The Letterman: Premium Times launches book on Obasanjo’s ‘secret’ letters (LIVE UPDATES)


The official launch of The Letterman, a book authored by PREMIUM TIMES’ Editor-in-chief, Musikilu Mojeed, holds in Abuja today.

All is set for the 492-page narrative non-fiction to be unveiled before an audience of Nigerians including top dignitaries at the Bolton White Apartments.

The Letterman: Inside the ‘Secret’ Letters of former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, x-rays the role of letter writing in leadership, governance and politics.

It focuses on the former president and his fondness for speaking bluntly to subordinates, superiors, associates and foreign personalities – through letters – not minding the reactions the letters might generate.

The book curates some of the most significant and historical letters written and received by the former president. And a number of these letters, written to dignitaries in Nigeria and around the world, have never been publicly seen.

Expected at the launch is former President Goodluck Jonathan, who is the special guest of honour. A Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Chairman of the Governing Council of Osun State University, Yusuf Ali, is the Chairman of the event.

The Catholic Archbishop of Sokoto Diocese, Hassan Kukah, who is the book reviewer, and a former Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Ifueko Okauru, the chief presenter, are also expected at the occasion.

Other dignitaries who have confirmed attendance at the event are a former Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi; Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello; a senator, Adelere Oriolowo; a former senator, Babafemi Ojudu, a former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; the Director General of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Asishana Okauru, and a former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nuhu Ribadu.

READ ALSO: PREMIUM TIMES E-in-C, Musikilu Mojeed, to release The Letterman, book on Obasanjo’s Secret letters

Equally expected are members of the diplomatic corps, top politicians, governors, legislators, captains of industry, traditional rulers, clergy, media executives and practitioners among others.

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Some of the early arrivals are Bishop Kukah, former Ministers Rotimi Amaechi and Fani Kayode and the current minister of state for labour and employment, Festus Keyamo. They are seated at the venue.

11:00 a.m.

The moderator, Ohi Alegbe, kicks off the event. He welcomes participants to the launch and leads the National Anthem.

He introduces the chairman of the event, Yusuf Ali; Mrs Okauru, the chief presenter and Bishop Kukah, the book reviewer.

He also introduces former aviation minister, Osita Chidoka, who is the representative of former president Jonathan. He also introduces Mr Amaechi.

Mr Fani-Kayode is introduced as representing the APC presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu.

Representatives of NITDA, EFCC, Kaduna and Kogi State Governors, have been introduced.

Nasir Abdullahi, the chairman of Premium Times; a senator, Seriake Dickson; Alexandra Gomez, the EU representative; Ukrainian Charge d’affairs, former Inspector General of Police Sunday Ehindero, Kole Shettima of the MacArthur Foundation have also been introduced.

Premium Times CEO and Publisher, Dapo Olorunyomi and the author of The Letterman, Musikilu Mojeed, have been introduced as well.

11:25 a.m.

Mr Olorunyomi takes the stage to give the welcome address.

He welcomes and thanks friends and well-wishers for honouring the invitation.

He says this is one of PREMIUM TIMES Book’s publications.

PREMIUM TIMES’ vision, he said, is to strengthen democracy, and advocate for good governance and transparency. He said the paper arrived to fill a lacuna through analytic and empathetic journalism practice.

He speaks on the projects from CJID which includes the Alfred Opubor Next-Generation.

The organisation, he said, remains faithful to the commitment of being true gatekeepers around issues of freedom and rights of the Nigerian people.

“In all our work, we remain faithful to the philosophical view that our journalism must be committed to an unquestionable vision of democratic accountability, an openness to promote the agenda of development, and a steadfast resolve to be a true gatekeeper that enables the possibility of public fora dedicated to a rigorous debate around the freedom, rights and wellbeing of the
Nigerian person,” he said.

This, he said, is a call up to investigative practice and interpretative narratives that lead to an understanding of events rooted in the synthesising power of history, rather than the mere retailing of facts.

Mr Olorunyomi said the launch of The Letterman strongly illustrates this point and promises a shrewd insight into the complexion and texture of an epoch-making moment in the broad historiography of leadership in Nigeria.

Musikilu Mojeed’s deft strategy of weaving the past with its persistent values, to the present with its fleeting anxieties, is such a decent execution of what appears to be an improbable matrimony of history and journalism, he said.

“Paired with his tactical insistence on interpretations, and on the keen
understanding of events, rather than merely chronicling them, Mojeed lifts the work to the heights of professional history, restoring its authenticity away from what a 19th-century novelist, Zola, had called the vulgar nudity of facts.

“This work is also a metaphor for the Nigerian media, particularly in an election season, for the sub-text of all the letters in this book ultimately speaks to the key concern for the need for democratic governance of which goal is how to build states that are effective, responsive to social needs, inclusive, and accountable to citizens.”

Through the book, he said, we are reminded that if the practice of democracy will endure in our country, the media must insist on being sentinels of its enduring values: protecting citizen’s right to choose and replace those who govern them in a free and fair election; insisting on citizen’s right to participate in politics and civic life as citizens; demanding that citizens enjoy equality before the law and that the human rights of all citizens be of utmost protection.

He adds that the media has an utmost duty to be thoughtful sentinels and to provide the fora for respectful, insightful, and informed debates.

11:39 a.m.

The chairman of the event, Mr Ali, takes the stage for his remarks.

He says The Letterman is a captivating book.

While he thanks Olusegun Obasanjo, the object of the book, he hopes that the book will revive the attitude of letter writing.

He says The Letterman has thrown light on other books written by generals and a call to duty to future leaders of the country to be “properly lettered.”

He admired the consistency of the Letterman himself. He emphasizes the need for leaders to have led in other areas before taking up leadership positions in the country.

Having read at least 12 books about former US President Donald Trump while in office and after, Mr Ali challenged colleagues in the media to make the lives and operations of leaders their business.

“I want to challenge all of us, the Nigerian project must not fail. We must not encourage our children to ‘japa’. You can’t leave your best and the brightest to go and develop other people’s countries.”

Mr Ali said to achieve and imbibe a culture of reading and writing, the education sector must be fixed.

He said leaders alone are not to blame but followers as well. Because followers are replicas, if not the worst side of our leaders.

“There is need for moral rebirth of our country. We must make up our minds on the kind of country we want to have and live in.

“God has given us what we need to succeed in this place. God is busy attending to people who are very serious. We must become serious, while we also pray to God,” he said.

The book reviewer, Bishop Kukah, said that Mr Obasanjo has made it hard for writers to write about him.

Bishop Kukah said the author started the book with fallacy, by saying that the idea came to him as an accident.

He stated the book is an inspiration and is filled with ingenuity.

He added that Mr Obasanjo developed an obsession with writing his own story. He said Mr Obasanjo wrote everything about himself.

Mr Kukah said it is hard to write about the former president because he has written about every part of his life.

The cleric said Mr Obasanjo elevated the act of letter writing to an art form.

He said the book covers 25 letters covering different issues. He said most of the letters come from Mr Obasanjo’s head, not his heart.

Mr Kukah cited a letter Mr Obasanjo wrote to Brigadier Eyo Ekpo during the Nigeria civil war, to stress the ability of the former president to write from his head and not his heart.

“There is evidence that Obasanjo was clear in his mind on what needs to be done during the war.”

He added that Mr Obasanjo’s ability to speak even as a mid-level officer shows in his ability to speak up through his letters.

“How did Obasanjo get away with the bravado even in the military?” Mr Kukah stated.

He stated that the letters are fascinating things to read.

Mr Kukah said the writings of the former President show his depth across different sectors, including theology.

Bishop KukahBishop Kukah

Citing his involvement in ending the apartheid regime in South Africa, Mr Kukah said Mr Obasanjo has the instinct of a cat because he sees clearly.

He referred to the letters Mr Obasanjo wrote during the crisis in South Africa, particularly his letters to Margaret Thatcher, the then Prime Minister of United Kindom.

Mr Kukah highlighted the evolution of the style of letters in the diplomatic arena, from being friendly to confrontational.

“He displayed calculative instinct of a good negotiator,” Mr Kukah said.

He stated that Mr Mojeed was able to steal a glance into the mind of the former president through the letters.

“Obasanjo is a walking contraction that can dine with presidents and still fight a policeman in Kogi State,” he said.

“Obasanjo is assured of a place in the history of Nigeria and the world. We can agree that they do not make them like this anymore,” he added.

“We thank Mojeed for serving us such a delicious meal,” the cleric and book reviewer concluded.

12:45 p.m.

The DG of the Nigerian Governors Forum, Asishana Okauru, takes the stage.

He reads a goodwill message from the former Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi.

He says Mr Mojeed has done Nigerians a favour by putting together the letters that were mostly secret or leaked.

One is bound to have a renewed sense of appreciation for Mr Obasanjo, he said. And the letters demonstrate Mr Obasanjo’s consistency.

“In the book, Mr Mojeed demonstrates Baba’s attention to detail, transparency and accountability, religious piety.”

He said the language, proverbs and outright abuse of the subjects, were all Obasanjo’s. He described the former president as one who is always working for the development of the country.

Mr Obasanjo, he added, has achieved more as a non-state actor.

He said Mr Mojeed, in the book, also brings to the fore Mr Obasanjo’s life in prison.

“There’s a lot to learn from Mr Obasanjo’s life. There is no doubt that history and posterity will be kind to Olusegun Obasanjo,” he said.

Mr Obasanjo, the subject of the book, just walked into the venue.

Former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, at the unveiling of the book Former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, at the unveiling of the book “The Letterman”.

Osita Chidoka, former Minister of Aviation, represented former President Goodluck Jonathan.

He stated that Mr Jonathan is currently in Bamako, Mali.

“Obasanjo is not as stupid as he looks,” Mr Chidoka said.

Mr Chidoka presented a written address from Mr Jonathan.

Quoting Mr Jonathan, he described Mr Obasanjo as a father-like figure.

He stated that there have been ample letters that have changed history.

Mr Jonathan stated that Mr Obasanjo’s letters created engagements within the political arena, diplomatic world and other sectors.

He commended Mr Mojeed for the work he has done in bringing the letters together in a single book.

Mr Chidoka said history will remember Mr Obasanjo for the great things he did, not the quarrels and the fights.

He added that Mr Obasanjo will be remembered for debt forgiveness, the creation of anti-corruption agencies and international interventions across Africa.

Kadaria Ahmed is invited to the stage for a conversation with the author, Mr Mojeed.

Ms Ahmed asks the author to describe the moment he realised there was a need to curate the letters into a book.

Mr Mojeed says Mr Obasanjo’s appearance is a surprise as he did not acknowledge the letter that was written to invite him.

He says although many say the former president does not like journalists, he has maintained a decent relationship with him.

He described how Mr Obasanjo sometimes got angry at questions he asked and interviews he conducted.

He recalls how, one day, he asked the former president about the status of an archive-building project. And Obasanjo gladly took him on a tour of a library with many books and numerous letters. This experience, he says, whetted his appetite.

He said Mr Obasanjo never gave him access to the letters. He said it is completely unauthorised work.

He said he could not ask Mr Obasanjo for access to the library. He left Abeokuta and had a purpose to return to the library.

He explains how he reached out to another official of the library and said he wanted to do research from the library.

Although he was granted access, he was not allowed to leave with anything. He was later asked to write a letter which he did but was never responded to.

He said he consistently went to the library to look at books – and the letters.

He said he sent a manuscript of the book to Emeka Anyaoku to help him with the forward. Mr Anyaoku eventually shared it with Mr Obasanjo. He said that was the time the former president probably got a wind of the book.

When asked if he thinks he has covered all the letters, Mr Mojeed said he initially suspected that Mr Obasanjo gave all he had to the library.

Musikilu Mojeed and Kadaria Ahmed during a conversation with the author.Musikilu Mojeed and Kadaria Ahmed during a conversation with the author.

“If Baba knew the material in the library or the work I was doing, he would have either stopped it or removed some things from the library,” he said.

Ms Ahmed asks what he thinks will replace letter writing.

Mr Mojeed says he doesn’t think letter writing will return – which is a big loss.
This, he says, is because people write from the heart.

He said people should be encouraged to write letters more.
He explains how Mr Obasanjo will almost immediately write letters after a meeting – documenting details and resolutions from the meeting.

He says Mr Obasanjo is one who enjoys letter writing and documentation – a habit which is not common.

Abiola Lawal, a guest, asks what we can do to replicate habits and discipline of letter writing.

Mariam Bakare from Voice of Nigeria asks how to get the youth to indulge in letter writing.

Ochiaka Ugwu asks how we can develop our democracy with our characteristics.

In his response, Mr Mojeed says it is difficult to insist that people write letters, especially in the present time of emails.

“We can only continue to say people should write letters.”

He says although young people have come to a different age, they should read the book and write letters.

The session has ended.

Up next is the book presentation and the chief presenter, Mrs Okauru, has been invited to the stage.

Joining her on stage is Mr Kayode, Senator Dickson, Bishop Kukah, the EU representative, Yusuf Ali, Nasir Abdullahi, a representative of the Sokoto State Governor, among others.

Mrs Okauru says the book gives readers an insight into Mr Obasanjo’s life. And the book shows just how genuine and authentic Mr Mojeed is, she said. The third reason to buy the book is to read the letters.

She encouraged different ways to share the book – podcasts, audiobooks, etc.

Mr Obasanjo is invited to join the team for the presentation.

Mr Fani-Kayode is invited to the stage for his goodwill message on behalf of Mr Tinubu.

He extends Mr Tinubu’s respect to the author. The APC, he says, has always had respect for Mr Mojeed because he always seeks the other side of the story.

The way in which he did it also speaks volumes of how good a journalist he is.

“We will launch the book…we will not disclose the amount but we will launch it with a very handsome amount of money and we will collect 10 copies with us today,” he said.

The representative of the Kogi State Governor gives his goodwill message.
He says he is confident that it will be one of the many books written for Mr Obasanjo.

He said they will be getting five copies of the book for N1 million.

The representative of Femi Adesina says he was sent to take five copies of the book for N300,000.

The representative of the Sokoto State Governor says he was given a blank cheque to decide what to buy. He says he will buy 10 copies of the book for N2 million.

Senator Dickson says he came to the book launch to support Mr Mojeed and to associate with anything that has to do with Mr Obasanjo.
He says he also wants to support anything that has to do with the preservation and recording of Nigeria’s history.

He supports the book with N2 million for 20 copies.

He challenged Mr Mojeed to undertake more research into the lives and activities of Nigeria’s leaders.

Former FCT minister Modibbo Umar is invited for his message. He narrates how Mr Obasanjo has contributed immensely to his growth and career.

He praises Premium Times for its professionalism.

He says he will buy five copies for N500,000.

Senator Adelere Oriolowo gives his goodwill message. He congratulates Mr Mojeed.
He takes five copies for N200,000.

Mr Obasanjo is invited to speak.

“God loves us so much that we have done so many stupid things and gotten away with it. I hope that His patience has no limit of elasticity,” Mr Obasanjo said. “The right lesson must be learnt. We have all that we need to have. God is not to blame for not doing what we should be doing.”

He says after reading the book, he will go back to his letters.

He said for refusing to take permission and conniving with some of his staff, he will decide the punishment to be meted to Mr Mojeed.

He said Senator Dickson who is not a practising lawyer will “handle” Mojeed when he starts practising law.

The chairman of PREMIUM TIMES gives a vote of thanks and promises more books like The Letterman.

What do you make of Baba? Kadaria Ahmed asked.

Mr Mojeed said he was not a fan of the former president until he started the research about the book. He stated that he had a wrong perception of the former president.

He warned journalists not to be closed-minded.

“Growing up, for those of us in the southwest, Baba was not so much of a hero because of the 1979 elections— because of the history, I grew up not liking him. My perception was shaped. Journalists must not be closed-minded. Even when I relate with him, I was not a fan, just wanted interviews and stories. That changed when I wanted to research him.

“Reading his letters, both the ones I did not include in the book and the ones I included, I realized there was much about Baba,” he said.

Mr Mojeed said he could not give judgement on the letters because he did not interview the people the letters were directed at. But to him, the ideas of the letters were good.

He added that the letters were good and historical. He stated that he did not know about his (Obasanjo’s) involvement in the struggle for African countries until he started the research.

Mr Mojeed said it remains fascinating that Mr Obasanjo survived the military despite his letters while in service.

He said the letter also revealed the influence of Nigeria in the international community, an influence that Mr Obasanjo said has waned.

Mr Mojeed said the quality of leadership has diminished since the time of Obasanjo.

Mr Obasanjo in his remarks affirmed that he did not give the author permission to write the book but he enjoyed the book.

“I did not intend to come. He (Mojeed) did not take my permission. Until last week when he brought me two copies, I did not know that he was writing the book. When I read the book, I was flabbergasted. I was torn between him not telling me and the amount of work he put in.

“I read a part and rang him. I told him, you have unearthed this part? this is good. I did not reply to his letter because I did not want him to quote me,” he said.

He explained that Bishop Kukah convinced him to attend the book launch.

“I met my Waterloo when I called Bishop Kukah, who told me he was reading my book. He told me to be here,” he stated.

He said he had to reschedule his meeting in Ethiopia by finishing his meeting early. He added that he found the book amazingly good. He encouraged people to read.

There are many things that I have forgotten, and he (Mojeed) presented them well.

The reason why I don’t grant interviews is because journalists are like a nagging wife that has children for you. You just have to tolerate them. They will annoy you. Musikiliu has one unique advantage, he tolerates me and I tolerate him.

I believe in letter writing because you have to communicate. I don’t see any substitute for it.

Mr Obasanjo said the letter must be clear and stand the test of time. He maintained that most of the letters the author used have stood the test of time.

He said he would have titled the book “Audacity of an optimist”. He said the letters were not personal but about the issues.

Mr Obasanjo said in some instances, the letters are about providing solutions.

He said the current administration has not been able to manage the affairs of its neighbours.

He cited the case of Chad and how Nigeria has left a leadership vacuum within Africa.

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