Both are from Ogun State, great sons of Oduduwa. I can’t say precisely when their personal issues started but l think it was exacerbated in 1986 when Kongi won the Nobel award. He was celebrated by almost everyone but Obasanjo (OBJ).
Then there was a vacancy at the United Nations and OBJ began his campaign to be the Secretary General of the World body. One of his most vociferous critics and traducers against that ambition was Kongi. That set the stage for deep-seated animosity between the duo until they almost exchanged blows at a public place.
In an interview published in CLASSIQUE magazine edition of August 26, 1991, Professor Wole Soyinka explained his near fisticuff encounter with the General when they met at the VIP lounge of the airport in Ikeja, Lagos.
“Let me tell you what happened. Obasanjo entered the VIP room , saw me seated on the right side corner and launched into torrent of abuses, straight away. Obasanjo, followed by an entourage of about six, including his own people and the protocol officers. Obasanjo entered the VIP room, saw me on the right side corner and began to abuse me. I mean literally abuse me. I mean he really launched out torrent of insults and abuses at me. I did not respond at this stage… The abuses were more pungent than the normal abuses but I chose to pretend that it was the usual nasty bantering.
So, after he had gone for some time, I said ‘when you are finished, let me know because I think this is an opportunity for us to talk man to man’. He said, I think something like ‘Who wants to talk to you, get out’ … And he just continued. So I said you are not yet exhausted. When you are exhausted, let me know. I’m coming over and we are going to talk about all these things face-to-face, all these things we have been saying on the pages of newspaper”.
So he appeared to have calmed down, I then strolled over and sat down opposite him and said ‘now, let’s talk’. And I want to assure you that in the next fifteen minutes, it was a very civilized exchange. I challenged him and traced the course of the African Leadership Forum, I traced it back to a certain Paris connection. And I said why haven’t you told your collaborators of this connection. I honestly don’t remember at what point Obasanjo became insulting and began to defame me and at that point, I must admit, I too lost my temper. Definitely because nobody defames me and get away with it without answering him back. So I told him exactly what I thought about him but am reserving that for the law court. I told him I’m suing you Obasanjo. I said I am going to take you to court and wash you down properly. I said I will sue you for every penny that you have and that from now on, it is fight to finish … He issued threats against my life. It’s in my letter to the Inspector-General of Police. He was using Yoruba, while I was replying him in English. In fact when some visitors came in, I began to deliberately answering him back in English, even though he continued speaking to me in Yoruba. And I did it deliberately because I wanted witnesses. I wanted to get him to repeat what he was saying in English by responding to him in English but he continued to speak in Yoruba.
When I went to my seat in disgust, I’m not sure of the words I used, but I said something like “what a disappointment! I thought we could cover all sorts of subjects including the UN Secretary-Generalship”. Then I made a remark that “ I thought we could discuss this your bid for UN Secretary Generalship”. And then he responded “who came to ask you for job? In Yoruba, of course. ‘talo wase sodo e?’ I had stated my opposition to his bid, not against his person as such (but on principle)… Obasanjo is not a fit individual to be the Secretary-General of the United Nations… Obasanjo cannot aspire, at least should not be, let me put it that way. He can aspire. Maybe they will have a different code of conduct in the United Nations than the one which they have. All what am saying is that this nation should not have forwarded him as the nation’s candidate with the history behind him. That’s my position. And of course, there are about a hundred other issues which disqualify Obasanjo…. Without nation’s opinion, without organisation’s opinion, Obasanjo is not a fit individual to head the administration of the united Nations.”