Obasanjo: Between Image And Reality

Today, Nigerians are poorer than they were eight years ago. As the Economist noted recently,”Over 70 percent still live on the equivalent of less than $1 a day; decaying hospitals, schools and roads tell their own stories.” They (Nigerians) neither have jobs, housing, medical care nor food. For the commonest of ailments, the elite who can afford it, still seek medical treatment abroad, so as not to take chances (apologies to Obasanjo) with the dilapidated medical facilities at home.

Contrary to his promises to heal the wounds inflicted on the country by the military, the reality is that Obasanjo will leave behind a less united and more fractious polity on May 29 than he met in 1999.

In 1999, the president promised to “turn Nigeria from a pond of corruption to an island of integrity.” That, of course, has become an empty rhetoric. As he prepares to retire, the colossal problem of corruption is hardly dented, and fingers of blame cannot but point directly at him having appropriated the oil portfolio, the major source of patronage and sleaze, for almost eight years.

It is instructive that Obasanjo, who, on assumption of office, revoked many of the oil licences handed out by his predecessor, auctioned 45 oil blocks in a last-minute sale of oil acreage, last week.

Contrary to the impression he created in 1999, the reality, as he prepares to leave office, is that the deeply corrupt Nigerian political system has remained intact. If anything, it has been entrenched under him. Not only did his democratic credentials take a fatal blow in 2006 when he, in the manner of the military leaders that preceded him in office, attempted to extend his rule beyond the constitutional limit of two terms, the transition politics under his supervision turned out to be the worst in the country’s history.

As local and international election monitors have said, the April elections are the worst polls ever conducted anywhere in the world

Max van den Berg, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, who led the European Union’s election observers, put the verdict baldy. “The 2007 state and federal elections have fallen short of basic international and regional standards for democratic elections and the process cannot be considered to be credible.”

Pierre-Richard Prosper, former US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes, who headed the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) 59-member international election observation mission, echoed the same sentiments. “These elections did not measure up to those observed by the members of IRI’s international delegation in other countries, whether in Africa, Asia, Europe or the Western Hemisphere,” the group said in its report issued two days after the April 21 presidential and National Assembly polls.

After eight years in power, a very wide chasm exists between the messianic image Obasanjo created and still creates of himself and the reality of his leadership capabilities.

The president loves hugging the image of a democrat, an incorruptible leader; a man destined by God to restore Nigeria’s lost glory, scarred by decades of military rule.

The reality, which has emerged, is that he is none of these.

On May 29, Obasanjo will hand over power to a government with questionable legitimacy, product of his political sleight of hand. Contrary to his promises eight years ago, he will leave behind a country with epileptic power supply; where majority of the population does not have access to piped water; where roads are still pot-holed death traps.

He will leave behind a country where majority of the people live on less than $1 a day; where health, education and other development indices show continuing decline as a result of corruption; where as much as 20 percent of the country’s oil exports are still being stolen or disrupted by the insurgency in the Niger Delta region.

But more importantly, he will leave behind a divided country; a country less democratic than when he rode to power on the wings of a bogus image.

With the outcome of the April 2007 elections, Obasanjo, in the manner of his predecessors, has taken Nigeria, contrary to his own admonitions in 1999, down the path leading to nowhere. By so doing, he has, once again, proven Achebe’s assertion that “the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership,” right.

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