Articles

Obasanjo at 76: From Abeokuta to World Stage

09 Mar 2013

Views: 6,676

Font Size: a / A

Olusegun-Obasanjo-n-wife-0903.jpg - Olusegun-Obasanjo-n-wife-0903.jpg

Obasanjo, his wife, Bola, and Amosun at the lecture

It was celebration galore on Tuesday in Abeokuta, Ogun State, as former president Olusegun Obasanjo marked his 76th birthday. The forum provided another opportunity for his family, friends and associates to revisit his milestones. It was a long list of indelible strides. No doubt, Obasanjo recorded numerous achievements while serving twice as the nation’s head of state for about 11 years. He served first as a military ruler between February 13, 1976 to October 1, 1979 and as elected President from May 29, 1999 to 29 May 2007. His steps within and outside Nigeria are indelible. In fact, Obasanjo is now a global citizen. But he also has his failures. Critics believe that while in office, the former president, through his actions and inaction contradicted his position on several key issues, writes YEMI ADEBOWALE


Grosvenor Hotel, London, United Kingdom was packed full on February 8 when former president Olusegun Obasanjo launched his foundation. Four heads of states were on ground to honour the former Nigerian leader. President Goodluck Jonathan and First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan led the A-class guests from across the world. Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Ghanaian President, John Mahama and President of Benin Republic, Yayi Boni were all at the launch. Many were not surprised by the turn out. It was obviously a reflection of the status of Obasanjo, who is well recognised as an African statesman and a global citizen. In the last three decades, he has been everywhere across the continent of Africa, trying to find solutions to its myriad of problems. Just recently, he led African Union election monitors to Sierra Leone and Ghana during their general elections.


Back home, the story is the same. Whenever the 52-year post-independence history of the Nigerian nation is written, Obasanjo’s name will always crop up. He made bold statements first as military president (1976 to 1979) and later as civilian president – 1999 to 2007. As head of state, Obasanjo did what was hitherto thought to be impossible in Nigeria, by handing over to a democratically elected government in 1979. The military regime headed by Obasanjo, then a general, despite all the allure of the office, handed over power to a civilian government. He had the opportunity to elongate his stay. But he decided to leave. His transition to civil rule programme was faithfully implemented. The global applause was deafening. He left shoulder-high and retired to his farm. It was a record. Other military rulers before him had either been disgraced out of office or killed.

African Leadership Forum and Obasanjo library…
After handing over to President Shehu Shagari, Obasanjo retired to his farm in Ota, Ogun State to establish the African Leadership Forum (ALF), a platform for the cross-fertilisation of ideas on how to promote good governance and development in Africa. The initiative enjoyed global support because of the status of the initiator. The ALF at different fora attracted great personalities like late Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, late Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Jimmy Carter of the United States.

His return in 1999…
By the time Obasanjo returned in 1999 as a democratically elected president of Nigeria, the country was a pariah state, courtesy of late General Sani Abacha, an intemperate dictator that drove the country to the brink. Abacha implemented policies that were at variance with international norms. When Abacha died in 1998, Obasanjo regained his freedom. He came out of prison, won the 1999 presidential election and pulled Nigeria out of its pariah state.

Debt relief for Nigeria…
Obasanjo’s achievement in the field of debt relief is also unprecedented. It is to his credit that Nigeria tentatively became a debt-free country. The Paris Club wrote off $18 billion of Nigeria’s debt in 2005, while the country bought back a chunk of the outstanding loans. Over $12 billion from the nation’s excess crude account went into this in 2005. The debt relief combined with the debt buy-back resulted in 100 per cent debt relief for Nigeria by 2005. The economic reform programme implemented by the Obasanjo government since 2003 greatly influenced the tentative debt relief.

Anti-corruption…
In the area of anti-corruption, Obasanjo as civilian president established two regulatory agencies - the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission. These agencies have been able to bring to book some Nigerians involved in corruption, including notable names. The cases of the former Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun; former senate president, Adolphus Wabara; former education minister, Prof. Fabian Osuji and former health minister, Nike Grange readily come to mind. Several serving and retired governors also tasted the bitter pills of Obasanjo’s anti-corruption agencies. They include former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha who was convicted. Others with pending cases in courts are Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, Jolly Nyame of Taraba State Orji Uzo Kalu of Abia State and 10 other ex-governors. There was also the case of the $214m National Identity Card scam, in which the ICPC in 2007 arraigned the former Minister of Internal Affairs, the late Chief S. M. Afolabi, and the former Minister of State for Internal Affairs, Dr. Mohammed Shaata, for corruption. Though critics of the Obasanjo regime insisted his war against corruption was not total, but it was the first time in the history of the country that a government showed some commitment to anti-corruption.

Obasanjo’s strides in agriculture…
Nigeria witnessed tremendous progress in the area of agriculture while Obasanjo was president. For the first time in the history of the country, Nigeria exported cassava between 2005 and 2007. Farmers, for the first time earned hard currencies from cassava.

Industrial strides…
Obasanjo’s economic reform programme created an enabling environment for manufacturing to prosper in the country. The ban on many imported products by his government, particularly fruit juice, alcohol and soft drinks greatly encouraged local production. In the oil and gas sector, the nation’s four refineries were rehabilitated and at a point, achieved the highest national processing peak of 330,000 barrels per day.

Recovery of stolen money…
It is to Obasanjo’s credit that over N100 billion cash and assets stashed abroad by past corrupt officials were recovered.

Health and pension reforms…
His government rehabilitated and equipped at least one referral hospital per geo-political zone. His government also introduced the National Health Insurance Scheme and pension reforms, all aimed at improving the lives of Nigerians.

GSM phones…
The deregulation of the communication sector by the Obasanjo regime gave millions of Nigerians access to mobile phones. The sector attracted huge foreign investment, with over 17 million phone lines provided within the first five years. This is miles ahead of the less than 750,000 phones lines in Nigeria as at 1999 when he assumed office.

His failures…
Despite his achievements, Obasanjo also had his failures. For some, these have almost wiped out all that he has achieved for the country. Some of these are highlighted below:

His vow to stamp out corruption...
On assumption of office in 1999, most Nigerians were convinced that Obasanjo would wage an unbiased war against corruption. He made it very clear while campaigning for the presidency that he would tackle the evil with all his might. “One of my priorities in office will be the battle against corruption. My mission is to stamp out corruption. Whoever is found corrupt will not get away,” Obasanjo told Newsweek, an international newsmagazine in January 1999. This promise, no doubt, was one of the factors that influenced the huge vote the electorate gave to him in 1999. The ICPC and EFCC were established. By these actions, most Nigerians thought the war on corruption was in full swing. But it was not to be.

Then, the Makanjuola test...
Just about seven months into Obasanjo’s tenure, the then Minister of Defence, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma confirmed a N421 million scam involving the then permanent secretary in the ministry, Dr. Julius Makanjuola and four other directors, describing it as “an embarrassment to the ministry.” Makanjuola, who is Obasanjo’s cousin and four other directors in the ministry, were arrested and taken to the force headquarters Abuja in respect of payments made to certain individuals as compensation on land allegedly acquired by the ministry. Many thought the president would move swiftly against the accused, considering his statement that no one would be spared. This was not to be. It took pressure from the media and civil society groups before the President’s cousin was eventually arraigned in court. The case dragged on unnecessarily, until July 2002 when the Justice Minister filed a Nolle prosequi (no further prosecution) just when the Abuja High Court was billed to give judgement on the N420 million-fraud case.
The then Director of Public Prosecution, Mrs. Stella Omiyi explained that the Attorney General of the Federation was empowered by Section17 (1) of the 1999 constitution to file such an application at any point in a case. Many were surprised at the sudden withdrawal of the case, even when the then Minister of State for Justice, Alhaji Musa Abdullahi Elayo, argued that the prosecution had enough facts and evidence to get the accused into jail if the prosecution was pursued.

Following public outcry, Obasanjo ordered the re-arrest of Makanjuola and the four others, for retrial. But that was the last Nigerians heard of the case.
Critics believe the crusade against corruption did not affect the Obasanjo’s relations. Some of his relations are also believed to have helped themselves to juicy contracts during the 2004 All African Games (COJA 2004). Most of the contracts were said to have been inflated. In the spirit of the anti-corruption war, many expected an inquiry. But the presidency kept quiet. Obasanjo who was applauded for the arrest and sack of a serving minister, over the $214 million National identity card scam, suddenly turned a blind eye to allegations of fraud in COJA.

Alamieyeseigha and the other governors...
When the EFCC, apparently at the prodding of Obasanjo, moved against former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, Nigerians widely applauded it. Alamieyeseigha’s support of Atiku Abubakar’s presidential ambition and subsequent allegations of victimisation aside, it was obvious the former governor had soiled his hands with public funds. But then, critics still insist that several other governors believed to be corrupt but close to Obasanjo were never touched by the EFCC. They were allegedly spared, obviously because of their loyalty to Aso Rock. As some will say, they are among key figures believed to have funded electoral projects for Obasanjo, including his botched third term project.

A hand in some spectacle in the legislature?...
There were allegations citing the former president as having been involved in attempts to unduly influence legislators, between 1999 and 2007, contrary to his anti-corruption war. The most dramatic was the alleged bribe offered legislators to back the third term project. Some senators were alleged to have collected N50 million each. Uche Onyeagucha, who was a member of the House of Representatives, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation alleged that he was offered a plot of land in Abuja, to back the third term bill: “Somebody highly placed in government asked me to sign an endorsement of the third term project and that I would be adequately compensated,” he told the BBC. Many thought that in the spirit of Obasanjo’s anti-corruption campaign, an inquiry would be instituted. Perhaps, followed with the arrest of Onyeagucha, so as to unmask the “highly placed government official” distributing the bribe. Nothing happened. The rest is history.


When Ghali Na’abba was the Speaker of the House, some members were also said to have been bribed by the presidency to impeach Na’abba. A member displayed his share of the money on the floor of the House. A huge amount of money, said to have been provided by the presidency, was also believed to have changed hands during the election of late Evans Enwerem as Senate President in 1999.

Obasanjo’s justice and equity in 1004 flats...
For a president who on assumption of office pledged to uphold justice and equity, many had expected the case of civil servants who were then occupying 1004 Flats and Eric Moore Towers, both in Lagos, to get a fair and just treatment. With Obasanjo’s monitisation policy, the civil servants were faced with ejection. They thought that as occupants, they would get the first option to buy their official quarters. They mobilised and placed their case before the president. The civil servants were disappointed and humiliated. The flats were sold and the civil servants forcefully evicted in December 2005. About 400 soldiers and 300 riot policemen were recruited to carry out the eviction of unarmed civilians. Many of them were left to sleep in the open with their families for days, while the man who pledged to uphold equity and justice turned a blind eye.

The statesman and Anambra State ...
In line with his hard-earned status as a statesman, Obasanjo has scored a number of firsts within and outside Africa. He played a key role in the resolution of the apartheid crisis in South Africa. Obasanjo helped to resolve the crisis in Angola and Mozambique. He also helped to restore democratic government in Sao Tome and Principe, after some adventurous soldiers sacked the civilian government. He was able to persuade the military boys to return to the barracks. The story of peace in Liberia and Sierra Leone will not be complete without mentioning the contributions of Obasanjo. But then, when Anambra State went up in flames in 2003, there was a loud silence from Obasanjo. Critics believe he simply took side with Chris Uba, the estranged godfather of former governor Chris Ngige, cited in the many crisis that rocked the state because Ngige would not accede to some unwholesome demands. At a point, Uba even abducted Ngige, after a directive believed to have emanated from Abuja ordered the withdrawal of his security aides. The state went up in flames, and the statesman looked the other way. For critics, Obasanjo had a responsibility to the people of Anambra State, but he failed to perform.

His failed 3rd term bid…
The former head of state is believed to have made attempts to elongate his tenure, some months to the end of his constitutionally-allowed second term. Huge bribes were alleged to have been given out by his cronies to actualise the unconstitutional project. It failed woefully and the ghost still haunts him till date.

Obasanjo library…
After ending his tenure as president in 2007, he established the Obasanjo Library, a world class resource and research centre in Abeokuta. This step is also in line with his dream of constantly searching for solutions to the myriad of problems confronting the African continent.

The boy from egbaland…
He was born Oluṣẹgun Mathew Okikiọla Arẹmu Ọbasanjọ, on March 5, 1937 in Owu, Abeokuta. As a young man of 21, he enlisted in the Nigerian Army in 1958. He trained at Aldershot, and was commissioned as an officer in the Nigerian Army. He was also trained in India at the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington and at the Indian Army School of Engineering. He commanded the Army’s 3rd Marine Commando Division that took Owerri, effectively bringing an end to the civil war. Obasanjo holds numerous chieftaincy titles, including the titles of the Balogun of the Owu and the Ekerin Balogun of Egbaland.

Tags: Nigeria, Featured, Politics, Olusegun Obasanjo, Obasanjo at 76

Comments: 0

Rating: 

 (0)
Add your comment

Please leave your comment below. Your name will appear next to your comment. We'll also keep you updated by email whenever someone else comments on this page. Your comment will appear on this page once it has been approved by a moderator.

comments powered by Disqus