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“Former president Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday admitted that his generation has failed Nigeria in their efforts at taking it to the ‘Promised Land.’ He, however, quickly added that what they missed out in growing the nation economically, they have been able to deliver in a united and stable country under a democratic dispensation.” – The Guardian, 28th February, 2017.

One of the few Africans, globally celebrated author, scholar, writer and public critic, the iconic Professor Chinua Achebe, of blessed memory, enjoys interlacing and interspersing writings with words of wisdom otherwise daubed as proverbs. To the quintessential and cerebral Achebe, “proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten.” It is on this note that the “Followership Challenge” will commence the second part of this article on the elder statesman, erstwhile President Olusegun Obasanjo, who recently celebrated his 85th birthday. He, to the graciousness and glory of God Almighty, is still physically active like the Biblical Caleb who at the same age was still demanding for a mountain of inheritance from Joshua. The display of strength and skill served to spectators at a much-publicised novelty match as part of the programmes to mark the birthday was a sign that Baba Obasanjo is apparently ready for any national or international assignment compared to some weary and weakened politicians who are younger in age. There is no gainsaying the obvious graciousness of the Almighty exemplified and amplified in the life of Baba Obasanjo who was favoured to head Nigeria for 11 years – 3 years as a military head of state and 8 years as a civilian president. It is then apt to concur with a seeming inherent, albeit covert, thought of the elder statesman which is in sync and symphony with the popular proverb ascribed to Achebe in his popular treatise, “Things Fall Apart”“the lizard that jumped from a high Iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no-one else did.” It is against this backdrop, that the stand and stake of Chief Obasanjo as reported in the Guardian newspaper publication of 28th February 2017 would still be recalled and revisited in the light of his speech at the symposium marking his 85th birthday. To this columnist, Baba Obasanjo had tried his best in the economic development of our dear country than all past and present men in the saddle. However, asserting in his own words that he and others in his team, “have been able to deliver a united and stable country under a democratic dispensation (sic)” is suspect. Is this the case when the critiquing lens of a scholar is perspicuously placed over Obasanjo years in the saddle? Follow me as a follower fixating on a few instances that human frailties may want to forget.

This was appalling as well as awkward in a nascent democracy that Chief Obasanjo was gleefully and glamorously promoting as a legacy. In his era, the outcomes of some court cases were mere paper tigers. The militician masquerading as a democrat in Obasanjo was adamant to jettisoning court injunctions. One sore case in point that was roundly condemned which the erstwhile helmsman had not addressed publicly as he might have his reason(s) of refusal (which he needs to make known as old age depicts wisdom) was his renegading reluctance and refusal of access to fund meant for the running of the local government of Lagos State despite an extant court injunction to do so. What a demonstration and depiction of insidious impunity cum impudence! Was this a good legacy of a democrat or autocrat or militician? It is left to the discerning mind to draw a line to this seeming absurdity that was untenable then and now. It was not until the incumbency of President Shehu Musa Yar’Adua that the accumulated fund of Lagos illegally withheld by the government of Chief Obasanjo was finally released to the relief of aggrieved stakeholders.

Transformation in Telecommunication Should have extended to the Power Sector

In the first part of this write up, a little reference was made to the feat in the banking sector as well as the telecommunication sector. The truth is: much that was recorded in the banking reforms was reinforced and sustained by the humongous transformational steps taken against all odds in the atavistic and archaic ways of running our telecoms pre – Obasanjo era. However, Obasanjo floundered and faltered in not using the seemingly same template in transforming the apparent ambiguous and abstruse power sector. The same way that Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) was made to compete with other mobile telecommunication companies, the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) (Nigerians dubbed it: Never Expect Power Always) should have been subjected to the same treatment. In the manner that mobile telephone operations started from our major cities and now spread all over Nigeria, the same way our power transmission, distribution and generation should have evolved gradually till the whole geographical space of Nigeria is covered with uninterrupted power supply. We missed that golden era. A single stroke of policy would have fixed that while we were all revelling in ecstasy and euphoria of the Global System of Mobile Communication (GSM).  Even though the government of Obasanjo carried out some reforms in the power sector. However, the efforts were not effective as there was no overt success in comparison to the telecommunication sector as the power sector was seemingly enmeshed in corruption.

The much – peddled transgression of the Obasanjo era was centred around the issue of power plants even though many critics could not empirically prove their grouse.  It was alleged that the power stations he started to build were not completed as the litany of projects was entangled in a seeming unbridled corruption. In a 5,000-word response to the House Representatives’ panel probing the power plants, as captured in a BBC report, Obasanjo defended the actions of his government as a patriotic intervention that rather raised the bar as his government met the power sector almost at a comatose. The erstwhile Minister of Education, one-time Special Assistant to the President and Head of the Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit (BMPIU) Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, rose stoutly in defense of his one-time boss. In her perspective, it was the timely incursion and intervention of Obasanjo that brought sanity into the power sector at that time.

In the concluding part of last week’s article, it was pinpointed that he who stays in a glass house should refrain from throwing stones. Nigerians knew the status and state of Chief Obasanjo when he was released from prison by the military government of General Abdusalam Abubakar. Dr. Olusegun Obasanjo could not be referred to as pecunious. However, in and out office, the erstwhile president has acquired and accumulated humongous wealth. Saliently and succinctly stated in the treatise, first published in 2007 and recently released online by TheNEWS, on Chief Obasanjo’s birthday of 5th March, 2022 are detailed worth of Chief Obasanjo encompassing stakes in Bells University (though denied by Obasanjo), Presidential Library, Transcorp and litany of farm holdings cutting across the nooks and crannies of Nigeria. It will be good that as Baba Obasanjo is out of office, he stands a good chance to defend all these ascriptions or attributions to his personality and firm. The magazine titled the treatise: Flashback: The Amazing Wealth of Obasanjo Who Turns 85 Today.” This is the link: https://thenewsnigeria.com.ng/2022/03/05/flashback-the-amazing-wealth-of-obasanjo-who-turns-85-today/ (as retrieved on: 16th March 2022). The duo of legal luminaries: Femi Falana, SAN, and Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, took Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to court to checkmate the excesses of his government. Falana alleged that the government of Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007 tacitly withdrew over N1 trillion from the NNPC and Federation Accounts in an unauthorized and unappropriated fashion without due recourse to the National Assembly as specified in the 1999 Constitution (as amended). In his own case before the Code of Conduct Bureau, the late enigmatic Fawehinmi opinionated that Obasanjo should be tried for his illegal and covert dealings in Transcorp pinpointing Obasanjo’s hands in shareholding situating him, his cronies and Obasanjo’s Holdings in the mischievous dealings. The matter came up in the hearing of the House of Representatives when Fawehinmi saliently stated that the then Director-General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, NSE, and Chairman of Transcorp, Dr. Ndi Okereke- Onyiuke, admitted that the former president is a subscriber to Transcorp through Obasanjo Holdings Limited which ran contrary to section 18(2) of the Code of Conduct for public officers. As it is said: “he that comes to equity must come with clean hands.”

Obasanjo’s unwarranted incursion into the democratic process

It is incongruent to the claim of the erstwhile president to deepening or developing the country’s nascent democracy. There were clear cases of illegal incursions and invading of democratic space in certain instances within his party. For instance, in Ekiti State, he truncated the democratic process, first within his party, the People Democratic Party (PDP), when he was instrumental to putting Segun Oni’s name forward in the primary election as against Yinka Akerele who came first in the election. The former, Oni, came third in the primary election. However, Obasanjo, had his way, though the people had their say contrary to democratic tenets.   In similar vein in Ekiti and Oyo States, the one – man army of the retired general with impunity orchestrated the impeachment of Governors Ayodele Fayose and Rasheed Adedoja. In Rivers State, the primary election that should usher in Rotimi Amaechi as the gubernatorial candidate of PDP was truncated and the ticket was tossed to his cousin Celestine Omehia. It was the judiciary that made a mess of some of these absurdities and abnormalities. Any legacy bequeathed in these unwarranted interventions?

Third Term Disaster

Vehemently and vociferously, Chief Obasanjo denied his involvement in the 3rd term saga. This was expressly stated in his Channels TV interview in 2007. However, the track could not be easily obliterated. It would be better for Baba Obasanjo to admit his blunder and error, apologize and move on than resulting in buck passing it to some ambitious and nebulous parliamentarians. Even though it was initiated and authored by the latter, he took the bait hook, line and sinker! It was unfortunate!! The former Senate President, Dr. Ken Nnamani, succinctly stated: “Immediately, I became Senate President, he told me of his intentions and told me how he wanted to achieve it. I initially did not take him seriously until the events began to unfold.” Nnamani went further to state in his own words: “How can someone talk like this that he didn’t know about it, yet money, both in local and foreign currencies, exchanged hands,”.The incumbent Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, in concurrence with Nnamani simply stated: “The money totalled over N10 billion. How could N10bn be taken out of the national treasury for a project when you were the sitting President, yet that project was not your idea? Where did the money come from (sic)?” However, to put paid to any fallacious version on the ignominious 3rd Term Agenda of the Obasanjo era, Condoleezza Rice, the erstwhile United States of America (USA) Secretary of State, in her autobiography, between pages 628 and 638, recalled a meeting between the then President of USA, Bush, and Obasanjo where the latter opened up on his bid to amend the constitution to allow him run for the 3rd term. Bush retorted by telling Obasanjo to his face to be patriotic and leave office honourably on 29th May 2007. Moreover, the duo of Chidi Odinkalu and Ayisha Osori, human rights activists, published a book accusing Obasanjo and cronies of utilizing a whopping sum of money to influence amendment of the constitution in order to enable him run for the 3rd term. Odinkalu, a former head of the Nigerian Human Rights Council; and Osori was the CEO of the Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund. In their treatise titled: “Too Good to Die: Third Term and the Myth of the Indispensable Man in Africa”, pontificated egregious absurdities surrounding the 3rd term saga. Eventually, the then National Assembly triumphantly threw out the bill.

 

Infrastructural development or deficit?

The Obasanjo era spanning 8 uninterrupted years could not successfully fix some major arterial roads such as Lagos – Ibadan Expressway, Sagamu – Ore – Benin Expressway, Abuja – Lokoja Highway, etc. Painfully, the Lagos – Abeokuta Highway enroute Sango – Ota and Ifo towns that should be dear to Chief Obasanjo’s heart as this highway link with Bells University, Obasanjo Farms Nigeria (OFN) Limited, Presidential Library and his hometown, Ibogun – Olaogun, after all, it is said that charity begins at home, even though it should not end there, was initiated but uncompleted by his administration. The highway is presently in a parlous state.

In concluding, Chief Obasanjo should know he has contributed his bit and best to Nigeria’s development having held sway intermittently for 11 years and should not denigrate or demonize any political aspirant under any guise as this could tantamount to the kettle calling the pot black. This is my stand and stake as a follower.

John Ekundayo, Ph.D. – Harvard-Certified Organizational Strategist, and also a Leadership Development Consultant, can be reached via 08155262360 (SMS only) and drjmoekundayo@hotmail.com

 

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