By SAM NDA ISAIAH
This is the subject of a discussion that has been taking place for quite some time now but which has reached a frenzy since former president Obasanjo’s letter-bomb to President Jonathan. It is a discussion or an argument that I have been reluctant to encourage. As the reader will have noticed, the question is not who is better between Obasanjo and Jonathan but who is worse. This presupposes, quite correctly, that both of them are bad for Nigeria. Only God knows why He afflicted Nigeria with both of them, but God is always right. Nigeria would have been a much better place without them as presidents. The answer to the question is not that easy. Anyone who wants to answer the question – who is worse between Obasanjo and Jonathan? – must first be ready to answer the famous question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
The truth is that every bad thing Jonathan is doing today he learnt from Obasanjo. Jonathan has only done them all bigger than his teacher. And why should Obasanjo, the teacher, complain? Is it not the wish of all teachers that their students should outdo them?
General Abdulsalami Abubakar handed over power to General Olusegun Obasanjo on May 29, 1999, in an election that was generally regarded as credible. But that was the last credible election that Nigeria has had till date. All the elections since then have been massively rigged, sometimes by Obasanjo, the president himself. The elections Obasanjo conducted as president, in 2003 and 2007, have been the worst in the history of elections in the country. Obasanjo as president personally supervised the crime of election rigging, many times very openly. So far, Jonathan has supervised only the 2011 general elections. And even though he would have won the presidential election anyway, because the opposition parties were not as organised as they are today, Jonathan still went ahead to rig the elections badly, using the same methods and tricks as Obasanjo did. He proved to be a very good student of Obasanjo because Jonathan showed, by his conduct of the 2011 election that even if he was the only candidate standing in that presidential election, he would still have rigged the election. Rigging obviously runs in the family. If Jonathan insists on contesting the 2015 elections in spite of the promise he made to his party men in 2011, it is because he saw what Obasanjo did with his own promises. There was also a tacit understanding that Obasanjo was going to do only one term from 1999. He nonetheless contested and rigged the 2003 election massively. Before then, Bola Ige had to be killed to make the rigging easier in the south-west which Obasanjo thought he needed badly. In 2006, Obasanjo started sharing bribes to the National Assembly members to get a third term. Jonathan saw all that, so why should he keep his own promise? What is wrong in Obasanjo’s student wanting his own third term? Let someone else complain, but not Obasanjo.
The Jonathan government is the most corrupt government Nigeria has ever seen. But before the Jonathan government came into being, Obasanjo’s government was the most corrupt government Nigeria had ever known at the time. If Obasanjo is screaming about the magnitude of corruption today, which he correctly said is about to ground the Nigerian state, it must be because he didn’t think anyone would ever beat his record of corruption and impunity. Jonathan’s government steals in trillions, Obasanjo’s government in billions and a few times in trillions. The $12 billion Obasanjo squandered on fake electricity supply was N1.4 trillion at the exchange rate when the money was stolen. Both governments are governments of thieves and crooks and both have been very detrimental to Nigeria’s development.
And talking about corruption, how can anyone forget so soon how Obasanjo squandered N300 billion on roads with nothing to show for it? Many of us talked on this issue ad nauseam when he was in power but got no response. And how can anyone forget so soon how Obasanjo also squandered $12 billion on power generation and all we got was a change of name from NEPA to PHCN? What about COJA and the several companies like ALSCON Obasanjo privatised into his pocket? What about Transcorp, the Aso Rock company which he shamelessly used in cahoots with other crooks to corruptly capture NITEL and several oil blocks? Obasanjo shared more oil blocks than all his predecessors and successors put together, most of them dubiously.
In all of President Obasanjo’s eight years as president, there was no single year he implemented the national budget according to the appropriation law, yet, by law and conventions of democracy, one single budgetary infraction was enough to impeach and remove him from office. So, if President Jonathan has become notorious for not implementing budgets, it is Obasanjo that emboldened him.
During Obasanjo’s days, the price of oil went as high as $147 per barrel. Under General Sani Abacha, Obasanjo’s nemesis that he loves to deride, it was barely $20 per barrel, yet Abacha had more to show for his five years in power than Obasanjo’s eight years in office. Abacha stabilised the naira at N80 to a dollar throughout his days. Under Obasanjo, it was N120 or more to a dollar. Gwarimpa Housing Estate, one of Abacha’s footprints, was considered the largest estate in Africa at the time it was built. No one remembers any such edifice that Obasanjo put in place. The PTF which Abacha created remains the most outstanding achievement of any government in the last 20 years. Abacha was courageous enough to talk his senior, General Muhammadu Buhari, into accepting to head the PTF. With just N2 from every litre after a fuel price increase, the PTF used less than $2 billion to virtually change the face of the country. Obasanjo increased fuel prices as many times as he desired with nothing except the suffering of the people to show for it. The PTF showed how very little money could achieve so much. Obasanjo likes to talk about how he created the GSM revolution. He should also tell Nigerians how much of Nigeria’s money he used to achieve that. The GSM revolution would still have happened at the time it did in Nigeria as it happened in every other country on the surface of the earth even if there was no president in place. It was a global phenomenon. It’s like a Nigerian president claiming credit for the coming of the internet into Nigeria.
In terms of security, while Obasanjo’s people killed every Nigerian they saw as a stumbling block – Bola Ige, Marshal Harry, Aminasoari Dikibo, Chuba Okadigbo and a lot more – Jonathan simply allowed us to kill ourselves. Obasanjo’s era was marked by political assassinations and cold-blooded murders. Governor Orji Uzor Kalu escaped death but he knew exactly who sent the assassins. Audu Ogbeh escaped death and he too knew exactly who sent the killers. But Jonathan has not been personally associated (so far) with any political murders the way Obasanjo was. I hope it remains so, but if Obasanjo said snipers are being trained, that leaves many of us worried because Obasanjo has the capacity to know.
The main difference between Obasanjo and Jonathan is that Obasanjo was a competent president who was a crook, while Jonathan is totally and completely incompetent but found himself president by Obasanjo’s designed accident. Obasanjo knows government and how government works but deliberately chose to destroy the system. On the other hand, Jonathan, not equipped for the job should not be president in the first place and would not have been president but for Obasanjo’s crookedness.
If President Obasanjo had allowed free and fair primaries in his own PDP, there was no way a terminally ill Umaru Yar’Adua and a clueless Jonathan would have emerged the presidential candidate and running mate respectively. Obasanjo did what he did because he wanted to continue to be the de facto president even after leaving Aso Rock. At least that is what he told Nasiru el-Rufai, as revealed in el-Rufai’s book, The Accidental Public Servant.
Obasanjo was competent, Jonathan is not; but Obasanjo was also a crook and Jonathan is arguably not. For instance, Obasanjo would not have retained Stella Oduah up to this point. He knows the kind of terminal damage this does to a government. He would have dismissed her with ignominy, if to boost his fake anti-corruption credentials. Obasanjo would have reshuffled this cabinet a long time ago. He would not keep this kind of cabinet. And, unlike Jonathan who dropped several ministers months ago and still has been unable to replace them, Obasanjo would not be that incapacitated. Obversely, Jonathan is unlikely to change his party chairman by putting a gun to his head as Obasanjo did when he wanted Audu Ogbeh to resign as PDP chairman. And Jonathan is yet to send his cronies to kidnap a sitting governor as Obasanjo did with Chris Uba kidnapping Governor Chris Ngige.
So, the answer to the question — who’s worse between Obasanjo and Jonathan? — I don’t know, but what I know is that Nigeria would have been a better place if both of them had not been presidents.
Having said all that, Jonathan must still respond to everything Obasanjo said in his letter. What he has given so far as a response is more embarrassing than Obasanjo’s letter itself. For Jonathan to think that because the CBN governor has recanted on his $50 billion missing money means he has no question to answer on corruption only confirms everything I have said about him. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, his finance minister, said $10.8 billion is still missing. Or, didn’t the president hear that one? We are still waiting.