The Swan Song of a Failed Leader/Letter Writer

by Peter Claver Oparah
Olusegun Obasanjo

And so, Olusegun Obasanjo, former Head of State and two-term civilian President wrote a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari praising him on his anti-corruption and security policies and scoring him low on his economic and foreign affairs policies and advising him, based on his health issues, not to run for a second term. The unmistakable paradox marking this letter is that of a man who did everything to illegally alter our constitution to procure a third term advising another man not to exercise his legal rights of a second term but that is not the topic for this report. The Buhari government has put up a well-marshalled and unputdownable response to the letter particularly as it concerns the achievements of the government and laid an open challenge to whoever feels that Obasanjo or any other former leader did better to come forward with the same clarity it did its response. Shorn of the cavalier, self-applauding and egocentric rhymes of the Obasanjo missive, the reply was couched in the most lucid manner so as to keep the argument focused and showed an undue respect to Obasanjo whose noxious tendency to play dictator and examiner to every other regime is becomingly annoyingly petulant.

This report shall leave the reactions for or against the Obasanjo letter to the open space where it is raking sufficient attention presently. It shall also leave out whether Obasanjo has so appropriated the Nigerian state as to be the sole determinant of the fate of Nigeria, as he sought to portray in his letters. That would be found out after the elections next year where Obasanjo has promised to present a third force to wrestle power from Buhari and install an order beholden to him. I would rather do a brief revisit of the Obasanjo stewardship in eight of the eleven years he had been in power to find out where he draws the experience, the moral and ethical rights to dictate the leadership Nigeria must have at any time.

The kind of incessant interventions Obasanjo makes in Nigeria is the kind a successful leader who has shown, by practice, what he sanctimoniously sermonizes on the national space. Does Obasanjo fit this requirement by the leadership he provided here in Nigeria in eight years? To me, the answer is a resounding no for if leadership performance is a criterion for Obasanjo to twist and swing narratives to talk down other leaders while sing-praising himself, then he should just disappear from our space. Most importantly, Obasanjo, and of course any other past leader, must, in same clarity as the Buhari government, provide Nigerians with their own achievements in the areas of Economy, Infrastructures; Power, Rail, Road, Air, Security, Agriculture, Foreign Affairs, Education, Health, Youth, etc. before stepping on the national space to insult us with pejorative tales or criticisms of others and praises of themselves.

The question is, did Obasanjo do well as a leader for the eight years he was in power? We shall try to revisit the records Obasanjo left here after eight years to see if he deserves the huge cloth he had sown for himself that allows him to regularly meddle into other leaders’ affairs and dictate how Nigeria should be ran.

The economy had been Obasanjo’s regular forte and in his latest missive, he boasted that he turned Nigeria into a land flowing with milk and honey. You may rightly ask the foundation for this growth because during Obasanjo’s regime, our national infrastructures decayed to an abysmal level. The roads so decayed that even the road leading to his Otta was turned into an untamable river for the eight years he was in power. Go to Lagos-Ibadan expressway to find the relics of what Obasanjo did here for eight years in the billboards bearing his picture erected through the length of the road when no attention was paid to that main economic artery as it decayed for the period he was in power. Have we forgotten how our air record was so notorious as Obasanjo was in power such that planes were falling off the sky with the prurience dead twigs fall from trees? What of the railway sector which so went extinct that not even a coach was added to the rotting trains Obasanjo met despite huge sums budgeted for the sector? What of the power sector that crumbled when he was in power even after claiming to have spent $16 billion on the sector? So on what grounds were Obasanjo’s phantom economic growth structured if he paid no attention to development of infrastructures for eight whole years?

Perhaps, what Obasanjo touts as his economic magic was selling off Nigerian prized assets to a coterie of fawners at give-away prices under a dubious privatization scheme that robbed Nigerians and enriched his hirelings. Even the nation’s refineries were callously sold off by Obasanjo in his twilight das but Yar’Adua cancelled the dubious sale.

Obasanjo’s self-vaunted economic record is no more than a primitive latching open of the public coffer to a coterie of cronies to feed fat and form a symbiotic ring around him. Bereft of basic economic foundations or capacities to outgrow the dubious base it was structured on, Obasanjo never laid any economic foundation that could outlast him. Feeding hirelings and fronts with illicit enrichment from the national coffers to grow an economy was a blind choice of a leader that neither abhorred corruption nor saw beyond the self-serving caprices that informed such decisions. Let us take some few instances. Obasanjo gathered a coterie of his menservants together, unleashed direct funding on them with state patronages to form Transcorp with the intent of growing into a huge conglomerate in few years. Yes, his hirelings formed Transcorp, even got hapless citizens to invest their hard earned resources in it. Where is Transcorp today? Like spittle in the sun, Transcorp hardly outlived the short-sighted, corrupt intent that midwifed it. That’s the bedrock of Obasanjo’s economic knowledge and dreams. What of Corporate Nigeria? This was a motley gathering of leading businessmen Obasanjo culled together, leased state patronage on them with the intent that they will drive the growth of the country. Throughout his tenure, Corporate Nigeria rather played an obnoxious role as slush pot for laundering the country’s resources and mobilizing funds for Obasanjo’s political dreams, including the obnoxious third term agenda and nothing more. These show that on the economy where Obasanjo grandstands on epic scale, Obasanjo was no more than a corrupt, primitive artist and the fact that none of his many short-sighted and shallow-rooted economic policies survived his regime showed this.

The social reactions against Obasanjo’s economic policies were so strong that Nigerians regularly spewed out to the streets to protest the harsh effects of his policies. It was so bad that the same time Obasanjo told us that we ate and forgot ourselves was that period a musician sang the hit song, “Nigeria jaga jaga” which earned him a savage insult from Obasanjo himself. Have we forgotten how Obasanjo, so buffeted by angry ripostes against his regime by Nigerians, taunted Nigerians to flog his picture every morning to show their distaste for his regime?

What of the blusterous attack Obasanjo laid on the democratic structure? Obasanjo willingly and intentionally subjected the democratic process to serious, ceaseless attacks. Democracy survived Obasanjo just because few people remained stoically committed to rescue it from Obasanjo’s vice grips. Elections under Obasanjo remain the most macabre in the history of the country. Terming elections as do or die affairs, Obasanjo spared nothing to force his ways and nuances on Nigerians during the two elections his regime supervised in an effort to cripple democracy while promoting a Napoleonic vision of reducing the state with all its institutions to his personal estate that is malleable to Emperor Obasanjo alone. He had no vision that sees the country beyond a PDP enclave as he deigned himself the father and visionary of a sole PDP that rules from one end of the earth to the other. In 2003, Obasanjo went out of his way to garrison the South West with soldiers, conquer and annex every space and write results for the South West states to impose his PDP lackeys on his region. It was only Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu that came out unconquered by Obasanjo’s invading army. This was after his Attorney General, Bola Ige was taken out in the most callous manner many relate to the 2003 election and after he had expressed the wish to quit Obasanjo government and help reorganize the then Alliance for Democracy for the 2003 election.

The 2007 election was so rigged by Obasanjo to force the late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua to power. It was so smelly and odious that the eventual inheritor of Obasanjo’s electoral dubiety, Yar’Adua had to publicly admit that his election fell short of decency. It was so bad that our usually lethargic and reactionary judiciary had to retrieve some of the abhorrently rigged elections in the court rooms. This has reset our electoral timetable and system in a manner that best advertises Obasanjo’s manipulation of the electoral system to return his wishes. Any democratic structure that resisted Obasanjo’s obtrusiveness was taken down as Obasanjo ravaged like an untamed demon deciding with a flip of the finger who becomes what in a supposed democratic structure.

Have we forgotten how Obasanjo’s hirelings set on Anambra State, seized an incumbent governor and burnt the government house while Obasanjo looked on with an approving glint?

Obasanjo did everything to obstruct the course of legality and law. In fact, he was law unto himself. When he unilaterally seized the allocations of Lagos State because the state created new local governments, the state took him up legally and even when the Supreme Court ruled against Obasanjo’s action, he held unto the fund till he left power. Have we forgotten Obasanjo’s ceaseless meddlesomeness in the affairs of states where he was removing and imposing governors with few minority legislators? Have we forgotten how he made the political structure so tenuous by removing and imposing his party’s chairmen with despotic fiat? Have we forgotten how Obasanjo was changing the Senate leadership like he was changing handkerchiefs for his eight years in power? Simply put, Obasanjo in his eight years in power, deigned himself as above the law and forced the Nigerian state to follow his Trojan footsteps. He was an outlaw that relished placing the state and its institutions under his elephantine and rustic feet.

What record does Obasanjo show on security? Wanton targeting and killing of political opponents of his and his PDP that was writ large on the Nigerian space. His Attorney General was killed, Marshall Harry was killed, A.K Dikkibo was killed, Suliat Adedeji was killed, Funsho Williams was killed, Daramola of Ekiti was killed, Ogbonnaya Uche was killed and many more such victims of state sponsored killings that wrote the entire Nigerian space with blood-felt pens. The former Senate President, Chuba Okadigbo died after attending an ANPP rally where Obasanjo ordered that attendees be tear gassed and after inhaling the gas, Okadigbo slumped and never recovered from that brutal attack. It was during this period that the famed Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka tagged Obasanjo’s party PDP as a nest of killers! In genocidal terms, have we forgotten the levelling down of Odi and Zaki Ibiam? What of the carnage in Plateau that was exacerbated by Obasanjo’s open distaste to the local Christian community and an aggressive display of his muscle? How many people were killed in Plateau and yet Nigerians did not force Obasanjo out as a result? How will we forget that it was during Obasanjo’s tenure that kidnapping, which has grown to a decibel today, was introduced in Nigeria?

Obasanjo deliberately promoted corruption in the formal sector. He it was who was always trolleying Ghana-must-go sacks of cash to the national assembly to remove and install one officer or the other or to pass any of his idiosyncratic bills. The most notorious was the deployment of sacks of cash to the National Assembly to carry out an illicit alteration of the constitution to grant him a third term, which many credibly believe was a precursor to the pursuit of a life presidency. He it was who approved jumbo salaries for legislators while giving them publicly owned houses in the guise of dubious privatization. Obasanjo’s wheeling and dealing is so fatuous as to fill an encyclopedia. During Obasanjo’s time and even while he was pretending to fight corruption, we heard of such earth-shaking scandals like the Siemens deal, the Halliburton scam, etc. His presidential library project where governors were allegedly forced to cough out N10 million each shows Obasanjo as a man without scruples, a moral wreck and an ethically-compromised character. The $16 billion power sector scandals cap the dubiety of Obasanjo. And for a man who, when he left prison, had a paltry N20,000 in his account and now betraying no qualms about being one of Africa’s richest men, with investments that span all strata of the economy, Obasanjo is a study in guile and duplicity.

During Obasanjo’s tenure, salacious stories of how he carries raunchy amorous sessions with female appointees was so pervasive and these stories got instant fillip from the steamy stories that openly gushed out about Obasanjo’s personal life where allegations of incestuous relationship were raised by even his son. When he was fighting with his erstwhile deputy, we heard of how girlfriends were patronized by state resources and how contracts were used to procure satiation to his elephantine libido.

The above is not an exhaustive narrative about Obasanjo’s tainted persona and that of his failed regime but just to show his dubious qualification to always sermonize and bask in self-adulatory lights about the deliberate charade he ran from 1999 to 2007. I wonder how Obasanjo pretends to know every solution to every Nigerian problem but failed so woefully to leverage on such knowledge in his comprehensively failed eight years’ leadership. Obasanjo, who roundly failed as a leader and was practically chased away from power, has no right to disturb the peace of the country with his usual tirades against successive governments. Period! He should go procure a mirror and stare into it if he wants to know a failed leader.

This report is not to defend the Buhari government. It had done a good job defending itself by listing verifiable achievements. What I rather want to show is that Obasanjo is not concerned about good leadership because he drove in the opposite direction when he had opportunity to provide one. His readings of the Buhari government is rather the mischievous and scheming Obasanjo. If we realize that three months ago, precisely September 2017, the same Obasanjo told the whole world that President Buhari had so impressed him that he didn’t regret supporting him, then we see through the dubious Obasanjo’s schemes at play.

Obasanjo would have followed up his letter with such theatrics like tearing his APC membership card, were he a member of APC but Obasanjo has no card to tear. This itself, introduces a huge cog in his mischievous wheel. While he can act, grandstand, and scheme with PDP, he has no such liberty with APC and the leaders and members of APC are not beholden to Obasanjo, who, at a time, personified PDP and did everything to forcefully levy it as Nigeria’s sole party. That Buhari is not of his political party is enough to sound a warning note on him that he is writing his last letter and will not pull this scheme through. Again. Obasanjo seems to over rate the capacity of his letter in Jonathan’s removal. His letter to Jonathan and the show of support for Buhari was an escapist move from a sinking ship to a moving train. The Buhari train was already off the station by the time Obasanjo jumped in to escape a ship headed for the rocks. By 2019, he would have to prove if he now has achieved his desire to approximate the Nigerian state as a sole determinant of the fate of Nigeria.

It is funny that Obasanjo, in his letter, stated he may be target of attacks by advisers who may prey on him for the positions he expressed in his letter. Why should he worry? When he was intentionally careering the country to the hell it is today, very many respected voices who cautioned or advised him were so abused, derided and insulted by the horde of attack dogs he kept to lynch at anybody that had contrary views to his. Prof Soyinka, Cardinal Onaiyekan, Col. Abubakar Umar, late Prof. Chinua Achebe and many more eminent Nigerians were torn to pieces and abused in indecorous terms by Obasanjo’s lapdogs when they offered simple advise to the drift of the Nigerian State under Obasanjo. It was so bad that Achebe threw away a national award by Obasanjo on the grounds that Obasanjo set his hirelings to destroy his state and the personal attacks on him! So why is Obasanjo afraid of how others will react to his letter? A case of a professional head cutter perpetually afraid of the knife?

But to Obasanjo’s confusion at present, Buhari suffers such intrigues as Obasanjo’s so silently that it hurts. He is not likely to migrate to the mud and wrestle with Obasanjo, as he anticipated. He is not known for that. He is a leader that stands out for his ability to suffer fools patiently and gladly. His and his advisees are not abusing Obasanjo, as Obasanjo is fond of doing. Rather, Obasanjo is faced with an angry public who read through his mischief and feel that his days of self-serving intrigues in the guise of writing letters to every leader but himself, should be brought to an end because Obasanjo is a failed leader. 2019 is a decisive year for both Obasanjo and Nigeria. Good enough, he has said he is forming a coalition to take over power from Buhari. He better succeeds in that mission because if he fails, that would be a disastrous end to his obtrusiveness. If he fails, his letter to Buhari will become a sad swan song for an ardent letter writer but an egregiously failed leader called Olusegun Obasanjo.

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