Nigerians, including even his political foes will readily admit Obasanjo, a gift to Nigeria and an African pride, is undoubtedly an accomplished active player in international politics. Vice President Osinbajo, despite accusing his administration, that of Yar’Adua and Jonathan of not funnelling about $783b into improving the nation’s infrastructure described him during his 80th birthday, as “as a world statesman and a gift to humanity”. At his 85th birthday celebration last week, Senate President Ahmad Lawan described him as a “pan-Africanist and global figure”. Dr Akinwumi Adesina, president, of African Development Bank (AfDB) praised him for his “selflessness toward causes in Africa as well as global issues” while President Buhari spoke of his “strong network nationally and internationally”.
Obasanjo remains a pillar of the African Union, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the prominent member of African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), designed to promote democracy and good governance. He has “served as chairman of the Group of 77, chairman of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, and chairman of the NEPAD Heads of State and Government Implementation Committee”. Even at an advanced age, he remains in the forefront of international mediation efforts in Angola, Burundi, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa.
Last week celebration of his 85th birthday reflected his international stature. The theme of the lecture is Africa and the establishment of Africa Narrative society to promote the following values:
That truth must be known and propagated for the purpose of authentic history of the past, to prevent repeat of mistakes of the past;
To continually make ourselves essential contributors to the world civilisation, world ethos, world development and world preservation;
To ensure governance and system of administration that makes use of all available human resources and talents;
To cherish and uphold our past and present in the way that will enhance our future and strengthen our participation in the global decision-making process.
Accomplished scholars from all over the world participated in the discussion of Obasanjo’s central narrative: “that every village, town, nation or region has its socio-cultural peculiarities that are best suited for the emergence of its leader and the colour of its governance”.
But the question arises as to whether charity should not begin at home since all politics is local. This question becomes relevant because the focus of Obasanjo’s central thesis is not different from the colonial master policy on Nigeria which Obasanjo and the military who believe they know what the people wanted without asking them truncated.
The departing imperial powers had canvassed for a home-grown system patterned and informed by the experiences of group’s forbears which would allow them develop at their own pace without interference from others. Towards this end, they bequeathed onto us a workable federal arrangement which self-proclaiming messiahs who falsely claim ‘they sacrifice their present for our future’, truncated.
They have continued to dig deeper into the hole instead of returning to the “path of Nigerian freedom; never taken. This perhaps explains why Obasanjo even at 85 has continued to insist that the answer to Nigerian crisis of nation building which he says finds expression ‘in sentiments, euphoria, ignorance, incompetence, ethnicity, nepotism, bigotry, sectionalism, regionalism, religion or class” is through federal character principle.
If “Since 1999, we have changed from one political party or another we have manoeuvred and manipulated to the point that election results are no longer reflections of the will of the people and we seemed to be progressively going back rather than going forward politically, economically and socially”; And if he “casts a cursory look at some of the people running around and those for whom people are running around; If EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) and ICPC (Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission) will have done their jobs, supported adequately by the judiciary, most of them would be in jail”; President Obasanjo and his military messiahs should look at the mirror. We can only reap what we sowed. The current class of politicians starting from 1999 were all military-baked ‘new-breed’ politicians some of whom even attended school of democracy, instituted by those who destroyed our political socialisation process.
The rational thing to do if we dig ourselves into a hole is to find a way to escape. But instead, Obasanjo celebrates the virtues of federal character which he says was responsible for “steady and uncompromised process of nation-building that have stood us in good stead.” Top on the list was voting Shehu Shagari into power with Alex Ekwueme from “Biafra” as No. 2 in 1979, less than ten years after attempted cessation by ‘Biafra” when, it took America decades to achieve the same feat after her civil war. But if the experiment was so successful, how come the issue of marginalisation is what is fuelling agitation for a sovereign state of Biafra by marginalised Igbos?
Next on his list was his 1999 imposition by northern hegemonic class and the military to spite his Yoruba home base that rejected him. But if climbing the palm tree from the top which was what Obasanjo did in 1999 was normal, why did he in 2003 fall back on ethnicity, massive deception and outright rigging to secure the base that rejected him 1999 when his second term was threatened?
He also credited the federal character principle with his imposition of ailing Yar’Adua and ill-prepared Jonathan as president and vice president in 2007 and the later as president in 2011. But it is on record that the late Yar’Adua was appalled by the level of massive electoral fraud that brought him to power that he had to set up the Uwais Commission to forestall the reoccurrence of the 2007 tragedy.
It is also on record that Obasanjo’s perfidy in scheming incompetent and ill-prepared Shehu Shagari who was only ready for the senate into power, erased what would have been part of Obasanjo’s enduring legacies including the setting up of four refineries connected by about, 4,500 kilometres of pipeline across the country, the reorganization of the Nigerian Airways which in 1979 had about 33 aircraft, setting up of car assemblies plants in Lagos, Kaduna and Enugu, government policy on patronage of locally assembled vehicles and of course the depletion of huge external reserve he had built up before leaving office in 1979.
As for Jonathan, he is remembered more for selling the country to PDP stalwarts that Obasanjo described as “pen robbers’.
Perhaps, the worst part of federal principle as implemented by the military and Obasanjo was the sharing of oil-wells and our national patrimony to favoured individuals through Babangida’s commercialisation that heralded an era of importation of labour of other societies even as our own graduates roam the street and Obasanjo privatization through which the nation’s investment of over $100b was according to House probe sold to privileged members of the governing elite for less than $1.5b.
If after 60 years of trading “the path to Nigeria freedom” for federal character principle that has destroyed meritocracy in our bureaucracy and tertiary institutions leading to division and mutual suspicion among our people, for Obasanjo to now be “counting on the patriotic commitment and desires of well-meaning Nigerians to start the process of forging a part out of darkness into light of salvation and a new glorious dawn” is in itself an admission of failure.