Nigeria is a very dangerous country to live in. And I am beginning to be truly afraid. I am not talking about armed robbery, assassinations, murder, epileptic power supply and all others of our well known troubles. My worry this morning is the creeping herd mentality I am seeing in this country. You will agree with me that a country where every body thinks the same way; acts the same way and where no one appears to have the courage to be different, is a very dangerous country to live in indeed. If things continue the way they are today, I am afraid I may soon become an émigré!
A few days ago during his confirmation hearing in the Senate for ministerial job, Chief Ufot Ekaete, who served Obasanjo faithfully, or so it appeared, for eight solid years, passed an invidious verdict on Obasanjo. He repudiated Obasanjo completely, denounced him passionately and was not charitable at all to a man who had given him the opportunity to serve as his chief minister. I do not blame Ekaete much because it is in the character of the Nigerian politician to act treacherously. What is more, Ekaete is a victim of the herd instinct that is developing in Nigerians whereby if certain persons in powerful political positions say that a particular individual is bad, that will be the refrain of nearly every one else in the polity. Even those who were the fiercest defenders of the victim when he was in power will retreat into their shelves for fear of offending the new men of power. It is a shame how unprincipled we Nigerians can be.
Today, the man who is fair game for everybody to abuse, to blame and to cast aspersion on is Obasanjo.To get news headline these days, speak ill of Obasanjo. Mention any act of wrong -doing against him. Attribute every wrong thing that happened during his rule to him. Give him no kudos for anything whatsoever. Distance yourself from him as much as possible. Note that it is plain unfashionable to say something complimentary, no matter how tangential; something nice no matter how small, about Obasanjo. Given the way we are going about it, I suspect that we will soon move on to a phase in the anti-Obasanjo campaign whereby we will begin to credit Obasanjo's achievements to others or ignore mentioning them at all as a way of erasing him from our collective memory.
And the media are the guiltiest in this anti-Obasanjo hysteria. And this is unfortunate because the law of journalism says that you must observe balance. The law also says that you must be fair. More importantly, journalists are supposed to be the impartial recorders of history and so ought to have shown that while Obasanjo did not do well in some aspects of his rule, he also did a lot of great things for this nation. But the overwhelming story you hear is that Obasanjo did no good.
Nigerian politicians are known for their unscrupulous and unprincipled method. They can say anything any time against anybody provided that will guarantee them a lucrative position in the government of the day. Some are more than ready to even abuse their parents, betray their closest friends and cast aspersion on their ethnic group if that will guarantee them some appointment so I do not expect much from them. Any Nigerian politician can say anything any time anywhere to get anything no matter how insignificant the thing he wants to get is. And that is without to his image. At any rate, do they have any image worthy of protecting?
If what it takes is to abuse Obasanjo in order to get a position from this government, too many of our politicians will be willing to do that with a straight face. And they are doing it. This is sickening. It is dangerous. What the unfair treatment Obasanjo is getting may do is to tell the younger generation that Nigeria is not worth dying for because no matter how hard you try for the nation, no one will appreciate your efforts especially when you get out of office.
Newspaper columnists, his fellow party men have all said Obasanjo was an unmitigated disaster. This is not true. The question I ask myself is so Obasanjo did not do any single good thing worth mentioning even in passing? This is an untrue reading of Nigerian history.
For me the sin I hold against Obasanjo is his unforgiving nature. How can a man who is so loved by God as he is, does not have a large enough heart to ignore the wrong done him? To me, this is the real failure of Obasanjo. Apart from that, he was the kind of leader Nigeria needed at that time that he came to power. Nigeria was on the verge of disintegration at the time he came to power in 1999 and what we needed at that time was to have a strong leader who needed to forge unity through sometimes forceful actions that may not be in accord with the laws of democracy.
Obasanjo left for Nigeria a legacy that if others build on, this nation will be the better for it. I intend to dwell on Obasanjo's main achievements in the second part of this piece.
What I want to say here essentially is that as a people we must learn to appreciate the good in our fellow human beings and de-emphasize hammering on their weaknesses. No angel is ever going to be sent by God to come from heaven to govern us. This means that we will have leaders who are imperfect because they are after all human.
The ceaseless attacks on Obasanjo should stop. We should show appreciation for the little we think he did in office. To me he did much but those who dispute this still need to appreciate him for the little they think he did. Why we need to leave Obasanjo alone and stop the incessant abuse of him is that it is totally unAfrican to insult elders. Those who take delight in insulting or showing disrespect to octogenarians are sowing very bad seeds for themselves.
Second, it very unprincipled for former close associates of Obasanjo to not only distance themselves from him but to also say very unkind words about him and his administration. Obasanjo is not the unmitigated disaster that some hold him to be. He did a lot of good things for his nation.
Apart from being in bad taste, what the obsession with Obasanjo may do to us is that it will distract us from the pursuit of our nation's development. Obasanjo has left power for nearly two years now. No amount of bellyaching by any one about how much of a failure Obasanjo was will yield positive dividends for us today.
I have been praying to God to make me governor of Cross River State. When he makes me, as I have faith He will do one day, I am going to rule a line as much as possible between my government and the ones before mine. I will not spend precious time abusing my predecessors and quarrelling generally with the past. I will not do so because discrediting my predecessors will not automatically translate into achievement for me. You may succeed in winning the adulation of the gullible segment of the population but what right-thinking people expect from you is how you plan to correct whatever it is the man before you did wrong and how you plan to execute the agenda you have. I will not spend time criticizing those before me because those who spend their time lamenting about their past will loose the future.
Of course if my predecessor has done something wrong, the due process should hold him accountable. I will not leave the serious business of providing leadership for the people and assume the role of EFFCC, ICPC and the police, hounding him all over the place, ridiculing him, discrediting him, and humiliating him just to show that I am the latest good man in town. I will spend my time to build upon the good things my predecessor did and correct or avoid the wrongs he did. After all, if my predecessors solved all the problems and did no wrong, it will not be necessary to have me. Those who are filled with bitterness and hatred for others can not do any positive thing.
If previous administrations had done all what was needed to fix Nigeria, why do we accuse Obasanjo of nearly everything that is wrong in the country? Obasanjo has done his bit and is gone from the scene. What is needed is to let others do their own. Those who are on the scene now will not solve all of Nigeria's problems. They best they can do is to do their bit and they too will leave the scene for others to do their bit until eternity comes.
The Holy Books enjoin us to pray for our leaders because God himself knows the several wicked forces who contend against leaders. Do we know how many Nigerians and foreigners took Obasanjo's name and picture to shrines, covens and evil alters and evil forests to solicit the help of wicked forces to confuse his mind so that they can more easily have their way? Do we know how many are doing the same to Yar'Adua today for the same end? We are required to reason with our leaders, offering them wise and unselfish counsel and not to engage in visceral, malicious and relentless criticism of them.
I am the first to admit that Obasanjo made a lot of mistakes. For instance, I think that he spent too much time making enemies and very little time to make friends for him and his administration. This, more than anything else, is responsible for the harvest of ill will he is getting now. He was not unsuccessful as a leader. To suggest that he did not do any good thing is untrue and unfair.
I have a lot of respect and admiration for Obasanjo because he was a strong leader who was not afraid of taking a decision. We may not agree with him on some of the decisions he took but you can not accuse him of indecision. At a point in the life of a nation, that nation may require a person who is abrasive, somehow authoritarian and brusque like Obasanjo. I think he fulfilled the mission which destiny had called upon him to do for Nigeria.
Next week, God willing, I hope to conclude with what I think are some of Obasanjo's significant achievements.