Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, has cried out that next month’s election is set to be rigged.
I believe him because he and his party designed the rigging template which was deployed in 1999, 2003 and 2007, during which he repeatedly affirmed that his PDP would rule for 100 years.
It is exactly 20 years since he and Atiku Abubakar, the man he now endorses but whom he frustrated politically 12 years ago, ran together.
They labelled their campaign—this is not a joke—“the leadership you can trust.” After “winning” re-election in 2003, Obasanjo dug up the phrase, saying his re-election reaffirmed that his leadership was trustworthy.
I am critical of President Muhammadu Buhari, as I have been of most Nigerian leaders for 45 years. However, because of Obasanjo’s persistent efforts to distort Nigeria’s history and colour it in his own image, I periodically remind Nigerians that he is not the saint or patriot or doer he pretends to be.
Such contributions include: To Probe the Emperor (January 2008), Between Obasanjo and the Financial Times (May 2012), and The First 419 President (August 2013).
To review: As leader, Obasanjo was not a foreign policy success. He was so bad that at the beginning of his second term, he instructed outgoing Nigerian diplomats to pay no attention to Nigerians who came for help. And his domestic policy was so ineffective he required the Nigeria Image Project to whitewash the country’s image abroad.
Obasanjo was no anti-corruption champion either, although nobody harangues corruption better than he. Yes, he launched the EFCC and ICPC, but they fought only the fights he allowed them to and wrote the reports he wanted. His real motivation was the largely-retaliatory drive to recover the so-called (Sani) Abacha loot against the man who had thrown him behind bars. In the end, he could not account for the billions of dollars recovered.
Obasanjo was for eight years his Minister of Petroleum Resources, commencing that ministry’s descent into hell. The money was plenty, and it was easy: during their 2007 mud-wrestling, Atiku described how Obasanjo lavished some of the funds, including on women and his businesses. Recall also that the Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources indicted Group Managing Director Funso Kupolokun, whose offenses included spending $600 million without any approval.
We forget: So abominable was Obasanjo’s performance on electricity that he lavished at least $10 billion dollars he could not justify. The House of Representatives said Obasanjo often paid money to companies that had not even cleared space for the projects. In an article in December 2006, I demonstrated that he spent close to N1trillion on roads. In December 2013, using one of those roads, I explored how the practice of persistent, parallel spending keeps the money flowing but not project delivery.
We forget: OBJ was heavily implicated in the Halliburton scandal, with investigations in Nigeria and the US concluding that he accepted massive bribes.
In fact, Obasanjo was best characterized by Nuhu Ribadu, his EFCC chairman, who said in a later testimony that Obasanjo was more corrupt than Abacha, only cleverer.
Economic management? Through his privatization policy, he sold to the privileged, important national assets on which about $60 billion had been emptied. The return: only about N20 billion. NEEDS, his much-advertised reform, was abandoned within months, and he never again breathed one word about it despite his party remaining in power for another eight years. What parent abandons an offspring so abruptly?
We forget, but the cancellation of Nigeria’s debt by the Paris Club in 2005 also resulted in Nigeria receiving an extra annual $1bn to fund poverty-reduction and education program, the Paris Club specifying the employment of an extra 120,000 teachers and enrollment of 3.5 million children. These are vast funds—about $14bn since then—that have disappeared in governments from Obasanjo to Buhari.
Obasanjo poses as a man of honor, but he is not, as is evidenced by the scandals that accompanied his Presidential Library, Transcorp investment and Temperance Farms.
We forget he was almost impeached: the House of Representatives in 2002 listing 17 constitutional breaches against him and giving him two weeks to resign or be impeached, and the Senate, 15.
And we forget that he left office in 2007 only because the country strongly resisted his bid for an illegal third term. On that, he squandered over N23.45bn in bribes on members of NASS—at N50m per person—as confirmed by its members.
We forget, but Obasanjo does not believe in democracy. “I am not supposed to be here!” are among the words by which he “consoled” victims of the Ikeja Cantonment explosions in 2001, as he threatened them. “Shut up!” he yelled at a Nigerian during a Town Hall meeting in Atlanta, United States. “CAN, my foot!” was how he dismissed the Christian Association of Nigeria.
Is that arrogant Obasanjo this arrogant Obasanjo who claims performance and patriotism in governance? Where was he when he had the opportunity to accomplish these things?
Yes, Buhari has proved to be a disaster, but had Buhari been even one-tenth of whom we mistook him to be, Obasanjo would be in jail for life. That is why it was so ironic last week when he said of Buhari’s government: “If we expose them, all of them will enter hell; they will not only go to jail.”
Which leads to the here and now, and how best Obasanjo, all things considered, can atone for his sins.
There are two scenarios. In the first, he should simply resign from politics and remain in Abeokuta, spending the rest of his days in penance. In that state, he might also admit that Nigeria’s saddest chapters in history have been at the hands of the worst of our military and retired military: Obasanjo, Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Abacha and Abdusallam Abubakar.
Obasanjo’s ultimate sign of penance would be for him also to convince the three others who are still alive to join him in retirement so Nigeria can be free of them.
In the second scenario, Obasanjo would retire into service, but put his hands over and where his mouth has been, and dedicate the rest of his life to real service.
Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world, but it is also filled with a lot of rich people who don’t know what to do with their money or property.
Obasanjo can superintend a “Rescue Nigeria Summit” structured to mop up a mountain of these funds to help civil society re-engineering of education, with focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics; full scholarships to the brightest and most creative; and multiplying opportunities for the poorest. Indeed, Obasanjo might remember that following the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2005, his government paid for one million laptops under the ‘One Laptop Per Child’ Program. Well, no Nigerian child ever received one!
Obasanjo can lead the quest for campaign finance reform towards encouraging “non-politicians” to contest political offices, or voter education. He can lead a culture of one library in every village, or of volunteerism.
Service, like true love, is not a matter of words. And when you are always talking, nobody knows what you are saying.