By Bolanle Bolawole
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In life, he was controversial; in death, no less. Who else but Kashamu Buruji, who boarded the COVID-19 plane penultimate Saturday? The first salvo was fired by no less a personality than former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Noted for his knack for letter-writing, Obasanjo fired a sarcastic “condolence” letter that did anything but condole, to the Ogun State governor, Dapo Abiodun, in which he mocked his one-time political Nemesis.
Obasanjo said, inter alia: “… The life and history of the departed have lessons for those of us on this side of the veil. Senator Esho Jinadu (Buruji Kashamu) in his lifetime used the manoeuvre of law and politics to escape from facing justice on alleged criminal offences in Nigeria and outside Nigeria. But no legal, political, cultural, social or even medical manoeuvre can stop the cold hand of death when the creator of all of us decides that the time is up…” Now, that was not only nasty; it was natty!
As would be expected, criticisms trailed Obasanjo’s letter. In my “Treasures” column of Wednesday, August 12, 2020 in the New Telegraph newspaper, I sided with Obasanjo in his comments on Buruji Kashamu, saying “… Let both the good and evil deeds of Kashamu – and, indeed, of all men and women, including yours truly and Obasanjo himself when everyone’s own time comes – be openly canvassed! Let both the good and the evil that men do live after them so that others may learn useful lessons and our world can become a better place. Why white-wash evil people and pass them off as saints like ex-Gov. Ayo Fayose seemed to have canvassed? Why must we be economical with the truth like the Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu appeared to have suggested? If anyone needs such deceit and playing to the gallery, it is not the dead!”
Further comments on Obasanjo himself, that I was reserving for this column because of space constraints – and which you can now read right here – was succinctly highlighted in his own inimitable way by my comrade, Barrister Femi Falana, SAN, in his own comments titled: “Matters Arising From Chief Obasanjo’s Condolence Letter”
Falana said: “Some people have said that it is against the African culture to speak ill of the dead. That is far from the truth. In the past, Africans spoke ill of the dead and exposed the dead if they were found to have engaged in abominable activities that brought shame to a community. In fact, the bodies of dead men and women who were found to have brought pestilence to a community were buried in the bush.
“Therefore, Chief Obasanjo has not abused the African culture by attacking the late Senator Buruji Kashamu for allegedly manipulating the law to escape justice at home and abroad. However, it is the hypocrisy of his message that should be criticised because it is against the African culture to aid and abet a criminal suspect in his lifetime only to turn round to attack him in his grave.
“In 1999, the British Government had initiated moves for the extradition of Kashamu to the United States for trial for drug-related offences. But the evidence given in favour of Kashamu in 2003 by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration cleared the suspect of drug charges. Consequently, the British Court rejected the request to extradite Kashamu on grounds of uncertainty about his identity and freed him after five years in jail. Thereafter, Kashamu returned to the country as a free man and was admitted to the PDP as a full-fledged member. He funded the party and became a political leader.
“The national leadership of the party acknowledged Kashamu’s immense financial contributions to the PDP. In 2014, as a result of political disagreements in the Ogun State chapter of the PDP, former President Obasanjo asked the national leadership of the PDP to stop extolling Kashamu as a political leader because he was “a habitual criminal wanted abroad to face criminal charges levelled against him…” But following the resolution of the intra-party feud, Chief Obasanjo mounted the rostrum in Ogun State, extolled Kashamu as a political leader and prayed to the Almighty God to reward him for his generosity.
“In 2015, due to renewed pressure from the Government of the United States, the Federal Government filed proceedings at the Federal High Court for Kashamu’s extradition for trial in the United States but the Federal High Court dismissed the extradition proceedings based on the clean bill of health which the NDLEA had given Kashamu in 2003. Dissatisfied with the judgment of the Federal High Court, the Federal Government appealed to the Court of Appeal. In May 2018, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and set aside the several orders of the Federal High Court which had stopped his extradition. Kashamu’s appeal against the order of the Court of Appeal for his extradition is still pending at the Supreme Court.
“Upon Kashamu’s sudden demise last weekend due to complications arising from Covid-19 attack, Chief Obasanjo sent a sarcastic condolence letter to Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State. While praying for the repose of the soul of the deceased, Chief Obasanjo said that in his life time (Kashamu) had manoeuvred ‘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 can stop the cold hands of death when the Creator of all of us decides that the time is up’
“In defending his condolence message, Chief Obasanjo recalled that: ‘When I was growing up, in our community, when anyone known with bad character died, we usually only mourned him and buried him. No eulogy. No praise-singing’. Since Chief Obasanjo believes that ‘The life and history of the lifetime of the departed have lessons for those of us on this side of the veil’ the political leaders who frustrated his extradition from the United Kingdom, who welcomed him back home and used him to build political structures, should stop insulting the collective intelligence of the Nigerian people”
Well said, Femi! The hypocrisy and double-speak of Nigerian leaders is the reason why Kashamu and his ilk thrived and will continue to thrive in this country. Few of our leaders are better than Kashamu in their politics as well as private life.
Finally, it was said that Kashamu’s last wish was that erstwhile governor of Ogun State, Otunba Justus Gbenga Daniel, aka OGD, shall inherit the political structure of the late controversial politician-cum-businessman. OGD and Kashamu had been both great allies and mortal political foes, with Kashamu the one calling the shots or determining the direction of their relationship. Starting out in Ogun when he was a political greenhorn, Kashamu needed OGD, who was governor between 2003 and 2011, and spared no efforts to court him. Kashamu christened his political platform, which he concealed as a philanthropic organisation, as OGD Omo-Ilu Foundation and wormed himself into OGD’s heart. Both were chummy for a while.
Soon, however, Kashamu began to show his hand; as his feet got firmer on ground politically, he grew in confidence and soon challenged OGD to a wrestling duel. True is the saying that money is a defence; the more of it that Kashamu deployed, the stronger he grew. He was also a master of alliances; while he fought OGD, he allied with ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo who, in 2011, favoured the retired Gen. Adetunji Idowu Olurin/Tunde Oladunjoye governorship ticket while OGD, one leg in PDP and the other in the Peoples Party of Nigeria (PPN), rooted for Gboyega Nasir Isiaka aka GNI. Despite OGD being the sitting governor, Kashamu rolled out the dollars and the Naira and not only beat the governor’s favoured candidate to the PDP governorship ticket but also snatched the PDP structure from OGD. Thus factionalised, both the OGD/PPN and the Obasanjo/Kashamu/Olurin/PDP alliance lost the election to APC’s Ibikunle Amosun.
OGD was quoted in the aftermath of Kashamu’s death as saying that enemies got in between the two of them. That must be half of the story. The other half is that Kashamu never meant to play second fiddle for long to OGD or anyone for that matter. He had his goal and his eyes were set on his target from Day One. In achieving this, he was an apostle of Niccolo Machiavelli’s postulation of the end justifies the means – any means. Throughout his political career, he had no permanent friends but only permanent interests, as they say. And he was dogged in the pursuit of his goal. So, his loss in 2011 did not deter him; instead, he took hold of the PDP when he could but splinter it when he could not. On that pedestal and leveraging on the instrumentality of the courts and the corrupting and corrosive influence of money power, it became “Kashamu kan, PDP kan” The fear of Kashamu thus became the beginning of wisdom for PDP leaders not only in Ogun state but all over the country. He allied with Ali Modu Sheriff; he threw spanners in the works for the PDP everywhere, doing damages that will be difficult to quantify in terms of Naira and Kobo.
In the last election cycle of 2019, however, Kashamu got paid back in his own coin when OGD led his own faction of the PDP to back the APC candidate, Dapo Abiodun, who eventually won the vote. Kashamu, who paired up with Dr. Reuben Abati as the PDP flag bearer, rued his loss in that election, moaning that had OGD not splintered PDP, he (Kashamu) would have handsomely won the election. True, then, is the saying that what goes around comes around! Well, if the words of OGD are to be taken for it, both men made up before the Grim Reaper came for Kashamu penultimate Saturday. As if any confirmation is needed, we have been told that Kashamu’s last wish was that his political structure be handed over to OGD. OGD himself has confirmed that.
Very well! Finding the heart to forgive Kashamu before his death, like OGD said he did, is one thing; inheriting his political structure is another. Sounds to me like when Boko Haram nominated retired General Muhammadu Buhari as a man they trusted and who should head their negotiation team to peace talks with the Federal Government of the then President Goodluck Jonathan. All the perfumes of Arabia have not sufficed to wash that odium off Buhari. There is no denying the fact that Kashamu left behind a huge political structure in Ogun state. It is debatable, however, whether OGD is capable of oiling that machinery like Kashamu did in his life-time. Can OGD match Kashamu’s heroics – impunity for impunity and audacity for audacity? Can OGD deliver dollar for dollar and Naira for Naira like Kashamu did? Can he also manipulate the courts like Kashamu did?
Now, this monkey business of OGD inheriting Kashamu’s political structure: How will it rub off on the former governor – positively or negatively? Seeing that he who inherits assets must also inherit liabilities, is OGD ready to step into Kashamu’s shoes, warts and all?