Last night, I was distracted from concluding my tribute to Mandela which I started writing a few days ago. This distraction was the lengthy 18-page open letter (PDF) written by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to President Goodluck Jonathan. I took my time to read the letter described as ‘historic’ by Premium Times (which broke the story) in detail. For obvious reasons, this document and its contents have gone viral within the Nigerian online and mainstream media, public discourse and even the international media.
What frightens me deeply about the contents is not the allegations made, but that General Obasanjo (the President’s mentor) made these grave accusations. Disturbingly, the allegations only confirm many rumours that have been going round (most of which I hitherto refused to believe in) such as:
- Clannishness and ethnic factionalism in government on the part of the President in favoring his Ijaw kinsmen principally, and his region to the exclusion of other Nigerians;
- Deliberate polarisation of Nigerians across a North-South and Muslim-Christian divide to such a level not seen since the Civil War, to further narrow political ambitions;
- The President’s tacit support to some of his aggressive kinsmen and known militants who threaten others for disagreeing with him;
- Brazen corruption and impunity in government on a scale unrivaled in Nigeria’s post-independence history (the $50 billion unremitted by the NNPC surpasses the $12bn windfall earnings which disappeared under General Babangida. This is just one of numerous cases) — crude oil theft and systematic plunder of the nation’s wealth by powerful people;
- Indirect fueling of the Boko Haram insurgency by refusing to take concrete and feasible steps to address it;
- Extreme intolerance by the government for any form of dissent by opposition politicians or civil society;
- The existence of a clandestine “killer squad of snipers” and a political watch list containing over 1,000 names;
…and many other such allegations.
Where are we heading to in this country!?
Just on Monday this week, we found out about the Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s letter alleging that $50 billion (N8 trillion) went missing under NNPC’s watch between 2012 and 2013. Then on Tuesday, the Speaker of the House of Representatives accused the President of encouraging grand corruption. Then on Wednesday, this scathing letter from Obasanjo was published.
All this is barely two months after the corruption scandal involving the President’s close ally, the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah. Nothing yet has been done about this.
This systematic plunder of our country’s resources and values is perpetuated against the backdrop of monumental crude oil theft in the Niger-Delta and other numerous scandals.
Is this a country we can thump our chests about? What example are we setting for the rest of Africa? Is this the leadership that will create a strong and united country? What future (or lack of) are we building for our offspring?
True, General Obasanjo is not at all blameless in all this and he is one person whose intentions are always, always, ALWAYS suspect. We vividly recall how his ambition to elongate his tenure beyond the constitutionally mandated two-terms threatened to plunge the country into chaos between 2005 and 2007. Perhaps, as the late Whitney Houston once sung, Jonathan “learnt from the best”.
Yet, given Obasanjo’s close relationship (as a mentor) with President Jonathan, it would be extremely naive and foolish to dismiss these allegations in their entirety.
Say what you want about Obasanjo, but at the very least, his administration established a relatively effective EFCC to fight corruption, established an effective NAFDAC, reformed the Federal Inland Revenue Service, the Customs service and many other institutions. Where are all these institutions today? Where is the EFCC today? How many parallel, overlapping, redundant and toothless committees have been set up to do the work that the EFCC has been obstructed from doing?
I ask this question, where are we heading to?
To the Nigerians reading this, put aside your ethnic, religious and regional allegiances briefly and please ask yourself sincerely: ‘Is this the Nigeria I want, is this a country I am proud of’?
The late Madiba, Nelson Mandela expressed his anger at the behaviour of Nigerian leaders. This is a prime epitome of the leadership Mandela was referring to.
One interesting thing to note is that this is a toned down version of the letter. The original version, according to Thisday newspaper was so harsh that former Head of State General Ibrahim Babangida advised Obasanjo to revise it.