Olusegun Obasanjo's story is an incredible tale by any stretch of the imagination. Here is a man of very humble origins, who managed to lead the world's most populous black nation not once, but twice. The first time as a military ruler and second time as a democratically elected president. In between these stints as Nigeria's leader, Obasanjo spent 3 years in prison. He was thrown in jail by then-dictator, General Sani Abacha, for criticizing the regime's woeful human rights record. This period in jail revamped Obasanjo's image from being merely remembered as the dictator that handed over to a democratic government, to a champion of the people. However, despite garnering the goodwill and admiration of the people, Obasanjo is now the subject of various accusations from adultery to corruption. These scandals suggest that at some point, the decisions Obasanjo made and whatever failures resulted therefrom, may have resulted in the squandering of his legacy. And the possibility of such a waste, is disappointing. But, as Nigerians consider that Obasanjo's legacy has been tarnished, it is important to remember that Obasanjo's story is Nigeria's story. The two are the same. Nigeria's legacy has equally been squandered, but unlike one man, a nation of 140 million people still have time to revamp its image and the story that outsiders tell about Nigeria.
As a democratic President, Obasanjo led the helm of a rapid rise in the nation's GDP via controlling inflation, and instituting beneficial fiscal policy. Under his leadership, Nigeria became the "first African nation to settle with its official lenders" when it arranged to have most of its debt erased by the Paris Club. Nigeria went on to create a plan that allowed it to pay off its debt. Obasanjo was also very skilled at bringing talented, well respected Nigerians back home to work for the federal government and make changes such as the current World Bank Managing Director, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Additionally, Obasanjo received much recognition for his role in dissipating the 2003 'Bloodless Coup' in neighboring Sao Tome & Principe. Obasanjo flew to the island with its temporarily deposed president, after negotiating amnesty for the coup plotters and conspirators. Obasanjo is also credited with setting up anti-corruption structures like the EFCC and the ICPC which, despite the criticism they have received, have retrieved at least N600 billion in stolen funds.
While president, Obasanjo received steady criticism from opponents and others. The criticism reached a head in 2005 when Obasanjo was accused of wanting a third term and encouraging supportive members of the legislator to amend the constitution to allow for such. In 2006, the military destroyed an entire oil village of men, women and children. This was just another incident of the military killing civilians especially after a massacre in 1999 that happened after 12 military officers were killed in a fight with villagers in Odi.
SINCE HE LEFT OFFICE...
However, the scandals only increased once Obasanjo left office and became the first Nigerian president to hand power to a another non-military president. Currently, Obasanjo is involved in the power probe which has revealed that he ignored due process in allocating contracts and paid $50 million to non-existent companies. He is now entwined in an ongoing probe by the National Assembly into allegations of unjust enrichment in his acquisition of several plots of land in prime real estate areas in the nation's capital, Abuja. But, even more damning are the adultery accusations leveled at him by his own son, Gbenga Obasanjo.
Despite all this, I cannot help but look at Obasanjo and think that his story parallels that of Nigeria. Think about it. Obasanjo, like Nigeria, could be considered the mighty giant that fell due to his failures. A giant full of promise that gave others much hope but eventually left so many disappointed.
As Nigeria looks closer into the failures of OBJ's administration, Nigerians must remember that just like Obasanjo, our country has also not lived up to expectations. As we point out the flaws, let us remember that Obasanjo's flaws are our flaws and that they must be remedied. Obasanjo's legacy might appear to be squandered at this moment, but it is possible for him to reinvent himself just as he did during the Abacha years. Alfred Nobel created one of the most dangerous substances known to man, dynamite, and he is now fondly remembered as the dead Swede that led to the creation of the Nobel Prizes of which our very own Wole Soyinka was a recipient.
Similarly, Nigerians must remember that it is never too late to rewrite our history. Regardless of tribe, religion, gender or class, Nigerians are, now more than ever, in the position to change how we see ourselves and how the world sees us. We can indeed create the Nigeria we all believe in by taking the time to improve ourselves, help those around us and encourage our elected officials and influential groups/citizens to take the proper steps towards greatness.
Only time will tell whether Obasanjo will choose to redeem himself. But, I beliee very strongly that Nigeria, despite the false starts, the "taking 2 steps back" and all the wahala ("drama") Nigerians face on a daily basis (the recent Brutish Airways incident being one of many), Nigeria will indeed become the unquestionably mighty giant it has always been.