Olusegun Obasanjo

The Child Who Never Really Grew

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The tale of Nigeria’s journey from June 1998 till date is like the tale of the child whose birth was heralded with joy, whose infanthood gave so much promise, whose future was as bright as the mid-day sun, but who never really outgrew his diapers. This is the very sorry tale of a sickly infant who has retained the world’s attention and kept observers with bated breath, hoping against hope that one day he would live up to his potential. As with all other things in life, patience runs out, another child is born somewhere else on the planet, the world hisses, shakes her head and moves on. Attention quickly shifts to the next child of promise.

So much was predicted and expected of Nigeria as the old millennium folded up and bowed out to be replaced by the age of new beginnings. Nigeria’s forgettable years spent in military backwardness were heartily dismissed as the worst we could ever do, as we celebrated General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s statesmanship and resolve to return Nigeria to democracy. The world was lousily warned that Africa’s giant was about to roar into life and finally claim her place as the leader of all black innovation. Olusegun Obasanjo was philanthropically rewarded with the presidency for his prison years and supposed wisdom, and gracefully welcomed back into the world of the civilized as the chosen one; the one who would wipe all tears away from weary Nigerian eyes and crown them with a diadem of honour. Thirteen years down the line, the centre is refusing to hold.

What happened? Did Nigeria over-promise and under-deliver, or was the world too expectant? Were there insufficient speeches at the United Nations or a shortage of ‘foreign investors’ from China, Brazil or Qatar? Were there limited cabinet positions or too few administrative reshuffles that prevented change-makers from having a shot at introducing change? Were there inadequate political positions for friends, associates, acquaintances and distant relatives of (s)elected officials? Were there too few foreign trips to ‘observe how things are done abroad’? Did the presidents of other countries not visit to sign partnerships, contracts, Memoranda of Understanding, shake hands, sanction bi-national commissions or give major speeches? Did we not have enough governors, legislators, wives of local government chairmen, senior special advisers and ‘captains of industry’ on our delegations to the UN General Assembly or G-20 summits? What exactly did we fail to do?

We observed the appointments of all sorts of phony magicians to cabinet positions, we endured the endless blast of sirens whenever the special assistant to the Minister of Solid Minerals visited Ibarapa Local Government Area, we gullibly believed the endless promises of solutions to the crippled state of power generation in the country, we rejoiced whenever a culprit was fingered in a money-laundering scam but hissed furiously when the Supreme Court dismissed all charges against him because they could not be substantiated, we sympathised with organized labour whenever they declared a national strike to protest the non-implementation of the minimum wage and shook our heads pitifully when a compromise was hastily reached without the meagre wages being paid. We have had our hopes built, dashed, shattered and then raised again because we are Nigerians and we don’t give up. We know that God has not forgotten us and that there is still hope for us in the future.

We know that even though South Africa found her feet in 1994 with the election of a serious revolutionary and has refused to look back ever since, there is nothing to worry about because we’re still building our democracy. We know that even though Ghanaians shamefully packed all their belongings from our country just a couple decades ago and endured our jeers at their ‘useless’ currency while they slowly rebuilt their economy, there isn’t much cause for alarm because they still allow us to visit their country on excursion and their ex-presidents do not reject us when we invite them to lecture us on national development. We know that even though we did not endure anything close to the genocide that wiped away more than a million citizens of Rwanda eighteen years ago, the fact that the Rwandan president is now the global face of the rising African continent does not mean our president is also not respected. At least, he can afford to fly two presidential jets to New York whenever he has a very important speech to deliver to the rest of the world.

There really is no problem in Nigeria as long as a few of us are able to secure scholarships to study in foreign universities, even if the destination is Lithuania or Equatorial Guinea; at least we’re studying abroad. Nigeria is not doing badly as long as we have the largest black population of Facebook and Twitter users; isn’t that something to be proud of? We have not forgotten the fact that John Mikel Obi has a starting shirt at Chelsea Football Club, even though he is probably the only Nigerian who is a regular first-team player in any club in Europe. For crying out loud, at least we won a few Paralympic medals in London, making up for the dismal performance of the able-bodied Olympic athletes who cannot be blamed because funds were released for their training only four months to the Olympics. Furthermore, the U-21 female national team performed quite well at the just concluded World Cup. Don’t we have enough to celebrate?

As we witness stunted growth and celebrate mediocre achievements while the rest of the continent progresses, there seems to be a growing sense of curious calm in a raging storm. Social media guarantees a safe haven for a new generation of political commentators to vent their frustrations and move on as quickly as they make an angry post. The impending 52nd commemoration of the country’s Independence Day doesn’t give much promise about potential developments as citizens satisfy themselves with the awareness of the current president’s failures. It really doesn’t feel utterly shameful anymore to realize that the 13-year old toddler called Nigerian democracy doesn’t even crawl or suck his fingers anymore; that he seems to be grinding to a full stop in his expected growth. Who knows if this sickly child would ever get out of his diapers, eat some real food and learn to clean up after himself? Who knows if he even has a future ambition?

You can follow Faith Abiodun on Twitter @FaithAbiodun

Moving Nigeria Forward (III): Back to the ’70s

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In an ever-evolving world, it is not entirely strange to look to the past to garner inspiration for moving forward, but it is quite unsettling to persistently agitate for the glory days in history. This exactly is what Nigeria has grown to personify at the moment. Very little in the present gives satisfaction to the older generation or the new breeds; we have expertly documented the several challenges that cripple our country’s economic and social fibre and concluded that we were much better off in the past than we are now and that the most prosperous era in our history were the 1970s. Actually, many Nigerians would much rather live again in the 1970s if telecommunications and internet access could be guaranteed. But what is it about the ‘70s?

The four years that preceded the ‘70s were perhaps the darkest years in our history. The loss of 200,000 military and civilian lives in Nigeria and the loss of about 3,000,000 military and civilian lives in the Republic of Biafra left both regions of the country extremely weak and dependent on each other for survival. In spite of the relative victory of the Nigerian army over Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu’s troops, the nation was wounded almost beyond repair and desperately needed the words of Gen. Yakubu Gowon on January 16, 1967: “The tragic chapter of violence is just ended. We are at the dawn of national reconciliation. Once again we have an opportunity to build a new nation. My dear compatriots, we must pay homage to the fallen, to the heroes who have made the supreme sacrifice that we may be able to build a nation, great in justice, fair trade, and industry.” Whether or not the nation heeded the justice and reconciliation call specifically, fair trade and industry seemed to thrive in Nigeria in spite of the instabilities in government.

Between 1970 and 1979, Nigeria witnessed perhaps her best extended period of social and economic growth; characterized by a massive explosion of revenues courtesy of the oil boom. So great was our wealth that General Yakubu Gowon famously declared that “the only problem Nigeria has is how to spend the money she has”. When his government was overthrown in 1975 on account of corruption, his successor General Murtala Muhammed instantly demonstrated his resolve to build an equitable and prosperous country by using the words “Fellow Nigerians” for the first time. Murtala is reputed in the country, not only for his forthrightness, but more importantly, his courage. His tenure saw the mass retrenchment without benefits and trials of over 10,000 public officials on accounts of age, health, incompetence and malpractice. He ensured that his reforms cut across the diplomatic service, the judiciary, the academia, the military and the civil service; pruning government and diversifying public offices between the military and civilians. Within the seven months of his presidency, Murtala Muhammed faced inflation in the Nigerian economy and attempted to reduce the amount of cash flow in government, promoted private sector expansion, and adopted a ‘Nigeria First’ foreign policy. Unfortunately, good things never thrive in Nigeria and Murtala Muhammed was brutally assassinated on February 13, 1976, but not before laying the foundations for a successful economy managed by his successor, Olusegun Obasanjo.

Jimmy Carter with Lt. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo o...
Jimmy Carter with Lt. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obasanjo’s military rule was much shaped by the oil boom which saw Nigeria gain a 350 percent increase in oil revenues. Several sectors of the Nigerian economy were boosted both by this unexpected windfall and the dedication of public servants to national development. Infrastructural projects were multiplied across the country; long-lasting roads were built, hospitals were constructed, steel factories were established, and manufacturing was greatly promoted. During Obasanjo’s tenure, the Nigerian manufacturing industry witnessed so much growth that vehicle assemblies sprung up in the country, most prominent of which was Peugeot Automobile Nigeria (PAN); the five existing Nigerian universities were equipped and eight more established; universal primary education was instituted in the country and the northerners who had hitherto lacked much investment in education began to derive some benefits from increased schooling opportunities; and the green revolution was sparked with massive distribution of seeds and fertilizers to farmers all across the country leading to increased productivity in the nation’s agricultural sector.

The ‘70s were such blessed years for Nigeria that the country’s currency had a much better exchange rate than the US dollar, durable commodities were produced and sold at cheap prices, food was available in abundance, and oil flowed endlessly through the nation’s refineries. It was also during this period that several easterners and westerners earned foreign scholarships to study Medicine and Law in the United Kingdom, several others secured employment in the federal civil service, health facilities were less crowded and more effective in treatment, solid structures were constructed across the Western Region under Chief Obafemi Awolowo, smooth roads which have defied wear till this day were built, leaving the country with fewer road accidents and making the country much more peaceful and stable.

The ‘70s are the years that our parents can never stop speaking about; they were the years when every single parent purchased those mathematical sets which they still brandish before their children; they were the years when two kobo purchased a good meal of ‘amala and goat meat’; they were the years when every one of our parents were top of their classes, even when there were 40 students in a class; they were the years when Government College, Ibadan, Government College, Umuahia, Government College, Ughelli, Government College, Zaria, Wesley School of Science and Kings College, Lagos, were the pride of the Nigerian education system; they were the years when ‘National’ brand fans and radio sets were purchased at ridiculously cheap prices, and on the foreign scene, they were the years when Nigeria had almost zero external debts.

There was something about the ‘70s that made Nigeria very prosperous, and it was not just about the oil boom; there were visionaries in government who made the decision to administer the country with a clear purpose and to invest the country’s resources into lasting projects. There were no thieving legislators who took bribes from successful businessmen to cover up corrupt practices and subvert national interest, there were no governors who embarked on 22 foreign trips in 24 months to ‘attract foreign investors’ to their states,  there were no anti-corruption agencies which seconded the prosecution of big name politicians to the British government; there were no senators who served as covert sponsors of northern terrorist groups and there was no president who claimed to be ‘saddened’ by the wanton loss of lives all across the country while maintaining a disposition that displayed extreme comfort in crisis. The ‘70s were the years when Nigeria was governed by democrats who put the interest of the country above theirs; the ‘70s were the years when military subordinates kept a very close check on their superiors and made it clear that they could be ejected at a moment’s notice for non-performance, and more importantly, the ‘70s were the years when Nigeria conducted a peaceful election and made a smooth transition from military rule to democracy for the first time.

There is an urgent need to revisit the practices of the ‘70s as we forge a path forward for Nigeria. National interest was at its peak during those years; the efforts of General Murtala Muhammed and General Olusegun Obasanjo on the local and international scene were tremendously great influences on local administration and regional integration. The ‘70s were the years when Nigeria truly earned the toga of ‘the giant of Africa’, and we demonstrated across the continent that we had a system that worked. The ‘70s were the years when Ghanaians flooded the country because of the widespread economic development which we offered not only our citizens, but all citizens of Africa. We need the ‘70s again, but more importantly, we can make this decade and future ones more successful and more prosperous than our past. The same values that guided our leaders then can be revisited and we can collectively build a nation that we can be proud of. If Ghana could rise from the ashes of economic desolation, reclaim her citizens from Nigeria, attract Nigerians en masse to her markets and then flush out illegal Nigerian marketers within a span of thirty years, it will be a massive shame for Nigeria to stand aside and allow ethnic, religious, political and other roadblocks to hamper our development. We would be haunted forever by the memories of the ‘70s if we fail to act. The time is now; let’s rebuild Nigeria.

You can follow Faith Abiodun on Twitter @FaithAbiodun

Theater of Calamities

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It feels like several millennia ago since Nigerians were touted to be the happiest people on earth. We took pride in the fact that in spite of economic hardships, we always found a way to maintain a colourful national spirit through our sports, music, festivals, local merchandise and every other source of national pleasure that we could muster. Forget the recent UN survey on national moods which ranks Nigerians as the 100th happiest people in the world, Nigerians are even less happy than people think. Yes, we smile through turmoil, we persevere through hardship and we encourage others through our own discouragements, but deep down in us, there is a huge well of frustration based on the direction in which the country is headed. We’ve been through unthinkable situations and we’ve maintained hope, but these days, hope seems to be a more painful than helpful emotion to cultivate.

Our first grouse as Nigerians is with our politics. We know that there is no perfect government in the world and we acknowledge that government cannot do everything for us, but we find it hard to believe that government cannot do ANYTHING for us either. Now more than ever, Nigerians seem to be finally giving up on the capacity of government to provide basic social needs and security for the people, which is the least a government can guarantee. Every public official who takes an oath purportedly does so in the interest of the general public, not his private concerns, but the speed with which those oaths are violated is unimaginable. We believe our politicians when they claim to be honestly touched by our conditions during campaign speeches, but when we contrast their physical sizes, wardrobe sizes and other material possessions with ours after mere months in office, we are justified to believe that we’re pursuing different interests. Nigerian politicians are clearly living in an alternate universe.

Alongside our politics, we are severely disillusioned with the state of governance in our country. We might be answerable for voting public officials based on religious, cultural and other sentiments, but we can’t find any explanations for the inhuman treatments which they mete out to us time after time. We can’t understand how our president claims to know the sponsors of terrorist activities in the north, and yet issue a tailor-made response to the loss of several lives every given Sunday. We don’t know what to think when our president, who swore to protect us, claims to be “saddened” by the avoidable slaughter of innocent citizens who harmlessly seek to worship their God. Anyone can be saddened, indeed everyone is saddened, but everyone didn’t swear the oath to preserve and protect the constitution of the country; everyone didn’t receive the overall command of the nation’s armed forces to be deployed for the safety of all citizens; and more frustratingly, everyone isn’t receiving the fat compensation for a job that is not being done.

While we express our dissatisfaction with the eggheads in Abuja for failing to convince us of their interest in our welfare, we are even more disgruntled by their inability to apply common reason to their daily activities.

English: Ojo Maduekwe, C.F.R., Minister of For...

For instance, we cannot seem to understand why for the umpteenth time, Mr Ojo Maduekwe has been appointed to a position in government. After serving as Minister of Culture and Tourism, and then Minister of Transport under President Obasanjo, he served as national secretary of the PDP, he was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs under President Yar’Adua, was nominated for the position of Secretary to the Government of the Federation, and has now been appointed an Ambassador to Canada. How valuable is this single individual to Nigeria that he seems to be recycled for every available position in the country? We understand that Bianca Ojukwu earned her ambassadorship to Spain because of the urgent need to compensate her late husband for his grossly under-appreciated service to the country, but how about Taofeek Arapaja? What’s his claim to fame? Trusted thug of the late Lamidi Adedibu? Is that enough? What happened to foreign policy expertise? How do we send someone to be the representative of the President; the face of 150 million people in a strange land when they have no track record of achievement beyond their local government? Why do we ALWAYS get it wrong in Nigeria?

Furthermore, now that we have completely forgotten about the Dana Air crash, just like the Sosoliso, Bellview and Chanchangi crashes before it, the families of the deceased are left to suffer the effects of their losses for the rest of time. Would we ever see the report of the probe committee? Would the committee ever do anything? How much will be required for the committee to quietly delete the names of the culprits? How soon until we’re jolted to our senses again by another avoidable mishap? We quickly forget that calamities like the Dana crash are mere manifestations of a much deeper rot in our system; problems which will never go away unless firmly addressed. We have perfected the art of cutting corners and addressing only the visible symptoms of our deep-seated challenges, and this has not served us well ever and it would not suffice in the future.

Every sector of the Nigerian economy is compromised, but the average citizen has no clue. Cecilia Ibru and Ndi Okereke-Onyuike were sparkling examples of how hard work could lead any woman to success, until ‘hard work’ was redefined to mean sharp corrupt practices. Erastus Akingbola was a top role model for everyone in the country; managing a successful bank, donating a hostel block to the University of Lagos, publishing a Christian devotional, and pioneering an ‘inspiration’ radio station, until his antics were exposed.

English: Oladimeji Sabur Bankole, Speaker of t...

Dimeji Bankole was the ultimate image of the place of the young Nigerian in a failed political system; his rise to the pinnacle of legislative authority in the country seemed to prove that intelligent and articulate young Nigerians could indeed steer the country’s ship to a desirable future, but then he crumbled like a pack of cards and sent our hopes flying yet again.

Now that Farouk Lawan and Femi Otedola have chosen to embarrass themselves needlessly, our endless search for scarce role models in a crooked society suffers another setback. The straight-talking short-man-devil was regarded as one of the very few incorruptible members of the Nigerian legislature and was perceived as a shining light in our country’s dark chamber of secrets. Now, we know better: TRUST NO NIGERIAN POLITICIAN. We can safely assume that even those who invoke the Lord’s name from their sleep are harbouring very huge skeletons in their cupboards, and the best way to protect ourselves from repeated heartbreak is to assume that every Nigerian politician is a criminal waiting to be revealed. Femi Otedola has always appeared to be a slimy businessman and whether he is culpable in the fuel subsidy scam or not, he would have to do a lot to establish his credibility. But then, which Nigerian billionaire is credible? Which one of them does not dictate the play of Nigerian politics as it pleases them? Who can we trust?

The entire country seems to be a theatre of calamities; every street corner seems to have a disaster waiting to happen. The stage is set all over for increased disappointment and while it will please us all to flee the country and never turn back, we realistically cannot do that. There will always be a very large group of us who would never have the good fortune to take even a temporary trip outside the country; and most of us would live the rest of our lives on Nigerian soil. The question is “how do we insulate ourselves against everything negative that Nigeria continues to breed? And how can we help to alter the realities of our existence? Is it really possible for any form of change to come to the Nigerian government? What is required? How do we get started? Who will lead this revolution? The very sound of these questions gives a dizzying sensation; there seems no hope in sight. National morale is at an all-time low. Which way forward, Nigeria?

You can follow Faith Abiodun on Twitter @FaithAbiodun