by Sonala Olumhense
Nasir El-Rufai, a former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, is the author of a new work of fiction: that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan has tarnished the legacy of former president Olusegun Obasanjo.
On the contrary, Mallam Nasir: Dr. Jonathan has not tarnished Obasanjo’s legacy, for the simple reason that he is Obasanjo’s legacy.
For eight years, Obasanjo preached democracy to anyone and everyone. He was particularly garrulous when he was abroad. But if Obasanjo’s story was easy to sell, it was even easier to buy.
The international press gushed about how his role in Africa was so significant, and how lucky Nigerians were that he survived Sani Abacha’s imprisonment to return to continue the work he gave up in 1979.
He spoke loudly about the virtues of democracy and how he would ensure they took a vigorous foothold in Nigeria; and how determined he was to ensure the country never again fell into the hands of shortsighted opportunists.
He preached repeatedly in Addis Ababa about what was good for Africa, and why the African Union should be strong and forthright and unrelenting.
Much of that was in the ‘away’ game. At home, nothing was really happening, except that Obasanjo wanted to make sure he had a second term of office. He was aghast that in the Western part of the country, his own people had resoundly rejected him in 1999.
Not only did he want to make sure that did not happen again, he began to broadcast his ultimate objective: his Profoundly Decadent Party (PDP) staying in power for 60 or 100 years, depending on his mood and the occasion.
In 2003, he proved he was serious: through layers of manoeuvres and twists of manipulations, he undercut and outflanked the ruling Alliance for Democracy and left it tottering on the banks of the Atlantic, clinging to the Lagos lagoon with mud in its teeth. Obasanjo’s second term was on.
Nigerians will remember it as was a period in which each man and woman found a phone handset in their hands, although they may have had no water to drink; and in which Obasanjo made peace with the Paris Club to the personal benefit of a top official of his government who pocketed N60 billion.
Still, his “war” on corruption was on, featuring a ramshackle army of new-fangled “anti-corruption” champions such as the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
It was a carefully carefully-contrived and manipulated “war,” its success primarily in the media, its victims primarily Obasanjo’s enemies. Obasanjo’s anti-corruption war was so “successful” that, in a country so filthily-corrupt that pigs would not dig into its soil for food if they knew this was Nigeria, you could count on the fingers of one hand the number of significant Nigerians who were convicted by the agencies throughout Obasanjo’s tenure.
For an idea as to just how absurd the entire drama was, the gentleman who chaired the EFCC, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, has since broadcast what we all know: that Obasanjo was more corrupt that Abacha. And yet, Obasanjo spent most of his time chasing Abacha’s loot all over the world.
Halfway through Obasanjo’ tenure, it was clear not only that Obasanjo was in the game only for himself, it was clear to Obasanjo that unless he begged, borrowed or stole some time from the immediate future, he would be badly exposed, even to Nigeria’s gullible and forgetful majority.
Panicking, he shot into tenure-extension mode, ready to spend anything and to do anything to remain in office. Mercifully, non-Obasanjo worshippers prevailed, and he was out of work.
But that is also the point in time where his treachery is easiest to identify.
As I said in this column last week—and to buttress the argument about Obasanjo’s true character—in June 2006, Obasanjo constituted a powerful Joint Task Force (JTF) to elevate the “war” on corruption. The JTF, which was chaired by Mr. Ribadu, indicted 15 serving and previous governors and recommended them for prosecution.
Among the indicted: the serving governor of Bayelsa State, one Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
That report went to President Obasanjo, but what did he do with it? The “anti-corruption” put it under his mattress, and went on to nominate Dr. Jonathan for vice president of a man he knew was sick unto death, Umaru Yar’Adua.
But Mr. El-Rufai testifies of the Obasanjo era, “We saw the beginnings of a credible system… a basis to hit the ground running, complete ongoing projects, initiate new ones and continue the work of solving Nigeria’s problem was created. Alas, that did not happen!”
The former minister read the wrong briefing notes. We saw only the appearance of a credible system. A basis to hit the ground running was not created; if it were, by 2007, the only destination for Dr. Jonathan in Abuja would have been the local prison, not the presidential palace.
The reason for this is simple: no government is ever going to succeed in Nigeria as long as the war against corruption is fought only upon the tongue of the president. No “system” will ever last, let alone make a headway, for as long the person at the top (who could be a military leader, at the rate we are going) sees opportunity as opportunism, and service as power.
It is in this regard that Obasanjo’s successes disappeared very quickly and his failures now hunt Nigeria. In addition to deliberate public relations ploys, he planted the seeds of destruction along every path he travelled.
Think about it: roads, electricity; Transcorp; petroleum (where he was his own minister for eight years); the Abacha loot; the buffet called the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation; the Africa Finance Corporation; the Nigeria Image Project; Vision 2020; the Millennium Development Goals; the Nigeria National Empowerment and Development Strategy: exactly what did Obasanjo demonstrate?
Like a man led only by the intense heat in his loins, he fanned only the fires of the moment and whatever fireworks made him feel good. He did not demonstrate the patriotism required to go beyond himself, or the honesty to serve the people. That is why he is now one of Nigeria’s wealthiest men, while his people are full of regret.
And so, although he has only been a few years out of office, Obasanjo has been established as a hypocrite. The loot recovered from Abacha has disappeared. Various probes by the National Assembly of various government funds and programmes have indicted him.
Indeed, if there is one thing every Nigerian knows for certain, it is that if there were ever one true firefight on the anti-corruption front, Obasanjo would be in jail before lunch—for life—his property confiscated through the next generation, and probably from everyone with Obasanjo as last name.
But his greatest betrayal was his cynical rigging of the PDP machine to place on the 2007 presidential ticket the tandem of Mr. Yar’Adua and Dr. Jonathan.
Watchers of Nigeria know that Obasanjo did not do that for Nigeria, or even for the PDP; he did it for himself. In the weakness of both men, he saw his protection from jail and embarrassment. Even if we were to concede he did not know Yar’Adua was deathly sick, he had several reasons to know Jonathan cannot even lead a group of Boy Scouts.
This is the reason that Jonathan and everything he is or is not, is the most pronounced legacy of Obasanjo. And not only is it one from which Obasanjo cannot distance himself, it is one for which he should be eternally ashamed.
*This piece was first published on Sahara Reporters