THE EXORCISM OF OLUSEGUN OBASANJO: NOTORIETY IS NEITHER FAME NOR EMPOWERMENT.
I feel compelled to write this rejoinder to Olusegun Obasanjo’s statement currently making the newspaper, television, and media rounds because I feel, in the terminology of philosophy that the statement is “contradictio in adjecto [contradictory in terms], and may I also add, in purpose while discountenancing every obligation for the truth in instances such as these.
Some caveats, however. First, I write this piece out of genuine respect for Olusegun Obasanjo, because, I do very much respect anyone who has been President of my country for one day, let alone three times; one as a military Head of State, a democratically elected Head of State, and a controversially elected Head of State.
Second, I write as citizen Angelicus-M. Onasanya, for, it is only in that regard that I can venture a claim to equality and be on the same pedestal upon which he wrote his piece.
Finally, I must confess my indefatigable defense of my inherently held tenet that one must always separate a message from the messenger and the forum in which the message is delivered. However, I find myself, in this instance, violating this tenet. The message, to me personally, is a self-serving rant by a perennially self-exonerating behemoth delivered from a pulpit of sacrilege. For that reason, all three must be thoroughly discountenanced in this instance. How sad?
Let me begin my retort to Olusegun Obasanjo’s piece by reminding the readers of Aesop's famous fable about the dog with a bell on its collar. It runs thus: “There was once a Dog who used to snap at people and bite them without any provocation, and who was a great nuisance to everyone who came to his master's house. So his master fastened a bell round his neck to warn people of his presence. The Dog was very proud of the bell, and strutted about tinkling it with immense satisfaction. But an old dog came up to him and said, "The fewer airs you give yourself the better, my friend. You don't think, do you, that your bell was given you as a reward of merit? On the contrary, it is a badge of disgrace." I leave the reader to conjecture appropriate moral/s to this fable.
When it comes to citizen Obasanjo, the world knows and understands him better than Nigerians. Once, he was a candidate in the running for the office United Nations Secretary-General. When after a few rounds of voting, thanks to the efforts of Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, it became obvious that he was going to be a formidable candidate, his candidacy was double-vetoed [only one was needed] by the powers that be at UN to put finality to his run. The reason for the double-veto, as given then, was that when the United Nations is in search for a Secretary-General, what it is looking for is a “Secretary and not a General.” Again, I leave the reader to conjecture an appropriate conclusion/s to this development.
That is the Obasanjo the world knows and understands. So, when in Nigeria he goes on to write in his piece about Nigeria that: “The lice of poor performance in government – poverty, insecurity, poor economic management, nepotism, gross dereliction of duty, condonation of misdeed – if not outright encouragement of it, lack of progress and hope for the future, lack national cohesion and poor management of internal political dynamics and widening inequality – are very much with us today. With such lice of general and specific poor performance and crying poverty with us, our fingers will not be dry of “blood,” Nigerians have a choice to either “siddon look” or confront him with a mirror of the truth.
Just our fingers getting bloody and now? Let me humbly disagree. The entire body of every Nigerian reeks of blood since Obasanjo helped lay the foundation for the emergence of every issue he itemized above. Mind you, he carefully avoided enumerating his specialization; cronyism.
Many Nigerians who were very much around in the early 70s would testify that there was a vibrant and buoyant Nigerian society under General Yakubu Gowon, who, along with Nigeria’s most successful Minister of Finance to date, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and a cadre of brilliant top civil servants [Chief C. O. Lawson, Abdul Atta, Mallam Damcida, Ahmed Joda, Liman Ciroma, P. C. Asiodu, S. B. Adeniyi, to name a few], delivered superb performance for Nigeria. The country fought a civil war without borrowing a kobo. The naira exchanged at $1.57cents. Nigerians bragged around the world that “money is not Nigeria’s problem but how to spend it.” Chief Awolowo was insistent that Nigeria had enough money to pay for the education of every Nigerian from primary to university level, so, it should be free to all. Along with all of its achievements, the administration came up with a National Development Plan to provide strategic direction and orientation for the country and its future. South Korea, Singapore and others announced their development plans at this time also. Nigeria’s development plan was adjudged as “the best plan” all over the world! That is performance and I challenge Olusegun Obasanjo to name an administration that has equaled, surpassed or come close to that performance.
Then came the coup that toppled General Gowon. Generals Murtala Mohammed [for a very few months] and Obasanjo came on the scene. Two noteworthy things that have relevance to Obasanjo’s present rants happened. First, the much world-acclaimed development plan was scuttled, jettisoned and dismembered. Next, the civil service which served as the country’s anchor in its most trying moments was attacked in a series retirements and sackings that scared the living daylights out of the civil servants. The service has never recovered.
In a chance meeting with General Gowon a few years back, I had asked him “what happened to the development plan that was to take Nigeria to the heights?” “Ask Murtala and Obasanjo,” he quietly responded. Today, South Korea and Singapore are economic giants of the world. They followed their plans! Nigeria is still wallowing in the cesspool of under-development with a growing economic that has ushered in no human development. Who knows what could have happened and where Nigeria would be now, had the plan been implemented? Since then, four-plus decades, no administration, military or civilian, has offered the country a national development plan and equaled the performance of the Gowon administration.
On what moral ground do you then stand when, in lamenting the country’s lack of direction, etc. he wrote: “I believe the situation we are in today is akin to what and where we were in at the beginning of this democratic dispensation in 1999. The nation was tottering. People became hopeless and saw no bright future on the horizon. It was all a dark cloud politically, economically and socially. The price of oil at that time was nine dollars per barrel and we had a debt overhang of about $35 billion. Most people were confused with a lack of direction in the country. One of the factors that saved the situation was a near government of national unity that was put in place to navigate us through the dark cloud. We had almost all hands on deck. We used people at home and from the Diaspora and we navigated through the dark clouds of those days.”
I humbly submit that no country would have a sense of direction that it is not offered. Neither will a country perform where its paraphernalia of service to the people is constantly harassed, mangled and discomfitured.
“Wherever I go, I hear Nigerians complaining and murmuring in anguish and anger,” he wrote. This is not a new phenomenon as it predates 2015 when Buhari assumed the Presidency. Nigerians have been complaining and murmuring in anguish and anger for the better part of last four-plus decades; twenty of which Obasanjo was directly involved as Head of State or a prominent member of the ruling party. And Nigerians have every justification to complain, murmur and do more! Between 1999 and 2015, it is alleged that Nigeria spent close to $20 billion on electricity generation, yet they continue to pay for darkness and the country cannot, consistently, generate 7,000 megawatts of electricity. The roads are nothing to write home about. Several contracts awarded for their constructions were either not carried through and the funds embezzled or haphazardly abandoned half-way in ways that pose dangers to the communities they were supposed to serve. Educational institutions and facilities are derelict. Ditto hospitals and healthcare facilities. As my neighbour chants daily: “no money, no power, no water, no petrol, no road, no job, everything in Nigeria is no.” Obviously, all of these had been in place before 2015! Why berate the Buhari administration? Really, Olusegun Obasanjo, the hedonist in you is having a ball at all of these predicaments of the Nigerian people.
As to the solution he proffered: “We need a Coalition for Nigeria, CN . . . That Movement must be a coalition for democracy, good governance, social and economic well-being and progress. Coalition to salvage and redeem our country. . . Of course, nothing should stop such a Movement from satisfying conditions for fielding candidates for elections,” one does not need to be a rocket scientist to conclude it is no solution. A movement that can satisfy “conditions for fielding candidates for elections,” is a political party. If he wants to start one, he is free to do so and join the other sixty-plus parties in Nigeria.
That is, however, speaking like someone who does not know Olusegun Obasanjo and his proclivities. The truth is Olusegun Obasanjo has always been a “vulture” all his life. He has never made a “kill” but has relished being the chairman [Head of State or whatever] at the dinner table. Having been forced to dismount in 2007, he has yet to give up on his third term ambitions and he is constantly looking for every way to re-mount the horse. And he does this at every electioneering cycle; looking for someone to make the “kill” for him to have a sumptuous dinner! Nigerians expect his vituperations at times like this which goes to show what the old dog in the fable said; “You don't think, do you, that your bell was given you as a reward of merit? On the contrary, it is a badge of disgrace." Like the Americans will say; not anymore dude!
Some have likened his call for a movement to the idea of “the third force” introduced by ‘Wole Soyinka in his book and which Olusegun Obasanjo, with subterfuge and dubiety promptly frustrated at the time. Therefore, one is cautioned to smell rat when Obasanjo says: “I am involved in all these domestically and altruistically to give hope and future to the seemingly hopeless and those in despair. I believe strongly that God has endowed Nigeria so adequately that no Nigerian should be either in want or despair.” In his case, it is altruism to the dogs! He has had three chances at it and none has been successful!
Olusegun Obasanjo, your plan for Nigeria will not work for it ensures that inmates [politicians and people of your ilk] will continue to rule the jailhouse and when they do, pandemonium is the order of the day. There would be no sense of direction, no order, no peace and no security.
Nigeria should, therefore, be promptly returned to the original holders of the sovereignties of its different people groups; Obas, Emirs, Sultans, Amanayabos, Obongs and so on. They are the only ones who can salvage the soul of this country not the politicians who keep looking forward to being a father to the child they want to be! Nature has not been kind to that form of an idea. You have been Head of State three times and you can be no more. The Awujale of Ijebu-Ode has been and will be there forever. He has seen and survived James Robertson, Nnamdi Azikiwe, J. T. U. Aguiyi-Ironsi, Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Abubakar Abdulsalam, Olusegun Obasanjo, Umar Musa Yar’Ardua, Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari as Heads of State. He and his fellow royal fathers have been destined to salvage and ensure Nigeria’s oneness, unity and greatness. Any other plan is hogwash and destined for dustbin of history like all the other efforts at futility.
Again, you advised President Buhari not to seek re-election in 2019. I do not know whether that advice was solicited. So, I will leave that to President Buhari. Let me say, however, that America has five living former presidents; Carter, Bush [Snr], Clinton, Bush [Jnr] and Obama. Nigeria has the benefit of having six; Gen. Gowon, Shehu Shagari, Ibrahim Babangida, Ernest Shonekan, Abdulsalam Abubakar, Olusegun Obasanjo, and Goodluck Jonathan. Of these eleven, Olusegun Obasanjo is the only one that resorts to writing vitriolic newspaper statements in commentaries on the state of the nation. The others would go into the White House or Aso Villa for a tete-a-tete meeting with Mr. President, express their views and return to their ordinary daily pursuits. You have, therefore, revealed yourself as an officer that is not either a gentleman or statesman.
Finally, what you did by issuing the statement is called betrayal. And remember that when you betray others, you have engaged yourself in self-ruination. Thank you very much for reading me.
Angelicus-M. Onasanya writes from Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State.