Obasanjo Agonistes

Posted by By at 1 August, at 07 : 00 AM Print

Obasanjo Agonistes
Obasanjo Agonistes


[Note: I wrote this piece in the year 2007 and, given recent happenings in Nigeria, I believe it deserves a republishing].

“Ti iya nla ba gbeni sanle, awon kekeke a ma gori eni.” – Yoruba proverb. English translation would be something like: “When a great calamity befalls a man, tiny indignities will start to pile atop.”

Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo

It is very difficult for me not to feel sorry for former Nigerian President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Less than a year ago, Uncle Sege, as he’s fondly called, was a master of all that he surveyed. Today, his image lay in ruins. It is as though every Nigerian needs to take a swipe at the Ota chief in order to feel better.

Sometime in 2007, I wrote a rejoinder to one Godwin Offoaro who was among the advocates of Chief Obasanjo’s elongation of his presidential term. I wrote, inter alia: “I believe that Chief Obasanjo will be doing a great disservice to himself, his family, the Yoruba race and the Nigerian nation if he should listen to the Offoaros of this world. As a born-again Christian, Chief Obasanjo is undoubtedly unaware of the fact that it is those who cry “Hossanah,” today who are going to be crying “Crucify him,” tomorrow.

I don’t know if he reads articles on the internet, but those close to Chief Obasanjo and those who truly love him should advise him to quit when his term ends. He has no business listening to people like Chief Offoaro.”

How prophetic!

Less than a year after he quit being President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo is being daily lampooned by critics left and right.

Those corrupt, self-serving and envelope-chasing, shameless lot that calls themselves journalists in Nigeria are using Obasanjo’s name to sell the scandal-mongering junks they call newspapers! And on the net, we have the arm-chair critics, many of them brandishing PhDs, telling bare-faced lies in order to bash Uncle Sege!

I hold no brief for Chief Obasanjo. Apart from a brief encounter at the Amsterdam airport a long time ago, I have never met the man.

And in all honesty, he’s sometimes too crude for my liking.

But I am outraged whenever my intelligence is assaulted. How on earth can any thinking human being claim that Obasanjo’s regime was the worst ever in the history of Nigeria?

This is an affront.

I was too young to remember regimes up to the Ironsi brief tenure. But I have been a witness to Nigeria’s governance since Gowon and I hereby challenge anyone, I repeat, anyone to come out and tell us which other government has performed better than the Obasanjo’s regime.

It might be true that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed is the king. But so far as achievements are concerned, no other Nigerian leader even comes close to chief Obasanjo impressive records.

Chief Obasanjo is certainly no saint; no human being is. But let’s learn to give credit where it is due.
For crying out loud, the man spent eight years ruling Nigeria and brought a modicum of respectability to the country. Of course, the roads are still in terrible shape. The electricity generation and distribution systems are still in shambles and a host of other things. But Chief Obasanjo successfully tackled the telecommunication sector. He effectively reformed the banking sector. He paid off Nigeria’s debt. He left the Nigerian treasury in better shape than he met it. If every Nigerian leader has registered the same modest achievement, the country will not be in the sorry state it is today.

Below are some of the things Chief Obasanjo did and for which he deserves credit. And I ask those criticizing him to tell us which other Nigerian leaders can boast of the same achievements.

Nigeria’s external debt and reserve: Chief Obasanjo inherited a looted treasury brimming only with crippling external debt. At the end of his tenure, these debts have not only been paid back, but he left a respectable (US$30+billion) reserves in the country’s external accounts. And some people are arguing that the man’s eight years tenure was wasted!

Nigeria’s international image: I do not know where these critics were living before the second coming of Chief Obasanjo. What is not in question, as any honest and honourable person will attest, is that Nigeria’s external image then was at the lowest ebb possible. Nigeria was then equated only with dictatorship and 419ers. The country lost its voices at the international forums. Nigeria was a pariah state and its attempt to galvanized support for a UN seat was seen as a bad joke.

Employing Nigerian best human talents: At least all his critic admits that Chief Obasanjo is a totally-detribalized Nigerian. His Yoruba critics are miffed because he refused to use his presidential terms to promote a Yoruba agenda. His Hausa critics are angry because they believe that he clipped the wings of the Northern oligarchists. What is difficult to understand is where his Igbo critics are coming from?

No other Nigerian leader has given the Igbo the same high-profile appointments accorded them by Chief Obasanjo. And yet, even those Igbos who choose to praise him had to qualify their credit. Of course, Doctors Okonjo-Iweala, Oby Ezekwesili, and Soludo are brainy, world-class technocrats. But Nigeria would have been deprived of their huge talents had Chief Obasanjo not brought them aboard.

Telecommunication: Pre-Obasanjo’s Nigeria was in the stone sage telecommunication wise. Under the regime of General Abdulsalami, yours truly was arrested in Nigeria by a police constable who believed that only armed robbers and drug pushers needed mobile phones. My plea that mobile phones are common things in Ghana where I live fell on deaf ears. Today, Nigeria is numero uno in Africa in mobile telephony usage.

Reforms in the banking sector: The London-based New African magazine in its April 2008 edition has a supplementary on Nigeria. In it we read about the tremendous strides Nigerian banks are making with some of them now listed on the London Exchange. Any traveler in the West African sub-region cannot but notice the presence of Nigerian banks.

What Chief Obasanjo and his team did with the Nigerian banking sector is nothing short of revolutionary. The question is: to whom do the chief’s critics credited with this achievement?

The EFCC: On fighting corruption, there is no single Nigerian or even African leader (with the possible exception of Ghana’s Jerry Rawlings) who has fought tenaciously against corruption like Chief Obasanjo. Again, the record is clear.

Who but a child born today hasn’t heard of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission? And may we ask these critics whom they credited with setting up the EFCC?

I am not at all arguing that corruption has been entirely removed from Nigeria. What is clear is that corrupt leaders today no longer enjoy the same type of impunity they enjoyed in pre-EFCC days! And the notorious 419ers have had their operations heavily curtailed.

The EFCC recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. Among its achievements, the commission claimed to have recovered cash and assets worth US$500 billion from corrupt leaders. These are very solid achievements in anyone’s book. We are entitled to ask the Obasanjo bashers why they keep hammering upon corruption under his regime and not mentioning the staggering sum recovered by his government.

I do not argue that Obasanjo is not corrupt.

No, the argument here is: which Nigerian leader has fought corruption and recovered any money for the nation apart from Chief Obasanjo? This includes even the muscular despotism of General Buhari.

Even if he’s corrupt, Chief Obasanjo couldn’t have stolen upward of 500 billion dollars which still puts him on the credit side. Uncle Sege might be corrupt, or he might not. I simply have no evidence. The onus is upon those accusing him to provide evidence of his corruption. It is part of our civic responsibilities to report cases of corruption to institutions like the EFCC.

Why on earth is it difficult to believe that the man could have borrowed the money for his businesses from the banks as he claimed? Which collateral is more solid than the Presidency of the nation? It might be unethical to abuse the privileges of his office, but it’d be a lesser offense than looting the commonwealth!

I thought the most successful entrepreneurs are those able to use their connections. Case in point: a Nigerian, Dangote, is reputed to be Africa’s richest man. As far as I know, no one is accusing Alhaji Dangote of corruption.

The post-Abacha Nigeria was a disaster waiting to happen. It was a morally and financially bankrupt nation wallowing in financial debt and international opprobrium. It was a pariah state in every sense of the world. It was a nation tottering on a breakup. Few Nigerians dare call it home.

Although we have not reached the Promised Land yet, most Nigerians I talk to today believe in the viability of the Nigerian Project. Today, many Nigerians appear to be prou of tehir country. To whom do these Obasanjo-bashers give the credit of rescuing the country?

Even if only because he made it possible for us to call and talk to our loved ones at home with ease, we ought to salute that singular achievement!

Those of us that make it our business (most especially the analysts among us) to inform should be circumspect in getting our facts and figures right. The onus is upon us to be disciplined enough not to allow our emotions and personal grudges to becloud our sense of judgment and objectivity. We owe it to posterity to strive to set the records straights as others might be tempted to use our pieces as sources for their research. That’s my plea!

Given the vituperation directed against the person of Chief Obasanjo, I think mayhap Nigerians deserve the type of otiose leadership they have been getting over the years. Most of the so-called Nigerian analysts I read are too myopic. Most of them apparently cannot see or reason beyond their nose. This makes me wonder why they choose to become disseminators of information rather than fiction writers!

The question Nigerians have to ask themselves is whether or not a society can prosper where members see nothing good in one another. What good can come out of a country where citizens fanatically believe in rubbishing each other?

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