Reflections on the ‘Historic’ and Disturbing Letter by Obasanjo

President Goodluck Jonathan and former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Photo credit: naija247news.com

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:

  1. 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;
  2. 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;
  3. The President’s tacit support to some of his aggressive kinsmen and known militants who threaten others for disagreeing with him;
  4. 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;
  5. Indirect fueling of the Boko Haram insurgency by refusing to take concrete and feasible steps to address it;
  6. Extreme intolerance by the government for any form of dissent by opposition politicians or civil society;
  7. 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?

President Goodluck Jonathan and former President Olusegun Obasanjo at a campaign rally. Photo credit: Y!Naija

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.

Thoughts on Nasir El-Rufai’s “The Accidental Public Servant”

Paperback and kindle editions available on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing

Publication Date: February 2013

ISBN-10: 1481967401

ISBN-13: 978-1481967402

“…to put on record my version of events…” is one of the reasons Nasir El-Rufai puts forward for writing his provocative autobiography, The Accidental Public Servant. It’s a book which could easily tie with Chinua Achebe’s memoirs, as the most debated in Nigeria’s recent history. Flipping through the pages, it was apparent that readers could choose to either verify or refute El-Rufai’s version of events in government, or appreciate its rare insight into the intricacies of Nigeria’s fourth democratic experience. I opted for the latter.

As the title suggests, the overall theme of the book revolves around the intriguing journey of an individual from very humble beginnings in an idyllic post-independence era, in a rural part of Katsina, northern Nigeria, to occupying one of the highest public offices in 21st century Nigeria. The reader glimpses into how El-Rufai’s fiercely independent, resolute, feisty and cerebral personality evolves from the tragedy of his father’s passing, the calculated attrition against Sunday, the primary school bully, the role-model influence of his brother in his early years and becoming a self-made private sector millionaire by his mid-twenties (p.36).

The “accidental” part of El-Rufai’s journey begins, from the age of 38 with his reluctant entry in government in 1998 as an adviser for the military government of Abdulsalam Abubakar. It continues through to his appointment as the Director-General of the main privatisation agency, the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) and then as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, and his membership of the elite corps of economic reformers between 2003 and 2007.

Along the way, lifelong friendships are built and broken, alliances are forged and betrayed and the gruelling challenge of public service and reform in the midst of entrenched practices and powerful vested interests takes its toll. He strives to balance public and personal interests with loyalties as he gets caught in the middle of altercations between a strong-willed President Olusegun Obasanjo and his equally powerful Vice-President Atiku Abubakar. At the height of these disagreements, El-Rufai inadvertently rises to a defacto Vice-President, a position which would ironically lead to his persecution and exile less than a year after leaving public office.

A refreshing aspect of the book is the revelation and demystification of the inner-workings of the highest levels of governance in Africa’s most populous country. For instance, El-Rufai stresses how appointments for the highest public offices, are mostly fortuitous, having little to do with meritocratic or rigorous processes. His narration of events during his first few days as FCT minister (p.199), what to expect after a ministerial nomination, the obstructive tactics of entrenched civil servants opposed to reform are insightful and invaluable details that offer a useful departure from textbook political theory or international ‘best practice.’

In particular, the author’s revelation that without a coherent plan, a new and mostly unprepared government minister could easily drown in administrative routine attending to “more than 100 visitors and 200 phone calls” daily for the duration of their tenure, is instructive (p.201). He discusses the immense influence such appointees wield and how they become devastated when they leave office, once the lucrative perks of office are withdrawn and the “hundreds of phone calls a day… drop to near zero” the very next day (p.393)! These are valuable disclosures for the younger generation planning to go into public service.

El-Rufai also underscores the absolute importance of political will by a president in effecting key reforms. With Obasanjo’s backing, the residence of the powerful chairman of the ruling party was demolished as part of the restoration of the FCT master plan (p.296) and a number of seemingly impossible tasks are implemented seamlessly. The reader thus gets a glimpse into Obasanjo’s ambivalent approach to governance: a wilful, ex-military leader, with an eye for good people, an ear for good advice and a vision for Nigeria despite his links with vested interests and rentier elite, but who was unfortunately consumed by his vindictiveness and narrow ambitions to run for a third term in office. The reader is likely to come off with a better informed and more respectable view of The Obasanjo personality.

El-Rufai also rightly reflects on a fundamental yet overlooked implication of the decline of Nigerian public education and constituent alumni networks which are critical to leadership and elite incubation (p.42-43).  He stresses how friendship and alumni networks in Barewa College and Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria proved useful in several instances in his life and in public service. He laments that the decline of hitherto elitist public institutions mean that their local and important alumni networks such as the Barewa Old Boys Association are now unavailable to foreign-educated Nigerians, his own children inclusive.

However, the scant mention of the highly controversial NITEL-Pentascope privatisation controversy is quite conspicuous. This is especially since El-Rufai studiously accounts for the key hallmarks and controversies of his stewardship of the BPE and the FCT Ministry. While the author does state that a full account of the NITEL saga would come in a BPE monograph (p.128), most readers would have appreciated at least a few paragraphs devoted to this contentious issue.

The author’s approach of divulging the inner workings of governance at the highest levels, and naming and shaming the key players irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliation is truly refreshing. Yet in a few instances, there’s a nagging feeling that he probably divulged too much. This ranges from revealing verbatim, some conversations which held in strict confidence to the extremely personal details about meeting and marrying his subsequent wives.

Notwithstanding, the rare insight El-Rufai provides into the highest echelons of power, politics and decision-making in Nigeria is unprecedented. The heated debate sparked by the book should prompt other key actors to document their own version of events, ultimately to the betterment of Nigerians outside the tight power circle. For Nasir El-Rufai the successful entrepreneur, technocrat, exiled student and now leading opposition politician, one can only wonder what the future holds.

Favourite Quote:

“Some mosques in particular consistently condemned me and prayed for my downfall. One or two declared me an apostate for daring to demolish a mosque, conveniently forgetting that Prophet Muhammad ordered the demolition of an illegal mosque in Madina Al-Munawwarah, some 1,400 years earlier. Many  of the affected ‘churches’ prayed that “by God’s grace, El-Rufai will go down, El-Rufai will lose his job, El-Rufai will die in Jesus’ name.” I was there for nearly four years and we removed all of them.” (p.212)

Part 2: Interview with Mallam Nasir El-Rufai on Sovereign National Conference and Other Matters

 

The is  the second part of the interview with Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, with focus on calls for a National Conference and Sharia Law. As with the first part of the interview, this was originally posted on Nigeria Village Square website HERE. Enjoy!!

 

Now What Podcasts : The NOW WHAT podcasts Series are initiated by a desire to chart a way forward for Nigeria following the January 2012 Occupy protests, Boko Haram and other security challenges and the seeming slide to anarchy in Nigeria. Each week, members of the NVS forum will exchange ideas in a round-table and will also invite high profile guests to offer ideas

On Saturday February 25, 2012, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai was our guest. Mallam Nasir El-Rufai spoke on Boko Haram, Sovereign National Conference, Security, and so much more in a very frank manner.

The following is transcript of the second part of the interview, with focus on National Conference and Sharia.


Mallam Nasir El-Rufai (Part 2)


SOVEREIGN NATIONAL CONFERENCE

Anchor: Thank you Sir. The next series of questions will be taken on by Ajibola Robinson and they will be on Sovereign National Conference and other general questions. Mr. Robinson…

NVS: I’ll like to start off with a few questions about the National Conference. You’ll notice I started off removing the word Sovereign from the statement. With that said, let me go on to the first question which is: It appears a large groups of Nigerians have become increasingly frustrated with the current state of affairs in Nigeria. As an example, yesterday, even the 19 Northern governors called for a review of the revenue allocation formula to states. A number of Nigerians both home and abroad believe thatthese are legitimate issues to be discussed in a wider forum, at the national level and in a discussion that involves all Nigerian nationalities.

We are at a point where we should sit down as a nation and have some kind of dialogue. This wider discussion will allow all stakeholders to bring their various grievances to the table. Issues like State police, revenue allocation, resource control, state agitation, and even as yu mentioned earlier, states that want to have Sharia law. What are your views on this? And would you be willing to take part in a process to discuss these issues?

El-Rufai: I support the national conference. I think that any opportunity we have to sit and discuss the terms of our federation is a welcome step. I have issues with “sovereign” and I’m happy you didn’t even mention the word because I think its impossible when you have a sitting Government that is elected no matter how flawed the elections are to have a sovereign National Conference.

Yes we should have a National Conference, yes we should agree on who should represent various parts of Nigeria to that conference. And I think we should discuss everything, nothing should be pulled off the table. I support that. As to whether I’ll be part of it? It depends on how the membership of those that will attend the conference is determined.

If the people of Kaduna or the FCT where I live elect me to represent them, or select me or in whatever way, I’ll be happy to be part of it. That is not an issue at all, I think there many issues for discussion in the Nigerian federation, and we should talk about them and negotiate them.

 

NATIONAL SUMMIT GROUP

NVS: In line with the above, I’m sure you’re aware there is a National Summit Group that had their first meeting. Dr. Reuben Abati was here 2 weeks ago and he said government is looking to engage in dialogue with the National summit group. Are you a member of this group? And when can the group be ready for a real national discussion and on what key action points?

El-Rufai: No I’m not part of any National Summit group. The National Summit group, I think is something that’s being promoted by Tony Uranta who is a Jonathan ally. I was invited and did not attend because I will not attend any summit that the government has a hand in putting together because I don’t trust this government. I don’t trust the agenda of this government and I will not be part of anything that they have a hand in putting together. So I didn’t participate, and in fact I think that the whole thing was a choreographed arrangement to lead to a certain conclusion. What the conclusion is, we are waiting because we know there is an agenda somewhere.

 

NVS: That is an interesting point, but it appears you support the wider national conference, but just not the summit group…

El-Rufai: It is, it is. In fact at that summit, a professor, I can’t remember her name, asked the question- ‘who is paying for this? 3 nights in the Sheraton, this big hall, who is paying?’ and Chukwuemeka Ezeife, one of the organizers of the summit seized the microphone and said ‘I will talk to you off camera’ and to me that smells of government sponsorship. And the fact that those that are sitting there, if you look at their faces you’ll know that they don’t have the money to sponsor this kind of thing clearly proves it. I support a wider conference, that is not being engineered and sponsored or directed by the government.

I think that we must find a way for every part of Nigeria to come together to discuss about these issues and agree on them, but not when the Jonathan administration is the hand behind it. I would not be part of it, I would not be part of it.

 

DOCTRINE OF SETTLED ISSUES

NVS: In an interview, the ex-President mentioned the “Doctrine of Settled Issues” Just like IBB today, Obasanjo in the past also informed the National Conference that discussions on the unity of Nigeria was a no go area, a settled issue as Nigeria was to remain a singular united country under all circumstances.

Recent reports from for twitter account, indicate you support a return to a pre-1966 Nigeria set up, with strong regions and a weaker center. Can you clarify the validity of this statement and if true, how will a 2012 and beyond Nigeria look like based on your pre-1966 ideas and more importantly how do you suggest we go about the process to restructure Nigeria?

El-Rufai: Well, look, both General Babangida and General Obasanjo were people that fought to keep Nigeria one, they were at the Civil War. Babangida took a bullet to maintain Nigerian unity. So you can understand his position, and I believe that Nigeria is better off together as one country, because the bigger we are the better, and I think our unity in diversity is better for all of us.

But that’s my point of view. I’ll prefer to see one Nigeria, I’ll hate to need a visa to visit Obi Ezekwesili or Dele Olojede or Ighodalo. These are my friends that are not from my part of the country but I want to assure you that if people want to put on the table the breakup of Nigeria, then it would be a legitimate topic. There’s nothing that cannot be discussed because there is no part of Nigeria that cannot survive on its own. So nobody should threaten the other. We must remain together if it is beneficial to all of us.

The situation where some people look at me because I’m from the north and say I’m a parasite is unacceptable, I’ll rather live with my poverty and dignity than to be insulted every day. So, those that are threatening to break up Nigeria should know that there are the Babangidas and Obasanjos of this world that are ready to take up arm to keep Nigeria one. But there are people like us that are willing to discuss it, so I do not fully agree with the Babangida’s doctrine of settled issues. That is his generation – he is a General and he had his reasons, and we all have our reasons for taking one belief or another.

Now, I have a preference for the pre-1966 Nigeria because we had strong regions, a fairly well functioning central government that was not too strong, and it worked. It engendered regional competition; it made all the regions of the country to develop their own internal resources. It had very little room for the kind of laid-back; wait-every-month-for-the-oil-money-to-flow. I think it worked better for Nigeria, it worked better for the North, for the West, the East and for the Midwest. How do we get there? I don’t know

The matter is we have 36 states in the federation with governors, with legislators and with Local Government chairmen, and you know what? They call the reins of power, they will not easily allow Nigeria to go back to the pre-1966 arrangement. But if I’m to have my wish we should be talking about Nigeria along those lines because I think that arrangement worked. Now we may need to tweak it and adjust it to take into account that we are in the 21st century and many things have passed under the bridge since then, but I think it worked, and I think if we put our heads together and think about a way, I’m sure we’ll find a way to negotiate and get to that end point. Do I have a road map? No, I don’t have.

 

SHARIA AND MINORITY RIGHTS

NVS: I think quite a number of people will appreciate that response. It cannot be of course argued that Northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim and also it cannot be of course argued that the Nigerian constitution recognizes the practice of Sharia law. Hence one can see why those states would want to be ruled by Sharia law.

What is not apparent is that a number of people will take issue with your statement the rights of the minority Northern Christian people, like the huge populations of parts of Kebbi State, Southern Zaria et al are being respected as well as the rights of the non-Muslim Southerners by also not being subjected to Sharia law. Do you have some comments on this? As this is a major complaint of those people within Northern Nigeria.

El-Rufai: Look, listen, I am from Kaduna state, and we have Christian minority in my state, and we had Sharia under Governor Madaki. Sharia does not apply to non-Muslims, as it is all over. There is nowhere, I challenge you to bring out the case of any non-Muslim brought to Sharia court to settle a dispute or to subject him to the criminal law, it’s not true. There isn’t one case, not one, people just say these things without looking at the facts…

We know the case of Amina Lawal, we know the case of Fatima the woman that was convicted for adultery which was quashed at the Court of Appeal. So, even for the Muslims that appealed (their cases) ultimately Sharia law didn’t apply to them. But there is not one single case, and I challenge anyone in your forum and in the Village Square, to produce a situation in which a Christian was brought before a Sharia court and tried under Sharia law, it doesn’t happen.

 

NVS: ……I lived in Samaru we have the sharia court of law near the market. So I know Sharia has always been there, but it just looked like, with the advent of civilian government it took a different dimension, it became like the law of the land.

El-Rufai: No no no no, let me explain Ajibola. What we have in the Northern states from time is the Penal Code. The Penal Code… of Northern Nigeria is based on Sharia. It was brought from Pakistan and Sudan, and modified and enacted for Nigeria. That’s what we have, the Penal Code that apply to all the northern states.

But the penal code is not strict Sharia, it’s a mix of customary law, a bit of Sharia and the common law. But you have Sharia court and Area court, and so on and so forth.

Sharia court then deals with only personal Islamic law- marriage, inheritance, divorce and so on and so forth. That was the scope of Sharia court then. What happened in the first Obasanjo term was, starting with Zamfara state and then across 11 northern state, the governors decided to expand the scope of Sharia law to include the criminal law, so when you steal a goat instead of going to prison for 3 months as it obtained in the penal code for instance, they cut off your hand. That is the only addition. And in all these laws, in all the Northern states that I know adopting Sharia, there were clear caveat that this does not apply to non-Muslims. The Penal code is the one that still applies to non-Muslims, and you have in many states in the North like Benue state, certain aspects of even the Penal code like the aspect relating to adultery, are not applicable.

So the penal code is a very flexible form of legal system, which I think, as a Muslim, I think have gone far enough to take care most aspect of Sharia as they relate to our personal lives as Muslims. But those governors crossed the line and went into criminal law, and that’s what this is all about. But like I said, even when they did cross the line and many of us disagree with them – even then, it did not apply to non-Muslims.

Engaging the Right African Leaders

Last week was arguably a sad one for most if not all Nigerians as the government’s credibility was assaulted on two fronts simultaneously – security wise and diplomatically. The first was a series of controversial statements credited to the former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo on the state of the nation and the second which eclipsed the latter, was the despicable terrorist bomb attack on the Nigerian Police Force Headquarters allegedly by the radical Boko Haram sect. Any Nigerian should be reasonably saddened and even infuriated by former President Obasanjo’s antics at various international fora and would be questioning why, he keeps being involved (or involving himself) at such gatherings knowing his antecedents, and thereby further rubbishing the already soiled image of Nigeria.

Obasanjo is notorious for his controversial, sometimes comically, crude remarks that perplex his audience to the point of irritation and on rare occasions provokes a sense of bewildered amusement. This peculiar “talent” of his appears to be particularly amplified whenever he is addressing a large gathering of important personalities within the country or mainly abroad. It is in this mould that his recent comments, last week at the 100th Session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva Switzerland that he would be one of the prime targets of rampaging, unemployed youth in the event of a revolution, and that the current administration lacks the “…will… and consistency” to fight corruption because corrupt people are “strongly entrenched” in the system, expectedly elicited varying responses from Nigerians. The latter statement in particular would have been the subject of a much wider debate if it hadn’t been overshadowed by the bomb attack on Police Headquarters.

Sure Obasanjo true to his boisterous and cunning self is no stranger to such contentious remarks whether at home or abroad. In fact in May 2010 at the Leon H. Sullivan Dialogue at the National Press Center, Washington DC, Obasanjo reportedly stated that even Jesus Christ cannot conduct acceptable elections in Nigeria. Some people found it amusing, others dismissed it as “Baba” acting in his characteristic attention-seeking manner, others yet found it embarrassing while many were disgusted at such blasphemous remark coming from a self-acclaimed “born-again” Christian. This is just part of his personality which at times seems crudely witty and humorous but increasingly these days becoming irksome, shocking, embarrassing and extremely infuriating due to the obvious dubiousness, duplicity, mistruths and outright manipulation of history underlining those statements.

The statement that he would be one of the prime targets in the event of a revolution is true to the letter given his increasing unpopularity from the twilight of his regime onwards due to his failed attempt at tenure elongation; his witch-hunting of political opponents using the anti-corruption agency EFCC; the lack of transparency and accountability in the management of oil revenues from unprecedented oil windfalls as he personally oversaw the Petroleum Ministry; institution of garrison and “do-or-die” politics and by implication his gross disdain for the rule of law evidenced by his complicity in the Anambra Ngige saga and most importantly, further impoverishment of millions of Nigerians despite huge amounts of money spent on poverty eradication programs like National Poverty Eradication Program (NAPEP), it is no surprise then that many are of the opinion that Obasanjo is allegedly the most unpopular and infamous politician in the country. The remark is nevertheless worrying as it is an implicit acknowledgement of the failure of his administration given the tremendous resources and opportunities at its disposal to take Nigeria to greater heights. In other climes, the media would have torn him to shreds for that remark.

As regards to the more controversial, scathing but dubious remark on the inability of the present administration to tackle corruption because corrupt people are “entrenched” in the system, one cannot but feel a sense of irritation, embarrassment and anger. The irritation and embarrassment stem from the realization that no former-leader of a nation aiming to be among the world’s top 20 economies, and to join the realm of emerging powers would go off to foreign lands, bad-mouthing his successors which he was very much instrumental in their emergence. I doubt if former US President George Bush would at any international event, say despicable things about the Obama administration, despite their being in different political parties or even coming closer home, former Ghanaian President John Kuffour bad-mouthing his successor President John Atta Mills.

The anger comes from the obvious duplicity, deception and brazen faux self-righteousness underlining such an explosive statement which is highly indicative of an increasingly erratic person, trying vainly to absolve himself of his role in the sorry state of affairs in Nigeria. Passing such a damning verdict on the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan and that of his predecessor late President Umaru Yar’Adua insults the collective sensibilities of Nigerians because no one can forget in a hurry how Yar’Adua was single-handedly imposed on Nigerians by Obasanjo via the 2007 elections adjudged by both local and international observers as the worst in the nation’s history. Or even the very prominent role played by Obasanjo in the emergence of Jonathan as the ruling PDP’s presidential candidate and his subsequent victory at the April 2011 presidential polls. It is an open secret that Obasanjo is the President’s unofficial chief adviser or in Nigerian parlance, his “godfather” for wherever you see the unassuming and pleasant face of Goodluck Jonathan, you are certain to see Obasanjo’s dark, ominous and amorphous silhouette lurking in the shadows. If Jonathan and late Yar’Adua’s administrations were and are incapable of fighting corruption as Obasanjo claims, can it be deduced then that it is Obasanjo’s fault because he was instrumental in their emergence? If as Obasanjo claims, the reason for this is because corrupt people are entrenched in the system, then is he tacitly admitting that he is one of those “entrenched” in the system given his prominent role in government and in the emergence of his successors? In saner climes, such statement would have warranted a rebuttal by the government, distancing itself from Obasanjo to signify its displeasure over such comments that obviously undermine it in no small measure.

The most infuriating aspect of all this by far is the fact that Obasanjo these days chooses to express his erratic and unstable behaviour in influential international fora. If this were done at home in Nigeria, it wouldn’t be so painful but this happening abroad is very embarrassing, further denting the already battered image of Nigeria, subjecting Nigerians to ridicule which is completely unacceptable. Infact my Facebook status update on this issue last week was so strongly worded that I had to delete it entirely because I felt it was un-African and inappropriate to refer to an “elder” and former President in that way (despite such an elder disrespecting himself) as words like “delusional” and “schizophrenic” featured prominently. It is particularly exasperating that of all the intellectual heavy weights with impressive records of achievements in office which Nigeria has to offer, who can ably represent a new face and new generation of enlightened Nigerians in international fora such as Donald Duke, Babatunde Fashola, Nuhu Ribadu or Nasir El-Rufai – their various shortcomings notwithstanding – it is Obasanjo rather that chooses to show-up at these events humiliating Nigerians. I understand that most international donors and bodies are increasingly adopting a new approach of involving African (former) leaders, policy makers or influential individuals in high-level development policy talks because of their clout, the respect they command and ability to influence the decisions of policy makers in their respective countries.

While this is commendable and all part of a relatively new international focus of development as a political process that requires engagement with the political elite, supported by recent UK Department For International Development (DFID) research amongst others, it is simply unfair and unacceptable that former leaders with dismal records who rather than command respect are greeted with opprobrium in their home countries are the ones involved. This was a sore issue that was brought up in an Africa Gathering and Guardian Global Development joint Conference on Monday 20th June where one of the attendees, a young African passionately argued against engaging political leaders who are unpopular, infamous, lack any credibility among the youth and are therefore incapable of contributing anything meaningful to the progress of their respective countries. His argument was in response to the composition of an Africa Progress Panel which includes Obasanjo chaired by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan with the objective  “to track and encourage progress in Africa, and to underscore shared responsibility between African leaders and their international partners for sustaining it”.

I believe most Nigerian youth and indeed African youth would prefer if people like Obasanjo who had all the opportunity, time and resources to make a fundamental difference in the lives of their citizens and the destinies of their countries, but didn’t, kept their highly duplicitous, half-hearted and unsolicited opinions to themselves and stop subjecting us the younger generation who will live with their mistakes and mal-decisions to international ridicule and embarrassment. For if Obasanjo truly cared about Nigeria, he would be giving constructive advice to the government of which he is an influential actor, rather than turning around and backstabbing it abroad. As for the international community, the youth fervently hope it would make greater efforts in engaging influential, respectable and enlightened Africans who can actually make a difference in our lives.