Obasanjo Might Be Right, But…

September 20, 2020
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By Dotun ADEKANMBI,

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo speaks with the magisterial arrogance of an oracle. Many Nigerians are likely to agree with this assertion. The only person of consequence that he has not spoken against is himself. Again, few will disagree because the retired General casts himself in the mould of an ‘oracle’ that sees and knows all. But he is yet to openly equate himself with God, perhaps, because he has not affirmed to himself that he has acquired the capacity to do all things, like God is said to do.

Over time, the retired General has unapologetically assigned himself a Messianic role to which he believes that none other can fit in Nigeria. Interestingly, though, occurrences in the polity have often tended to prove him right, so much so that it might not be out of place to conclude that he is indeed more perceptive than the rest of us. The ‘consequences’ of his oracular pronouncements have also tended to be dire but this, one suspects, could have been because some individuals or groups have come to see him as the barometer with which to correctly gauge the mood of the nation.

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The other day, the former President went for the jugular of the Buhari administration, saying that on its watch Nigeria’s drift to “a failed and badly divided State” has become accelerated. In his view, “old fault lines that were disappearing have opened up in greater fissures and with drums of hatred, disintegration and separation and accompanying choruses being heard loud and clear almost everywhere.”

On the face of it, it is easy to buy in to Obasanjo’s logic, especially if viewed from the perspective of the implications of the recent killing of an officer of the Department of State Security (DSS) by kidnappers who had earlier received ransom raised by colleagues of the deceased officer. If the intention of the kidnappers was to make a mockery of the country’s weak security architecture, that point was tellingly made, particularly because it made the failing of the Buhari administration in this regard a lot more manifest.

But then, what ails Nigeria is beyond the issue of insecurity, which, though important, can be overcome by any government with the political will to truly keep Nigerians safe. Insecurity only became a front burner issue over the years because successive governments placed political expediency ahead of national interest. In the current dispensation, a sack of the tired and no longer effective security chiefs will be a good starting point to signal government’s readiness to fight insecurity in the country.

So, what is the real ‘trouble with Nigeria’? Except we want to play the ostrich, it is no more than an elite gang-up against the masses. This deduction was aptly captured in George Orwell’s fictional book, 1984, wherein the elite class kept the masses under check by instituting policies that made them fight over ‘pots’ and ‘pans’ while greater evils escaped them. One of these major evils in today’s Nigeria is the country’s growing lack of competitiveness in the 21st century, as exemplified by our rating at number 116 out of 141 nations in the 2019 Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum (WEF). What exactly does this mean in real life?

The erudite former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Dr Kingsley Moghalu, graphically painted this concern in a manner that should get Nigerians truly worried. Amongst other things, he said: “Nigeria is exposed, first of all, to massive economic risk because of our reliance on hydrocarbons like crude oil for foreign exchange revenues.

Several European countries, and even India, have set deadlines between 2025 and 2035 to stop making use of petrol-fuelled transportation. They are moving to electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles instead. Are we prepared for this looming shift and decline in global demand? I don’t see much evidence that we are. This scenario, when it comes, will leave us economically stressed. Nigeria is going into its second recession in five years and the near-term future isn’t hopeful because we have had many structural problems in our economy before Covid-19, and these structural challenges as well as worrisome allegations of opportunistic corruption are still largely there.” Which of these does anyone want to deny?

Even if we are minded to place politics ahead of our collective well-being, it is evident that we are being haunted by years of making bad choices in leadership selection. Take a count: every government in Nigeria has always triggered fuel price hike as a knee-jerk reaction to shocks in the global oil market; every administration has always imposed indiscriminate tariffs and taxes as solutions to shortfalls in public revenue and every government has always tended to draw down borrowings from international finance institutions on the eve of general elections ostensibly to fund long term development of infrastructure but in point of fact to finance partisan politics. It is a long list that follows the same template from government to government regardless of the party in power at the centre in Abuja. Nothing has changed today, and nothing will change until the people begin to hold government and their representatives in government to account.

If Nigeria is to make any progress in the globally competitive 21st century, citizens need to become more aware that government is the most important institution in the world. If, as we have always done, we fail to get our politics right, our economy will never be right and national development will never be on track. This, perhaps, is the best context within which to situate Obasanjo’s sermon. Rather than berate the messenger, given his own failing in governance as a three-time leader of Nigeria, we need to embrace his message as a clarion call to citizens and government to embark on urgent course correction as we approach 2023.

As Nigeria attains 60 years of independence on October 1, citizens should begin to envision purposeful leadership beyond the rhetoric of ‘restructuring.’ We have had enough of leaders that concentrate on checking the speedometer of our vehicle of national development when it is apparent that it is fast running out of fuel. Time has come for us to be more circumspect in picking the best of Nigeria to govern Nigeria. Good people are not in short supply, but the conspiracy of the political elite will prevent their emergence, except we burst the myth of ‘political structure’ that is used to keep good men and women away from the game of nation-building. If good candidates are continually choked out of the race, we shall never be able to douse the fire of ‘old prejudices and biases’ that imperil our national unity. Without the emergence of good leaders, Nigerians will never, on their own, be able to see or feel the impact of government, except Presidential spokespersons tell them the direction in which to focus their search. That will be too bad!

Dotun ADEKANMBI is a Lagos-based communications consultant.

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