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In just two months of President Muhammadu Buhari in office, former President Olusegun Obasanjo while canvassing support for the then-new government declared gleefully that Buhari had started to build the Nigeria of our dreams. I took it with a pinch of salt then and still do now; only that the need to talk about it has become more expedient in view of the spectacular collapse of change and also as another election cycle approaches. Some of us had warned Nigerians to reject the pretenders masquerading as agents of change, but they would not listen. Elections have consequences. The result of the choice we made in 2015 is bearing fruits and suddenly we don’t like the fruits. The danger signals were clear then but we chose to be willfully blinded to them.
Fellow Nigerians, permit me to refer to it as the Obasanjo August Declaration, especially so, in this season of declarations when quit notices and counter-notices are being issued by fratricidal midnight forces made up of demagogues, old and infirm ethnic and religious irredentists with deeply entrenched medieval belief systems anchored on “born to rule” and whose tools of trade are hate speeches. Unfortunately, they are now being matched against an intoxicated, extremely naïve, misguided and foolish nationalist idealism that is bereft of ideas – which is equally hate filled. They recently upped the ante with intemperate language and mindless militancy with a vow to blow this clay-footed giant still struggling to find its bearing 57 years after it gained independence to smithereens.
Painfully, two years after Obasanjo’s assertion that our dreams about Nigeria were coming true, I cannot in good faith and in good conscience point to anything that remotely looks like the berthing of the Nigeria of our dreams. I have been struggling to no avail to identify signs or efforts geared towards building the Nigeria of our dreams that Obasanjo spoke so delightfully about under Buhari.
I have decided to pose this question to the public to see if I am missing something here: Now, is there anyone out there who can stand up in good conscience to say he or she has seen the Nigeria of our dreams coming to fruition under Buhari? I doubt if any normal human being can make such a declaration because even the heavens know that Buhari is incapable of building the Nigeria of our dreams. But I will not be surprised if some nuts fellows still hold out to excuse him for all his failings.
I am tempted to believe that the August declaration was borne out of gleeful spite and not of any sincerity of heart or genuineness of purpose. It was predicated on malice instead of clarity of thought of the vision of a new future, and therefore lacked charity of the heart and empathy of the human spirit. To believe otherwise is to willfully demonstrate an arm’s-length relationship with the truth. Obviously, the former president was still celebrating the defeat of his erstwhile godson whom he had fallen out with for whatever reason. A little background to the declaration is necessary here.
He had shredded his party’s membership card and became the “navigator of change” that brought Buhari to power. He used his letter writing skills to great effect and leveraged his prodigious national and international profile to give weight to false alarms about trained snipers by the then government to assassinate leading opposition figures. And he endorsed Buhari for president despite admitting that the man had zero knowledge of managing the economy.
He could not believe his success when the people hearkened to his urgings and elected the frail general with a medieval world view as president. In those early days of Buhari’s victory, Obasanjo took every opportunity to rub it in. He idolised and heaped undeserved praises on the old general even when his early actions and inactions in the first two and a half months in office were totally detrimental to the Nigeria of our dreams. Goaded on by the effusive praises from Obasanjo, Professor Wole Soyinka, Pastor Tunde Bakare, and a host of other human rights activists in the country, Buhari went on to carry out the most egregious damage to our national cohesion.
It is therefore clear that Obasanjo was either still beclouded by hangover victory celebrations over his godson or his vision of Nigeria was as deeply flawed as that of the man he so effusively praised; a man who made it clear that he would not treat every part of the country equally with his 97 per cent and 5 per cent “dream” for Nigeria. He did not just say that, he actually went on to implement the “dream” in all his appointments. It is exactly his divisive and clannish approach to governance and the sense of alienation that he created that has exacerbated separatist agitations all over the country.
Now, if one may ask, has Obasanjo ever paused to wonder how Dubai leapt from scribbled drawings on an architect’s laptop into the sprawling commercial city in the sandy dunes in the desert with the world’s most modern infrastructure in a spate of 20-25 years? Has he for a moment wondered how Qatar, a once bankrupt peninsular whose terrain comprises arid desert and a long Persian shoreline of beaches and dunes transformed its economy to become the world’s richest country in terms of per capita income in just about 20 years?
According to Forbes, “Qatar has the third-largest reserves of natural gas in the world and it has invested heavily in infrastructure to liquefy and export it, as well as to diversify its economy. Qatar has lured multinational financial firms to the country, as well as satellite campuses of US universities. The government is pouring money into infrastructure, including a deep seaport, an airport and a railway network, all with an eye to making the country a better host for businesses and the 2022 World Cup.”
BBC reported in 2014 that “oil and gas have made Qatar the richest country in the world – rich enough to be ready, apparently, to spend $200bn (£120bn) on stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup”.
My question is, have oil and gas made Nigeria rich? Has Obasanjo not heard about the sheer scale of human progress in the United Arab Emirates, Oman and other such places where visionary leadership and dreamers have turned things around for their people and forced the world to take notice? These places mentioned and many others are where the impossible have become possible and where dreams have not only come true but continue to challenge and expand the frontiers of human imagination.
The destinies of nations and their people are shaped by a few extraordinary individuals who rise to the occasion of their call to duty and immortalise themselves in the hearts and minds of their people and their country forever. Obasanjo is unarguably the only Nigerian that has had the inexplicable good fortune to shape and reshape the destiny of the country for good. But what did he do with it severally, he threw away the opportunity. Two particular moments stand out – 1979 and 1999.
I will focus on 1999 which was his second coming to make my case against him. This is someone that has been through near-death experiences with a golden opportunity to reshape our values system, institutionalise discipline and order in our polity and build institutions that would not be beholden to any individual’s whim and caprice. He had the opportunity to make the most sweeping and consequential decisions of a lifetime, to set the tone of our politics, re-engineer it for good, by making sweeping reforms of our nation’s structure, and lay a solid foundation for the much-delayed take-off of the Nigeria of our dreams.
But he failed miserably. Instead of looking to create a new nation whose diversity is its strength, Obasanjo built temporary alliances and ersatz loyalties for himself to advance his interest only. He encouraged gangsters in politics and entrenched a culture of violence, financial inducements and fraudulent elections all in a bid to advance his narrow personal interest. Loyalty to godfathers was elevated above ideas, competence and suitability for elective office, and it became the single most important criterion to gain power. Things are what they are today because Obasanjo instead of being a statesman opted to be a politician. Statesmen earn votes, politicians buy them.
We are still struggling to get out of that pervasive culture of wuru wuru elections that even though he (Obasanjo) might not have introduced, but he entrenched and exploited to impose his candidates on the people. The Savage Kingdom that he helped to groom and nurture is in full bloom now. It is an irony of unlimited proportions that this same Obasanjo who failed to build the Nigeria of our dreams like the leaders of Dubai, Qatar, UAE, Oman and others was so effusive with praises for a man who had no positive vision of Nigeria, who did not have the wherewithal to even preserve the status quo, and hence was groping in the dark on assumption of office; a man who clearly had no business at the helm of our national affairs but was packaged by desperate power seekers who lied to the gullible majority to get elected. How can a person who remains stuck in the past be building the “Nigeria of our dreams” today and into the future?
Certainly, our dreams of/for Nigeria are not the same with that of Obasanjo which Buhari is actualising. We have no heroes to look up to and none to emulate, neither do we have statesmen in this Obasanjo’s Nigeria. The politicians we have in the Nigeria of Obasanjo’s dreams are only skilled in the art of corruption, dereliction of duty, lack of respect for the rule of law, election rigging, avarice, nepotism, clannishness, ethnicity, religious bigotry, and strife – that have ensured Nigeria does not progress. The Nigeria of Obasanjo’s dreams is not built to work, because it is not founded on equity and therefore is incapable of dispensing justice and fairness.
No one is saying that mere wishful thinking will give birth to the Nigeria of our own dreams. It is going to take a superhuman effort to displace the current old guards and their collaborators to give way to a new nation to rise. It is going to take bold and audacious actions driven by passion, vision, foresight, unblemished and undiluted patriotism. The type that is rare to come by these days.
The Nigeria of our dreams is a country that works for all, irrespective of state of origin and not for a few people and their collaborators. A nation built on truth, justice and fairness never loses the faith of its people. Anything short, it faces a perilous fate such as we now face.
The fact remains that our country needs restructuring, redemption, restoration, and reconstruction premised on fresh thinking, new ideas, and a bold vision. The Nigeria of our dreams cannot come to reality if we sit on the sidelines and do nothing. We should use the power of our numbers to vote out Obasanjo’s dream of Nigeria which is antithetical to the change we need. Well-meaning young Nigerians should rise to the beckon of their destinies and bend the arch of this country towards a new dawn where they can exploit its limitless potential and create opportunities for all, in peace and security. In this way, our children will have a country to call theirs and they will make heroes out of us. They will teach their children, our grandchildren, the history of our struggle to build a more caring, equitable and just society that works for all its members. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, we shall be able to hold all those who brought this disaster on Nigeria to account.
Obasanjo’s dream for Nigeria will not get us past the red sea, let alone, take us to the Promised Land.