Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, is an enigmatic, controversial, misunderstood statesman in Nigeria. His national interventions always had an insightful impact on our national life. Millions of Nigerians (at home and abroad) like him for his patriotism, courage and candour when the defense of the interest of Nigeria is concerned. But millions, in equal measure, loathe him for his obtrusiveness, vindictiveness and moral baggage. Personally I am not his fan but I respect him for his fearlessness, fortitude, his pungent takes on national issues. And, of course, the services he had rendered to our nation in different epochs as a statesman.
Like him or hate him the abrasive Baba never gives a damn about his popularity ratings or the list of friends or enemies within and without the political establishment in Nigeria. He courts controversy innocuously, it seems, and bears whatever backlash that comes along.
Delivering a lecture in Lagos last week on “Nigeria Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: Governance and Accountability” in the first Akintola Williams Annual Lecture OBJ wore the familiar garb of an eminent social critic, a prominent commentator on pressing national issues. It was vintage Obasanjo in his best critical element! He subtly lampooned President Muhammadu Buhari for his ceaseless lamentations on the state of the nation. According to him: “I understand President Buhari’s frustration on the state of the economy inherited by him. It was the same reason and situation that brought about cry for change, otherwise there would be no need for change if it was all nice and rosy”.
Of course we cannot agree more with the Owu Chief. We cannot continue lamenting about the messy past as the origin of the present woes economically and socially. While the past could be blamed for some of the problems the PDP-led governments contributed in some ways towards the national development. Obasanjo diversified the economy by creating the conducive environment for the mobile phone revolution in Nigeria. Though he was corrupt his regime was credited with the establishment of the anti-corruption agencies like the EFCC and the ICPC. The late Yar’Adua modestly did his best despite his terminal ailment. He brought about peace and tranquility in the restive Niger Delta region by negotiating hard for an amnesty programme and cessation of hostilities.
Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, despite the millions and billions of Dollars misappropriated or stolen outright (Dasukigate, Diezanigate, Dame-gate) managed to bring about stability in the volatile system. In spite of the Boko Haram terrorism GEJ contributed his meagre quota to the building of the national edifice. So blaming the immediate past as the only source of our national degeneration is understood but indefensible given the fact that governance is a continuum. President Buhari should, therefore, redouble his efforts to deliver on his promises of change rather than using the stewardship of the past administrations as scapegoat for his inability to fix the economy or put food on the table of Nigerians. Enough of the blame game please!
On the National Assembly (NASS) Obasanjo manifested his strong opposition to not only their emoluments but their collective irresponsibility. He had told his audience: “The National Assembly is a den of corruption by a gang of unarmed robbers..Our lawmakers are lawbreakers. They are the accused, the prosecutor, the defenders and the judge in their own case. Most of them conduct themselves and believe that they are not answerable to anybody. They are blatant in their misbehaviour, cavalier in their misconduct and arrogant in the misuse of parliamentary immunity as a shield against reprisals for their irresponsible acts of malfeasance and/or outright banditry.’’ Acerbic isn’t it? OBJ was spot on! We share his sentiments and salute his courage.
Obasanjo rose in defense of the suspended member of the House of Representatives, Abdulmumin Jibrin, who was involved in a running battle over budget padding with the Speaker Dogara.. OBJ defended him by saying that rather than punishing the whistle-blower the culprits (Dogara and co) ought to be punished instead. President Buhari has recently acknowledged that there was indeed budget padding in this year’s budget but promised that it would not happen in next year’s national budget. Honourable Jibrin fought a good fight in defense of parliamentary accountability and we see him as a victim of an entrenched legislative mafia out to undo the system for their personal aggrandisement.
It is saying the obvious that the NASS is a nasty house of reprobates; an assembly of rogues and criminal elements in their majority. In the Senate the leadership is still embroiled in fraud allegations the subject of which is under subsisting litigation. Senators Saraki and Ekweremadu are crooks in search of legislative power and relevance.
In the lower chamber Yakubu Dogara and his gang of budget-padding thieves are still holding sway pretending to have won the war imposed on them by a smart man of high intellect. And when you add the recent sexual scandal in America revealed by the US Embassy in Nigeria involving dishonourables Gololo, Ikom and Gbillah then it is safe to conclude that NASS members are out to compromise or jeopardise democracy in our nation.
The few good men and women still found within the House of horror are too insignificant to effect any possible change in the crooked system. It could be likened to the dramatic encounter between the Creator and the sole survivor of the celestial destruction of Sodom and Gommorha. When the only good man demanded for providential mercy of the Supreme Being on the sinful population of the scorned town He heeded more than once but posed a condition: how many among them were upright mortals worthy to be counted and/or saved? None was available!
The leadership of the lower chamber of the legislature had reacted angrily to the OBJ bombshell by describing the man as the “godfather of corruption in Nigeria”! In a well-publicised statement they accused Obasanjo of “blackmail, subversion and treachery” saying he was used to bringing down governments with such methods and tactics. They went down memory lane by casting Baba as a big man of immoral past who thrives in painting others black and wanting others to see him as a paragon.
But the problem here is that OBJ does not give any damn about the consequences of his outbursts. When he hit Gen. Babangida IBB found enough courage to hit him back and the media war lasted fior days if not weeks. And when he threw a bomb at GEJ Jonathan responded with his own grenade but the damage had been done.. OBJ, from the look of things, is unfazed by whatever arsenal one uses to combat him openly; he seems to be immune to criticisms.
It is not the first time Obasanjo is rebuking the lawmakers. But this is the first time they have risen in sharp response reminding us of the messenger and his hypocrisy. I have had cause in the recent past to write twice about his hard positions on NASS — giving him credit and supporting his position.
Between the patriot and his hypocrisy, however, an eminent question of principle and credibility is posed. And the answer, negative or positive, exists in the imagination of whoever is concerned as we do. We hold, therefore, that patriotism and hypocrisy remains incompatible from whichever prism one views it.