP factions were engaged in a legal tussle. But the national body of the PDP leaned towards the Kashamu faction and he had the upper hand over Obasanjo. He even emerged a senator in the 2015 elections. Before then, Obasanjo had sent a three-paragraph letter of protest, dated January 7, 2014, to the then Chairman of the PDP, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, threatening to withdraw from the PDP over the recognition the party was giving to Kashamu. Obasanjo had lamented the prominence Kashamu had in the politics of Ogun State and the South-West in the PDP thus: “Buruji Kashamu has been so extolled in the PDP in the South-West geopolitical zone which I personally find unsavoury… I cannot and I will not subscribe to a wanted habitual criminal being installed as my zonal leader in the party.” That animosity continued until the death of Kashamu over the weekend.
Who determines what the truth is and who is a criminal? Is it the individual or the court? It is the court of course. So, if someone is even seen robbing a bank but is not found guilty by the court, it is not for an individual to call the person an armed robber in official communication. Obasanjo’s government arrested Major Hamza al-Mustapha, Sergeant Barnabas Jabila Mshiela (popularly known as Sergeant Rogers), Lt Gen Ishaya Bamaiyi and others and charged them for extrajudicial executions during the regime of General Sani Abacha. They were detained about a decade but later released –al Mustapha was detained for 14 years. Even though most Nigerians believed and still believe that al-Mustapha and his boys, under the directive of Abacha, eliminated many of those opposed to Abacha’s dictatorship, that remains a mere assumption that cannot be raised in official quarters.
During the administration of Obasanjo, the military invaded a community called Odi in Bayelsa State on November 20, 1999 and virtually wiped out every human being there. A similar massacre was carried out in October 2001 by the military in Zaki Biam, Benue State under Obasanjo’s watch. In the eyes of the International Criminal Court at The Hague such is classified as genocide for which many leaders have been found guilty and sentenced. But because Obasanjo has not been tried and sentenced for such a crime, nobody can officially accuse him of genocide.
Similarly, Obasanjo’s son, Mr Gbenga Obasanjo, had accused him of having carnal knowledge of his wife in an affidavit he filed in 2008 in his divorce case against wife, Ms. Mojisola Olayemisi Amope. The affidavit, signed on behalf of Gbenga Obasanjo by his counsel, Emankhu Addeh of Addeh & Associates, stated, inter alia:
“The petitioner further avers that he knows for a fact that the respondent committed adultery with and had an intimate, sexual relationship with his own father, General Olusegun Obasanjo, in order to get contracts from the government.
“The petitioner avers that the Respondent also got rewarded for her adulterous acts with several oil contracts with the NNPC from his father, General Olusegun Obasanjo, amongst which was the NNPC Consultancy training in supply chain management and project management awarded to her company Bowen and Brown.”
However, this has remained an allegation a son made against his father. No court has found Obasanjo guilty of such an act. So, it would be tactless and irresponsible for anyone to send Obasanjo a birthday message with such an accusation made categorically against him, in the name of speaking the truth. That can lead to a legal case of defamation and libel. An allegation remains an allegation. It can be raised in private discussions but not used in official communication. It is worse when used against a dead person who cannot respond. A former president should know this.
When the name of a dead person is dragged in the mud, there cannot be a successful legal case against the accuser, because it is believed that a dead person has no image that can be defamed or tarnished. Therefore, the reason people do not say unkind things against dead people is not because they hate the truth. It is because it is cowardly to accuse people who cannot respond or defend themselves. It is like beating and kicking an unconscious person or a corpse. A brave warrior fights with the living, not with the dead. There is always enough time to accuse living people. Once they are dead, please sheathe your sword and try to mend your own ways before death comes knocking.
Moreover, in age and status, Obasanjo is far higher than Kashamu. Obasanjo is 83 years, while Kashamu died at 62. When Obasanjo was military head of state of Nigeria in 1976, Kashamu was 18 years – either in secondary school or just completing that stage. Obasanjo capped it up by becoming a twice-elected civilian president of Nigeria, the first Nigerian to ever lead Nigeria twice (as a soldier and a civilian) and the first civilian leader to complete two tenures in office. Therefore, it is petty that Obasanjo would be engaging Kashamu in life or in death.
Condolence messages are not compulsory. It is not everything that one has the capacity to do that one does. It is not everything that comes to one’s mouth that one utters. That is why the Bible says: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”
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