Before readers start accusing me of being an Obasanjo boy and start crucifying me or set me before a firing squad, let me emphasise that this is NOT an article to extol the virtues of ex-President Obasanjo, or to defend him or praise him or whatever. However, I am not going to pass judgement or insults and vituperations on the man either. I leave that for others who have become experts in that pastime, to do as they wish with him. The bulk of this article was written and published in nigeriaworld.com of Friday, 12 January 2007 (titled “Obasanjo-Bashing and a Credibility Problem”) long before the April Elections, and when vibrant politicking was going on in the country. I am merely going to reproduce that article here, and afterwards, in a future article, try to update it and relate it to recent events, because since Obasanjo left power, a lot of damaging revelations and scandals relating to him and his administration have surfaced, and are still surfacing, and he has been bashed left, right and centre, from his erstwhile comrades in the military, to his former Ministers, political allies and backers, and even from members of his home town and own immediate family. However, the man is adamant and stubborn to the last, insisting that “I dey kampe”. (He must know some things that the rest of us do not know)
It is also instructive to note that I have severely criticised Obasanjo’s style of governance and his administrative failures (as far as governing Nigeria was concerned) in many articles, but I have never subjected him to personal abuses and insults, as many people do, because I believe in tackling issues and not the person or personae, since nobody can claim sainthood or profess to being perfect human beings.
Here is the article in full:
It was quite refreshing and assuring to hear President Obasanjo reiterate that he is leaving at the end of his tenure in May 2007 and that “he was prepared to defend all his actions before God and man”. He made the promise at the New Year Church service and Presidential thanksgiving held in his honour at the Cathedral of Our Saviour Church, Italowajoda, Ijebu Ode. He said “as a leader in position of authority, I will not do anything that I will not be able to defend before God and man.” (This Day 03.01.2007 – I’m Ready to defend my actions, says Obasanjo)
Speaking further, Obasanjo said everybody should be able to give account of his stewardship, either to the nation or humanity, adding that he remained committed to the development, peace and stability of the country. “I will not do anything inimical to the socio-economic and political development of the country”, he was quoted as saying.
That, and many previous such assurances, should have served to further and terminally quash any doubts in the mind of many Nigerians and Obasanjo’s political foes and sworn personal enemies that the man is going in 2007. But, alas, the doubts never seem to go away, partly because President Obasanjo is not trusted, on the basis of past evidence, and partly because his many enemies are bent on bringing him down at all costs and to show Nigerians, nay, the world, that Obasanjo has not exactly been acting in the best interest of his country, Nigeria.
Herein lies the problem. Why is Obasanjo’s credibility as the President of Nigeria at stake here? Why don’t Nigerians believe him now or believe in him anymore? Why do some Nigerians seem to have personal hatred for him, going by the many vituperative and hate-filled articles and negative opinions we read about him in the media everytime, especially since the Third Term Agenda debacle?
Some schools of thought have branded Obasanjo as arrogant, dictatorial (probably because of his military and former military Head of State background), power-hungry, petulant, unreasonable, have a very high opinion of himself, vindictive and unforgiving. All the signs of an undemocratic person. In a way, in fairness to some of those who hold these beliefs, perhaps Obasanjo himself has not endeared himself to many Nigerians over the past seven or so years by appearing immovable to the criticism of his style of governance, or by measuring his achievements in office and this was not helped by the acid-tongue utterances of his close aides, especially those who were paid to launder his image in public.
On the other hand, there are others – and count me amongst them – who sincerely believe that Obasanjo has done his best for Nigeria considering the hostile and difficult circumstance and, yes, also people, that he has to operate in. Certainly in a democracy such as ours, which is nascent and by far not perfect, there was never going to be a situation where all will be satisfied with one man’s performance. It is a fact that in a democratic setting, you will have political enemies. As a matter of fact, the same goes for any type of governance; you can’t satisfy everybody. You can only do your best and leave God, history and people to judge you. It is a thankless job, no matter how you try.
As a way of digression, I recently met a Briton who had spent 30 years in Nigeria and is now retired back in England. Inevitably, our conversation turned to the problems of Nigeria – corruption, inept rulers, politics, etc. When we broached the subject of leadership and my friends started vilifying Obasanjo, the Englishman rebuked us, and said that it is only God who could rule Nigeria perfectly. He said having spent almost a lifetime in Nigeria; he has come to the conclusion that Obasanjo is the best President Nigeria could ever ask for at this time in our history. He said that Nigeria is the most difficult country in the world to govern, and he has been to a lot of countries. When he started expanding on this with logical and valid examples, we had to keep quiet and listen and agree with his analysis. He was right. Only God could rule Nigeria successfully as at now. Maybe in fifty years time, we will have the likes of Kennedy, Thatcher, Clinton and other great statesmen and women, but right now OBJ is the closest thing to handling Nigeria the way it should be handled. Of course, this is arguable, depending on which side of the fence you are or which side your bread is buttered.
My Englishman’s conclusions should be taken in context however, as I pointed out to him. Those Nigerians suffering very severe unnecessary hardship while Governors and lesser politicians are busy stuffing their pockets with Nigeria’s Petrodollars would have something to say about that. While OBJ is busy paying off debts and stacking the treasury with 50 billion dollars, while the roads remain in deplorable conditions; while God knows how many billions have been spent in seven years to improve electricity and the whole country is still in perpetual darkness; while armed robbers are boldly roaming the streets and killing their fellow Nigerians incessantly and our policemen are standing on the highways “robbing” motorists; while we have up to eighty Universities and their graduates are ending up without jobs and causing young girls to prostitute themselves in order to survive; while OBJ, his deputy and other top government officials and retired civil servants and ex-military rulers own Universities and big commercial farms while Federal and State Universities are neglected and starved of funding and all the Ministries of Agriculture and state-owned farms are moribund and have virtually nothing to do; while ordinary Nigerians can not afford three-square meals a day; while our people are dying because of understaffed, ill-equipped, neglected and under-funded hospitals; while potable clean water is not flowing in our taps; will surely have something to say about this. These are only some of the issues that are bewildering suffering, innocent Nigerians.
However, this is not my main discussion here. My main discussion is Obasanjo – bashing which I will define, with due respect to all, as the pastime by everybody who have access to the internet, of heaping insults and vituperative and verbal assaults on, and blaming every problem of Nigeria under the sun on President Obasanjo.
In a previous article I made mention of the Yoruba saying that “Leadership is like a garbage dump, everybody will dump things on you whether you like it or not”. However, we need to be constructive in our criticism of our leaders. I said then that “I have read very stinging attacks on Obasanjo, and I sometimes shake in my boots at the venom in those totally un-objective criticisms. Most were nothing short of personal hatred and nothing to do with unbiased evaluation of his government and his performance. The poor man must be the most vilified and abused President in a democratic setting. It is a free country (?), and yes, we as citizens have every right to criticise our elected officials and leaders. Yes, we also have a right to remove any errant leader (and of course, most of our leaders are errant indeed), but personal attacks borne out of personal hatred is not the way forward. It shows that we hardly respect our leaders, maybe rightly so. The Office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria deserves some respect, and so does the occupier of that position, no matter what. Personal abuse is taking things to far.” Respect is a two-way affair. If we do not respect them (while we criticise them), they do not respect us and vice versa.
Unfortunately, most such commentaries are from erudite, eminent and respected Nigerians, whose sense of patriotism, and indeed, education, should be called into question, as far as their motives are concerned. Most of these writers have the academic suffix “Ph D” attached to their names, letting us know that they are very well educated. Please let me reiterate that I am an advocate of education and will always acknowledge and admire anyone who has a Doctorate in whatever discipline, myself having a postgraduate degree. Alas, it is shameful and sickening to read articles by these highly paper-qualified Nigerians bashing Obasanjo and everything in sight. It is one thing to criticise and offer solutions; it is another to engage in hate-filled vituperative and personal insults just because you don’t agree with one’s style of doing things.
The article written by Frisky Larr titled “Poor Obasanjo: a helpless punching bag for wannabe philosopher” in nigeriaworld.com of 5th January 2007 rightly condemned this new pastime of Doctorate degree holders, incidentally most of them of Yoruba and Ibo origins, who for one reason or the other, indulge regularly in bashing OBJ. Nothing the man has done in the past 7 years seems to be right. In fact, he has done nothing right at all, according to these erudite cliques. Is it really possible that for eight years, OBJ has not done anything as the Chief Executive of Project Nigeria to warrant any praise? Sure, OBJ is human and he has got to make some mistakes – which he definitely has – yet we forget that a man, who does not make any mistakes, does not make anything at all.
Add to the personal insults, desecrating the office of the President of Nigeria, by calling OBJ all sorts of names under the sun, and never trying to be objective in their criticism. These people never seem to be able to grasp the fact that before you criticise, you need to hold a balanced view of issues and try as much as possible to view things on the other side’s perspective.
Take the case of Obasanjo’s erstwhile Vice President, Atiku Abubakar. I am not going to go into the constitutionality of whether OBJ has the right to unilaterally sack Atiku or not. What people chose to ignore is that Atiku was hand-chosen by Obasanjo to be his running-mate in 1999; that the position of Vice-President is subordinate to that of the President; that by Atiku’s actions and ill-advice by his followers, he has become a liability and even a threat and an opponent to his President, in order to pursue his own political agenda and dreams, the loyalty of himself to his President not-withstanding; that he has decided to join an opposition party which was not the original platform that got him and his boss elected in the first place, and that therefore, whether it is constitutional or not, the ethical and moral option for him is to resign as the Vice President and then pursue his political agenda and any other issues he might want to pick up with Obasanjo and others.
The Holy Bible said that if you find yourself in a hole, you should stop digging. For the life of me, I cannot fathom why the Vice President, a supposedly astute and experienced politician, is hell bent on committing political hara-kiri. His advisers and friends are not advising him well or, you never know, maybe indeed they have Obasanjo’s balls in their hands. The fact is Obasanjo holds more aces than Atiku and he knows what to do with them. On the long run, unless Atiku can come up with a credible answer of his own, he is kaput. “Rather than his friends cautioning the Vice President in the loudest term possible and drawing his attention to the fact that a Vice President is on no account, meant to be an opposition force against his own President”, they are busy applauding him and pushing him towards the precipice. They should make him realize that a Vice President is supposed to rise and fall with his President, instead of accusing the President of breaching the constitution, and heaping abuse on him and desecrating the Office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, further dragging Nigeria’s battered image in the mud for their own selfish reasons and thereby demonstrating further that Atiku is not the right man to replace OBJ.
And our erudite doctorate friends and colleagues are in deep with this. Refusing to be objective and constructive, and castigating the President and heaping ridicule upon his person and his office. The irony is that many of our Ph D holders are no worse than the current crop of political jobbers and office holders we have today. Some Governors are very highly educated, and are the most corrupt of the lot. I have seen Ph D holders fighting and struggling for political and appointed positions all over the place and demeaning themselves. They have to eat, like everybody else, they say unashamedly in support of their actions.
Constructive criticism is the process of offering valid and well-reasoned opinions about the work of others, usually involving both positive and negative comments, in a friendly manner rather than an oppositional one. In collaborative work, this kind of criticism is often a valuable tool in raising and maintaining performance standards.
Because of the overuse of negative, nagging criticism, some people become defensive even when receiving constructive criticism given in a spirit of good will. Constructive criticism is more likely to be accepted if the criticism is focused on the recipient’s work or behaviour. That is, personality issues must be avoided as much as is possible. Critical thinking can help identify relevant issues to focus on.
During initial exchanges or when encountering defensive individuals, effective criticism calls for softer language and inclusion of positive comments. When the recipient strongly identifies with contentious areas (such as politics or religion), non-offensive criticism becomes challenging and makes such recipient responsive to change.
Constructive criticism is exactly the opposite of what most of the vitriolic and unforgiving critics of Obasanjo, his government, his policies, his achievements and personality embark on. Of course, it is deliberate and biased and clouded by personal hatred as well as our well known disgruntled opposition to anything positive, our penchant to bring successful people down, a fear of and resistance to change and a little bit of hidden agenda, hence not to be taken lightly, because of the problems associated with such thinking and behaviour. It is dangerous in the least and catastrophic at most to the Nigerian democratic experiment.
Democracy is all about human rights, freedom of expression, freedom of association and what you have, but it is not a license to spew hatred and foment trouble in the polity and the society. In most truly democratic countries, the inclination and objective of the populace is that whoever or whatever political party is in power, you rally round them and encourage them to succeed for the good of the country. In our dear native land, this is not so. The opposition, and those who do not like the person of the elected are always stirring up trouble and negative in their assessment of the government of the day, just because they are not there. Politics of bitterness and selfishness, that’s what we have. Yet, when the same critics get there, they hardly have anything better to offer as alternative to the current.
It is a sad but inescapable fact of our life.
That was the article. For further articles written by other authors relating to this, I would like to refer readers to “In Defence of Obasanjo” by Ephraim Emenanjo Adinlofu (nigeriavillagesquare.com Friday, 25th April 2008) and “Re: In Defence of Obasanjo – My Own Views” by Ifeanyi Nwolisa (nigeriaworld.com Thursday 1st May 2008)
“Let the truth be said always, and let God be the judge”