The Last Days of Obasanjo


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The Last Days of Obasanjo




Muhammad Al-Ghazali



culled from THISDAY, March 7, 2006



If you happened to be an ordinary Nigerian battling with disease, crime, crippling effects of unemployment, or the virtual paralysis of governance, I will advise that you tarry a while before thumping the air in celebration. This piece may have been so titled, and the president, Mathew Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo may have expressed a death wish penultimate week, but he is very much alive as I write and certainly, no right-thinking Nigerian, including yours truly, wants him to die in office.

Our desire to see the president see out his days in office is not down to any special love for the man, or the normal deference to African culture, which abhors the celebration of death. Far from it; from the Niger Delta to Nguru, and on to Badagry and Sokoto, if the public mood could be relied upon, the greater majority of Nigerians want to see him safely back in Ota at the conclusion of his presidency, so that a thorough post-mortem of his tenure could commence in earnest, and while he is still alive to digest our prognosis of his legacy. To someone whom I gathered relished the trashing of Abacha’s legacy with a vengeance so soon after death had played a fatal trick on the dark-goggled General, Obasanjo would no doubt brace himself to digest what Nigerians, in their droves, thought of his presidency, and the early signs are that what they think would not be music to his ears or even pleasant to read.

When Abacha expired, the naira had been stable for several years and exchanged for 80 naira to a dollar. The PTF had ensured that drugs were available at designated hospitals and at affordable prices too. Our highways and township roads were being meticulously rehabilitated. High schools and tertiary institutions were also being renovated. Armed bandits, who operate wantonly and with gusto these days, gave our homes and major highways a miss. What was more, the middle-class eventually resurfaced even as inflation remained at tolerable levels. But the greater significance of Abacha’s performance or legacy was that throughout his tenure, his government had to battle the effects of crippling cocktail of sanctions imposed by mostly Western nations.
In addition, unlike now that crude oil sold in excess of 60 dollars per barrel, under the diminutive General, it never rose above 17 dollars per barrel! So how did the nation come to this sorry pass to the extent that the nation even in a supposed democracy, is today, not better than a banana republic? How did we arrive at a situation where a single individual could seemingly hold the nation to ransom, or treat its citizens with so much callous disrespect and insensitivity? How did we come to be under the clutches of a de-facto emperor under whose watch no fewer than 5,000 Nigerians were consumed by ethno-religious crises in less than seven years in supposed peace time? What did Abacha do right that Obasanjo is now doing wrong? Without waiting for the man to expire or leave office, here is my story:

As things stand today, it must be clear to all except perhaps the blind that Obasanjo is not only the most incompetent, but surely the most over-rated president in our history. Before he was thrown into jail after his conviction for coup-plotting, the only thing he had going for him was that he handed over power willingly to the civilian administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. General Abusalami Abubakar had since proved that that in itself was not an unusual occurrence altogether. Besides, in 1979, what choices were actually before him? The job, which by his own accounts he accepted soon after coming out of hiding came with its special risks as the demise of General Murtala Muhammed sadly proved. Across the oceans, Margaret Thatcher had just assumed office, and in tandem with Ronald Reagan, soon chorused the yarn about a new international world order, free of dictators, including Olusegun Obsanjo. Definitely, if you happened to be Olusegun Obasanjo at the time; having secured the vast Ota farms, and all that was within it, the lure of tending to chickens more than stopping an assassin’s bullet, was not simply a matter of choice, but actually the only choice.

Not much is known about his service records either beyond the fact that he received the surrender of Biafran forces at the end of the war. Being an army engineer by training, he is unlikely to have been bloodied in the art of combat warfare beyond the construction of Bailey bridges too. But quite typical of the man, up he came to steal the glory from General Adekunle when the latter fell out with authorities and was relegated to the background. As a former head of state and statesman, he spent lengthy periods lampooning the administration of General Babangida for crimes he has since surpassed. These days, the president loves to attribute his reforms, and the tenacity he exhibits in their execution, to his civil war record and high sense of patriotism. But the results clearly suggest otherwise, and nowhere was that truism more telling than in the speech delivered by the publisher of the influential Forbes magazine, Steve Forbes, during the recent THISDAY Newspaper Annual Awards. Predictably, the speech, or rather his message, was given short-shrift by the mainstream media, no doubt on the prompting of agents of the Presidency who were well represented at the event.
Forbes said among other things that the solution to poverty in Nigeria and the rest of Africa did not rest with the World Bank or the IMF because their medicine often tended to do more harm than good. Devaluation of the currency, he equally emphasised, was harmful to developing economies. He also condemned higher taxes, which tended to push more people into the informal economy, and the unequal application of laws. The man was being kind here; otherwise, he would easily have said unbridled corruption at the highest level and the escalating rate of crime we are witnessing presently. He went further to hinge our rapid economic development on five principles, which included a simple and affordable system of taxation, stable currency, the rule of law, and of course, the predictable removal of trade barriers. Perhaps not surprisingly, Obasanjo’s economic reforms appear marooned on the high seas for those simple reasons:

First, as we have seen in Anambra and Oyo states, the rule of law is clearly not visible on these shores. Otherwise, the president would not have allowed his cronies to get away with barefaced treason and murder not to talk of arson in those two theatres. As for equality before the law; well, perhaps we should also ask why Tafa Balogun was gaoled while Makunjuola escaped jail. Why did the president sit idly by and watch the OPC perpetrate genocide especially in his first term? Why did he contemplate the Electoral Bill fraud? Why were the felons who attempted to smuggle a forged draft constitution into the last confab never apprehended or punished? Why have the police so far failed to solve the murders of Asari Dikibo, Marshal Harry or Bola Ige? How did his accused murderer, Iyiola Omisore win an election from within the confines of a high security jail?

As for the economy, well even an idiot should know that the naira drifted and depreciated by nearly sixty per cent soon after Obasanjo assumed office. Unparalleled inflation was never too far behind either. If you bought your 50 KG bag of rice for under three thousand naira in 1999, the same product now sells for twice that amount and still rising. The economic team continues to deceive itself that its blue print is home-grown, but the seeds were clearly sown in Washington, Paris and London. A greater percentage of Nigerians have descended below the poverty line as a result. The middle-class has vanished without a trace, and a new class of bandits with university degrees has emerged to replace them; the obvious result is unemployment and frustration. The only people who cannot stop rejoicing are the multinationals who have acquired much of our progeny for peanuts. They pay the locals slave wages, transport them like sardines, and repatriate their profits in full!

Not surprisingly, with a legacy such as recounted above, the president appears in fear of his won shadow. With 2007 around the corner, and as we contemplate his last days in office, he appears in morbid fear of quitting office and wishes to die in it. But that, God willing, will ultimately be an exercise in futility. He wants to be remembered as Nigeria’s version of Lee Kuan Yew or Mahathir Mohammed, but the images of him that spring readily to mind in all seriousness, include those of Ghengis Khan and Josef Stalin. Even now that the greater majority of his subject are prostrate before him in abject poverty, and with destitution in the midst of plenty, he still plots against them. The third term express has arrived Port Harcourt, home to one of his staunchest loyalists, Peter Odili. As they hatch their endless intrigues against us and revel in obscene greed and lust for power, our collective misery and hopelessness would be the last thing on their minds. All these have naturally led many to rue what would have been had Abacha signed that death warrant in 1995!




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