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by Morak Babajide-Alabi
No one can dispute the fact that the former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo is a very colourful man. He is a man who does not shy away from controversies or scared of creating them and not a man to hide behind one finger when it is time to be heard on any subject of national interest. These are some of the reasons why you either like him or you hate him. There is no middle way with him.
Strangely to date, Obasanjo is the only Nigerian leader internationally acclaimed and respected. This may seem unexplainable, but we most times guess it is because he was the first military leader to initiate and voluntarily hand over power to a democratically elected government in 1979. To the international community, at the time when military coups and rules were the order of the day, it was a big personal sacrifice for an African military leader.
While he is respected outside the shores of the country, it is no secret that he is a man that many love to hate. To some, Obasanjo comes as a military dictator, to others, a retired farmer, troublemaker and attention seeker of the highest order. Many have credited him, alongside his comrades from the military, as the genesis of Nigeria’s present troubles. Ask the people of Odi, Bayelsa State their opinion of Obasanjo cannot be complimentary. For Abubakar Atiku, his one-time deputy, Obasanjo is a man that fights dirty to achieve his goals.
Efforts have been made to suppress the role of this man in the history of Nigeria. Yet no matter how much we tried, his part in successfully ending the civil war has found its way into our history books. They have become folk tales told to children by the moonlight. Even if the children cannot relate to the senseless war, denying the fact that he was a comeback Nigerian leader will be laughable.
Obasanjo chooses his battles carefully and prosecutes them to logical conclusions. He has won a few battles in his time in the public arena. A fierce soldier who does not suffer fools gladly. Despite this legendary status as a fighter, Obasanjo failed to win the one that would have mattered most to him. He schemed, organised, disorganised, mapped, strategised to get himself voluminous pages in Nigerian history, by becoming the first leader to run a third term. But he failed.
Till date, Nigerians are struggling to understand what formed the basis of his desire to rewrite the constitution to allow him a third term in power. Was it the urge to become the longest serving Nigerian leader? Was it the love of the country or the love of the people? Maybe the desire to do more than the two terms had allowed him. Whatever the reasons, not many of Nigerians favoured them. He was the first Nigerian leader to have a second opportunity to take the nation to the “promised land.” Coming back as a civilian president, many thought he would build on his experience as a military head of state to turn things around for the people.
In 1999 Obasanjo was a beacon of hope for many Nigerians. He was the face of a new Nigeria, after many years of pillage by the “club of soldiers”, of which he once belonged. In a well embroidered white agbada, Obasanjo, on his Inauguration Day cut the look of a repentant man willing to give his life to the survival of the country, Nigeria. He looked dead set to atone for his past sins as a military leader. Nigerians saw in him a new beginning.
This is understandable though, as anyone with his history would have been very determined to make a change, even if it means laying down their lives to achieve this. Here was a man who escaped dying an ignominious death in prison, no thanks to the phantom coup plan to topple the government of the maximum leader Sani Abacha.
Obasanjo’s voice on any issue in Nigeria cannot be discounted. As a statesman, he has never kept quiet anytime he sees the ship of the state going astray. In fact, Obasanjo has the history of being a one man check on successive governments in power. The only government he failed to address in his personal capacity was the “Obasanjo administration”. He probably was carried away with the duties at hand that he forgot.
When last week he put pen to paper to air his views on the state of the nation, not many of us expected a praise of the present government. True to character he did a real critique of the Muhammad Buhari government in an honest take and reflection of the thoughts of the men and women on the streets. Obasanjo is no newcomer to letter writing. He had written so many letters to past heads of state. This letter writing skill was praised by Buhari in 2015 when he said – “Former President Obasanjo is a courageous patriot and statesman who tells truth to power when he is convinced leaders are going wrong”. What other testimony does the man need?
Obasanjo is not a genius as he might have been portrayed in recent days. He is better described as an opportunist. He gauges the mood of the people and capitalises on it to make himself look like the messiah they never had. Going down history lane to take a look at the letters he had written, one pattern is that he speaks when the morale of the populace is at the lowest. He has not failed this time around.
Nigerians are disappointed in the Buhari administration. No government in Nigerian history lost so much goodwill in a short period of time as the present one. We need not bore ourselves with details of the fact that this was a government that literally “walked” to office promising change in every area of the polity. But we are well aware that several months down the line, the real changes we have are doublespeak from government officials.
We need no amplification by Obasanjo to understand the plight of Nigerians. Oh, wait a minute, maybe we do, because the government has been carrying on for this long as if it was deaf to the cries of the people. Despite the failure of the government to deliver on campaign promises, the officials have arrogantly been living in a cocoon of deception, protected from the real world.
Many political observers argue that Obasanjo has no moral right to evaluate or criticise the Buhari administration that if he had done his bit during his time in Office, maybe the art of governance would not be this calamitous for the Buhari government. I will leave this for Obasanjo and his conscience. Against the run of public opinions, Obasanjo may have the conviction that he did his best for Nigeria in his two-term in Office.
If only Buhari and his handlers have an idea of the contents of “letters” written in the hearts of Nigerians, they will know they are a bunch of failures. Fortunately for them, the letters written by the poor who cannot afford three square meals, the unemployed, the sick, the pensioners and many others will never get to the public sphere. This does not mean they are not disappointed in the government. They are just waiting for the next general elections.
Now that Obasanjo has spoken the minds of the people, what happens next?
As published in the Sunday Vanguard of January 28, 2018.