The Political Intrigues of Obasanjo

Published on 25th March 2008

Olusegun Obasanjo
Had Gen. Muritala Mohammed been alive, would Nigeria have been spared the political machinations of his successor Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo?

Now civilian Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo, a product of historical and political events by default, has had the longest impact on the political landscape and psyche of Nigeria. Obasanjo’s nearly 12 years as military Head of State and civilian president represents more than a quarter of Nigeria’s sovereign life. If Nigeria’s sovereign life is assessed under ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ for ruining Nigeria.

During the 1967-70 war, very little was known of Obasanjo. But by default, Benjamin Adekunle’s absence during the final days of the civil war left the opportunity for Obasanjo to finish. Obasanjo was hailed a hero and Gen. Gowon in his magnanimity largely timidity, showered Obasanjo with commendations and an appointment to the Supreme Ruling Council - SRC. In the subsequent years after the war, very little was heard of Obasanjo until the military coup of 1975 that saw the coming to power of Muritala Mohammed. Gen. Mohammed by default chose Obasanjo as a way to balance power but never considered him a strong character to offer considerable intellectual content in restoring Nigeria to a sensible way to live and grow.

Obasanjo was reluctant to take over Nigeria after the failed 1976 coup led by Lt. Col Dimka but with persuasion accepted on the condition that the more gallant, (late) Col. Shehu Yar’Adua, a junior officer, be his second in command. Col. Yar’Adua, gave Obasanjo the confidence he lacked, and invariably provided some solid but fractional backing of the northern folks.

As soon as Obasanjo took over, ITT contract was his first business, then FESTAC, Land Use Decree, Operation Feed the Nation (OFN), clamping students' unions, lowering education budgets for higher institutions, and so forth. It was at UniJos, that Obasanjo observed that students' hostels and dormitories were of higher standards than those of the soldiers in the barracks. Based on that observation, Nigeria's institutions of higher learning started the downward spiral of neglect and limited budget. Since he was not a product of such institutions, it was no surprise that he set to destroy what in his limited views of most subjects, was a threat to his leadership.

By the early 70s, Nigerian Press was regarded as one of the most fierce and fearless press in Africa.Victor Amakiri, a reporter, once asked him a question. In reply, he got a shave of his head with a broken piece of bottle. This manhandling put a chill on Nigeria Press and set off the lackluster attitude the press approached issues regarding public probity. The prime occupant of Dodan Barracks, now Igwe of Oba; Chief Ezenwa, was once flogged at the instruction of Obasanjo.

Obasanjo saw the introduction of the Land Use Decree of 1978, designed to help the government amass land with impunity. Obasanjo entrenched corruption in land matters by allowing local governors to wield incredible amount of power on who got land and how long they could own it.

When he left office in 1979 and hailed for handing over to a civilian president (a milestone in Africa) Obasanjo went into hibernation. Thinking that he had garnered some reputation after conducting a civilian election, he set his eyes on the world stage. Andrew Young with whom he cultivated some odd but parasitic relationship packaged him as a candidate for UN Secretary Generalship but that move died as soon as it got started because the opposition was stiff and steep. Obasanjo it was rumored by those close to him went into depression and sought ways to assert his image his image in the global arena. It was then that he stumbled into Transparency International to talk about corruption but this did not sit well with subsequent military regimes in Nigeria that thought his 'holier than thou' stance, was a nuisance and needed to be nipped.

The nipping did not occur until late Sani Abacha, Obasanjo’s nemesis took over power in the early 1990s. By now Obasanjo had been emboldened on his stand against military rule and considered Abacha a persona non-grata. Abacha instructed his 'boys' to keep an eye on Obasanjo. As this design would have it, Obasanjo was accused of having a hand in some military coup, convicted for treason, and jailed for years.

Now come late 90s: IBB in an ungodly way to redeem himself and appease the Yorubas for denying Moshood Abiola, the presidency in 1992, sought Obasanjo and told him to prepare to be president. Obasanjo was reluctant but due to pressure, he accepted, and again by default, Nigeria was to witness a new but (un) improved Obasanjo as he took over in 1999.

During the Council's meeting with President-elect Obasanjo in Atlanta (1999), I asked what we could do to help him be successful. He chuckled because he had expected us to ask for favors. He intoned that he would embark on making policies and seeking ways to advance Nigeria via sound projects and programs. No sooner had he taken over, did the ‘real’ Obasanjo surface. He embarked on settling scores and eliminating both imagined and real enemies. From 1999-2003, Nigeria was plunged into near chaos as some intelligent aparatus predicted a demise of the Republic.

The only time Obasanjo ever stood and sought political office for himself was in the re-election of 2003. To ensure victory, an obscure person in the name of Mr. Maurice Iwuh, a college professor, was presented to Obasanjo. Obasanjo, unwittingly installed now INEC Chair Maurice Iwuh on Nigerians, Mr. Iwuh, has a novice as far as election was concerned. But lack of experience did not matter for Obasanjo provided one was determined and willing to play along his wishes. Obasanjo won in 2003, but his attempt to perpetuate his tenure was thwarted by Nigerians under the leadership of Senator Kenneth Nnamani, then Senate President.

Obasanjo by now should be acting more like a 'Statesman' than a mere politician. I am dismayed by the squandered opportunities he has had. In our lifetime, there may never be someone like Obasanjo, twice opportune to serve as military leader and civilian president. If experience is a best teacher, Obasanjo for sure, showed it does matter.

Nigerians should minimize hero-worship and instead seek people who can deliver public service without vengeful disposition. President Yar'Adua, no matter his professed relationship with Obasanjo, should make Nigeria better and create his own legacy. Attempts to serve Obasanjo's interests at the expense of Nigeria will not augur well with Nigerians. While in the categories of 'the good', 'the bad' and 'the ugly', Obasanjo has overwhelming 'bad and ugly' ranking. Whatever good he may have is often overshadowed by his menacing manners and ill political winds.

Nigerians should recognize that their leaders are what they make them. By accommodating unbecoming conduct just because, some 'pittance' is showered on some hungry souls, sacrifice for good governance is compromised, which perpetuates the ills that plague the nation. No matter the relationship, 'bad is bad' and ugliness stinks, and those that perform political functions with such attitude need not stay one day in office. The sooner Nigerians  embark on serious soul searching for better ways to relate and rebuild the nation, the sooner they shall see the latent benefits ready to be unleashed on the nation. Nigeria is not Obasanjo’s 'petty cash.'


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