Bitter-Sweet: My life with Obasanjo By Oluremi Obasanjo
Bitter-Sweet: My life with Obasanjo By Oluremi Obasanjo
The first wife of the former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo has broken it in spectacular style with a tell-all autobiography, Bitter-Sweet: My Life with Obasanjo. The author paints a portrait of her husband as a vindictive "master of decoy", a "violent and unrepentant wife-basher", and a man whose "womanising knows no bounds". It couldn't come at a worse time for the 72-year-old Mr Obasanjo who has been busily building a new profile for himself as a pan-African statesman second only to Kofi Annan.
What ensues is an almost slapstick riot of affairs and breathless high politics punctuated with domestic violence and desperation. And it's one in which Mama Iyabo is happy to name names. In the early 1970s her particular nemesis was an older married woman called Mowo Sofowora. One evening, she recalls: "I was eavesdropping on the phone downstairs while Obasanjo was in the bedroom. They had spoken for about 30 minutes when she then said she was having a headache. I had heard enough, so I butted in: 'It's that headache that will kill you, shameless married woman dating a younger man'. On hearing my voice, Obasanjo charged downstairs to beat me and we had one of the many fights that had come to define our marriage."
On another occasion Oluremi Obasanjo, now pregnant, was surprised to hear a nurse at the hospital announcing that Mrs Obasanjo was coming in with her sick children. "Lo and behold, she [Mowo] soon appeared with Busola and Segun, my children. I removed my head tie ... and lunged at her. 'Mowo, Oko ni o gba, o le gba omo mi,' I screamed, meaning: 'You may snatch my husband you can't snatch my kids.' I slapped and punched her. It was a spectacle. The hospital was turned upside down. I ran after the car that brought her, smashed the side glass." Surprisingly she reserves no particular ire for Stella Adebe-Obasanjo, who would go on to be the general's third and most notorious wife, eventually dying while undergoing liposuction in Spain. She describes Stella as just another in "the stable of Obasanjo's many ponies. Her problem was that she was too showy and lacked self respect. During our tempest, she would telephone me to announce that she was in complete control of my husband." In addition to the string of affairs, including one with a wife of another Big Man, the Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha, she reveals an extraordinary fallout with Murtala Muhammed, the brigadier he would later succeed in 1976 as military ruler of Nigeria. Muhammed's mistake was to reprimand him over his treatment of his wife: "Obasanjo was enraged that Muhammed was telling him how to take care of his wife. So, he grabbed Muhammed by the collar, in the presence of other officers, and challenged him to a duel."
The final word of course should go to Mama Iyabo, who says that it's about time more people followed her lead: "The public deserves to know a lot more about the experiences of public figures beyond the advertised public appearances they see. If my work has succeeded in doing so, we should look at it as expanding the democratic frontiers of free flow of information. Nigeria and Nigerians need to shed the culture of undue secrecy about public figures and public affairs."
Gripping and racy, it is a story you may not put down until you get to the last page. It is a worthy addition to the growing literature of adventures in power.
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