It is not uncommon these days to find a group of Obasanjo diehards, who somehow bought into the megalomania myth of the man, today point to the idiocy that presides at Aso Rock and ask us to yearn for the glory days of Obasanjo’s regime in Abuja. They rightly remember a regime that exuded purpose, confidence and above all some minimal level of intelligence and statecraft; appointing technocrats to key positions and at least giving robust representation to Nigeria on the international scene. On the other hand, they choose to forget that this regime was a product of that regime.
The man Olusegun Obasanjo is as complex and paradoxical as his record; here was a storied General whose famed native intelligence contrasted with his brash, dictatorial and vindictive tendencies. A man whose ability to manage large organizations, contrasted heavily with his messy private life of tens of concubines, and personal indiscipline within his home. Nigeria in many ways is a reflection of Olusegun Obasanjo – a man who knew the right things to do, and how to do them: but yet, refused to do it because he was too selfish, too greedy to fathom why his countrymen will be deserving of such excellent leadership! As Nigeria’s longest serving leader, Nigeria reflects Obasanjo’s poor leadership abilities!
Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime was a tale of missed opportunities. No doubt, he got some fundamental issues right and to that Nigerians should be grateful. In handling the Sharia, 13% derivations vis offshore-onshore dichotomy, Bakassi Peninsula among other issues: Obasanjo proved a wise leader. His biggest achievements clearly were where he played up to a larger calling than himself; somehow, he never could get out of his own way! There lies his albatross!
In no area was getting in his own way more evident than his economic program. Upon his second term election, there was no doubt that he was dead set on improving the telecom based revolution he started in his first, by doing some major macro-economic reform. First on his plate was paying off Nigeria’s massive debt (which he rightly renegotiated), and building a local economy off the backs of such positive indication- while hiring a capable technocratic team to manage the same. For a moment, it seem Nigeria’s glory days where here; until the unimaginable happened.
In implementing the massive round of privatization of Nigeria’s mega-industrial contraption including Steel Mills, & Complexes, Aluminum Smelting Plants, Sugar Plantations, Refineries and Ports, Obasanjo could not help to use the process to punish his enemies and reward his friends: rather selfishly! In nearly all of the transactions, Obasanjo’s ego and desire to capture state assets through his cronies got in the way of his common sense to restore Nigeria’s glory industrial days. Even awarded a pet company of his, some nice oil blocs and licenses, and cornered some then valuable shares as “gifts”!
Many of these boggled transactions are today still in courts, as a nation in pain still tries to sort through Obasanjo’s own ego created mess! Of course his poor execution of the Independent Power Projects, ordering billions of dollars in equipment (which now rots in our ports) without any provision for gas supply reflects his fire brigade approach to leading!
But nothing fits Obasanjo self-aggrandizement story than his third term project that began as soon as he won the second term. Wrapped around this story were three major half hearted achievements that were soon undone as a result of his greed. To prosecute this ambition, he needed to slay his perceived competitors and a reinvigorated war against corruption became Obasanjo’s latest bogey man! If you have not noticed the pattern of a fox, then one just being plain gullible! Here was a man that will use an otherwise noble effort to prosecute personal agendas. Leaders don’t do this’ true leaders rise above their personal interests. Here in one sentence, was Obasanjo’s weakness as a leader: “he never could rise above himself”!
As soon as that agenda failed woefully due to the once in a century resistance by Nigerian people (pats on your back), Obasanjo turned his vengeance on the Nigerian people that denied him such prize! First to go was his elite economic management team led by now recalled Finance Minister Okonjo-Iweala, while he heavily undermined EFCC led by Ribadu and Soludo led Central Bank of Nigeria in his waning days. It seemed like in this game of Obasanjo, only he could win and was allowed to shine. Obasanjo’s Nigeria became one where only his friends stood, and his enemies (including the people he led) must be punished!
The ultimate punishment for Nigerians was down the road though; it was in imposing his will during the 2007 elections that Obasanjo showed his terrible anger at the Nigerian people. In selecting a sick man, surrounded by a sicker cabal- Obasanjo ensure Nigeria’s progress was going to be retarded for another eight years such that Nigerians will start missing him. One just needed to observe the body languages of Y’aradua and Jonathan when they were handpicked by Obasanjo for the PDP ticket: both looked clueless on TV, and have been to date!
Y’aradua vis Jonathan ticket was a match made in hell; a marriage that I then termed a Greek Gift which has kept on giving! Obasanjo thoroughly utilizing his superior native insight to the clannish mindset of a Nigerian, and Nigeria’s geopolitical calculations effectively neutralized the opposition while frittering away his legacy on the altar of vengeance. In selecting a man whose moral compass was at best warped in Jonathan (his regime in Bayelsa having been fingered on EFCC List, and wife caught with $30 million), with a sick man surrounded by a dangerous cabal- Obasanjo turned Nigeria to his effective comic show for another eight years. Here we are: still watching! He could have found a better pairing while still achieving the same goals, but he chose otherwise.
Obasanjo’s greatest failure though will have to be his inability to confront Nigeria’s demons, even when he had several opportunities to change Nigeria permanently. Very few people can negotiate a consensus among Nigeria’s varied interests like Obasanjo, and herein lays the missed opportunities. In a disallowing Nigerians a once in a lifetime opportunity to dialogue about their existence under one nation, and the conditions and structure of such existence Obasanjo played tone deaf. He dismissed devolution, he pilloried a national conference- Obasanjo felt he was Nigeria’s own resident expert on national unity! When he held a pseudo conference he turned it to a boggled endorsement of his third term agenda! Once again, Aremu could not get out of his own way!
Nigeria is today paying for his deafness with blood and bones, spread across the land from Odi to Maiduguri, as the nation is taken hostage by various militant groups be it MEND or Boko Haram. Ironically, Obasanjo may have unwittingly laid the foundation for the ultimate disintegration of the Nigerian state by his indecisiveness in this national matter in his first and second term, even though he normally often excelled when it came to handling the hot potato topic of Nigeria’s complex geopolitical balancing!
To this end, why would anyone wish on us again a replay of Obasanjo-Yaradua-GEJ era of missed opportunity, slow execution and massive cluelessness?