By Kolawole Ogunwale (email@example.com)*
This piece is in apparent reaction to the various public opinions and media comments against the person of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, particularly, as it concerns the recent letter he wrote to President Jonathan, wherein, he raised vital issues concerning the Nigeria-nation. I am through this piece drawing out my candid appraisal of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as little as I could, as far as his art and style of governance and policy analyses are concerned.
First and foremost, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo is largely misunderstood by some for various reasons. But the fact remains, that he is one of the best presidents Nigeria has ever produced, by my personal estimation and working with him as a Senator between 2003 and 2007.
Nigeria is a nation, blessed in its good and God-fearing people, fortunate in its resources, proud of its independence and commitment to democracy, with a wonderful future, opening before us. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria President (1999 – 2007) belongs to the class of committed patriots.
His tenure witnessed total commitment to reforming various sectors of the economy, with a view to strengthening same and raising the standard of living of an average Nigerian. Some of these goals he achieved with the enthronement of discipline and transparent approach, perhaps, alien to the body polity and its practitioners. He was largely misunderstood for some of his actions. Human beings never go with changes, until they actually experience it. Any reformer has enemies in those who profiteers by the old order.
I want Obasanjo’s critics as far as his letter to President Jonathan is concerned to at least, ponder a while and see his good sides as a former President. In 1999, Nigeria’s external debt was $34billion. This was paid through painstaking negotiations and prudent management of our resources by Obasanjo. Nigeria automatically became the ‘darling’ of the international community, as she exited the Paris Club of creditors. Obasanjo capped this, with a $45billion external reserve in our kitty, when he was leaving in 2007. Be it pointed out, that external debt has been hanging on the neck of Nigeria for several years, because of lack of will on the parts of previous administration before Obasanjo’s to address the issue.
As a farmer himself, who believes strongly, that the agricultural sector of the economy should be strengthened, Obasanjo ensured, that rice importation dropped from 2billion metric tonnes in 1999 to 500,000 metric tonnes in 2007. This enabled local farmers to maximize output, thus making Nigeria to be self sufficient in grains and poultry produces. Cassava production also went from 30million metric tonnes to 50million metric tonnes, which enabled exportation of same to thrive and earning in foreign exchange enhanced. This much President Jonathan has also improved upon.
Also for the first time in almost 16-18years before 1999, there was cocoa rebirth, which took its production from 150,000 tonnes in 1999 to 500,000 tonnes when Obasanjo left on May 29, 2007. Today, Nigeria earns well over $500million from cocoa production. Agricultural production thus increased by annual growth of 7% during Obasanjo era.
Before Obasanjo’s administration came in 1999, all the 87 banks operating in Nigeria put together, has a capital base of N290billion. But in 2007, First Bank alone, has a paid up capital base of N300billion which by now must have doubled. Ditto for other banks. This was made possible through Obasanjo’s diligent fiscal policy. Customers from then on could lodge their monies in banks and go and sleep with their two eyes closed. In 1999, when Chief Obasanjo took over the reins of power, capital flight from Nigeria was about US$100million annually, whereas by 2007, capital flight has totally stopped. Instead, direct foreign investments into the country rose to $20billion, with remittances from Nigerians in Diaspora alone, accounting for $5billion. All these were show of confidence in Obasanjo’s government at that time.
Let us also recollect, that nobody thought, that in 1999 and immediately thereafter, Nigeria will be together again as one nation, with OPC agitating for self determination, the Egbesu Boys clamouring for resource control and the North looking beyond the Sahara. But Obasanjo tried and sustained oneness of Nigeria and today, it is: ONE NIGERIA, ONE DESTINY – courtesy of Obasanjo’s statesmanship. A totally detribalized Nigeria, who sleeps, wakes and thinks Nigeria. He has even taken steps since Boko Haram insurgency started, to visit Maiduguri and dialogued with some of its leaders, with a view to finding lasting solution to the knotty issue. Let us appreciate our heroes while they live. Obasanjo has, more than pay his dues for the stability of Nigeria.
I want to also assert, that the minority group who thought they have been forgotten are today, through Obasanjo live and let others live fatherly roles, in strategic positions, inclusive of the current President of the country among others. To Obasanjo, we all have equal stakes in the affairs of our country. For all I know, and very strongly too, Chief Obasanjo stands for the greatness of Nigeria. I advice other past leaders to have the courage like Obasanjo to speak out on the ills plaguing our nation and its nascent democracy.
I can also authoritatively state, that from 1999, women for the first time, has more than 20% say in government, judiciary inclusive. On the international scene, the world looked up to Nigeria for active roles in conflict resolution, with Obasanjo’s in-depth diplomatic prowess and native intelligence doing us proud. Nigeria could not have had it better. But the man – Olusegun Obasanjo, in most instances, continues to receive hard punches from critics for saying what he feels should be the way forward for Nigeria, not minding whose ox is gored. Perhaps, this is the prize he has to pay for being a quintessential elder statesman. History is the best judge.
Obasanjo as a military Head of State in 1979, left 40 sea-worthy ocean-liners with the defunct National Shipping Line; 17 air-worthy aircrafts and 20 landed properties belonging to the defunct Nigerian Airways in London. But 20years after he came back as a civilian President, he met none of these national assets on the ground. I wonder what was done to the prodigal rulers in charge of these facilities between 1979 and 1999.
On the power sector, it must be stated emphatically, that Obasanjo’s government generated 2800 megawatt of electricity as against 1000 megawatt that he met in 1999. Obasanjo has the best of intention for this sector, as its functionality or otherwise directly affects him and his interests too. But we cannot rule out the roles of saboteurs in this vital sector, though the buck stops on his table.
In this era of globalization, Obasanjo ensured between 1999 & 2007, that Nigeria prominently played its role as a responsible and responsive member of the international community, as he served as Commonwealth and Africa Union Chairman meritoriously at various times. Obasanjo administration strengthened and nurtured these international bodies. Nigerians can now hold their international passport booklets proudly anywhere in the world and be accorded due respect at immigration desks without embarrassment unlike before.
Fixing Nigeria within a period of eight years that Obasanjo ruled and giving the enormous rots left behind by the military from 1984-1999, was not an easy task. Obasanjo was patriotically in a hurry to get so many things properly worked out, including substantial improvement in the energy sector, which also ensured regular supply of fuel at filling stations throughout his tenure.
With my closeness and constant touch with Baba Obasanjo, since he left office, I can assure Nigerians, that he says it as it is and will continue to, even if the negative comments are harsher than what they are at present.
I sincerely advice that, President Goodluck Jonathan should study critically, Chief Obasanjo salient points in his open letter to him and address them dispassionately & patriotically, rather than allow self-seeking and do-no-gooders; the very selfish and self-centered people to mislead him, into taking any untoward reaction concerning Obasanjo’s letter. I am of the opinions, that President Jonathan can sit down with the former President and straighten out issues for the good of all Nigerians. Nigeria as a nation, is bigger than all of us. Let President Jonathan sieve the chaffs from the grains He is a President I have the highest regard for.
* Asiwaju of Iragbiji, Chief Kolawole Ogunwale, was a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senator representing Osun Central Senatorial District from 2003 till 2007. He wrote from De Castle, Iragbiji, Osun State.