The News coming out of Nigeria suggests that President Olusegun Obasanjo is waging a winning war against corruption. And indeed, some commentators have suggested that this period represents the president’s finest hour save for his military career. And even some of his ardent critics are sending praises his way.
President Obasanjo certainly deserves some credit for his current moves; but I am not that generous as to reward him with a grade better than a C-. Why? Well, if you have problem with a rotten tree, you don’t solve the problem by chopping off branches here and there. No! What you do is to uproot the tree itself. In order words, getting rid of a couple of highly placed officials won’t make a dent in the “fight against corruption” because Nigeria’s culture of corruption is both deep-seated and pervasive. Criminality has become a religious calling on the part of the vast majority of Nigerians so much so that it is now illegal not to give or take bribes. Therefore, as far as Obasanjo’s war goes, we have a losing battle on our hands.
My reading of Obasanjo is unflattering. If he had begun his presidency with the kind of zeal he is now displaying, Nigeria would have been a much better country. Or, at the very least, a modicum of law and order and institutional sanity would have enveloped the nation; and our collective penchant for illegality would have abated. But unfortunately, this was not the case as the president practically wasted the last five years of his presidency chasing phantoms, chasing smoke and shadows.
The President had the resources, the good will and the experience to tackle most of our collective problems, but he did not. He had the prayer of the vast majority of Nigerians to restructure the nation’s political system, institutions, culture and disposition, but he failed. He had the unique opportunity to help transform the nation’s economy, but he botched it. Since 1999, he has been hedging and pandering to nefarious gangs; he employed political survival strategies and strategies of survival to stay afloat; he wasted time trying to repay old political debts; he allowed himself to be pulled in all directions therefore losing all sense of purposeful leadership; and he heartily involved himself with shady and shoddy characters that were bent on sucking the nation’s marrow.
President Obasanjo had the rare opportunity to positively mold the country, set it forth on the path of progress and modernity, but alas, here again, he failed miserably. And so because of the aforesaid, Obasanjo is nothing but a failed president who underperformed and disappointed the vast majority of the people who placed their trust and hope in him. For that he must answer to history and to posterity — both of which will be unkind to him.
And as far as the current round of corruption-brouhaha goes, well, my position is that it is nothing but a smokescreen. The fact is that Obasanjo was angry only because Dr. Osuji, Senator Wabara and other political scoundrels were sloppy in their handling of the 55million naira affair. They brought further shame and continued dishonor to an office that is already clothed in malfeasance and all manner of illegalities. The president didn’t want the whiff of feces to blow towards him; therefore those responsible for such mess had to pay. And pay they have!
Dr. Fabian Osuji forgot to cover his tracks and also failed to shield his boss. He forgot to preserve the false image the president is trying to portray to the global community. After all, Obasanjo has been busy telling the world how hard he is waging the war against corruption. Who is Osuji to pour water on Obasanjo’s fire? Who is Ebere Wabara to stop the music when Obasanjo is dancing? Who is Mobolaji Osomo to pour gravels on Obasanjo’s feast? Because they caused the president to lose sleep and lose face, he had to feed them to the gods. The irony of this scandal is simply this: 55 million naira is chicken change, peanuts, in a country such as ours where people pilfer millions and billions from the public treasury in broad daylight!
Obasanjo’s annoyance aside, the fact is that the Nigerian government doesn’t in itself forbid bribery, corruption and all types of harmful activities. All that is required is for government functionaries to be careful. There are five cardinal rules to playing the bribery game: (1) watch your back; (2) know who is at the receiving end; (3) don’t be greedy; (4) don’t boast about your activities and (5) don’t get caught. But if you get caught, don’t squeal on your accomplices because tomorrow will come and one can never tell in which quarter or on which team one will find oneself. The recent band of crooks did not follow these simple rules; therefore they must suffer like all those who planned coups and failed. If you fail, you will be hanged; if you succeed, you become the emperor. Failure is not an option in matters of coups and bribery gone bad!
In all of these however, I detect double standard and hypocrisy on the part of Nigerians. For years, Nigerians of all ages and of different religious, ethnic and political shades have been illegally milking the country. We engaged in or encouraged all manner of illicit behaviors and or turned blind eye to acts we knew were inimical to the well being of the nation. Honest and hardworking Nigerians were shunned or silenced. And beginning in 1985 or thereabout, Nigerians entered a new phase whereby mediocrity, bribery and corruption, vandalism and hooliganism, and political assassinations became the national pastime. It was also around that period that religion became an instrument for oppression and a license to bamboozle the innocent.
For a long time, my fear was that ethnicity and religion will do Nigeria in. Well, both are still like grenades and dirty bombs that can go off at anytime. But today, I am more concerned about our penchant for bribery and corruption, greed and avarice. Unfortunately, aside from soccer, it is these vices that have brought Nigerians together and united them in a common purpose. Since the era of Ibrahim Babangida, the race has been on for illegal accumulation of wealth, power and influence. President Obasanjo had the opport
unity to stem the tide, but he dropped the ball and broke the dam. And so it is that today, illegal accumulation of money, religion and ethnicity has become Nigeria’s number one killer.
In the end, this president’s actions and pronouncements are reminiscent of a man who is gunning for history and posterity and so does not want his presidency tarnished or considered a failure. But of course his presidency is tarnished, a monumental failure! He is part of the problem, a very big part of the problem. He cannot offer moral leadership; for morality belongs to people like Chief Gani Fawehinmi. He cannot provide ethical leadership; for ethical leadership belong to people like Colonel Abukakar Umar. Obasanjo has lost his ways. He has lost his compass. He has become a distraction. He has nothing left to offer the nation in terms of leadership or counsel or support. And so we wait and wait and wait until this unproductive wind blows over.