By LEVINUS NWABUGHIOGU
…As Oby Ezekwesili marks 50 years ….
ABUJA—Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Sunday, faulted move by the Federal Government to set up an agency for pipeline protection, saying it was another way of stealing from the government coffers.
Obasanjo who spoke at a thanksgiving at the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, Garki Abuja to mark the 50th birthday of the former Minister of Education, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili also said he took full responsibility for any failure his regime has been accused of and that his team of ministers who worked with him should not be blamed for any inadequacies.
The former President who extolled the outstanding qualities of Ezekwesili who served under him stated that no one would have probed her following her position on the state of the nation as widely reported recently.
Instead, Obasanjo said the government would have paid her for the services she rendered to the country during the time she served.
Obasanjo who chided the present government for a move to set up an agency for pipeline protection, argued that this was another way of stealing from the government coffers.
Said he: “When I was coming from Abeokuta, I was listening to the radio and they said they are going to set up an agency for pipeline protection. Now, what are the Police there for? All the security agencies that we have, what are they for. This is another chop-chop.
We have no choice we have to get it right. Let us decide individually that I will have to do what I will do to bring about change in Nigeria. And if you do that, let me assure you, you will be abused. You will be called names. Some people are hired to do that. But like Oby, say what you believe is right and stand by it.”
Commending his former minister for the role she played in government, the former president said, “those who wanted to probe you, I think if they were honest, after probing you, they would ask that the government of Nigeria should have specially given you money for work you have done for this country.
But as one of those who worked with me and to achieve whatever we may claim we achieved, and I have always said it you should be commended. Whatever you might want to blame in my government, blame me, don’t blame any of those people who assisted me. Blame me. If there is any credit, we share together. But if there is anything you want to say it is wrong, I was the one in-charge.”
Obasanjo who said he would have been in Ghana but for the importance he attached to the celebration, however, stated that their role as citizens of Nigeria and stakeholders in the affairs of the nation was to continue offering advice that would bring the needed change.
He also recounted an experience he had with a friend on the natural endowment of the country, stressing that mismanagement of resources is Nigeria’s greatest challenge.
Obasanjo: “Today is a great day in your life and I know that otherwise I should have been in Ghana. But because I realize how important this day is to you, when I leave here I will proceed to Ghana. I want to thank you for what we jointly worked for and lived for; service and values. And I do hope that we will never stop meditating, repeating, shouting and talking.
“One of my friends said the other day when I said let us pray, he said stop tempting God and I said what do you mean by that, he said Look, God has done everything for you and you are mismanaging it. You are tempting God. I hope you will stop tempting God.
But let me say personally what Oby stands for, what she has lived for and the exemplary service she has rendered under my own administration and indeed in the global setting
Speaking to newsmen at the reception on how she feels at 50 years, the celebrant, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili looked back and said it was the grace of God that has brought her thus far.
Her words: “It feels really great. I have to tell you that I feel a sense of completion of a certain phase in my life and when I look back I just remember so much that God has done in my life, you know I can’t help but really understand God as the One who gives greatness.
“It is only because of the Grace of God that I am what I am today and grace is called unmerited favour, not because I deserve it but because God decided that He will take a child from a humble home and enabled my parents to give me education and He laid on my path the opportunity to prove myself then He blessed the work that I did at different stages of my life.
“So, to come to fifty and to be in great health and to still be strong in my God because my salvation is an important part of my personality. My own relationship is not a joke. It’s real. That’s what my life is about. I don’t wear it about like a title but I really believe in God. There is God. And when you truly believe in God, there is a way that your values will be shaped. I am so grateful to God because the family that I was born into is a strong family that shaped her values on the basis of principles of God.”
Her Passion about Nigeria
Dr. Ezekwesili who was also former Vice President of World Bank told news men that she has passion for Nigeria and that her passion was informed by the orientation she had while growing up and wished for a society where principle of equity, fairness and justice will be its hallmarks.
“It is part of it because I had a feeling about my father who even though he was a public servant, my Dad was a Dad who cared about this nation. He wanted that this nation will have the values that created the basis for an equitable society, society where the poor will have the opportunity to be what they could be on the basis of effort and hard-work. I can’t even relate to a life where people enjoy what they have not worked for. It just an anathema because my family was founded on the principle of reward on the basis of hard-work, diligence, character.”
Nigeria in the Next 50 years
Amidst the economic challenges and the pessimisms that Nigeria is on the brink of collapse, the Ex-Minister said that she was very optimistic that Nigeria is on the threshold of greatness. “I have a very, very, positive, in fact I am congenitally optimistic, concerning Nigeria, I and eternally optimist. It doesn’t matter if I am the only one standing, that this nation will attend the greatness that God bestowed it. This nation, it does not matter what you see, this nation will transform. True transformation will come to Nigeria”
Going into Partisan politics?
“Actually, there is nothing about being interested in politics if you understand Democracy. Democracy is incomplete without the engagement of the citizen in the process. The demand for accountability and result is the role of the citizens. You don’t have to play politics in order to be an active citizen engaged in democratic process. The reason that we have lacked result and accountability since our first democratic experience in the sixties is simply because the citizen fails to play that role.
I am not going to be a citizen that acts like a Eunuch, that there is no capacity to demand accountability. So, I am not a politician. The day I decide that I want to a politician, you don’t need to guess. You will see me. I am very candid. I am very frank. I am too honest to play game on things that I believe in. I don’t want to be a politician but I am active citizen who is basically carrying put the role that every citizen of this nation must carry out.
On Corruption in Nigeria
“My General overview is that we are going through the throes of challenges that require a very strong sense of sacrificial leadership. The whole problem of a corrupted environment, the corruption in the society right now is so endemic, it has been democratized. And that is going to sink us. We need to tackle corruption and tackle it as you will tackle cancer. It can kill.
There is no need pretending that this country is burdened by the weight of a cancerous phenomenon. Every Nigerian knows that we have a problem. This is a broken society and it has permeated every aspect of our national life. So we must have to do something about it. That is why for example when I talk about the active citizen that engages the democratic process, that’s what I mean. The motivation that drives me is that, look at me, the child of a poor family in a relatively decent society, I got the kind of education that has taken me thus far. I was Minister of Education.
A similarly poor child, a child who would come from the kind of family I came from when I was young, we didn’t have the kind of opportunities that I have in this same nation. That is what it’s about. It is not about anything other than we must build a decent society that does not soaked in inequality that I see around me today. When I see the children of say, the Gardner’s, the Driver and I see that they will not get the kind of education, the kind of access that I had, the kind of opportunities that I had, it pains me.”
On Scraping of NECO, JAMB
I can’t comment on that directly but I do know that when I was Minister, we tried to look at the consolidation process because with technology, you can actually converge a lot of services that examination bodies offer. Whether it is JAMB or NECO or it is WEAC, you can bring them, you can integrate their forms. We wanted to have that kind of mechanism to handle it and restore the integrity of the examination process and certification process.
Now, you will have to first think of the idea analytically and then you need to engage with the National Assembly because they will meet to repeal any necessary laws that need to be repealed. But it must be done on the basis of the outcome. You must seek to know clearly what outcome you are seeking to get not necessarily that you are seeking to scrap them.
On her controversial statements
“Am I controversial? I don’t think. I am not one bit controversial. I am hard on the government. Is it probably because of the excess crude? No. you should say that the government did not handle its citizen who have served this nation with all her heart and my speech to the young people at the graduation ceremony was not picking on the government. It was picking on the act of the governance system in the petroleum sector on that fact that the oil sector has not delivered any benefit to the poor and that it was needed to be tackled. That was what it was about. I am not controversial.”
Preaching earlier on the topic “Build your life on Values that lasts”, the Guest Speaker, Rev. Dr. Williams Okoye who told his Bible reading from Luke 12, said that life is not about accumulation of wealth but sharing love with one another.
Other dignitaries who graced the occasion included the former Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Mallam el-Rufai, the former Governor of Central bank of Nigeria, Professor Charles Soludo, former Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mr. Frank Nweke Jr., Senator Andy Uba, Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. George Mogalo and a host of other friends and relations.