Mrs. Oluremi Obasanjo: Life with an Animal

by Ikhide R. Ikheloa

Reprinted for archival purposes; first published November 30, 2009

Trolling books in search of pleasure is fraught with peril; one never knows what darkness lurks between the covers of a book. There is the danger of inheriting someone else’s demons. Life is too short for such burdens, but it happens. Patrick French’s stellar biography of the writer V.S. Naipaul The World Is What It Is is an excellent example of hard covered darkness. As you read that dark book, the mind simply recoils from Naipaul’s misogyny and the heart fills with the mystery of what depravity and deficits in self esteem would permit a woman to endure such horrors of misogyny. This is a long rambling way of saying for the record that no book has upset me more in recent times than Bitter-Sweet: My Life with Obasanjo, written by Mrs. Oluremi Obasanjo, Chief Matthew Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo’s first wife. This is one horrible book on many levels. It is a perverse metaphor for all that is wrong with Nigeria, but ultimately there is a gripping story under that book’s covers. Yes, it is a gripping book; I could not put it down. Read this book and weep for the fate of the women and children of Nigeria.

This is one horrible book on many levels. It is a perverse metaphor for all that is wrong with Nigeria. My copy came in a “hard cover,” to use that term extremely loosely. The pages seemed affixed to the covers with the liberal use of eba as an adhesive. Everything about it is poorly done – the writing, the research, the production, the editing. It was perhaps not edited. Diamond Publications Ltd, the publishers of this book should be embarrassed; this is not a book befitting the status of the ex-wife of a former ruler of Nigeria. Unfortunately, this sorry excuse for a book did not prevent blurb writers of stature (Reuben Abati, Femi Osofisan, etc) from lustily singing its praises. How it is possible that they could have read past the numerous typos and grammatical errors in that book speaks volumes for the level of indifference to excellence in today’s Nigeria. To cap it all, the “foreword” was written by a university don, Professor Adigun Agbaje, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Political Science at the University of Ibadan. It is quite simply disgraceful that a university don would append his name and prestige to such sloppiness. Why, the book is so bad, even the clichés are mangled.

In this book, Mrs. Obasanjo chronicles an acrimonious and violent marriage to a narcissistic partner, who is horrible and abusive, mean spirited, and nasty to boot. In most societies the allegations against Obasanjo, if proven in a court of law would have earned him a long stay in jail. Mr. Obasanjo is portrayed as a serial manipulator and wife abuser who loves charming all manners of women into his perverse space. In her spell-binding narrative, Mrs. Obasanjo’s life has been a terrifying roller-coaster since she first had the misfortune of meeting him late in 1955.  According to the book, Obasanjo is a ruthless man, one who was fond of offering unsolicited slaps and merciless beatings to subordinates, house help and wives (the late Stella Obasanjo included). Nothing seems beneath Mr. Obasanjo – witchcraft, sorcery and diabolical behavior. To understand the specific nature of the allegations, imagine an African statesman (Aremu Obasanjo), knife in hand, chasing his terrified wife (Oluremi Obasanjo) down the street, not to give her flowers, but perhaps to murder her. Mrs. Obasanjo has been abused beyond the imagining of it. It is tempting to heap blame on Mrs. Obasanjo for hanging around long enough to endure such horrors, except that psychiatrists would describe her odd enabling behavior (of Obasanjo’s sick antics) as emanating from the abused spouse syndrome. Regardless, she represents Nigerians’ willingness to take unspeakable abuse from leaders – for a chance at the table of wretched crumbs.

In the celebration of the remains of narcissistic ME the author glosses over substance at every opportunity. It is largely because, like her husband, she is innocent of substance. When she tries to be deep, it is comical. It is all about style for her. All sizzle and no suya. This is a shame because through the roughness peeps sensitivity. She needed a good ghost writer. There is very little analysis, although there are interesting anecdotes. Mrs. Obasanjo reveals that during the civil war years, there were simmering tensions between Benjamin Adekunle and Obasanjo. Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu cuts a dashing and romantic, if quixotic figure, He showered her with the kind of attention normally reserved for lovers – she should have married him, he was such a gentle man. It is a book about missed and wasted resources. We come face-to-face with pathetic lives preoccupied with the accumulation of the banal and the trite. There are all these powerful soldiers and civilians accumulating an army of dead peers, victims of naked ambition – none related to securing Nigeria’s fortunes.

By Mrs. Obasanjo’s own account, Obasanjo treated her worse than the wretched chickens of Otta Farms. Still, it is strange, after all that she went through, she was in the habit of loitering around the corridors of power calling herself Obasanjo’s wife and apparently collecting favors. As his “wife”, she led “delegations” to other countries, to do what, it is hard to tell. Gaps in the narrative rankle and blatant hagiographies abound as she strangely channels Obasanjo’s delusions of grandeur. Her spirited defense of her daughter Iyabo Obasanjo defies and defiles logic. It tears to shreds the book’s pretense to credibility. The self-absorbed ME looms large in the narrative and once more Nigeria is an Okada motorcycle being ridden to its demise by a handful of overweight riders. In this sad horrid book, everything comes together in one perverse convergence – the collusion of rogue intellectuals with rogue soldiers and a willing populace to screw Nigeria to death. History will hopefully be just to Obasanjo and Nigeria. Obasanjo was a horrid husband; Mrs. Obasanjo would know. Obasanjo was a horrid leader, we would know.