My friend and colleague Sonala Olumhense recently
offered a prayer for ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo.
He wished for the man to live long in order to get a
true measure of how Nigerians regard him.

Well, the verdict is not just trickling in, it’s
coming in a deluge. Many Nigerians want the man in the
dock—to answer for his myriad misacts in office. Last
week proved instructive in this regard. First,
activist lawyer Femi Falana told an audience that it’s
a matter of time before Obasanjo is invited to account
for the source of his sudden wealth. Like many
Nigerians, Falana is amazed that a man who was
virtually bankrupt when he emerged from Sani Abacha’s
gaol has turned into a mega commercial farmer.
Temperance Farms in Ota, all but moribund in 1999, has
become a miracle cash cow, generating—as Femi Fani
Kayode told the BBC two years ago—a monthly profit of
about $250,000. Besides, Obasanjo has gone ahead to
buy choice farmland throughout the country.

If Obasanjo can demonstrate that he managed the feat
of turning around his business fortunes without
resorting to corrupt means, then he deserves the most
prestigious endowed chair at the Harvard Business
School. The rest of the world should drink from the
spring of his business genius. But if he can’t account
for the startling rejuvenation of his businesses, then
he may deserve a different kind of endowed chair—back
in the hole where Abacha put him. And there are, I
hazard, millions of Nigerians who won’t mind seeing
that happen—sooner rather than later.

Falana was not Obasanjo’s lone nemesis from last week.
An unlikely salvo came from Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, one
of the ex-president’s erstwhile acolytes. This is how
close Iwuanyanwu was to Obasanjo: he anchored the
ex-president’s campaigns in the southeast in 1999 and
2003. He was also one of the misguided champions of
Obasanjo’s third term gambit. When the ruling PDP
orchestrated one of the political farces of this young
century by declaring Obasanjo the founder of modern
Nigeria, Iwuanyanwu was there to lend his imprimatur.

In short, Iwuanyanwu, who can’t seem to decide between
road and political contracting, is not one to be
mistaken for a reflexive Obasanjo-basher. Yet,
Iwuanyanwu seems to know a troubled, expired political
product when he sees one. Last week, fresh from a
meeting with Umar Yar’Adua, the current occupant of
Aso Rock, Iwuanyanwu felt a need to disabuse Nigerians
of the notion that Obasanjo was the nation’s remote
controller. Obasanjo, declared Iwuanyanwu, has no
power in the party or government. He stopped short of
dubbing the ex-president a spent force.

Last week as well, Pastor Tunde Bakare, for eight
years a consistent thorn in Obasanjo’s side, asked his
congregants to pray that no corrupt public officer,
including Obasanjo, escaped justice. Turning his
attention to the ex-president, Bakare said: “We know
how much you weighed before you became head of state,
you have to give account of how much you are worth now
and how you came by it.”

There was more of the same in the Vanguard of last
Saturday, August 4. The headline told much of the
story: “Probe Obasanjo, others now, Nigerians tell
EFCC.” Part of the report disclosed that many
Nigerians believe that “what EFCC is doing is mere
scratching on the surface of the problem” of
corruption until the agency turns “its searchlight…on
the bigger boys of the last administration at the
federal level for the wanton and flagrant looting of
the national treasury.”

Continued the report: “Specifically, many Nigerians
are demanding that the
EFCC turns its searchlight on former President
Olusegun Obasanjo who also doubled as the energy
minister and his vice president, Atiku Abubakar who
presided over the affairs of the PTDF and bring them
to account for their actions in office.”

Among those who made the cry for justice was Iro
Dan-Musa, a member of the Board of Trustees of the
ruling Peoples Democratic Party. His exact words: “If
the EFCC would be sincere and extend its investigation
to all levels of government in the former
administration, nobody would be spared. If we look at
the resources this country made from 1999 to the
present time at all levels, we will agree that there
is a problem. In other words, you can hardly let
anyone off the hook in this war against corruption and
financial impropriety.”

One of Obasanjo’s wives, Major Moji Obasanjo, even
lent her voice to the chorus to probe the
ex-president. For her, it was appropriate for the EFCC
to pry into her husband’s wealth. “It is okay to do
that,” she said, “because I have been asked several
questions on the official conduct of former President
Obasanjo. When I went for a presidential debate during
the election, somebody said that Obasanjo has a
refinery outside the country and expected me to react
to that.” Her reaction? “I told them that I don’t know
because really I don’t. We don’t need to bring
sentiment in anything that has to do with the nation
especially in its fight against corruption. There
should be no sacred cows. Yes, former President
Obasanjo is my husband but then, justice has to be
done. If he has a case to answer, let him be quizzed
because I have been asked questions on his official
conducts on many occasions.”

Balarabe Musa, former governor of old Kaduna State,
was even more direct in echoing Mrs. Obasanjo. The
anti-corruption agency’s failure to investigate
Obasanjo, said Musa, makes “nonsense of everything the
EFCC has been doing.” Then he added: “Former President
Obasanjo has many allegations against him some of
which have been made public at different times but he
made no replies to them. If you ask me, Obasanjo is
more corrupt than those indicted by the EFCC who are
currently being tried. EFCC, ICPC and Code of Conduct
Bureau should probe Obasanjo now that he has lost the
immunity that covered him all these years.”

Ayo Adebanjo, a politician and leader of Afenifere,
told the newspaper that Obasanjo and former Vice
President Atiku Abubakar ought to be queried. “There
are many questions begging for answers of these former
public officers,” said Adebanjo. “For instance,
Obasanjo allegedly had only N20,000 in 1999 when he
came out of prison. How did he become the
multi-billionaire that he is now? Atiku Abubakar
allegedly saved him from bankruptcy but he has not
said anything on that. How did he purchase Transcorp
multi-million shares with only N20,000? He has
questions to answer and EFCC should go after him now.”

One of Obasanjo’s gravest scams was his diversion of
the nation’s resources to wangle a constitutional
amendment that would have enabled him to own the
presidency unto death. It was no secret that billions
of naira was spent to bribe legislators into assenting
to the rape of the national will. In the heat of the
illicit campaign, each reluctant legislator was
reportedly offered a bait of N50 million.

Jigawa State’s former governor, Saminu Turaki, has
told the EFCC that, at Obasanjo’s behest, he put in
over N10 billion of his state’s income in the third
term war chest. Turaki specifically named Andy Uba as
the man who picked up the money on behalf of the
former president. Uba rushed out with a tepid
refutation, implying that Turaki’s fertile imagination
had run away with him. I’m sorry, but I found Turaki’s
claim more convincing than the denial.

In fact, Turaki was far from being the only governor
to make a foolish, imprudent investment in the dud
that was third term. Many other governors, seduced
with promises of getting automatic third term berths,
also dipped hands in their state treasuries to support
a crooked proposition. Obasanjo and his aides threw
slush funds into a diseased political project, but the
former president could neither find the money nor the
inclination to repair the Sagamu-Ore-Benin
expressway—perhaps the most heavily used highway in
the nation.

In the past, with Obasanjo still in the saddle, the
EFCC had chosen to feign ignorance. The commission
pretended not to know that the whole third term
charade was sponsored and sustained through corrupt
inducement. It is time the commission got cracking,
and got to the bottom of this mess. Obasanjo’s
depraved pursuit of third term in the face of
unmistakable national opposition brought the nation
dangerously close to anarchy.

Obasanjo’s major contribution to Nigeria’s political
experience may well be as a chastening, cautionary
tale about the limits of power. Though gifted with a
great outpouring of goodwill in 1999, Obasanjo chose
to fritter away his fund of goodwill in pursuit of
self-aggrandizement. At each dramatic turn he placed
himself on the wrong side of public expectation. He
consorted with thugs and more than a smattering of
criminals. Then, as he faced the certainty of his exit
from office, he began an effete attempt to rig
history. He declared himself founder of modern
Nigeria. He even suggested that, without him as our
perpetual guide, Nigeria was lost.

He has lived long enough after leaving office to grasp
the low regard in which he’s held in and outside of
Nigeria. Any praise that’s come Yar’Adua’s way so far
owed precisely to his reversal of Obasanjo’s policies
and renunciation of the ex-president’s odious style.
Last week, few Nigerians used a flattering word while
speaking about Obasanjo. The delusive founder of
modern Nigeria has turned into Nigeria’s chief
villain.

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