More than a year ago, I openly speculated that Obasanjo, in his heart, for all we know, may be rooting for a woman successor in 2007 without telling anyone including his embattled First Lady who has taken as much heat from her involvement in the now famous Osomo Housing scandal as she took when she was rumored as a prime candidate for breast implant otherwise called “Ndomi” in Nigeria. Painstakingly studying Obasanjo’s moves and track record for more than 25 years now, I am not one to buy the speculation by a cross section of Nigerians and the Press that he may not leave office in 2007 or that he may be gunning for a male heir apparent. He may have had a ‘quid pro quo’ arrangement with IBB, but it is an arrangement he can easily torpedo, if he sees a compelling reason to do so. That is my take on him. You may or may not agree with me, and you don’t have to.
Obasanjo who admitted he is already home sick, and yearning to go back to his Ota Farm, will surely call it quit in 2007, even without being pushed, and without anyone putting a gun to his head. Why? Because more than any of our leaders, dead or alive, Obasanjo knows, if he quits honorably now, like he did in 1979, he would have scored another home run with the International community he cares so much about in his heart. He can also see himself being brought back to power again in Nigeria as our moral Houdini of Nigerian politics and elder statesman, if things begin to go down the drain again, God forbid, for our country with the looters back in control. If it happens before, it, sure, can happen again, and nobody understands that prism better than Obasanjo who now views himself, either rightly or wrongly as one of the legit founding fathers of Nigeria, if not one of her greatest leaders, by reason of his role as the luckiest and the longest serving President in all of our history.
I can vouch for Obasanjo’s abiding faith in the survival of Nigeria as one united country under God. He, sure, have all his faults like any of us, and no one but God is perfect, and he also knows as much as some of us do that anything made by man, and even God, can be infinitely improved, if we try. Obasanjo has been a constant factor in our equation, in and out of office, for more than 35 years now, for purposes of an argument. Within that space of time, he has had the honor of putting his life on the line to keep Nigeria one. He has worked extremely hard, and I think he truly understands what it means to govern Nigeria in all its ramifications. He has been truly blessed by God and Destiny to play that role. He is more than a cat with nine lives, and I believe God had made him that way because God had wanted him to play all the roles he had been playing in our country’s affairs, just by being in the right place at the right time.
This same Obasanjo was supposed to have been eliminated the same day with Murtala Mohammed in 1976. If you recall what happened that day, with precision, like I do, because Murtala Mohammed was assassinated right in front of my then office next door to Ikoyi Federal Secretariat. I actually heard the AK 47 machine gun used by Dimka go off, as I ran into the toilet, wondering what was going on, in the early morning traffic from Ikoyi to downtown Lagos. It was Colonel Dumuje who I knew very well in my days at the Army Headquarters in Republic Building at Marina, Lagos, that had taken the bullet that was meant for his look-alike Obasanjo. And like I once said, and like Obasanjo has said or gloated about many times, what our great sage, Obafemi Awolowo, for all his intellectual power, vision and acumen, could not achieve, in a life time, is what the Balogun of Owu had already achieved three times without lifting a finger. Some are even foolishly suggesting that he becomes the Oliver Twist of Nigerian Politics and remain in office one more term. Whether you like it or not, that has been the fact of our History that any of us cannot wish away or dismiss as irrelevant.
Obasanjo has been an achiever in our country. In less than one week he has recorded so many outstanding victories that can no longer be ignored or swept under the carpet. He may have turned the corner with running our Economy by the current size of Nigeria’s Foreign Reserve which has reached astronomical height the last time I checked, and by the quiet stability of our local currency relative to the Dollar or Sterling or the Euro. That was point number one. Point number two is getting the G8 Group of countries to agree to write off the debt of 14 countries in Africa and 4 elsewhere, At long last, President Obasanjo who has gone on overseas trips many more times than most Foreign Ministers and Presidents of richer countries, now has something to show for literarily governing Nigeria from the air. His much criticized trips are no longer considered a jamboree or pennywise and pound-foolish, if you recognize, as I do, that 18 billion dollars owned to all our Foreign debtors plus the interest on it for indefinite number of years will no longer remain an albatross on the neck of our country for generations yet unborn.
Obasanjo has not only staked his reputation and credibility on leading the fight for Africa, Nigeria has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of the scheme, with as much as 18 billion dollars debt being written off from our national debt with a stroke of the pen. Even though
There were other good news for Nigeria and for our President in the field of Sports which has been the central glue joining our country together as one country, if you ask me. We are only one country when the Nigerian soccer team wins or loses in international competitions around the world. Then there is the news from Owu, his home town where the President choice for Kabiyesi, the new Olowu-elect, Prince Dosunmu has now been ratified by the kingmakers, without a dissenting voice. Who says that Power is not an ‘afrodisiac’ in our country? Amazing! We no longer hear of the President tearing into pieces the sheet of paper announcing the victory of the candidate, other than the one supported by the Osagyefo, Matthew Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo. Right now, as we speak, Obasanjo is again leading a commendable fight to have an Afican country named as a member of the Security Council. If the truth must be told, the only authentic African country which can rival Nigeria, for that priceless jewel, is South Africa. But for the support and purposeful leadership of Nigeria, the nation called South Africa, could never have broken the yoke of Apartheid without the active support of Nigeria. Now is payback time. I don’t think South Africa would have any cause to grudge Nigeria, if in the final analysis Nigeria gets the nod of the International Community to claim what rightly belongs to her. That is my view, and I am offering it with all modesty and candor. Nigeria deserves a seat in the Security Council in recognition of her pivotal role as a leader in Africa for close to 50 years now.
I have gone into all these preamble to make my case that Obasanjo is clearly an enigmatic leader. If you are judging him by his persona or sheer lack of Charisma, you could easily write him off as an imbecile of sorts, but behind that demeanor, is a very solid achiever with the proverbial belly as deep as the borehole. Obasanjo is a master planner and tactician who knows his goal and how to always get there. His meteoric rise in the Military exemplifies that without any question. Even though he holds an HND in Engineering, he is an intellectual who can stand his own against any graduate anywhere in the world. He is that good. If you read any of the few books he has authored including the one titled ‘My Command’, his recollections of the Biafran War and his role in it, you would be convinced Obasanjo is an intellectual giant in his own right.
I was in the Federal Service for all of his first term in office as a Military Head of State and successor to Murtala Mohammed, and I was privileged to know him, even though he may not know me. He is one tough cookie of a soldier, and a typical Owu man to the core. There is no telling what Obasanjo may do or not do. He is always keeping his options close to his chest, and hardly ever confides in people beyond a specified point. But he knows what he wants, and how to go about it, his own way. He has some core beliefs he would not toy with, even though his whole world is all about him above others, and he would do what he needs to do in a heartbeat, even if that means making a few sacrificial lamb of a few friends and loyalists. There is no sacrifice he would not make, if the goal is keeping our country one. That much I know.
He is a womanizer of some kind, and his basic instinct is to defer to women, if he can. But he is still his own man, and can hardly be held to ransom by any woman in this world. He has no abiding faith in the western world notion of one man, one wife, and his track record as President reflects that. It is true he has one titular First Lady in Stella, but he is also known to have other wives and concubines like most of our leaders, and he knows how to navigate the troubled waters of polygamy better than any other Nigerian leader I know. But above all, he is a captive to meritocracy especially among women. Stella had worked her way to becoming his First Lady of his second and third coming into Government by reason of her unfailing and courageous support for him while he was in Abacha’s Gulag. I have heard from the gravevine, there was once a rebellion or mutiny by the other women in his life, questioning the General about his not making room for a rotational First Lady since they are so many. Obasanjo would not hear it. He simply dismissed them with a wave of the hand, asking them to go take a hike, like they say in America. He is that kind of man.
My speculation is that that the President may well have seen Mrs. Okonjo Iweala as a potential presidential material, and he is just waiting for a chance to test her out on her patriotism and commitment to our nation, before sticking out his neck for her as a possible successor in 2007 at a time the President is demonstrating intrinsic interest in technocrats as a group, rather than career politicians per se. If you look into his new Cabinet, you will easily notice that preference for women in particular. The President has been forthright enough not to take all the credits for his now apparent success in taking the tough de
cisions that have set the tone for the huge economic recovery and stability never before witnessed in our country. He has given much of the credits to a few of his Cabinet appointees like the current Governor of Central Bank, Mr. Soludo and most especially his current Minister of Finance in Okonjo–Iweala who is doing a marvelous job of turning Nigerian economy around in a short period of four years. Mrs. Okonjo–Iweala may well be the best compromise choice Obasanjo is going to put forward as his successor once the impact of her economic magic begins to unfold and touch the life of the common man in our country.
Two or three years to the D day in 2007, I see more compelling indicators of that on the horizon that suggest to me that may well be Obasanjo’s trump card. Okonjo–Iweala is on her way to becoming to Obasanjo, what Carl Rove has been to President Bush Junior or what Henry Kissinger had been to Richard Nixon. Singling out Obasanjo alone for praise for the success of his economic policies is like giving all the credit to Richard Nixon for the opening up of China while totally ignoring the role of his pleni-potentiary ubiquitous Secretary of State in the one and only Henry Kissinger fondly referred to as ‘Mr. Fix it’ at the time. Much of the encomiums now going to Obasanjo today naturally belong to the architect of the Obasanjo’s economic miracle, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, arguably the most powerful, result-oriented and effective Finance Minister we have ever had since Obafemi Awolowo.
I recall that Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, Mr. Soleye, Chief now Oba Olashore, the Laloko of Iloko, Ijesha Land, and Chief Oluyemi Falae have all held the same position at one point or the other in their career, and three of them have all moved from there to be named Presidential candidates in their own right. In the Nigeria lexicon of politics, a Finance Minister has a much brighter chance to succeed the President than whoever holds the dead end job of a Vice President. That has been our history and track record, and that may well the case with Okonjo–Iweala who nobody is talking about today.
I have just gone back to double-check the list of the three most visible candidates we have all read about today, starting with IBB who carries a lot of baggage like the so-called Heir Apparent who is no longer apparent, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the new blood, the one time Governor of Lagos State in Buba Marwa. None of them, I will argue has much clout to effectively manage our economy as Mrs. Okonjo Iweala, formerly of the World Bank. She is a tested hand and not a politician, She has as much international credibility as Golda Meir of the State of Israel, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Benezir Bhutto of Pakistan, Bandaranaike of Ceylon when they were first tipped for the highest public office in their countries. If they were able to do so, and turn their country around, so can our own Okonjo-Iweala.
I do not subscribe to the argument being made in certain quarters that the next President has been permanently zoned to the North. In my own considered opinion, it is the turn of the South/South or the South East or the Middle Belt to produce the next President. I cannot think of a more deserving candidate at this time than Mrs. Okonjo Iweala, as a woman candidate and as a candidate from the South East. She is head and shoulder better than Orji Uzor Kalu and some of the candidates now making noise in the South East, and she does not carry some of the baggage the known politicians from the same area are known to carry. She is a patriot to the core, and can be trusted to do a good job, and to assemble a Cabinet that our whole country can be proud of, if elected. If she can be persuaded to serve as Minister, I guess she can be persuaded to serve as President, if the push comes to shove. Mr. President will do a better job canvassing the candidature of Okonjo–Iweala than backing a wrong horse in IBB, like he did, when the President recently dismissed all criticisms against IBB, as mere speculations and rumors in coffee shops and market places. If you are right, Mr. President, how come IBB, unlike you, was running from pillar to post trying to stop your Oputa Panel from examining all of the allegations against him, and coming to the same conclusion you have now come to. You already have a worthy presidential candidate working for you. Please have the courage of your conviction to give her your support. You will be glad you did, and our nation stands to benefit from it, in a big way.
I rest my case.