■ Says ex-president contributed to 50 per cent of Nigeria’s problems
I decided to speak out again because I want the world to know the kind of person Obasanjo is. Up until now, a lot of people do not know that Obasanjo is not a normal father, or a family man. Some people say that it is because he is a soldier, but I know so many soldiers who fought the war, and I see how well they take care of their families
By CHINELO OBOGO
OLUREMI Obasanjo is the first wife of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Speaking at her Lagos residence on her life and ordeal as his wife, the mother of six describes him in unflattering terms, saying that her marriage with him was a tortuous one.
You once wrote an autobiography, detailing your life with former President Olusegun Obasanjo. In that book, you described him in unflattering terms. What went wrong in your marriage?
I had to remove a lot of things on the advice of the publishers because they were very bad. I decided to speak out again because I want the world to know the kind of person that Obasanjo is. Up until now, a lot of people do not know that Obasanjo is not a normal father, or a family man. Some people say that it is because he is a soldier, but I know so many soldiers who fought the war and I see how well they take care of their families. So the fact that he is a soldier is not an excuse. He has been very brutish and selfish from the beginning. He has the belief that because his children bear his name, which means they have taken something from him and he has done them a favour. If any of his children does well, he would tell people that it is because of him that the child is doing well.
But that is usually the case in this part of the world…(cuts in)
I do not have any problem if a father takes pride in the fact that his child is doing well. But it is not right when you do not give that child any credit for striving to succeed. Everything should not only be about you. He believes that any of his children that does well did so because of him and not their own efforts. That is a very selfish way of thinking.
Are you implying that he did not take part in the children’s upbringing, especially as regards their education?
He claims that whatever his children are today, they owe it to him, because he believes that none of his children can be intelligent without him. The house where he lives now was designed and supervised by my son, Dr Segun Obasanjo, and what he gave him was less than one tenth of his professional fees. When people asked him why he did that, he said that he was the one that trained Segun in school; therefore he deserved what he was paid. I would want the world to ask Obasanjo if he knew how any of my children went to nursery school. They should ask him if he cared when they were in primary and secondary school. Nigerians should ask him how many times he ever visited them throughout their schooling years and ask him how much he paid for their tuition. Even the Segun he is talking about, ask him how much he paid for his tuition at Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria. After my children finished their first degrees, I could not afford to send them abroad for their second degrees because it was too expensive. Because of that, they all had to take up jobs to enable them to pay for their schooling abroad. When Iyabo, my first daughter got admission abroad for her second degree, she sent her father a list of the financial requirements for her school, but he cut the required amount into two and was only able to give half of it. Obasanjo gleefully paid school fees for his relatives’ children, but found it difficult to take care of his own kids.
Are you saying in clear terms that Obasanjo did not play any roles in the education of his children?
He played some roles, but that he did it as if he was doing his children a favour. He did not see taking care of the kids as his duty. Before he was able to do anything for his children, I would have gone to Ota to inform him that his children’s fees needed to be taken care of. Most times, when I went, he would angrily tell me that he did not have any money and I would leave. When Segun won two awards in his school, because he graduated with a first class, I told Obasanjo about it and asked whether he would come for his convocation, but he told me he didn’t have the time. I then told him to fund my trip to Zaria so that I could attend, and he told me to go, that he would refund the money. But when I came back and asked him for it, he told me off and said I could go to hell.
What made Obasanjo behave that way to you and the kids? Is it that you had issues with him and he decided to take it out on your children, or is it just his nature?
I have never had it easy with him. Life with him was very tough and unbearable, but I had to endure because of my six children. I remember he wrote a book entitled My Command, and he acknowledged me in the book as having stood by him, keeping the home front. When he was launching the book in Ibadan, the late Chief Bola Ige, who had read the acknowledgement, asked him why the woman who he said stood by him and kept the home front was not standing by his side at the launch. Bola Ige said this because it was the late Stella that was with him at that launch. No woman can live well with Obasanjo, and even the late Stella people are talking about was always beaten by him while they were in Aso Rock. I couldn’t live with him anymore, and as it is, if someone tells me to live with him and promises me a room full of money, I would decline.
At what stage in your marriage did you start noticing these traits that you talk about, because for you to have accepted his marriage proposal, something must have attracted him to you?
I have always been a very quiet person and I was nicknamed ‘gentle’, so I believe that it was what made him want to marry me, because he felt that he could control me. In the first seven years of our marriage, I did whatever he told me to do without asking questions. If he told me to sit at a place without speaking to anyone, I would do it without asking questions. But as the years went by, I realized that whatever he tells you to do is usually for his own selfish interest and benefit and I stopped being foolish. He can never tell you to do anything that would serve your own interest. I continued living with him hoping that things would get better, but rather than improve, things got worse. Before his tenure as head of state ended, we were already separated. I was living in Ikoyi, while he was living in Dodan Baracks, because he felt I was not good enough to be at his side as head of state. After his tenure, he told me that we should relocate from Lagos to Abeokuta, but I didn’t want it. Already, I wanted a final separation, and I saw his desire for relocation as a good opportunity for me to stay far away from him. When I refused, one of his friends who was a doctor asked him why he was begging me to go to Abeokuta with him. He then advised Obasanjo to take any of the women who had children for him. So he took the late Stella and one other woman called Mabel to Abeokuta because they each had a child for him. So both of them lived there with him, and he took them around to wherever he went. Stella later outshined Mabel to become the first lady.
People say that Stella was the only one among Obasanjo’s women who stood by him during his incarceration, and that was why she was loved by him. Did you also abandon him?
On the day Obasanjo was arrested in 1995, I read in the papers that morning that as soon as he came back, he was going to be arrested. When I read it, I quickly alerted one Dr Adeyeye who was living behind me. I later had to take a taxi to the hospital where Gbenga was doing his housemanship and I told him that Abacha planned to arrest his father. When I left, I later found out that he had been arrested two hours before I met Gbenga. When Gbenga went to see his father where he was locked up, he told Gbenga to tell me to prepare fresh fish for him, which I did. At first, Abacha put him under house arrest at Ota, so that was where I had to take the food to, and I went there often. He later sent for Gbenga, and kept writing letters to his friends whom he felt could be of help and he gave them to Gbenga to deliver them. Gbenga put his life at risk for his father, because on many occasions, he came back to the house at 3am because he was running errands for his father.
At a time, I had to tell Gbenga to be careful because 3am was too late for a young man to be returning home. But he asked me if Obasanjo was not his father, and if I was not aware that he was trying to get help for him. While we were having that argument, we got information that Sergeant Rogers had parked across the house, waiting for Gbenga to come out so that he could kill him. Obasanjo later had to write a letter to Gbenga and told him to leave Nigeria because there were plans to kill him since he was the one running errands on how to get help for his father. Mind you, Gbenga was still undergoing his housemanship training at the Military Hospital and he had three weeks to round off when Obasanjo told him to leave Nigeria immediately. Gbenga had to meet his commander at the hospital to explain the situation to him, and the commander gave him the permission to travel.
So it is not true that he was abandoned. While he was under house arrest, I went there several times to see him, though the late Stella and another woman were both living with him. One of the times I went, when I got to the last check point, the late Stella’s father was there and I met Obasanjo outside. He then told the officer who was in charge of guarding him that I was his former wife. But I responded and said, “Don’t mind him; I am his only legally wedded wife and all others are concubines.” He responded by saying that he knew I would tell them the truth.
When he was finally transferred to Jos prison, I travelled there together with my daughter, Bisola’s children because she was abroad studying for her master’s degree. Bisola had an issue with her husband then, and Obasanjo had told her to take the children back to the husband’s family to take care of before she travelled abroad. I objected to it because the kids were still very young. They were between the ages of one and three. When she travelled, I went to Jos prison to see Obasanjo in company with my younger brother who was working in Jos. When we got there, the first question he asked me was if Bisola had taken the children back to live with their father and I told him no. Immediately I responded, he flared up and the warders had to converge to know what was happening. After he shouted angrily at me, he walked out to go back to his cell, but my brother stopped him and urged that we hold hands and pray for his safety and release.
Not long after we left the prison, we learned that the late Stella came, and when she found out that I was in Jos, she went to meet General Diya whom she was very close to and told him that too many people were coming to see Obasanjo and they should be stopped. When I heard it, I knew that the ‘many people’ she was referring to was me. It was because of her complaint that Obasanjo was transferred to Maiduguri and Diya told him to chose only two people that would come to visit him in prison. He chose Stella and his Ghanaian friend, so there was nothing else I could do than to stay away. It is very unfortunate that people are saying what they do not know anything about. Nigerians now believe that Obasanjo’s family abandoned him, but what else could I have done in that situation? That is one of the reasons his children are not happy with him because of the kind of people that he surrounded himself with. You would not believe that while Obasanjo was in prison, those surrounding him, including family members, took each other to court over his property.
In a book Obasanjo wrote, he implied that Iyabo allowed herself to be used against him. So what made her go that far in writing such a scathing letter to her father and making it public?
A day prior to the day she wrote that letter, she called and told me what she intended to do and what she wanted to write. I told her not to, but she insisted that she would do it because she believed he had crossed so many lines. When she convinced me, I eventually agreed with her and supported her decision. I can tell you the character of all my children. Iyabo has always had a mind of her own. If she wants to do a thing, she does it as long as she is convinced about it.
Out of all my children, Iyabo loved Obasanjo the most. In her eyes, he could do no wrong. Sometimes I told her not to be blinded by her love for her father so that she would not be disappointed, but she would not listen to me. Despite her undying love for her father, he kept hurting her, but she would shake it off and put it behind her. But in life, when you keep disappointing your children over and over again, a time would come when they would lose respect for you. When Iyabo lost her elections, she travelled abroad to stay, but she kept hearing about the unpalatable things her father was saying about her. She once invested some money in a bank, but because the managers didn’t manage her investment well, she lost it. She tried to recover it, but she couldn’t and when she told her father about it, he didn’t show any form of concern at all. His nonchalant attitude to her predicament hurt her a lot and she stopped speaking to him.
The last straw was that Iyabo was living in Obasanjo’s house, even though it’s not actually his, but I won’t disclose the nitty-gritty of the ownership of the house. She was living there when she was in Abuja and because she had to go for a fellowship in Harvard, she decided to let the house out for some time, pending when she would return. She was in good terms with his Chief Security Officer,( CSO) because they were peers. So on one occasion, when she was speaking with the CSO on phone, he gave the phone to Obasanjo and then he told her that he would sell the house in Abuja. When she asked him what would happen to her belongings, he said he would put them anywhere. Meanwhile, one of his children had taken over the house she was living in at Abeokuta after she had renovated it with about N14 million. Iyabo thought her father was joking when he said he would sell the house and keep her property anywhere. When she realized that he meant it, she told me that she vowed not to have anything to do with him again, and even promised herself that she would not be at his burial.
I also remember that under the late President Yar’Adua, when she was accused of embezzling N10 million, rather than show empathy, Obasanjo did not. Rather, he gave her a letter to go and represent him in Kenya. His plan was that when she got to the airport, it would be said that she was trying to flee Nigeria, and then she would be arrested.
How did you come to the conclusion that his intention was for her to be arrested?
I know him very well. He had never ever told Iyabo to represent him outside Nigeria before and after that incident. So what was the purpose of telling Iyabo to travel to Kenya in the middle of that controversy? Why was it that he had to send her to a place where she would go through the airport?
Did he eventually sell the house in Abuja?
Yes, he sold it and where he kept Iyabo’s property, we do not know up till now.
Is he also in bad terms with his other kids?
Many of them do not want to have anything to do with him.
He had an issue with Gbenga in the past which was widely publicized. Have they settled?
Obasanjo does things with impunity. He is very vindictive and does not settle issues with anybody.
He recently said that the Chibok girls cannot be found and anyone saying they would be found is lying. Do you still believe those girls would be found?
Does he know more than President Buhari or the army chiefs? When he was president, would he have allowed anyone to poke his nose into the affairs of the country? What is his business? Does he think that he is still the president? Has his utterance given any form of hope to the parents of the Chibok girls? Why is he carrying on as if he is still the president? Why? Obasanjo is a mere mortal, but Nigerians and politicians have turned him into a tin god. It is Nigerians that are indulging him. Is he the first or the last president that would govern Nigeria? What has he got that others have not got? We are in a mess in this country and he contributed to 50 percent of our problems.
How did he contribute to the problems of the country?
He knew just like many people that the late Yar’Adua was a sick man, but he insisted on making him president. There were others who could have done a better job. What was his reason for installing Yar’Adua?
What do you think was his reason?
The Obasanjo I know chose Yar’Adua for selfish reasons. He knew he was a sick man and he wanted to be the hand behind the throne, who would determine what happens in the corridors of power. Iyabo wrote it in her letter. He chose Yar’Adua because he thought that since he was sick and weak, he could easily be manipulated. There was a time they were having a Board of Trustees meeting of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he came much earlier than the meeting was scheduled to start. Immediately he came in, he called Yar’Adua on phone and said, “Umaru, I am at the meeting venue, come immediately and meet me.” Yar’Adua got very angry and felt that Obasanjo was treating him like he would treat a child because it was not yet time for the meeting, but he was already there and ordering him to come immediately. Both of them eventually fell apart. Unfortunately, Iyabo became the target of that government.
You feel that Iyabo’s travail was Yar’Adua’s way of getting back at Obasanjo?
I am not feeling. I am very certain of that. Iyabo thought that Obasanjo was a normal father, but she was disappointed. He does not like people telling him the truth at all especially if it affects his ego, and that was why he preferred putting those that would sing his praises around him. When he was still president, Iyabo told me that she was at a meeting when they were discussing the issue of the third term. Knowing that her father does not like people opposing him, she decided to wait till everyone had left the venue of the meeting. When they were alone, she told him that this third term that he was seeking for would not work in Nigeria and advised him to forget about it. But he told her that she should leave him alone, and went on to mention some countries in Africa where their presidents amended the constitution and got third term. He was not happy with her for suggesting that he dropped his third term ambition. But people like Andy Uba, who we used to call the de-facto president urged him on. We used to joke in our house that he (Andy) was the president, while Obasanjo was the vice president. If Andy didn’t like your face, you are finished. Whatever needed to be done had to be done through him. So, it was people like him that kept pushing Obasanjo, and made him believe that the third term agenda was possible.
If you had the opportunity to meet with President Buhari, what would be your advice to him?
I am worried for Buhari and if I have the opportunity to meet him, I would tell him to be wary of Obasanjo because he could be with someone and immediately the person turns his back to go, he would stab the person. He has already even started to fall out with Buhari and the signs are there.