Before I became President By Olusegun Obasanjo
Lying is a sin, which is as destructive and deadly as any other sin. What has happened to Nigeria in the last decade and a half of the twentieth century is general heavy devaluation. Words are devalued. They do not mean what they ordinarily convey. It was not only devaluation of words but also the greatest insult on the intelligence of Nigerians that had happened. The so-called military men who indulge in these words and devaluation processes are also disloyal to their military training, tradition, discipline and culture. Precision is of high premium in the military – saying exactly what you mean and meaning exactly what you say. Imprecision and fuzziness is not only a devaluation of words but also fraudulent and strictly not military-like. Devaluation of words encourages and leads to devaluation of character and manners. It all culminates in the devaluation of our social system. The virtues and values held dear are devalued and traditions and customs are devalued. And these shameless devaluers boast of their dexterity and acrobatic manoeuvres.
The effect of economic devaluation is pervasive and corrosive. But the military-politician-businessman-contractor does not feel the impact of the economic devaluation. If anything he gains from it. He ensures by involving himself directly and indirectly in the national economy that he earns personal revenue in foreign currency that he directly converts or he brings in as goods. But the continued process of devaluation makes nonsense of his salary, wages or earning in naira.
Our economy will not get out of the doldrums unless we have massive foreign investment into the Nigerian economy. But in the last decade and half of the twentieth century, what Nigeria has had is massive divestment rather than foreign investment. Politics based on lying, deceit, oppression, injustice, and breach of fundamental human rights and disregard for world opinion is politics of instability and uncertainty. And no foreign investor will put his money in an environment of political instability, uncertainty, violence and volatility. Our economic resurgence can only begin when political sanity and stability is reasonably assured and that can only be on the basis of genuine all-hands-on–deck democracy.
No matter what we do with our census, we are the largest black nation in the world. Many people inside and outside Nigeria see the problems of leadership greed and greed for leadership as connected with the desire to control and divert the country’s God-given resources, more for the benefit of the few at the apex of governance and their cohorts, than for the benefit of all. Injustices and atrocities at the highest level of government in recent times are eloquent testimonies to this.
I believe that the present suffering of the masses and the majority is meant as discipline. But the leaders who bear great responsibility and who wrecked havoc on the nation politically, socially, economically, morally, emotionally and consequently spiritually will not go unpunished here and hereafter. That is the promise and the assurance of God. Sin has adverse consequences and frequently, the innocent suffer because of the misdeeds of the wicked, particularly the wicked leaders…
As a means of political parties “legitimately” financing their operations, ten percent of cost of contracts given out has to be paid by the contractors into the coffers of the ruling party. And they must use the contractors who will play the game. This encouraged corruption. No good contractor will pay ten percent of contract price to the coffers of a party unless he makes up that money in “loading up” the contract price or in doing a shoddy job or using sub-standard materials. Whichever way, the contractor is not a loser; it is the public that loses in the end. A communication contractor told me that in the Second Republic, he was invited by the Communication Minister who said, “To get a job in this ministry, you must be prepared to pay ten percent of the contract price to our political party; and ten percent to me and all must go through me.”
In the last decade and half, the military administrations on the stage have not performed any better. If anything, they have had abysmal record in politics, economics and social spheres. A bad military administration is worse than a raging, uncontrollable mob and an armed robber.
We misgovern, abuse, misrule, exploit and perpetrate corruption and injustice when we regard the nation as a commodity belonging to us… A former colleague told me the story of an officer who was then a colonel in one of the recent military regimes. This officer, a minister, wanted to show off and possibly put my officer colleague off. Before they went much into conversation he said, “This is our time. It is our opportunity. Everything belongs to us and we can do what we like. Anyone who stands in our way will be crushed.” What a tragedy for a nation! And what arrogance for the individual! And no wonder why we have retrogressed, if that was the way the young minister understood his duty and responsibility for his country and citizens. It is clearly what the Bible refers as fools in high places.
Wittingly or unwittingly, we are developing a culture of violence and sooner or later the chicken will come home to roost. I observe among the inmates of Yola prison, a reaction that worry me and I believe must worry most right thinking Nigerians. Anytime they heard the siren of a VIP motorcade passing to or from Lamido’s palace which is close to the prison, they would shout, “barawo, barawo!” meaning, “thief, thief!” They shout it with anger and some amount of bitterness. It is an indication of their feeling and from which in part, their criminal actions spring.
Some Nigerians appear inspired by no noble ideals except greed, selfishness, wickedness corruption and naked, filthy acquisition. Let me illustrate this with the story of one of the first crop of immediate pre-independence politicians whose objective and accomplishment for fifty years is always to be in the corridor of power and very often in the sitting room of power…. He is the man of AGIP – Any Government in Power.
But thanks to God that it s not all doom and gloom in Nigeria. There are heart-warming and encouraging bright spots here and there… There are believers, men and women, young and old who let their little lights of integrity, probity and committed service. ?
During one of the military regimes, a former civilian colleague… told me that two of the then elected civilian state governors were men of unblemished character. I also heard of a story of a minister at the same period to whose residence a heavy amount of money was delivered as Christmas present. The minister unaccustomed to such sordid present was terrified and horrified and in disgust, he asked the messenger to go away with his un-Christ-like Christmas present. In the military, particularly in the army, bad as things seem to have been, men and women of integrity, probity, professionalism and service can still be found. I have been told the story of a captain who has three cars all from his “own resources”. But I know of a colonel who could just maintain his old beetle Volkswagen and keep it on the road. I know a brigadier who as struggling to complete his first house in Nigeria… and is by no means spendthrift...
Even the police and the customs that have acquired special notoriety for bribery for bribery, corruption and other malpractice have bright spots and redeeming personnel. A man once told me in all sincerity that he knew a senior police officer who had put in twenty-five years of service and who rose from the ranks and who had never received nor shared a kobo of bribe in all his police life. The third man with us in that discussion said that it was rare and that the police officer should be given the highest national honour.
I witnessed on many occasions warders having to wait for three months arrears of salary. The prison staff tries to justify their corruption, which is very pervasive on delayed payment of salary and poor conditions of service. For a warder at times, one naira is not too small a bribe to be taken from a prisoner… But here too, I know at least half a dozen warders, male and female, whose integrity and probity are absolutely beyond question.:
Another redeeming feature that I have noticed is that even when bad people are at the helm of affairs, they want respected men and women of integrity, probity and service around them. I call it taking the good from those people to cover their own bad and evil. This reminds me of the request of a military leader to me to nominate a good person for service in his administration, knowing his character and the circumstances of his assumption of power; could not oblige him and accede to his request. Even the devil will want a righteous cloth around himself..
When the news of Yar’adua’s death was sprung on me at about 4 pm on Tuesday 9th December 1997, as I was going to Christian Fellowship meeting, my first reaction was, “It cannot be true” but if it is true the nation must know how and why it happened. Is it murder? Is it carelessness or I couldn’t care less?
I have the utmost respect and regard for the highest office in the land. Why not? It is an office I have had the grace of God to occupy, but I believe that anyone who desecrates the office he occupies deserves no respect in that office unless and until he changes, if that is possible.
“I do not spare myself in pointing out my mistakes as I am directed by the Spirit of God. So, pointing out the errors and inadequacies of Abacha and other leaders as I see them so that they could profit from the exposure and change is motivated by true love and concern for them, and out of obedience to the commandment of God.”
That was Obasanjo in The Animal Called Man before he became the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I have jotted down these few comments as I was reading he above excerpts. The reader may wish to share my views.
Is the PDP in any form better than the NPN that Obasanjo was accusing of receiving contributions from contractors? I wonder through what means is the PDP financing its retreats that costs hundreds of millions. I have never met them by the road side begging. Anyway, the president may not be asking ten percent directly. But from where does he expect Halliburton, Dangote, government agencies and state governments got the N7billion to finance his private Library project? What form of donation is this Mr. President?
From what is going on today, “these fools”, as Obasanjo described them in his book, are still there occupying high places. I wonder if there is any minister that is waiting for another time. Believe me, this is his time. And who can stand on their way? Not even the Nigerian people who were crushed on April 19, 2003 when they tried to stop the government from returning to power. Political thugs, police, army, and INEC were recruited to crash them. That is why some had to die to enable the ruling party conquer the southwest, south-south and southeast. Ruthless Tafa was there to do the job, as well as people like Chris Uba. The irony is that if Obasanjo might have never imagined that one day he will be an accomplice to misrule, abuse and injustice to the extent that he will would not care if one of the people closest to him will one day perpetrate mayhem by destroying a government house, house of assembly, radio station and other government buildings during his tenure. Neither would he have reasoned that one day, as a President of Nigeria, a thug will have the temerity of telling him the story of how they rigged elections in Anambra State and allow him walk away free. Can anyone please help me count the number of fools we have in high places?
And are we not witnessing more violence today than ever. I am not sure if the same prisoners are not shouting barawo, barawo today as they used to do under Abacha when Obasanjo was in Yola prison. whenever a motorcade passes. Ironically, the siren may even be of Obasanjo’s motorcade.
One wonders why Obasanjo found it convenient to also deal with AGIPs; people who are serving him, as ministers and advisers, who have been in all governments since Babangida’s tenure.
After winning 1999 elections, has Obasanjo looked back and called these people to serve under him? Not at all. All he did to date is to comply fully with the wishes of his party, asking governors to nominate ministerial candidates who would later bribe their way through the National Assembly. As a result of their dishonesty and incompetence, they have left the worst record of failure in all spheres of administration; they have exacerbated poverty and Nigerians are more insecure now than ever. How many of these “bright spots” were ever recruited by Obasanjo in the past six years of his administration? In what way are the people surrounding him better than those who surrounded IBB and Abacha?
I will be surprised if Obasanjo has not sent Nuhu Ribadu to the Army chiefs whose names appeared on the sale of houses scandal. Where could they have found the over N80 million to buy the houses?
Did Obasanjo find out that Tafa Balogun was among these bright spots before appointing him the Inspector General of Police and the Chief Commander of the April 19 2003 elections? Where could have the present IG, who succeeded Balogun, got the over N80 million required to pay for the house he was to buy from the Federal Government in Lagos?
The situation of salaries and arrears only worsened under Obasanjo as not only prison warders, but also the police had to go on strike for the first time in our history over non-payment of salaries and other allowances
Is it allowed for a born-again president to surround himself with bad people who were the first billionaire thieves and those who also served under the very corrupt regimes which Obasanjo was criticising?
Talking about extra-judicial killings, can we ask Obasanjo the same questions about Ige, as he once asked about Yar’adua? Who killed Marshall Harry and Chuba Okadigbo? And why were they killed? Would have Yar’adua been spared today?
Though a self-confessed born-again, who was it that promised to fight corruption since 1999 and failed to fire a single shot until recently when he wanted to satisfy his foreign masters? Who promised that he will not rig elections in 2003 but perpetrated the worst rigging in our history? Who promised to leave by 2007 and at the same circulated a fake constitution that is aimed at securing an extension for two years? Who promised our children UBE and did nothing about it? Who? Who?
What happens if someone reads the above and concluded that Obasanjo himself doesn’t deserve respect for his desecration of the highest office in the country? I hope Obasanjo agents will not describe him as anti-South or anti-Christian. Our answer will be this: the criticism is borne out of “true love and concern”, just as the motive behind Obasanjo’s criticism against Abacha and IBB.