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OPINION: Obasanjo’s diminishing value as a statesman

By Iliyasu Gadu
(08035355706 sms only)

Each time former president Olusegun Obasanjo makes his frequent interventions on national issues, there are always people who would ask that we ignore the messenger and consider instead the message he brings. Impliedly, this is to urge that Nigerians ignore his well-known and documented negative political and other traits and read the opinions he offers on national issues with gritted teeth if necessary.

It is like the popular saying in Naijaspeak; ‘’Comot eye for the thing wey dem write for moto, enter moto”.
President Olusegun Obasanjo carries on his shoulders a status of considerable renown and reverence. In Nigeria he enjoys the standing of an iconic statesman and on the African continent; he is one of the few remaining globally recognised and influential African figures alive today.
So why should Obasanjo’s views which ordinarily ought to be widely accepted without any question whatsoever generate much misgivings about him and his intent?
Having read president Obasanjo’s latest incisive statement on the state of the nation, like many Nigerians I am inclined to agree with his conclusion that the country indeed is hurtling dangerously towards the precipice.
The economy is on a tailspin with dwindling revenue from falling oil prices globally. Poverty stalks the land devouring masses of people in its wake. And insecurity manifested in many ways is now daily fare all over the country.
More poignantly the country’s ever fragile fault lines of religion and ethnicity are widening alarmingly. A growing number of Nigerians from all walks of life are questioning the relevance and continued existence of Nigeria as a country owing to their lack of satisfaction with the way things are.

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But unlike some, I am not inclined to accept that we focus only on these issues which Obasanjo raised in his statement and instead ignore what we think and know about him and his ways.
The very fact that we are told to overlook the bearer of the message should tell us that there is a disconnect somewhere in the link between the man who brings the message and the message itself, especially if that man was Obasanjo.
I believe in the case of Obasanjo we cannot make that excuse. For the weight and import of the message he bears to sink into the consciousness of Nigerians and generate the kind of redemptive action required, president Obasanjo must be interrogated too. And in this regard, it is important that we subject Obasanjo’s antecedents in governance and politics to a health check in order to determine whether his interventions on the state of the nation are merited or not.
And on this score all things considered, not many people will be willing to give former president Obasanjo the benefit of the doubt in his craving to be considered as moral and political conscience of the nation.
As everyone knows, including his very self, Obasanjo cannot be absolved from most of the existential challenges in Nigeria today. From the corruption that has gone stratospheric in the country to the skulduggery that defines our politics today, Obasanjo is a major stakeholder. We cannot forget too soon how he turned his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) during his time as president into his personal political estate running it without recourse to the party’s rules of engagement.
The uncertainty in our economy today took its backward leaning trajectory from his days. One of his greatest claims to being an economic manager which is being touted by his apologists was the so called settling of Nigeria’s external debts during his tenure as president. Anybody with an understanding of International finance knows that this was a hoax from the pit of hell.

It was for all practical purposes a business deal selling off Nigeria’s debt stock to International brokerage firms who sold it at discount rate on the International financial markets. It was a kind of leveraged buy-out (LBO) the type of which Wall Street firms specialised in purchasing and hawking debts of developing countries through the world financial system skimming off huge brokerage fees.
But essentially it offered Nigeria no significant reliefs as our debt merely changed from one form to another more opaque form in the world financial system. The effect is that it significantly lowered our financial, economic and commercial bargaining threshold in the economic system of nations. It is the cumulative effect of this that we are suffering today in our economy.
Obasanjo’s career in the military was also no less controversial and opportunistic. From Generals Gowon to Murtala to Olufemi Olutoye, James Oluleye, Benjamin Adekunle, IBM Haruna etc he had spectacular well documented public run ins all due to his well-known inability to manage his temperament with colleague officers. His rise to public reckoning owing to his role in receiving the instrument of surrender during the civil war; to his emergence as Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters after the ouster of General Gowon in 1975; to his being compelled by his colleagues “against my personal wish and desire’’ to become head of state after the assassination of General Murtala Mohammed and to his becoming the president of Nigeria at the onset of the present political dispensation in 1999, owes much to opportunism, reaping largely from where others toiled.

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Some of his error of judgements as a military head of state resulted in the execution, dismissal and retirement of some of the country’s finest officers either on trumped up charges or due to spite.
This then is the man who wants Nigerians to consider his interventions on the state of the nation with all seriousness without subjecting him and his records to scrutiny.
It is a mark of the mockery and contempt he holds his fellow countrymen that despite all this he still goes ahead to offer moral lectures on existential issues in Nigeria without a sense of self introspection.
On his latest intervention, although there is much sense in what he says, which is already in the public domain anyway, Nigerians are not be deceived that Obasanjo like Saul in the scriptures has now become Paul on the road to Damascus. Being one of the principal architects of the rot in our country and still benefitting from it, Obasanjo should not expect Nigerians to continue to give him the luxury to think of himself as a solutions provider to the challenges of the country now or in future. He should be considered as the opportunist he has always been who gauges the prevailing mood in the country and rides on the back of it to make hay as the statesman that Nigerians expect him to be but which he had clearly diminished, by his poor public track record.