Rethinking President Obasanjo

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

My initial opinion of President Olusegun Obasanjo was formed in the days of Kalakuta Republic and the Unknown Soldier saga. And I never truly forgave him for the Awolowo-Shagari two-third mess. Somehow, time “healed all wounds,” and I started to think fondly of him again when scholars “I knew” within the international relations field couldn’t and wouldn’t stop pouring accolades on him. They spoke of his acumens and his brilliance of mind; and also spoke of him in the same breath as Senghor, Nkrumah and Cabral and others.

And when some eminent Nigerians also started speaking highly of him, I just had to rethink the man. History, I was told, has a long list of mistakes committed by sages and giants and statesmen; and Obasanjo was not an exception. Indeed, he was not an exception. Because he is not a god, he has had his share of mistakes; therefore, two or four errors of judgment shouldn’t diminish his place and his stature. I was reminded of De Gaulle, Kenyatta, Thatcher, Lincoln, Macarthur, Kennedy, Churchill, Awolowo and a host of others. But somehow and unfortunately, Obasanjo’s errors seem endless, relentless, deepening and immolating.

Not minding how he came upon the presidency, he surrounded himself with middle-of-the-road personnel. Now, consider the type of men and women that were his ministers and advisers during his first terms. Most were known crooks and daylight robbers; some were old and tired hands from the 1960s and 1970s with no new ideas. These were men and women who had forgotten how the world works and couldn’t even manage twenty-first century small businesses. Yet, they were entrusted with billions and millions of naira. Any wonder then that most just showed up in their offices and took long naps during the day and took from the jar at night.

Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode was there abusing everybody. He abused Emirs and Obas and Obis. He abused our assets and great institutions. He abused Professors Chinua Achebe, Wole Shoyinka and the great economist, Professor Aluko.Fani-Kayode couldn’t stop heaping insults on all those he felt were making life uncomfortable for the president. His mantra was simple: “speak the truth and ye shall be cursed.” And so it was that all those who would have been on the side of the president all turned against him. With no social capital and goodwill left, he turned to idle-minds, liars and praise-singers.

The presidency was also terrible at disseminating messages. I don’t ever remember a time when this president got his message across (even when the message was beneficial). The late General Sanni Abacha knew what to say and he said it, or got others to articulate his thought. His cohort, General Ibrahim Babaginda was also good at delivering his messages (whether duplicitous or not); but not this president. He simply couldn’t speak or convey his visions in a clear, unambiguous language. He couldn’t, and neither could his media office in acceptable language.

You get the feeling that they were hiding something. And in fact they became sneaky and stingy with information that belongs in the public orb and no attempts were made to own up to mistakes, to apologize or set the records straight. Day after day they allowed others to define them, to package their messages. “Good journalists” were rewarded and allowed access to mushy messages skewed data; while the “bad journalists” were sanctioned or had their media house banned. The ensuing result was that the public was inundated with lies, lies and more lies as if too dunce to know the difference. The irony of this strategy was that even when the presidency was being truthful, no one believed her.

After six years in office, the Obasajo government couldn’t “establish a foundation of law; couldn’t maintain a nondiscriminatory policy environment; didn’t invest in social services and infrastructures; and failed to protect the environment.” In other words, his government was unable to provide human security for the vast majority of the people in terms of the UNDP standard: “economic security; food security; health security; environment security; personal security; community security; political security against torture; and good governance.” Simply put: the vast majority of Nigerians did not see improvements in their daily lives.

And to think that a trained military general would allow “a bloody civilian” like Atiku to unravel his plan, to throw a wrench in his schemes — whether legal or not — is simply beyond my comprehension. Constitutional arguments aside, how was Abubakar Atiku able to turn the light off on Obasanjo’s gala? You also wonder how he lost control of the Nigerian Congress. After all, this was a man who had clamped down on the Congress and his Party. Didn’t he single-handedly remove and appoint several senate presidents? Didn’t he remove and appoint his party chairmen? And didn’t state governors lived and functioned at his mercy. But with Atiku, he lost his ways. What happened?

If President Olusegun Obasanjo had played his cards right, if he had performed and improved the lives of the people, if he had truly transformed the country for the better — no one would have questioned his third terms moves. Today, tomorrow and the day after, millions of Nigerians would have stormed Aso Rock begging for him to stay, to continue his great vision. But as things are who in his/her right mind is going to beg him to stay one day longer in office. Nobody! But of course there are praise singers and life time jobbers ready to “die for him.”

The paradox of this Obasanjo narrative is this: even Nigerians who are suspicious of the supposed Hausa/Fulani domination don’t want him around anymore. And these are the same people who believe that Obasanjo is clipping the “Northern Wings,” putting them in their place, drying up their excesses and sticking it to them — yet, they wince and still say “OBJ Must Go!” Strange, isn’t it? But knowing Nigerians, come 2007 and 2008 and beyond we will long for OBJ and complain and cry about how predatory and exploitative the “northern president” is. Anyways, we complain about everything.

As much as I have criticized the president, one of the sad parts for me is this: President Obasanjo had history on his side. He had the opportunity to be called a GENERAL & STATESMAN: a man who is highly regarded at home and abroad; a man whose sole interest is the public good; the kind of man who come on the national scene once or twice in half-a-dozen generations. But some how, he blew it. He blew his chance to be etched in the memory of history and posterity. After all, this was a man’s man, a war hero, a bona fide military general. A man, who, three or so decades earlier had indicated he was not power drunk. This was a man who, more than anyone in the history of Nigeria, has remained relevant and was in the know of our collective consciousness.

Long before Nelson Mandela, President Obasanjo was the man who was associated with high standards and probity.Somehow he threw all that away. How? Why?

Think About This: President Obasanjo could still perpetuate himself in power if he wanted to. All he need do is read and read the books “written” by Husni Mubarak, Hafez al-Assad, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Omar Bongo and others. Even that little man in Cameroon is a great player. It shouldn’t be that hard for General Olusegun Obasanjo.

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1 comment

Paul O May 16, 2006 - 10:13 pm

Now that the third term madness had been killed and buried, I want to recommend strongly that Obasanjo, Servant Femi Fani-Kayode, Old and criminal papa Tony Anenih, Mantu, Ali and all of Obasanjo's cronies should be rail-roaded to jail because of their crinimal acts and atrocities to the nation in the past seven years. There is no hiding place for any one of them both in Nigeria and overseas beginning from next year after they must have been severely probed. Anenih alone stole well over 400billion naira, the money appropriated for road rehabilitation and construction. We need that money back to start a new Nigeria. The EFCC should call Obasanjo's bluff henceforth, since he is not going to be the president after next year; they have nothing to fear about this monster of a president anymore. They should begin the process of honest and sincere probing of him and all those who stole from the country. Obasanjo does not deserve to be called a stateman considering his bad leadership style and atrocities he perpetrated in the past seven years. He held the entire nation hostage and stole billions from us. Honestly speaking, I will not take any advice from such a man and I will not want the country to listen to this man's advise either because he has nothing to offer any human beings living or dead.


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