by Lekan Olanrewaju
The Financial Times recently launched a series titled 12 days in West Africa, which will detail reports of the editors travels through the region, “through Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone, from the oil-contaminated Niger delta to teeming Lagos and a new rice farm project on Ghana’s Volta river“.
The first installment in the series provides details of former president Olusegun Obasanjo, who they described as the “godfather of modern Nigeria”.
See excerpts from the Financial Times below
Obasanjo offers token support for Goodluck, whom he plucked out of Niger delta politics. When OBJ ran for president in 1999, the first elections after the end of military rule, he had a lifetime’s preparation. “I had my training as an army officer. I participated in war, I had a period managing the affairs of the country, then I had 20 years networking with international figures like Jim Callaghan and Helmut Schmidt, and I concentrated on farming and being close to nature.” Still the largest chicken farmer in the country, OBJ recounts Nelson Mandela’s endorsement on his ascent to the presidency. “To solve problems you need age and prison experience. You have them both.”
There’s something inspiring about OBJ and his “Nigeria First” slogan. The same goes for the young technocratic agriculture minister, Akinkunmi Adesina, who preaches reform from a ramshackle ministry that is part building site. His analysis of what is needed to revive Nigeria’s chronically underperforming food sector is Harvard textbook stuff: fix infrastructure, cut state subsidies and unleash the private sector. Over dinner, a guest offers a more sobering observation. Of course the state stifles private enterprise, but the state will never get out of the way: “In Nigeria, business is the business of the state.
The editor also met up with the Sultan of Sokoto.
He spoke about the Boko Haram sect, advocating a peaceful resolution, saying: “there is nothing that cannot be achieved with dialogue”.
Next morning we catch up with the Sultan, magnificently attired in white turban and flowing robes. He rises reluctantly from his throne to greet us. A cardinal from the Vatican booked an appointment with His Eminence six weeks ago; we called up three days ago. Minor FT grovelling follows. The Sultan talks about his role as moral and spiritual leader. Then he turns serious, as if to recognise the mortal threat that the insurgency poses to the northern ruling class. Boko Haram must be “nipped in the bud”. Of course there must be a political settlement. He cites the British and the IRA, the Spanish and Eta, and the Americans with the Taliban. The Sultan offers himself as an interlocutor between the federal government and the rebels: “There is nothing that cannot be achieved with dialogue.”
As wizened Muslim elders look on cross-legged on the floor, the Sultan signs a copy of Principles on Leadership, written by the founding fathers of the Sokoto Caliphate. You might find it useful in London, he says, with half a smile.