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General News of Saturday, 10 December 2022


How Obasanjo frankly admonished junior officer against financial recklessness as army commander

Olusegun Obasanjo Olusegun Obasanjo

A scathing admonition about extravagant spending issued by former President Olusegun Obasanjo as an army commander to a junior officer during his military career has emerged.

The revelation in a letter written by Mr Obasanjo some months after the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970 attests to his penny-pinching nature and brutal frankness as his longstanding attributes.

In the letter written in June 1970, Mr Obasanjo told his junior officer, Sam Tomoye, a major at the time, that he was being “very imprudent” with what he sought to do with the loan he was requesting from his division.

He admonished the officer to avoid financial embarrassment and biting more than he could chew.

The letter is contained in the new book authored by the Editor-in-Chief of Premium Times Newspaper, Musikilu Mojeed.

The new book, titled, ‘The Letterman: Inside the ‘Secret’ Letters of former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo’, was unveiled publicly in Abuja on 1 December.

The 25-chapter and 466-page book contains and reviews troves of letters written to a diverse range of recipients -his juniors, superiors, and mates in the military as well as Nigerian and world leaders at various times.

The letters provided rare insights into the octogenarian’s life from his teenage years through his military career and his time in and out of public offices.

He took over as the military head of state in 1976 following the murder of Murtala Mohammed, his erstwhile principal and exited in 1979 following his handing over of power to a democratically elected President. He was elected as civilian President in 1999 at the return of democracy and served two terms before leaving in 2007.

Earlier, he took over from Colonel Benjamin Adekunle as the General Office Commanding of the Third Marine Commando on the frontline of the Civil War on 16 May 1969.

He held the position until the end of the war in January 1970 when he received on behalf of the Nigerian government the instrument of surrender from the Biafra side.

In the book launched on 1 December, Mr Mojeed chronicled how the former Nigerian President urged his officers to live within their earnings and warned them against financial recklessness.

In one of such letters discovered by the author, Mr Obasanjo counselled an officer, Sam Tomoye, a major, against a £500 loan he was seeking to take his wife abroad as part of his efforts to cement the newly found peace with her following a turbulence that hit their marital life.

Mr Tomoye had written a 9 June 1970 letter to Mr Obasanjo, then the officer commanding the Third Marine Commando, to request a loan of £2,000 from the army division.

The officer explained that he would spend £1,500 pounds of the fund on starting the building of a house in Lagos or Ibadan, while the remaining £500 would be used in taking his wife overseas as part of measures to resolve a matrimonial problem that has lingered.

“Sir, I already have a big family problem – reconciliation – I cannot conveniently convince this woman (my wife) of my sincere intentions,” the officer wrote. “The deed has been done. You have helped, Sir, to correct to some extent the already strained relationship. I am most indebted to you. My only request now, Sir, is to be allowed to proceed overseas with my wife so that we can both forget these bitter experiences.”

Mr Obasanjo replied to the officer that the command had no means of providing loans to any officer for anything whatsoever.

As the commander, he went further to counsel Mr Tomoye against spending a loaned £500 to take his wife abroad for a holiday, advising the officer to avoid “financial embarrassment” by not biting more than he can chew in his financial commitments.

Instead, Mr Obasanjo suggested other holiday sites in Nigeria, where the officer can spend time with his wife at a lesser cost.

“It will not be in your professional interest,” Mr Obasanjo wrote in a reply to the major.

He added: “The idea of you and your wife spending leave abroad at entirely your own expenses of over 500 pounds as a Major and in the present circumstances is very imprudent. I will definitely not support it in your own interest and of course in the interest of the Army and of the Division.”

He continued: “If, however, you consider it necessary to have a second honeymoon with your wife in efforts to make amends and settle your home on sound foundation, there are so many places you can go in Nigeria and get away from it all with your wife. If I may suggest a few places Vom, Maiduguri and Iseyin easily come to mind.”

Beyond counsel on personal finance, the author documented how the former president warned colleagues against going into bed with corrupt businessmen.

He wrote a four-paragraph letter to the then Governor of Mid-Western State, Samuel Ogbemudia, a lieutenant-colonel, about the evacuation of 41 indigenes of Mid-west state holed up in the displaced persons camp in Port Harcourt.

Mr Obasanjo did not end the letter without an admonition against corruption and good financial conduct.

He wrote: “Once again, I must congratulate you for the excellent work you are doing in the Midwest. I will reiterate my warning to you on your personal and official association with unscrupulous businessmen – indigenous or expatriate. You remember I have spoken to you about this before.

“The good name and reputation which you have built over the years can be frittered away overnight. I hope you will continue to be cautious and careful in your personal interest and in the interest of the Army.”

Qosim Suleiman is a reporter at Premium Times in partnership with Report for the World, which matches local newsrooms with talented emerging journalists to report on 1-covered issues around the globe