When the history of this country is written, it will be seen that one of the worst electoral decisions ever made by the citizens of this country was the mistake of 2015. And one of those who played the ignoble role of misleading Nigerians into making that infamous decision is Chief Olusegun Obasanjo alias OBJ. Admittedly, he regretted his action but if he was circumspect as he should given his age and experience and if he was not consumed by hatred and allowed his ego to becloud his reasoning, he would not have been involved in that national blunder. And now that the 2023 general election is around the corner, OBJ is at it again, doing what he is notorious for—grandstanding, pretending to have the solution to the nation’s problems. Recently, he had been quoted severally in the press dictating to Nigerians whom to vote and whom not to vote and I think that that is hypocritical of him given his antecedents. He talks and acts like the inerrant emperor admonishing his subjects. I think it is an affront on Nigerians for the likes of OBJ to come to sermonize about who should go for the Presidency after the atrocities he committed in his time and after misleading the nation in 2015.
Clearly, OBJ should be told in clear terms to come down from his moral high horse for obviously he has no moral right to tell Nigerians who should lead them. OBJ was never a good leader and apparently does not know a good leader. For recommending Buhari whom he had worked with for many years to lead Nigerians and rejecting Jonathan just to spite him for refusing to be his puppet means that OBJ has false notion of leadership. He said that he preferred Buhari to come and jail him rather than for Jonathan to continue to govern the country.
We know that during his time he established PENCOM, Civil Defense Corp, authorized Banking Consolidation, due process, debt payment and the GSM project which was a work in progress inherited from the previous administrations. But, the evils of Obasanjo’s regime far outweighed his fabled performance. It is also public knowledge that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and ICPC which he established were not necessarily to fight corruption but to fight perceived political enemies.
He was also quoted as saying that he did not endorse any Igbo aspirant for the office of the president. I would have been surprised if he did because he never would recommend good people. Of course, Igbo aspirants do not need his permission or approval to contest for the office of the presidency. Ndigbo would not need his endorsement. I must remind OBJ that Nigeria has not recovered from the error of the endorsement he made in 2015. I must also remind OBJ that the modicum of achievements he recorded when he was the president between 1999 and 2007 was as a result of the ingenuity of the few Igbo people—Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Chukwuma Soludo, Dora Akunyili, Oby Ezekwesili, Frank Nwaeke (Jr), Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke… in his cabinet.
Chief Obasanjo was obscenely vengeful and revanchist while he presided over the affairs of the country. Anyone who did agree with his selfish desires is corrupt and must be hounded at all costs. He tried to malign the person of Atiku Abubakar with unsubstantiated allegations of corruption. To OBJ Atiku’s political ambition must be truncated because Atiku stood against his inordinate ambition to perpetuate himself in office. Yes, Atiku is corrupt because OBJ had to cringe and grovel at Atiku’s feet to get the party’s nod for his second tenure. Atiku must be punished because OBJ is a general for if you capture a general and spare him, he will turn back to haunt you. OBJ is a self-centered old codger who would use a ladder and destroy it to prevent others from using it. He destroyed Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the platform he used to get power. He was neither a founding member of the party nor a financier of the party. The party was formed by Alex Ekwueme’s G34 and Atiku Abubakar-led PDM when OBJ was in prison serving life sentence for treasonable felony. The cult of generals brought him out from prison and foists him on the party. And soon after he became president, he began to terrorize the founding fathers of the party. People like Chuba Okadigbo, Audu Ogbe and many others were forced out of the party and many died in controversial circumstances.
Again, OBJ was quoted as saying that some of the aspirants jostling for the office of the president in 2023 deserve to be in jail. Yes, I agree with him but I must also add unequivocally that if there is anybody that should be in jail in this country right now, it is OBJ himself. In a civilized environment where people are held accountable for their actions, Obasanjo should be in jail for abuse of office and the innumerable infractions and atrocities he committed while in power as the president of Nigeria between 1999 and 2007. A cursory peep into our political history will show that all the myriads of problems confronting the nation at present had their root in OBJ’s regime.
Before OBJ every Nigeria is a thief. He is the one that is righteous; the only leader without blemish. And yet under him the worst corrupt cases were recorded in Nigeria. Even though he pretended to fight corruption during his regime it was obvious that his government was the most corrupt regime in the history of Nigeria. Under OBJ’s watch Transparency International (TI) and other observers rated Nigeria as the number one corrupt country in the world. OBJ supervised a dubious privatization program wherein scores of national assets were appropriated by him, his kinsmen and his acolytes and the proceeds from the privatization exercise were not properly accounted for. When the National Assembly investigated the activities of the Ministry of Power (just one ministry out of the many MDAs) under OBJ it was discovered that a humongous sum of ($16) billion was frittered away and yet all Nigeria got in his eight years reign was darkness. Obasanjo it was who introduced the fuel subsidy scam after he sold our refineries and licensed his cronies to start the importation of fuel. We know that it is inverse economic logic to export crude oil and then go to import the refined product at the international market and then fraudulently pay the price differential as subsidy to the importers. Today, Nigeria is stuck with the fuel subsidy thing because some benefit from the fraud associated with it and trillions of tax payers money—an amount that would have been enough to fix our refineries and build many more refineries is wasted on importation of fuel and payment of fuel subsidies.
Clearly, Obasanjo’s regime corruption scandal is quite unprecedented. The Abacha’s loot which was recovered was alleged to be diverted. We also have the $182 million Halliburton bribe scandal, the PDTF fraud scandal, the ecological funds scandal, the Police Equipment Funds scandal, the National Identity Card fraud. Also, OBJ defrauded Nigerians and many corporate entities by making them donate to his personal library project. Obasanjo used state power to fight enemies and commit unpardonable economic sabotage against the country. He deported Vaswani brothers and seized Ibeto cement for no reason other than to promote the business where it was alleged that he had vested interest. So, while he was auctioning off our national assets in the name of privatization, ostensibly to encourage efficiency and competitiveness, he was creating private monopolies. For political reasons he ban Orji Uzor Kalu’s Slok Airline which later became the official carrier in Gambia and for the same reason he shot down Jim Nwobodo’s Savanna Bank, SGBN, Intels throwing thousands of Nigerians into labor market. Nearly everything he did while in office was smeared with fraud and irregularities. The National Census he conducted in 2005 was marred with irregularities, controversies and rigging. The general elections of 2003 and 2007 that he conducted were worst rigged elections in Nigeria. Even the artificial satellite that he launched into space collapsed.
OBJ was never a democrat because he does not believe in the ideals of Democracy and the rule of law. He does not believe in dialogue. He believes in command and control. That was why he said politics is a do-or-die affair. He elevated the culture of impunity and “gangsterism” in our national politics as touts and renegades were empowered to unleash mayhem in the polity. There were forced impeachments, and undue interference in the affairs of the National assembly. Court orders were flouted with impunity. Obasanjo regime was an era of selection and imposition against the will of the people. All election conducted during OBJ’s regime were flagrantly rigged. In Anambra State, a seating governor, Dr. Chris Ngige was abducted by a team of policemen led by one AIG Ralph Ige but nobody was queried or punished for that heinous act because the perpetrators had the backing of the powers that be. I could recall that Prof. Chinua Achebe rejected the National honor awarded to him by OBJ in protest against OBJ’s romance with political renegades that had unleashed mayhem in the state with the sinister motive of instigating a state of emergency in the state in order to unseat the governor for refusing them access to the state allocations.
There was a high level insecurity under OBJ. Unresolved high-profile murder such as never happened before in the country took place under his watch. Senator Chuba Okadigbo died when security operatives pumped canisters of tear gas on him while in a political rally. Chief Bola Ige a serving minister was murdered in cold blood in his official residence and so was Funsho William the strong man of Lagos politics. Harry Marshal, Aminisoari Dikibo, Barnabas Igwe and his wife, Abigail Igwe were among the persons assassinated during OBJ’s reign. Furthermore, under OBJ the international community declared our airspace unsafe as Nigeria recorded the worst cases of aviation disaster. Nigerians cannot forget in a hurry the trauma of the Sosoliso, bellview Dana airline, military plane crashes that rocked the nation then. And many have not stopped wondering why the crashes stopped after he stepped down from office.
It is not out of place to state that just as OBJ is poor in people management, he is also very poor crisis management for most of the crisis rocking the nation today emanated from his poor response to issues. His blunt refusal to pay the oil producing states the 13% statutory allocation early in his regime triggered the agitation for resource control. And OBJ’s response was the use of force to suppress the agitation leading to the invasion and destruction of Odi a city in Bayelsa State. This led to the formation of many militants groups that went underground doing illegal oil bunkering and kidnapping of oil workers for ransom in order to fund their operations. And soon after, many jobless and criminal-minded youths joined in the business of kidnapping. Thus, OBJ was responsible for the scourge of kidnapping plaguing the nation today. OBJ’s official high-handedness and divisive tendencies instigated the resurgence of ethnic militias like OPC, MASSOB, Egbesu And if OBJ was decisive about the sharia movement blowing from the North we may not have had the menace of Bokoharam today. And if he had listened and addressed the concerns of MASSOB there probably wouldn’t have been Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. The killing of hapless citizens in Odi, the killings at Zaki Biam in Benue state and the killings of MASSOB activists at Okigwe by soldiers under OBJ’s watch were worse than war crime and should be a case to be referred ICC.
Perhaps the most unpatriotic and controversial decision of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo during his tenure as president was the ceding of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun following the judgment of International Court of Justice at Hague. It was hard to believe that OBJ who was notorious for flouting court orders hurriedly obeyed the judgment of the international court, excising a section of the country without the knowledge of Nigerians and the approval of the National Assembly. Observers believed that he did that selfishly to get international support for his failed Third-term agenda and perhaps to get the Nobel Prize for peace.
Without doubt, Nigeria has been in the dark for too long because we don’t seem to hold those who claim to be leaders accountable for their action. Thus, I am trying to put this together for those that didn’t know what happened in OBJ time to know so that we will not repeat the mistake of 2015. We must critically examine the antecedents, the conducts and values of those aspiring to lead us. We must investigate and interrogate issues so that we will stop the recycling of outmoded self-seeking politicians in our country. As the 2023 general election beckons, we must be wary of distractions for Nigeria may not survive another electoral blunder.
Irogboli, an economist, public policy analyst and novelist, writes from Abuja via