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NIGERIA: Obasanjo says the darndest things

Former President Olusegun ObasanjoEVERY time Obasanjo says something, he reminds me of the American comedy series “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” hosted by Bill Cosby.

In the show, Bill Cosby asks the kids questions, hoping that they will give unexpected and bizarre answers. Just like any of these kids, Obasanjo’s utterances are sometimes downright bizarre and eccentric.

A few weeks ago, while speaking at Valparaiso University in Indiana, Obasanjo identified corruption, insecurity and infrastructural decay as the bane of Africa’s underdevelopment.

After many years of leading Nigeria, Obasanjo has finally started peeling away the layers of problems confronting both Nigeria and Africa. Nevertheless, he has failed to penetrate to the core issues.

This article is an attempt to help him understand the core problems related to Nigerian and African underdevelopment.

Nigeria and Africa have seen many years of inept leadership. By that I mean the leaders who understand the problems faced by their people, but only in retrospect. If Obasanjo’s observation is correct, it seems that he did not understand Nigeria’s problems during his years as Head of State and President.

Yet, the most vital quality of a leader is anticipating or, at the very least,  understanding the people’s problems while holding the power to make positive changes. As Leroy Eims defines it, “a leader is one who sees more than others see, one who sees farther than others see, and who sees before others do.”

So, my question to Obasanjo is this: When did you realise that the bane of Africa’s underdevelopment is corruption and infrastructural decay? Judging from history, it does not seem he understood these issues while in power.

This is surprising when considering that during Obasanjo’s presidency, Transparency International (TI) rated Nigeria as one of the most corrupt nations in the world.

In fact, corruption in Nigeria was higher than during the military rule. Yet, President Obasanjo did not do much to combat corruption. Speaking of infrastructural decay, Obasanjo’s presidency marked the worst period of infrastructural decay in Nigerian history. It was at this time that travelling on Nigerian roads became more dangerous than ever due to the severe state of disrepair.

If one considers also that Obasanjo did not make any concerted effort to revive Nigeria’s dying refineries, you will be left with only one conclusion, which is that Obasanjo started recognising Nigeria’s problems only after he left the corridors of power. All through Obasanjo’s years as President of Nigeria, the country exported crude oil and imported fuel.

Even with five refineries working far below capacity, Nigeria imported fuel during Obasanjo’s presidency. Moreover, Nigeria’s power and electricity supply suffered the worst imaginable problems during Obasanjo’s tenure. That, all of a sudden, Obansanjo has become an expert on discerning Africa’s problems is very surprising.

The only plausible explanation is that Obasanjo wants to remain relevant to discussions of Nigeria’s problems and the solutions thereof.

If all Nigerians think like I do, we will deny him that grandiose idea. As a society, Nigerians are enablers of grandiose ideas. But, beyond Obasanjo’s self-indulgent behaviours, I am more depressed with a system that allows such visionless persons to emerge as leaders.

In today’s world, for any society to make significant progress, it must evolve a system that can effectively curb the power appetite of leaders without vision, or leaders who see the people’s problems in hindsight. In fact, the future is bleak for any society with such leaders.

As bad and as depressing as it is that leaders like Obasanjo emerge in a country with more than 150 million citizens, his comments expose an even more disappointing trend. In fact, they expose a trend that has perpetuated corruption in Nigeria.

Even when Nigerians engage in corrupt practices, they see their actions as only a small cog in the wheel of corruption.  For instance, while collecting bribes, a police officer will be decrying the extent of corruption in Nigeria. In the same vein, a teacher who expects monetary or sexual favours in order to award a passing grade to a student decries corruption in Nigeria.  Nigerians do not understand that the general prevalence of corruption is the result of numerous individual behaviours.

There is no face to corruption in Nigeria. Nigerians treat corruption as a faceless monster that stifles national development and the prosperity of Nigerians. Nobody accepts that fighting corruption is a personal responsibility. In fact, this is what Obasanjo’s statement amounts to.

While Obasanjo presided over the most corrupt administration in the history of Nigeria, and while his personal actions portrayed him as, perhaps, the most corrupt Nigerian ever, he complains that corruption is the bane of underdevelopment in Africa. In any nation where citizens do not take personal responsibility for combating social maladies, the problems will continue indefinitely.

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