A Tale Of Two Choices


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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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A Tale Of Two Choices




Simon Kolawole





culled from THISDAY, April 24, 2006



It was the best of times,
It was the worst of times;
It was the age of wisdom,
It was the age of foolishness;
It was the epoch of belief,
It was the epoch of incredulity;
It was the season of Light,
It was the season of Darkness;
It was the spring of hope,  Tale Of Two Choices by Simon Kol
It was the winter of despair;
We had everything before us,
We had nothing before us…
—Charles Dickens,  ‘A Tale of Two Cities’



As the nation finally moves towards the formalisation of the life presidency project (alias third term), perhaps it is good for us to pause and look once more at the scenarios before the president. We have been praying and wishing that President Olusegun Obasanjo would go home in grace and honour on May 29, 2007 after a colourful and glorious ceremony at the Eagle Square, Abuja, in the presence of world leaders and Atilogu dancers, to be shown live on AIT, NTA, CNN and BBC. But he seems determined to overstay his welcome. He seems to have been sufficiently deceived by the court jesters around him who keep telling him that, indeed, he is the only human being who can embark on a reform programme. Judging by the doggedness of this obsession with power, we can only conclude that a dog that is bent on going astray will never listen to the call of its owner. A player that is determined to get a red card will never listen to the whistle of the referee.

The Yoruba say “the end ni opin sinima”. When you’re watching a movie at a cinema and you see “The End” displayed on the screen, the time has come for you to wear your shoes, dust your cap and go home gently, no matter how “sweet” the movie is. It beats the imagination why an experienced and intelligent person like President Obasanjo will choose to sit tight rather than respect himself and bow out peacefully.

Here was somebody who was dying in Yola prisons. By divine favour, he not only came out of prison alive, he was installed as president of Nigeria. What else does Obasanjo want in his life? You would think that, ordinarily, Obasanjo would be grateful to God for keeping him alive to rule Nigeria for another eight years. But the lust for power—that terminal ailment ravaging many African leaders—will not allow him to see reason. He would rather listen to the self-serving sycophants that have formed a wall around him. As the federal legislators scheme to change the constitution in Obasanjo’s favour, we should nevertheless take solace in the fact that the best-laid plans can go wrong.

All this propaganda about somebody succeeding Obasanjo and reversing the reform programme is absolute trash. It will take a completely mad man to withdraw GSM licences, reverse “debt relief”, “de-consolidate” the banks, revert cassava policy, “de-privatise” public enterprises and so on and so forth. Like I’ve said before, the entire reform programme is an IMF/World Bank-inspired design. It is therefore very misleading and deceptive to tell Nigerians that it is an Obasanjo programme and he is the only one who can implement it. Any developing country that does not implement these reforms will be crushed by the powers that be.

All over Africa, it is the same language of reform: privatisation, liberalisation, arms-length government, retrenchment (“right-sizing”), cut in social spending, removal of subsidies and the rest of them. There is nothing original to Obasanjo in all that and these semi-literate sycophants should stop insulting our intelligence with their ill logic. It’s a simple thing: if you don’t embark on reforms, IMF/World Bank will suffocate you. Even if Comrade Adams Oshiomhole were to become Nigeria’s president today, he will have to toe the IMF/World Bank line. Obasanjo himself tried to resist the IMF/World Bank between 1999 and 2003, but he eventually went back to them and has now become their darling president. In fact, how many African countries can survive without the support and endorsement of these neo-colonial institutions?

Today, I will like to paint the two choices before the President Obasanjo and ask why on earth he does not want to take the honourable path.
The best of times…

I believe Obasanjo has achieved a lot, far more than we can appreciate now. I believe that many of his achievements will not be appreciated until they begin to yield fruits in the future, some in 10 years’ time. That is when we can look back and say this was the man who laid the foundation for this and that. Of course, I also believe he could have and should have achieved far more, given the human and financial resources at his disposal—unprecedented since Lord Luggard glued Nigeria together in 1914—but the fact remains that the man has re-designed the economic landscape under the guidance and protection of the Bretton Woods institutions, and he deserves the credit irrespective of any misgivings and reservations.

Although politically, Obasanjo has been a disaster, using brute force and naked power to pummel those who don’t agree with him to submission, he has managed to create a good international image for himself and is perceived as a statesman all over the world. It’s his luck, and we must congratulate him for that.

In 1979, he left power on a high as the first African military dictator to voluntarily relinquish power to civilians. He became an international figure, much sought after to deliver lectures. He became a respected voice on African politics and could call any African head of state or president to order if things were going wrong.

On the local scene, his voice was often sought by the media, and he never disappointed in delivering scathing criticisms of the actions and inactions of the governments that succeeded his. His famous interview with TELL in 1993 is a landmark in the history of journalism in Nigeria. Photocopies of the interview were being sold by vendors. I have never read an interview so often quoted. It was full of venom and verbiage. He spoke at a time Nigerians were tired of the IBB government. He spoke for everyone, in spite his antecedents.

If Obasanjo leaves in 2007, what is the likely scenario? He will become a bigger hero, in spite of his recent history. From his Ota farm, he will become our mini-Mandela. He will become an authority on economic reforms and political transition. He will be invited to deliver lectures all over the world on how to reform the economy, groom successors and hand over power peacefully. He will become a role model. He will have the moral right to criticise sit-tight African leaders and refer to how he served his constitutional terms without changing the constitution. He will be able to take the Mugabes and Musevenis of Africa to the cleaners without mincing his words. On the local scene, he will be like a guiding voice for the political project. He will talk, intervene and counsel whenever anything is going wrong in the land. I can imagine headlines like: “Obasanjo Cautions National Assembly on Foreign Reserves”, “Obasanjo Mediates in Kogi/Edo Land Dispute”, “Obasanjo Advocates Fiscal Prudence”, etc. I imagine that any president or world figure that visits Nigeria must pay homage to Obasanjo at Ota before departing. I imagine that Obasanjo will see him/her off to his balcony and say one or two things to the media which will make the headlines the following day. That is my wish, my prayer, my desire for Obasanjo.
The worst of times…

If Obasanjo stays beyond 2007, he will automatically run into a moral morass. He will lose whatever credibility and legacy he thinks he has built for himself in his 70 years on earth. History does not favour those who sit tight—they become even more desperate and more brutal as opposition explodes in their face. People easily forget whatever these rulers have achieved while in office. The memories that stick are the awful ones—the arrests and incarceration of activists, break-up of rallies, clampdown on the press, police shooting sprees, the climate of fear. That is all you remember about desperate despots.

IBB can testify to this. For all his achievements in office, Nigerians remember him mainly for his unending transition programme that climaxed, or anti-climaxed, in the annulment of June 12 and the political crisis that bedevilled the country for five years. How many Nigerians remember that it was IBB who started economic reforms? He started privatisation. He deregulated telecommunications by setting up the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). That was the beginning of private participation in telecoms, ultimately leading to the GSM era. He deregulated the broadcast media and licensed private TV/radio stations. He tried to address banking distress and set up the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC). He came up with Community Banks. He set up the National Directorate for Employment (NDE)—which is what NAPEP is trying to copy. IBB, it was, who set up NAFDAC, FRSC and NDLEA. He completed the then abandoned third mainland bridge in Lagos. I can go on and on. All these are still with us today. So much for those half-clever third term hooligans who say the exit of Obasanjo will lead to the termination or discontinuation of reforms! Why didn’t Abacha, Abdulsalami and Obasanjo wipe off IBB’s legacies? I insist: only a mad man will terminate a legacy that is working well. Even Abacha did not wipe off or reverse IBB’s legacies.

But this is my point: the moment IBB annulled June 12, his account entered an irreversible deficit. Nobody talks about his monumental achievements again. All we associate him with is annulment, Dele Giwa and Gulf War windfall. IBB is finished and has nothing more to offer after tossing us to and fro for eight years. It is only incurable boot-lickers who tell IBB today that he should come back to power. If IBB had not destroyed the house he was building, he would have been a hot cake today. How many important international fora does IBB get invited to today? What is IBB’s standing outside the country? Yet, he was an achiever by all standards. But because he did not know when to say goodbye, only very few people remember him for good.

That is the danger Obasanjo is walking into with his eyes wide open. His obsession with life presidency will set this country on fire. Politically, Nigeria is fragile. It always is. We all witnessed how that terrorist called General Sani Abacha nearly suicide-bombed this country before his unceremonious exit. The wise thing for any president to do is not to create room for another round of crises. Obasanjo would do well not to drag Nigeria into another political crisis (we called it “impasse” under IBB and “logjam” under Abacha; what shall we call Obasanjo’s own?).

 All the economic reforms he claims to be doing will lose relevance if we descend into an Abacha-like crisis again. He should never think the rest of the country will keep quiet if he succeeds in manipulating his way. It is going to be another era of protests, demonstrations, riots, civil disobedience, tear-gassing, arrests, detentions and killings. The animosity between Hausas and Yorubas following the June 12 trauma has not been healed till today. The tension is always there. At the slightest provocation, the bubble bursts. Most Igbos are yet to overcome the bitterness of the civil war. The Niger Delta is boiling. If Obasanjo extends his tenure without regard for the feelings of the rest of the country, the consequences may be unpalatable.

Remember Godwin Odiye? Obasanjo may end up like him. Odiye was a fantastic defender who was a permanent feature in the senior national football team in the 1970s and early 80s. But one terrible day in 1977, everything that could go wrong went wrong. In a crucial 1978 World Cup qualifying match against Tunisia, Odiye wanted to head the ball to safety towards goalkeeper Emmanuel Okala, but he ended up scoring an own goal against Nigeria. The Green Eagles were eliminated there and then. Today, nobody remembers Odiye’s good moments and fantastic defensive skills. Anytime you hear Odiye, it is “own goal” that crosses your mind. How many people even remember that he was part of the African Cup of Nations-winning team in 1980? His name invokes nothing else but “own goal”. That is exactly where Obasanjo is dragging himself to—or where his five-man, one-woman “private sector” team is dragging him to. It is left for him to choose what he wants: best of times or worst of times? Age of wisdom or age of foolishness? Epoch of belief or epoch of incredulity? Season of light or season of darkness? Spring of hope or winter of despair? Everything before him or nothing before him?

A word should be enough for the wise…




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