Those criticizing Nigeria’s former President, Olusegun Obasanjo for his supposedly uncomplimentary condolence message on the death of Senator Buruji Kashamu do not seem to understand the wider context in which he wrote. Much of the attacks are propelled by a ‘tradition’ that seemingly abhors talking ill of the dead than the substance and heuristic value of his message. At issue also, was the perception of the messenger by his critics.
By Emeka Omeihe
It was not surprising that emotions ran high when Obasanjo wrote of Kashamu in a manner that does not seem in conformity with this norm. Even then, he seemed to have anticipated adverse reactions when he entered a caveat to the effect that the life and history of the departed have lessons for all of us on this side of the veil. That is the context in which he wrote.
Obasanjo then proceeded among others, to write, “Buruji Kashamu 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 hand of death when the Creator of all of us decides that the time is up”. This is the aspect of his condolence message that turned out contentious.
The issue is whether these statements (as unkind as they seem) amounted to speaking ill of the dead? Even then, what should constitute the right messages to be conveyed during such condolences? And is humanity better served by the manner Obasanjo couched his condolence message on Kashamu’s death?
Much of the grouse of those offended by Obasanjo’s condolence message is that it is against tradition to speak ill of the dead; he was on a voyage to settle old political scores when the deceased is no longer in a position to respond and that he was being vindictive even to the dead. No less a person than former Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose launched a verbal attack on Obasanjo accusing him of making uncomplimentary remarks against the deceased when he can no longer join issues with him. He accused Obasanjo of collaborating with Kashamu in some of the things he did politically at some point urging him to stop pretending as a saint which he is not.
Many other Nigerians have in their condolences harped on some other attributes of late Kashamu such as his generosity, philanthropy and doggedness. He was also described as a good-spirited man who placed high premium on the welfare of his community and similar kind expressions. The point of divergence between these views and what Obasanjo said is that they portrayed the deceased very charitably while the reverse seemed to be the case with the latter. They are testimonies representing two sides of the same man.
Ordinarily, they ought to counterbalance the other. They denote the good, the bad and the ugly pasts of the dead man. Conceived this way, the hullabaloo over the manner Obasanjo chose to present his message would have been unnecessary but for our attachment to not speaking ill of the dead. It is also very contentious if that tradition has anything positive for humanity-a rule that only praises and eulogizes while covering up the weaknesses and evil deeds of the dead. Is there any positive lessons for the living such a tendency stands to serve? That is the issue to contend with.
Was Obasanjo actually unkind to the dead? Did he go out of his way to invent spurious and non-existing allegations to discredit a dead man when he can no longer defend himself? Did he invade his private life at death? Were the things he wrote of Kashamu new or issues that had long been in public view? These posers are germane for us to contextualize the issues that have been traded on the seemingly controversial condolence message.
Yes, Obasanjo has been accused of nursing ill political feelings against Kashamu. That is not in doubt. But it is nothing new. In 2014, he made such feeling public in a letter he wrote to the then National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur. He had then deprecated the prominence being accorded Kashamu who he alleged was “a wanted habitual criminal being installed as my zonal leader in the party”. He had also said he was considering withdrawing his membership from the party if the anomalous situation was not corrected.
But Kashumu, in his response accused him of ill agenda after using him to fight former governor of Ogun State, Gbenga Daniel from whom he wrestled the structures of the party and handed them over to his accuser. He also claimed that in the past, he dined and wined with Obasanjo who on many occasions extolled his sterling qualities and introduced him to a good number of prominent leaders of the PDP in the southwest.
Kashamu wondered why after all these, Obasanjo was now calling him names blaming the presidency for condoning him and asked: “Is it because I did not allow him to hijack the party structures and use it for his devious motives? He was later to institute a libel suit against Obasanjo.
It is thus not in doubt that Obasanjo had issues with Kashamu. They have also had some form of mutually beneficial association. But Obasanjo had while Kashamu was alive said uncomplimentary things about him. And some of the things said in the condolence message have been in public domain for quite some years now. You may quarrel with the way he couched his message. You may pick holes with the fact that Obasanjo had also taken advantage of his association with Kashamu in the past.
The issue to determine is, were the things written factual or fabrication to paint the dead man black? If they are factual, does it serve societal good to conceal them only to present the glowing attributes of the dead? What lessons do we intend to serve humanity by the choices we make in the presentation of condolence messages. These are the searing posers. And they go far beyond Kashamu.
Obasanjo seemed to have provided answers to this tangle in his response to criticisms on his condolence message. Hear him: “When I was growing up in our community, when anyone known with bad character died, we usually only mourn him and bury him. No eulogy; no praise singing. We must learn from such a passage. There will be good lessons, there will be bad lessons. We should not cover up bad histories and conducts so that the right lesson can be learnt”.
He has said it all. He even went further to dare people to write whatever they like about him when he transits. That is a show of good faith. The issue is not whether Obasanjo is a saint after all. Neither is it a matter of nursing some differences with the deceased. We are concerned with his message and what future it holds for humanity.
His message is futuristic and ambitious given the decadence in our societal values- a degeneration that has been responsible for many of the woes that afflict the entire gamut of our national life. The message is intended to open up a new direction in the way we look at condolence messages. It is intended to correct stereotypes that have failed to serve us. And we should all rise and embrace the new direction.
The issue is not just about Kashamu. He is already dead and has no way of knowing what Obasanjo wrote of him. Therefore, he is not the target. The message is for all those alive who behave as if the inevitable end will not come. They are the people that should worry about damning testaments when they pass away. And if the fear of such unfavourable verdicts gets them to turn a new leaf, the nation would be better for it. Then also, Obasanjo would have invaluably upped the ante in national moral renaissance.
The development should serve a lesson to all who have scant regard for the consequences of their actions in public life. And they are legion. There are many of them in public places who bestrode the landscape like colossus even with putrid skeletons in their cupboards. They are the people to worry that the verdict of their life will be put the way it is when they are no more. That should be the new direction. If it gets people to part ways with their dubious and inglorious pasts that accentuate all manner of immoral conduct, we are all better for it.