President Olusegun Obasanjo has returned to his farm in Ota, Ogun State, after the inauguration of Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua, as his successor.
The curtain was drawn on Obasanjo’s eight-year almost uneventful occupation of the office of president.
For sure, Nigerians will not miss him; but whether the chickens in the farm will be happy about their master’s final return home to roost is a different matter entirely. That President Obasanjo has left Nigerians worse than he met them in 1999 is rather sad. It is not that the Obasanjo years were completely hopeless, but he performed far below expectations, especially considering the quantum of money at his disposal.
•Culled from The NATION.
Yet, President Obasanjo had everything going for him at the beginning. I remember vividly how millions of Nigerians watched his historic inauguration at the Eagle Square in Abuja on television that fateful May 29, 1999. Even as a Yoruba man who did not support his candidacy then, I was still touched by the aura of the moment because it was infectious. There was tremendous goodwill, with so much hope and expectations from the government. This was not unexpected, considering where we were coming from.
Sixteen consecutive years under the jackboot of military dictators, many of whom were corrupt and inept could not have elicited anything less. Nigerians had despondency hung on their necks like a necklace of stone. They wore mournful looks like someone who is bemoaning the loss of his mother. We were in dire need of a comforter; someone who would wipe off our tears and in whose arms we could find comfort.
President Obasanjo seemed to understand their plight. His speech after he got the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to run for the party, as well as his inauguration speech, captured the mood of the nation. “I understand the clear message of the Nigerian people. In giving me the mandate, they have asked me to lead this country by example. They want me to lead them aright. They want me to restore the dignity of our country. They want me to revitalise our political institution and reinvigorate the economy. They want me to alleviate their poverty and to reduce corruption. They want me to ensure the security of their lives and property. They want justice and equity in a country they can truly call their own”. These were excerpts from President Obasanjo’s acceptance speech shortly after he was declared president in 1999.
Great words on marble! But, eight years after, how many of these promises did the president succeed in fulfilling? Space will not permit any sector-by-sector analysis here. Suffice it to say however, that President Obasanjo is leaving the stage a bundle of disappointment. He did not do quite well in the first term. So, in line with the recommendation of the father of one of our governors, we gave him a second chance in 2003. His scorecard this time, unfortunately, is even far worse than that of 2003. Indeed, it would have been more honourable for the president to have quit the stage then. When there was still some ovation left. At least, in 2003, even if he had not touched our lives much, he would have repeated the feat he performed in 1979 when he voluntarily relinquished power, in spite of the sit-tight syndrome that was then the vogue among many African leaders.
But for our eternal vigilance, the president even wanted a third shot that would have enabled him to stay beyond May 29. But, where on earth is that done? A student that fails a class twice is shown the way out. That was what we did last year when we said a resounding ‘no’ to third term. Now, the same President Obasanjo wants us to believe that he was never interested in tenure elongation. This shows how unrepentant he is, even in these dying moments of his administration.
Certain problems effectively constituted impediments on the president’s way to success. Chief of these was that he virtually wasted his first four years in office. He himself admitted this much on an Ogun State Television (OGTV) programme shortly after his re-election in 2003. He said then that he had spent the first term learning the ropes. I almost wept for this country when he said this and what came to my mind were the trillions that had gone into the experimentation by way of annual budgets.
Then, he spent the last four years pursuing third term. When that failed, he began to run after the real and imaginary enemies that he believed worked against this inordinate ambition. Governance took the back stage. The result could not have been better than what the president is now leaving behind, with the critical sectors of the country lying prostrate, in most cases despite the committal of huge sums of money to make them work. As they say, ‘garbage in, garbage out’.
If I am harsh on the outgoing president, people should understand my frustrations. Firstly, failed governments have socio-economic ramifications on the people since we all have limited time to live. Secondly, I am a Yoruba man and I cannot be happy that what President Obasanjo has achieved is the best that the best of Yoruba brains can offer. Yet, he was not the choice of the Yoruba; he was foisted on this illustrious race by the rest of Nigeria. Proof? Twice of the three times that elections had been held in the country since 1999, he lost right in his own ward.
Even though I do not have any apology to offer for criticising the president, it has not always been so. Indeed, I have had cause to praise him in the past despite the misgivings I have about his government. In an article in my column in ThisDayof September 14, 1999 titled “Obasanjo: The rejected stone”, I had said of his administration, inter alia: ” If truly morning shows the day, one may safely predict that by the time Obasanjo clocks one year in government, there would be reasons for Nigerians to rejoice…. That is, assuming he does not allow himself to be distracted by enemies who pose as friends, whether within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or from outside”. Nothing could be further off the mark!
As Nigerians rejoice over President Obasanjo’s impending exit from the political scene, the animal kingdom in Ota Farm must brace up for a hard time since the president is finally returning to their midst. If human beings dread and resent their president this much, the fate of the animals in the farm could better be imagined. These hapless creatures are in trouble. Sooner than later, the birds may start committing suicide by submitting cheaply to bird flu! Sometimes, it pays to be dead than be alive!
Nigerians’ gain with President Obasanjo’s exit from the political scene might be the chickens’ loss! But the prevalent dull atmosphere in the country is like a befitting epithet for a president who went perpetually in search of disgrace and never looked back until he was almost thoroughly disgraced.