Olusegun Obasanjo’s selective amnesia

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“It is sad that after 53 years of independence we have no leader that we can commend. Then, we are jinxed and cursed; we should all go to hell”– General Olusegun Obasanjo

LAST  week, former President, Olusegun Obasanjo was keynote speaker at the fourth annual Ibadan Sustainable Development Summit, organised by the University of Ibadan. Against the backdrop of heightening political tension in the country, he  surveyed the landscape and delivered what the French call a coup-de-poing, against the “younger” generation of political leaders, especially those who emerged as the crop of leaders from 1999.

He said: “we had some people who were under 50 years old in leadership positions. One of them was James Ibori, where is he today? One of them was Alamieyeseigha, where is he today? Lucky Igbinedion, where is he today?”And Obasanjo was not done; “the youngest was the Rep Speaker, Buhari, you can still recall what happened to him”. Obasanjo particularly remembered his political opponents: “You said Bola Tinubu is your master. What Buhari did was not anything worse than what Bola Tinubu did. We got them impeached. But in this part of the world some people covered up the other man”.

The opprobrium extended to his former vice, Atiku Abubakar. “I wanted someone who would succeed me, so I took Atiku. Within one year, I started seeing the type of man Atiku was. And you wanted me to get him there?”

In the years of studying the Obasanjo phenomenon, I have marvelled at how the man can spew a mix of outright lies and apparent, self-serving truths in the same breath. It is part of his complex persona that he never takes responsibility, no matter how vicarious, for roles he played in the emergence or consolidation of the negative phenomena he seems so able to rail against.

It is true that the individuals that he named have negatives and many are outright bandits. But the Nigerian social space, from military dictatorship and by economic choices made by the ruling class, made possible the emergence of these types of “younger” leaders. The Obasanjo period from 1999, consolidated the phenomenon of thieves as leaders.

He profited handsomely from illegal and unconstitutional sale of national assets, including the creation of TRANSCORP, which he DIRECTLY profited from! Shamefully, Obasanjo mentioned Salisu Buhari but conveniently forgot how he personally organized the chap’s pardon and had attempted desperately to reinstate him Speaker!

Obasanjo mentored characters like Nnamdi Andy Uba, from a nondescript background to a billionaire political operative. The same character used the presidential plane to launder thousands of dollars in America, ostensibly to “purchase equipment” for Obasanjo’s private farm! Obasanjo sees evil only where his political enemies are. Check the list of individuals he named and it suspiciously resembles those he fought at various levels. Ibori and Alams were at the forefront of an effort that almost torpedoed his re-election in 2003; Bola Tinubu was the last man standing in Lagos and the Southwest, when “Hurricane Obasanjo” swept through the region in 2003. Atiku Abubakar became his nemesis in 2003 and most notably in his desperate attempt to tinker with the constitution to achieve a Third Term!

Cynical revenge

It is poignant that he didn’t find Atiku good enough to “get there”, deciding instead, that he was the indispensable leader Nigerians could not do without; and egged on by people like the ex-convict Bode George; Ibrahim Mantu and Tony Anenih, he decided the only acceptable way was for “Saint Mathew” to remain in power. Thank God, Nigerians kicked him in the hind-place and knocked him off his perch! In cynical revenge, we all know the crisis he has wrought on the country.

No Nigerian has been as privileged as Obasanjo, yet the period between 1999 and 2007 brought the worst of the man.

One of the governors of 1999-2007, once told me that when they were sworn in, they actually believed that they must be in their best behaviour, because Obasanjo’s inaugural speech laid a marker for proper behaviour in politics and administration. To his chagrin, they were soon to discover that the man says the right things while being the master of deception, doing all the wrong things! They became emboldened and many went on a stealing spree because the “Oga at the Top”, was no better.

The ambience of the Obasanjo years was one of impunity and presidential irresponsibility when he suddenly discovered that he was so powerful and could very much do what he liked. He recruited people of the “younger” generation who drove his massive privatisation of state assets from which many became fabulously rich! Obasanjo was petroleum minister for eight years without any hint of accountability wherein all was shrouded in secrecy.

Yet, it is also true as Obasanjo said, that Nigeria’s process of leadership recruitment is so faulty, and the process so compromised, that more often than not, it is the worst specimens that get recruited for leadership. At the base is a political economy which valorises money, almost without exception, illegally acquired.

Those who made good within the context become the movers and shakers of society, with the visibility and connection and clout for recruitment.

The worse they come, the easier they got recruited and so Nigeria’s problems get compounded. Obasanjo knew and facilitated the process in his eight years in power. His lamentation last week betrays an old leader’s unacceptable selective amnesia.

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