September 20, 2020

OBJ ERA OFFICIAL: Why Nigeria and the world listen when Obasanjo speaks

OBJ ERA OFFICIAL: Why Nigeria and the world listen when Obasanjo speaks

Akin Osuntokun

Akin Osuntokun

By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor, Sunday

Just like his previous letters to President Muhammadu Buhari on the state of the nation, former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s outburst last week that Nigeria was becoming a failed state and divided under Buhari has attracted more than passing attention. The Presidency immediately responded, calling the former Nigerian leader the ‘Divider-in-chief’. Professor Wole Soyinka joined the controversy when he aligned with Obasanjo’s position notwithstanding that he is not the “former President’s fan”. Obasanjo, who supported Buhari to assume office for his first tenure in 2015, had previously written three letters to the President, criticizing his style of governance. The first was written in January 2018, another in July 2019 while the third was penned in May 2020.

In this interview, a former Political Adviser in the Obasanjo administration, Mr. Akin Osuntokun, speaks on why the former President’s statements often generate controversy.

Former President Obasanjo’s recent comment that Nigeria has never been this divided has attracted criticism. Why do you think the former President is always attacked each time he speaks on the state of the nation?

He is attacked because Nigeria and the world listen when he talks. He is attacked because, given his insight, experience and global exposure, he is on top of the issues.

He is attacked because his pedigree as an unrivalled Nigerian nationalist confers on him the kind of legitimacy no other Nigerian has. You see, the Buhari government has been boxed into the corner because it has become pretty obvious to everyone that they have no solutions to the problems of Nigeria.

Rather than provide solutions, they have compounded the problems on account of gross incompetence and brazen nepotism. In any governance delivery index especially corruption and insecurity, they have performed worse than any previous government probably with the exception of Sani Abacha.

In justifying the attacks on Obasanjo, his critics always claim that his interventions are not driven by patriotism…

It will require a peculiar definition of patriotism and the height of escapism for anyone to arrive at that assessment. Shouldn’t anyone who means well for Nigeria be interested in the content of his criticism rather than dwell on his motivations?

The truth of course is that his observations are no different from what other opinion leaders, the media and international monitors say about Nigeria. The only difference is that the criticism carries more weight coming from him. I refer you to the complement recently paid to him by Professor Wole Soyinka who is no fan of Obasanjo

The myriad of problems that resulted in the current state of the nation has been variously traced to the eight years of Obasanjo. The argument is that he failed to put Nigeria on the path of holistic growth…

You of course know that is a nonsensical statement. The most catastrophic failure of the Buhari government is the prevailing bitter antagonism and mutual hostility among Nigerians fostered by Buhari’s deliberate policy of division and apartheid.

Now, the most implacable critic of Obasanjo will find it difficult not to grant him the recognition of being the exact opposite of Buhari in promoting the unity and nationhood of Nigeria. Not to talk of the feat of saving up to pay off the crippling accumulated debt of Nigeria and the complementary concession of Nigeria’s creditors in writing off the balance.

On the contrary, you can see how the Buhari government has been acting the prodigal son mortgaging the future of coming generations by the magnitude of another round of debt he has plunged Nigeria.

Do you think the frequent bashing of Obasanjo each time he speaks on key national issues has anything to do with his person or..?

This is a restatement of your initial question and the answer is yes. If any government were in Buhari government’s shoes of demonstrable gross ineptitude and failure, I assume it will equally be overly sensitive to criticism especially coming from any opinion leader of the status of Obasanjo

To some people, Obasanjo is among the most detribalised Nigerians. Others consider him as a selfish man who often seeks self-adulation. Can you x-ray his politics and his person?

Like the rest of us, Obasanjo is a product of his unique history and life experience. More than most people, circumstances forced him to acquire a sense of responsibility and forbearance early in life.

The latter part of his life compensated for the crushing hardship and lowliness he grappled with while growing up. He has been uniquely favoured by providence which has bestowed him with multiple accomplishments, great physical energy and formidable intellect.

Given the manner in which his destiny has been intertwined with that of Nigeria (positively), no one qualifies more to be regarded as Mr. Nigeria.