This article was published on March 26th, 2007 by Nigeria Village Square
By GEORGE ONMONYA DANIEL
How would you access the first eight years of the fourth republic? Obasanjo’s ardent critics would say he hasn’t done much, and his ardent supporters would tell you he has laid the foundation for a great future. Both are not too wrong as in reality he hasn’t really done much but his success in maintaining a democratic regime without hitch and putting the military back in the barracks for eight years has paved way for the coming election, and if it is done successfully without problems then he has really laid down a foundation for a future, but whether great or not, no one can tell now.
Olusegun Obasanjo has the most successful career in Nigeria’s history. As fate would have it he served as a military head of state and later as a democratic president. On both occasions he didn’t fight for it. He didn’t have to. Fate seems to favour him. In 1976 Murtala Mohammed was gunned down barely six months after he took over power from Yakubu Gowon and he assumed the seat of power as Murtala’s former assistant. In 1998 when Abdulsalami Abubakar took over power and promised to handover power to a democratic elected government within a short time, northern elites and kingmakers decided that the only person they could trust from the south was Olusegun Obasanjo. This has to do with the way and manner Olusegun Obasano handed over power to Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1979. He promised to handover power to the north in four years time, but after four years he pleaded and got another four years extension, but he wanted to continue through the infamous ‘third term’ machination and this time because he wanted it perhaps, the same fate that has always favoured him when he never asked turned against him.
It is too early to write history of the Obasanjo administration and to confidently say if he has done much or not. After eight years in power as democratic ‘selected’ president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo has not met up to any of his promises to the electorates. If not meeting up to promises made to electorates are a yardstick to judge an administration then he has failed, even woefully.
One of Obasanjo’s pet projects is the Poverty Alleviation Programme. One time during his first four years, 10billion naira was allocated to the programme to help alleviate the sufferings of Nigerians. With less than two months to vacate Aso Rock the seat of power, Obasanjo’s Poverty Alleviation Programme could be said to be a colossal failure as large slash of the money went to private pockets at the nose of Obasanjo’s anti-corruption revolution. Within few months of ascending to power, the Obasanjo administration promised that in six months there would uninterrupted power supply in Nigeria. With less than two months to the end of his second term, the power situation in Nigeria has worsened.
In the first four years of Obasanjo’s administration he spent more time travelling around the world canvassing for foreign investments but still we haven’t seen much foreign participation in the economy. Not even Nigerians in the Diaspora are convinced that anything is happening here. In fact I have a personal experience of a neighbour who left the UK to come back to Nigeria with his white British wife to exploit the new economy. They built a big house in Shagari Quarters, Zoo Road, Kano, and planned to make Nigeria their home. After three months of parking in, they were off back to London. The reasons were that they were robbed and beaten in their magnificent house which became target to armed robbers, and they could not survive the difficult Nigerian market where you have to bribe or kiss ass to get anything done. In fact if you go to any of the foreign embassies of Western countries, you would be alarmed at the numbers of applications by Nigerians who want to leave Nigeria for greener pasture elsewhere. Unemployment has quadrupled. Violent crimes are on the rise, with armed robbers becoming bolder than ever. The only people reaping the ‘dividend of democracy’ as they call it are politicians, their contractor friends and families, and those who have access to Aso Rock villa or Government Houses all over the nation.
Now you have heard some of the obvious. Amidst the turbulence in the nation in his first four years, Obasanjo has tactically avoided confrontation with the northern conspiracies that were determined to tarnish the administration’s image after they realized they could not control the president’s policies. They choose to give the people shariah law, but the shariah implementers knew where they were going and the aim was to destabilise the peace of the nation. They did succeed in giving the country a very bad image after brutal clashes between Hausa-Fulani Moslems and Christians in Kaduna, Jos, Kano, with reprisals in Eastern Nigeria put Nigeria on world headlines. Hundreds were murdered in daylight. The Miss World beauty pageant organized to showcase Nigeria’s culture to the world and attract tourism was destabilized and later cancelled and taken to a new venue in London after another riot was incited by the shariah conspirators to the detriment of the nation’s image. There was also the embarrassing amputation of a man’s hand in Zamfara and the sentences of women to death by shariah courts in some of the shariah states. Obasanjo succeeded in overlooking the distraction and no one would hold the loquacious president of saying anything against Hausa-Fulani, Moslems, or Islam. The killings in the north resulted to another uprising in Yoruba land and Ibo land where we have Yorubas agitating for Odua land through the Odua People Congress and the north followed with Arewa People Congress, later with the Eastern agitation for Biafra through MOSOOB. Through all these tribal scrimmages Obasanjo succeeded in keeping the nation back on track.
Olusegun Obasanjo has also used the excess profit from the oil windfall to offset Nigeria’s debt. During the military era most of this money would have gone to private bank accounts. Obasanjo has also laid the foundation to some very useful projects, notably the rail project that would expand Nigeria’s transportation industry and create thousands of employments in the future.
I don’t see the telecommunication revolution as an achievement. It was timely and any government would have done it. The Abacha administration had already set the plan on motion. In the areas of Agriculture the government would be given forty percent out of hundred for making Nigeria the largest producers of cassava in the world. Nigeria can do much more in the production of other cash crops like groundnuts and cocoa. But in the area of other infrastructures, the government failed to provide water, good roads, hospital and all that; a country where the Vice President had to be flown to London for minor fracture. It is very embarrassing indeed. Many people have died due to neglects of the infrastructures by the Obasanjo government. It took loads of plane crashes for the government to get serious on the aviation industry. Because of the fear of the health sector in Nigeria, the River state government purchased ‘air ambulance,’ that is an ambulance aeroplane to rush patient overseas in case of emergency. You know the type of patient I am talking about here.
On the issue of corruption the EFCC has not done much since inception on tackling the issue of corruption even though they claimed to have done so much. Cyber crimes which they clamed to have completely wiped out flourished as ever before. 419 businesses are still on the rise as ever. Politicians, who are the biggest 419ners, are still busy doing what they know how to do best, that is stealing public funds through fake contracts or inflated contracts or awarding contract to their own personal companies or that of their friends.
Olusegun Obasanjo has the most important eight years of his life to write his name in gold in the history of Nigeria, Africa, and that of the world, considering the position of Nigeria among black nations of the world. He tried to manipulate it to twelve years but was rejected by Nigerians and destiny. I cannot say if he has written his name in gold or the dust of history. That I will leave to historians and history.