Speaking at her Lagos residence on her life and ordeal as a former first lady, Oluremi Obasanjo, the first wife of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is a mother of six, has described him in unflattering terms.
Below are excerpts from the interview;
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.