Comments made recently by former President Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ) and General Muhammadu Buhari at separate occasions while they were abroad easily provide a lot of food for thought. They provide insights into the travails the country is going through now. A fortnight ago, at a debate organized by Club de Madrid on the topic:- “Meeting Sustainable Societies and Social Justice” in Geneva, Switzerland former President Olusegun Obasanjo declared that the present Nigeria government as it is constituted lacked the will and consistency to deal with the deep-seated malaise of corruption in the country. Though he never mentioned President Goodluck Jonathan in his exposition, it was clear as daylight that the comment was directed at the president. Expectedly, it gave rise to a rash of critical comments on the propriety of publicly casting doubt on the ability of the government to deal with a critical challenge facing the country at a time when it needs all the goodwill it can muster.
OBJ’s comment was seen as utterly disingenuous and in bad taste, aimed at undermining the government’s confidence as it searches for a novel way to grapple with the complexity of governance in the aftermath of the elections. Its inappropriateness emanated from the fact that it broke the unwritten understanding that a former president does not cast aspersions on the capability of the incumbent to govern, particularly when they are from the same party. And also, as in this case when it is widely believed that the incumbent is a protégé who owes his position largely to the former, therefore it is thought whatever misgivings OBJ may have could simply have been discussed on a one to one basis as against spilling it out at an international arena. So publicly lampooning his favoured choice for the position of the president smacked more like he was still covetous of the post he had vacated.
But much has been said already on this segment of the speech. My intention is however to draw attention to the part where he noted that were an uprising to start in Nigeria he would be the first person to be targeted. He told former Ghanaian president John Kuffour who was also at the occasion that in the event of mass uprising in Ghana he would have nowhere to hide. Apparently the debate was free ranging, touching on measures needed to meet the ever rising expectations of the youth whose restiveness in the face of scarcity of gainful employment and other opportunities have continued to become the concern of governments across Africa. Owing to the momentous event of the Arab uprising-- some prefer to call it the Arab spring to evoke the sense of renaissance and rebirth of the Arab World –no discussion on Africa would be complete without a reference to it as an intimation of what could happen elsewhere on the continent.
If indeed OBJ was quoted correctly, which seems to be the case because so far no cry of misrepresentation has come from his paid publicists, then it is a rare admission on his part that his long tenure at the helms left much to be desired, performance –wise. If as president he had done well why should he be anticipating that he could be a target of angry rioting crowd seeking to change things for better? The statement is an uncommon candour from an OBJ who all along had projected an image of a president who had all the answers to Nigeria’s problems and nothing deflates this posturing than the fact that four years after he reluctantly left the presidency all the litany of challenges—inadequate power, insecurity, unemployment and corruption etc -- have continued relentlessly to dog the country.
But he should not worry, Nigerians are not about to emulate Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen whose peoples broke the yoke of oppressive rulers through sustained uprising, which in Libya has run into a terrible quandary. Nigerians chose the course of democracy as a way of development, and who knows, perhaps with the sort of soul –searching of leaders climbing down from their high horses to own up to their inadequacies things might begin to change. It had better be otherwise the country may be faced with contending with the “fire next time”, to borrow the title of James Baldwin’s book, which might be difficult to put out.
This dark warning is inherent in OBJ’s statement. But it is even more so in General Muhammadu Buhari’s attempt at drawing a parallel between the virtual insurrection of the Boko Haram and similar groups and the feckless “Nigerian elite who steal public money.” The general told a Daily Trust reporter in London that he was “concerned about the insecurity and destabilization forces in the country”. “Anybody who steals public money…is as bad as the militants” and went on to blame the authorities for providing a breeding ground for militants and dissidents. ”Government” he said “must do things according to the law, if it does not then the people would try to look after themselves and this is what is happening now.” To wit:- a government that allows the scale of official malfeasance and theft as they exist now without applying the law stiffly should equally expect all kinds of outrageous, not to say maverick daring- do acts that have become second nature to us now.