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Olusegun Obasanjo’s selective amnesia

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By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu

“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”.

 Chief Olusegun Obasanjo signed the green tree agreement
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo

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.

 IBB @ 72

LAST weekend, former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida turned 72. There was an effusive outpouring of birthday messages, with Nigerian newspapers raking in a tidy profit from advertisements from friends and associates of the former president, including even, state governments.

It is indicative of IBB’s staying power in the Nigerian public space, that twenty years after “stepping aside”, he has continued to generate deep emotions, both positive and negative, depending on where the individual stands in respect of Babangida’s place in Nigerian history.

I have come to know IBB very closely in the years since I was appointed Editor of DAILY TRUST, in 2002. We held several hours of interview with him that graced our papers; he had been invited to be guest at the Annual Dialogue which the paper holds; and last year, he was the Special Guest at the public presentation of BLUEPRINT newspaper in Abuja.

At a more personal level, I have also had the privilege of holding even longer hours of very wide-ranging discussions with IBB, on several issues that became central to his years in power. As I stated at the BLUEPRINT event last year, with IBB, one cannot seem to be “neutral” in attitude towards the man. People seem to either dislike the man passionately or admire him intensely.

In my view, if one holds a passionate dislike for the man, the best thing is not to meet him, because you’re more likely to begin to re-assess your feeling towards the man, with a close encounter. I also know that it is how a public official has impacted on the social space that must be the basis of our assessment of his place in history.

It is part of IBB’s legacy that Nigerians continue to judge him largely on the annulment of the June 12 elections and its aftermath. On that score, I think IBB failed very significantly and why he has offered apologies and explanations, he has been unable to escape the censure of history on that significant, historical score.

Yet, as the years have rolled by, many Nigerians have also come to appreciate the man even more and because of the poverty of governance in Nigeria today, his years are more positively remembered in many quarters. What no one can take away from IBB is his infectious charm; his magnetic personality and that remarkable ability to make people welcome.

I have seen that severally in the many times that I have encountered him. I have not failed to notice how advancing years have caught up with the man, as it does all mortals, and how twenty years down the line, the aura of power has gradually given way to soberness, a more religious introspection and a general physical slowing down.

Indeed nothing lasts forever! But there is no gainsaying the fact, that General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida will remain a very important and controversial historical personality in Nigeria’s public space.

I have often wondered what he would have done differently, given a different context and with the benefit of the wisdom of hindsight. I will take that up with him before long as much as also interrogating his views of his own place in history. Happy Birthday IBB!

The journalist and peer recognition

AS you read these lines, I should have arrived in Asaba, the Delta state capital, to attend the 9th All Nigerian Editors Conference. It is a gathering which brings Nigerian editors to brainstorm on the place of the media in Nigeria’s development.

This year, I have been nominated as a Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors and the induction ceremony will hold on Saturday, August 24th. I have never been given to awards or coveting them.

But this is a very significant recognition by professional peers and an acceptance that I have made a modest contribution to our profession, after 36 years of life in broadcasting and journalism. It has been one long, often tortuous journey, but one that I will not trade for any other.

I have been very lucky to be born at a remarkable conjuncture in history, with all the privileges that our country so generously gave me!

That I have been  considered a Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors is recognition of the journey through the social and historical space by this broadcaster/journalist.

I am very grateful to my peers in the Guild and to all Nigerians for the privileges that I have so generously received from our country. For me, the central issue has always been to use the gifts of broadcasting and journalism for the betterment of our country and of humanity. That has been my mission in the past 36 years and I can only pledge to do that even more in the years ahead!

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