David OgulaFriday, January 26, 2018
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New York


ormer President Obasanjo has been in the political arena in Nigeria for over four decades. In military uniform and as a civilian, he held the highest office in the nation for 11 and a half years, more than anyone in the history of Nigeria. This places him in a unique position regarding policy and politics and he does not hold back from expressing his opinion on issues of national interest. Obasanjo has spoken again about the state of Affairs in Nigeria as he typically does when he thinks the country is heading in the wrong direction. I have assessed some of the responses to Obasanjo's letter, including the government and Ajaye Temitope's responses. All sides present very persuasive arguments.

Through the years Obasanjo has issued public statements and letters to Nigerian Heads of State from Babangida, Abacha, and Jonathan to Buhari. These statements often attract visceral responses from those who view him as self-serving and part of the problem, not the solution. While I may not agree with all Obasanjo's views, ignoring his warnings have turned perilous for previous occupants of the highest office in Nigeria.

Obasanjo himself indicated in an interview following his recent letter that he was only airing his personal opinion, which he has the right to do as a Nigerian. But Obasanjo is not just an ordinary Nigerian. As a former Head of State and President he has unique perspectives and insights that regular people do not have - as he stated, he has age on his side and authority derived from his unique position in the history of our nation.

Obasanjo made some points in his letter to President Buhari worth acknowledging: First, Nigeria attaining "zero hunger as contained in Goal No. 2 of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN. He linked this to the role of Nigeria in moving Africa forward, stating that "for Africa to move forward, Nigeria must be one of the anchor countries, if not the leading anchor country. It means that Nigeria must be good at home to be good outside." Second, the menacing problem of herdsmen/crop farmers which terrifies ordinary citizens and is holding the nation hostage, just like Boko Haram. Third, nepotism in deployments that border on clannishness and inability to discipline errant members of the president's court. Fourth, poor understanding of the internal political dynamics of Nigeria. Fifth, the widening internal divide and inequality, and sixth, the President's health. These issues have all been in the news for some time. Reports attributed to the First Lady indicated that the President is surrounded by a cabal and "hyenas" prowled when the President was on medical leave in London. Obasanjo's voice adds credence and elevates these allegations to the point of criticality. The president must take steps to address them, even if they are perceptions. Perceptions must not be allowed to become the defining reality of Buhari's administration.

Of all the points made the one that strengthens Obasanjos' call for President Buhari to "dismount the horse" is the President's health. The others can be fixed with the human capacity for continuous learning. However, if Buhari accurately judges himself physically and mentally fit to run the country, he must be given the chance to complete his term and an opportunity to run again in accordance with the constitution. If on the other hand, the President knows in his heart that his health would impede his ability to effectively run the affairs of Nigeria, he should dismount. It will be an added insignia on his shoulder.

This is not to diminish President Buhari's accomplishments, the most important of which is setting the tone that has curbed the culture of impunity in looting public funds. Nigeria needs leaders with courage and integrity; men and women of conscience to rise and stir Nigeria in the right direction. Both Buhari and Obasanjo fill these roles, though in very different ways. Buhari's approach which seems to demonstrate a revolutionary fervor may be direct and less malleable, but is nonetheless necessary to clear the mounds of political and economic debris. By contrast, Obasanjo's approach combines intelligence, pragmatism and street-smart - Obasanjo's ardent critics must consider that he is not a revolutionary but an evolutionary figure in the Affairs of Nigeria. Given the innumerable interests vying for influence in Nigeria and the complexity of the challenges of the nation, the latter approach seems more realistic and its impact on the population less painful. Obasanjo personifies the wisdom of incrementalism in addressing Nigeria's myriad challenges, not the messianic expectations projected on leadership in Nigeria. I hope Obasanjo himself did not make such projections on Buhari.

In a country where nationalists are treated as ethnic traitors, both must be viewed as beacons of hope for advancing the course of our nation. Ajaye Temitope made a very good case outlining the accomplishments of the Buhari administration. Given that the country was at the brink of collapse with the culture of impunity, pervasive corruption resulting in non-payment of worker's salaries, stagnated infrastructure development and debt owed to contractors, Buhari's leadership in curbing these maladies deserve commendation. The on-going diversification of the economy, the revitalization of the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, increasing inflow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and changing perceptions of the investment climate are positive signs of a recovering economy. The benefits of these measures will take some time to permeate the economy. The expectations of a quick fix, free flowing money and fast and painless recovery are unrealistic.

It is evident from the pile of debris Buhari inherited that the time he has spent in office is not sufficient to clean up the mess. Nigeria needs all the assistance she can get to pull her out of the cycle of dysfunction. It will also take time to lay a solid foundation for sustainable economic development in all parts of the country. Nigeria has a wealth of talent at home and in the Diaspora - people longing to positively contribute toward the development of the nation. Nigeria, like other nations must tap into the large reservoir of talent to overcome its challenges.

Regardless who rules Nigeria, those we with knowledge, skills and ability to advance the country should step forward and participate in the coalition for the progress of Nigeria.