By Ochereome Nnanna
I have only encountered President Olusegun Obasanjo twice. The first time was in 2001 when his Media Adviser, the late great journalist, Mr. Tunji Oseni, invited me to Aso Villa for the Presidential Media Chat series. The second event was quite dramatic.
I visited a friend, Osita Chidoka, in his office in August 2007. He had just been appointed Corps Marshall of the Federal Roads Safety Commission, FRSC. At lunch time, he asked me to accompany him to see “someone” at the Hilton, Abuja. When we arrived at the hotel, I became suspicious when we rode the elevator to the topmost floor and Chidoka led me to the end of a hallway with two coated security guards on duty. It was then that I knew we were seeing a VVIP.
After signing us in, Chidoka stood aside as a bespectacled elderly man still wearing shabby bedclothes (at 2.00pm) came out. Everyone in the room stood reverently. He bantered with Chidoka and I took a closer look. It was former President Obasanjo! Chidoka introduced me:
“Baba, this is Ochereome Nnanna of Vanguard…”
Obasanjo, who was already about to shake my hands, quickly withdrew it as if I had turned into a cobra. He gave me a hostile stare and walked away. I whispered to Chidoka that I would wait for him downstairs.
All this drama apart, the lesson I took away from the encounter was that, contrary to Obasanjo’s pretentions that he does not read Nigerian newspapers, he does. His reaction to me just proved it. I have never hidden my disdain for the recycling of the military generals who fought the civil war as elected “civilian” presidents.
Apart from the injuries they have done to our renascent democracy, they brought back the pains of the civil war and its aftermaths at a time that 1970 was supposed to be more than 40 years behind us. Many of them still have the civil war raging in their hearts, and some of them have failed woefully to disguise this much in their attitude to the people of the former Eastern Region (or defunct Biafra) of which I am one.
I don’t usually bother myself with any kind of ceremonies surrounding our incumbent and former presidents. I don’t consider them worthy of being celebrated. They wasted my generation and hijacked our opportunity after exhausting theirs. They ruled the country when they were in their twenties and thirties. They are still ruling now they are in their seventies and eighties, and what have they made of the country?
Nigeria, which by 1963, was billed for greatness; the standard-bearer of the Third and Black World, has become a place from where its citizens flee to other countries to become hewers of wood and drawers of water, criminals and social rejects frequently executed, imprisoned and deported.
Nigeria is a land filled with milk and honey, blessed beyond measure in terms of human and natural resources, but which today is looking for loans and foreign investors. We are importing all sorts of trash from countries which used to be in our expectation bracket, such as China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and others. These people now produce “Indian gari”, “Chinese plastic rice and amala” and expired Thai rice which they dump on us. The Black people of South Africa, whom we liberated from Apartheid, are lynching our people in their streets, looting our businesses and deporting our countrymen in orchestrated gales of xenophobic attacks, because our leaders like Obasanjo ran Nigeria down.
Obasanjo is the greatest living symbol of the failure of Nigeria as a country. For eleven years and seven months he ruled, more time than any Nigerian living or dead. When he handed over in 1979, he retired to his farm as one of the millionaire generals-turned-farmers. With the Land Use Decree, he grabbed a huge parcel of land in Ota, his native Ogun State, and set up a chicken farm that failed miserably within a few years.
In 1998, he had a second chance to correct his mistakes. From jail, he was released for alleged coup against General Sani Abacha and sponsored as an elected President of Nigeria. Those who sponsored him would rather give it to him than Moshood Abiola, Obasanjo’s kinsman who had won the freest and fairest election in Nigeria’s history. Abiola was detained and poisoned to death for agitating for his mandate. These forces, as they had done in Obasanjo’s first “missionary journey” in 1976 to 1979, told Obasanjo he would only rule for four years and return power to them.
But this time, Obasanjo would not oblige them. He ran for eight years and became so self-assured that he wanted to extend his stay. Having failed in his self-succession mission, including losing out in his “plan B” of controlling the Presidency from his village, Obasanjo joined hands with others to destroy the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, the political platform that the military hijacked from civilians and gave him to carry out their regional agenda. At 80, Obasanjo gloats at the “death” of PDP, which he once aspired to be its “Life Leader”.
Obasanjo also left in 2007, but not before selling off valuable national assets and forcing governors and industry captains to part with millions of naira to build his Presidential Library.
Yet, a former President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Rev. Sunday Mbang, calls Obasanjo “the best president Nigeria ever had”. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But let the truth be told: in spite of his woeful failures, Obasanjo is still among the best of our bad lot of present and past leaders.
Whether he is 80 or 84, here is wishing General Olusegun Obasanjo, our first two-time president (the man who inspired President Muhammadu Buhari to aspire to emerge as the second two-time president) “happy birthday”.
Nigeria, we hail thee!