In Africa, we do not celebrate the living but the dead. The biblical statement that a prophet is not without honour except among his own people is only true in Africa because Americans and Europeans are known to venerate their leaders while they are alive and much more when they are dead. But in Africa, it is the exact opposite. We vilify and condemn our leaders when they are alive and then turn around to praise them when they have departed to the great beyond. This explains why the wartime British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, has about 6000 biographies written in his honour while great African statesmen like Nkrumah, Mandela, Lumumba and Nasser each have less than ten biographies written in their honour. This piece is an attempt to do a synopsis of the achievements of one of the greatest African leaders of all times, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo while he is still alive so as to dispel wrong notions and misconceptions that those living may have about him and also to serve as a reference material for future generations of Nigerians who will not have the opportunity to have him physically present in their midst.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo rose to national prominence as a soldier in the Nigerian Army when as the General Officer Commanding of the highly skilled and efficient 3rd Marine Commando, he received the instrument of surrender from the Biafrans thus signalling an end to the Nigerian civil war(1967-1970). He was appointed as Federal Commissioner of works in 1974 by the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon with the task of building roads, bridges, highways and other infrastructural facilities in the post war oil-boom era in Nigeria. After General Murtala Muhammed came to power in 1975, Obasanjo became the de facto Vice President of Nigeria in his capacity as the Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters. He worked closely with General Muhammed in the formulation and implementation of several policies including the anti-corruption war (which was the first of it’s kind in post-colonial Nigeria), the purge in the civil service which ensured efficiency and effectiveness and the moral and financial support for radical liberation groups in Africa committed to the decolonization of the African continent.
Obasanjo’s initial incarnation as Nigeria’s Head of State in 1976 was purely by happenstance due to the gruesome assassination of General Muhammed in a failed coup led by Colonel B.S Dimka and other confederates. He swiftly swung into action by promulgating the Nigerian Enterprises Promotion Decree which encouraged the growth of an indigenous middle class. He made massive impact in the area of agriculture through his Operation Feed the Nation programme and it’s attendant creation of several River Basins mostly in Northern Nigeria. With Soviet assistance, he built the Ajaokuta Steel Complex thus laying a solid foundation for the industrialization of Nigeria. In the petroleum sector, two out of our four existing refineries namely Warri Refinery and Kaduna Refinery were built during his tenure. Obasanjo increased the number of universities in Nigeria from 5 to 13, my alma matter the University of Port Harcourt being among the newly created universities. He also made primary education in Nigeria free and compulsory through the promulgation of Universal Primary Education. Unity schools a.k.a Federal Government Colleges were established all over the federation during his tenure as military Head of State. Obasanjo continued his predecessor’s support for radical groups all over Africa committed to the decolonization of the continent when he nationalized British Petroleum due to the British government’s support for the Apartheid policy in South Africa.
In his second incarnation as civilian President, Obasanjo initiated several policies which set Nigeria on the path of greatness. He introduced the Global System Mobile phones which made telephony services available to the poorest of the poor in a clear defiance of the crude assertion made by a former Minister of Communications when he remarked that “Telephones are not meant for the poor”. He introduced Banking reforms which made Nigerian banks stronger, healthier and globally competitive. He created the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to bring about development in the Niger Delta and the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) to enhance literacy among Nigerians. He increased Nigeria’s foreign reserves from $2 billion dollars in 1999 to $43 billion dollars in 2007.He also created the Excess Crude Account;an account where oil revenues above the benchmark price of crude oil sales in the national budget where paid into. The money in the account was savings meant for the stabilization of the economy during periods of shortfall in oil revenue. The account balance at the end of his tenure in 2007 was a whopping $25 billion dollar. Nigeria’s exit from the Paris and London Club of creditors when she received debt forgiveness to the tune of $18 billion dollars was a testament to Chief Obasanjo’s international acceptance and love for his country.
Obasanjo is the most recognized, most influential and most respected Nigerian leader globally whether military, civilian, dead or alive. He has worked with several international organizations including the UN, AU, Commonwealth, ECOWAS e.t.c His list of achievements in diplomacy and international politics are too numerous that i am constrained by space to attempt a listing of all of them. He is the only Nigerian leader to receive 3 US Presidents namely Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush during their visits to the country. He is also Nigeria’s longest serving ruler with a cumulative total of 11 years in power.
Like all mortals, Chief Obasanjo is not without his flaws and failures. However, it will be a great disservice to his person and the nation at large if we continually dwell on his flaws and failures which when compared to his achievements in office is greatly infinitesimal.