26 November 2012

Nigeria: Saint Obasanjo?


When cunning disguises as wisdom we must challenge it lest the undiscerning buys the dummy. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, OBJ for short, is a self-canonised saint who routinely casts the first stone at those in authority as if he wasn't part of the problem he so eloquently catalogues.

The other day, there was some misreporting of what he said in Dakar, Senegal, regarding the need to provide jobs for the millions of young men and women wasting away in our country. Some newspapers screamed that Obasanjo was either predicting that a revolution was around the corner or, at least, trying to instigate one.

He has since cleared the air. According to him, "What I said was that as long as we do not pay adequate attention to solving the problem of unemployment, we are all sitting on a keg of gun powder. And it is a tickling time-bomb... Our leaders must pay attention to this issue. I never used the word revolution. Unemployment is a continental problem and indeed a global problem."

If there is one thing many of us agree on, it is that Obasanjo is not a revolutionary. He can't afford to be. His entire public career has been in the service of conservatism even if, for the sake of expediency, he sometimes grafts to some of his policies, features that Babangida would have described as 'a little to the Left'. Revolution is about fundamental change, not the kind of hypocritical window-dressing we have been witnessing for decades.

By their very nature political revolutions are notorious for sweeping people like Obasanjo and other past leaders away. Let no one accuse a frog of having a tail; all those accusing OBJ of even thinking about a revolution are guilty of misapplication of words unless they are referring to the green revolution of the old man's Ota Farm.

It is remarkable that leaders tend to see more clearly the moment they part ways with power. Obasanjo has been privileged to lead Nigeria twice - as a military head of state and then as a democratically elected president. He has had more than 11 years to fix Nigeria. Although he did make some attempts to stem the rot in some sectors, he introduced his own putrefaction in others. At a stage, his Napoleonic fancies came to the fore and loyalty to self took precedence over allegiance to the nation. That was why the two-term president did not entrench strong institutions to protect some of the reforms made during his administration.

Self will fail, fads will fade, ego will die someday, even Babacracy will expire - but institutions endure.

It is hypocritical to pontificate about doing the right things.Obasanjo was the chief priest of Do-Or-Die politicking in Nigeria. He preached it; he lived it. As the ultimate godfather in the ruling Peoples' Democratic Party, he imposed UmaruYar'Adua on the nation in one of the most disgraceful electoral heists of all time. When the media raised concerns about Candidate Yar'Adua's health, it was Physician OBJ that certified him fit. But when it was clear that the chickens were coming home to roost Obasanjo was among the first to call on the ailing President Yar'Adua to resign if he could no longer cope. That was how the then Vice-President Jonathan assumed office as president. Obasanjo cannot now pontificate to us about why things are the way they are. Many of the problems Jonathan is grappling with today were created during OBJ's years in power.

The bastardisation of the privatization process is a case in point. We still remember how Transcorp came about.The handing over of national assets to favoured cronies was a constant tool of buying loyalty under OBJ's watch. The myth was that once sold, the enterprises would be so well run that they would lap up the millions of unemployed young people in the country. It never happened. Only last week the current administration had to terminate the ill-fated arrangement with Bi-Courtney on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway.

Also, OBJ's war against corruption was selective. He deludes only himself if he claims otherwise. And I don't know where he got the idea that he reduced unemployment by about 20 percent during his eight years as president. Those jobs probably exist only on paper.

But don't take anything away from the wily general. Obasanjo is as smart as they come. He tries to gauge public opinion and then goes public with his reaction as if he is on the same side with the people. Yet, all his narratives are focused on self. We are supposed to believe that he is the best thing to have happened to us since ice cream!

History will record Obasanjo's pluses and minuses. Sanctimonious, self-serving interventions will have no place in any objective assessment of the role of the inventor of "third term agenda" in the affairs of Nigeria. If I was to rate all the heads of state we have had so far, General Gowon would come out tops. He achieved more in eight years than Obasanjo's 11 years put together.

Law-bender SamsonOkwu!

Did you read the story about the dishonourable conduct of a member of the House of Representatives, Samson Okwu (representing Oju/Obi constituency of Benue State) who resisted arrest on being apprehended for driving against traffic around the Games Village Abuja? I checked out the young man's background and found that he was born in 1974, one year after I sneaked into journalism. "As an Honourable Member, I am allowed to bend the law!" he reportedly retorted.

This 'law-bender' 38-year-old is a disgrace to his generation and to the National Assembly.

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