I communicated my interest in having a video-recorded exclusive interview with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, to his aides as soon as it became clear to me that I would need to be visiting Nigeria for compelling family reasons. I moved swiftly, to alert a Nigeria-based and veteran professional colleague in advance, to get his crew ready for a panel interview to be jointly conducted by the two of us at the President’s hilltop residence in Abeokuta. The idea was to do a production that should have been as professional as possible. Bearing the typically unreliable Nigerian factor in mind, however, I devised a plan B to fall back upon if my professional colleague failed me. I took my amateur kit with me to use as a last resort.
No sooner had I arrived Nigeria on February 29, 2016 than I received a call from the former President’s Personal Assistant the following morning, telling me that Baba was in town on Wednesday the 02nd of March 2016 and would be able to squeeze an interview with me between his tight schedule that was consumed by his upcoming birthday bash on the following Saturday. No other date could be guaranteed.
I was frozen dumb by the sudden chill that went up my spine. It was virtually impossible to get my professional colleague to assemble his crew within the same day and make a strenuous trip from Benin City to Abeokuta on that same Tuesday for an early morning interview the very next day. I gave it a try all the same and my inevitable nightmare scenario became the reality. I had to fall back on plan B.
That was the origin of my nightmare story of amateurish filming that was only better than nothing at all. It was the story of an amateur kit operated by a novice that was hastily converted into a makeshift cameraman.
As usual, Baba received me happily in his opulent living room in the early hours of that Wednesday. The room was already filled with visitors, who all arrived on appointment hoping to get hold of the ex-President as early as possible before he got immersed in the day’s schedule.
There was, therefore, no time for long-drawn pleasantries and I got down to business as a sole interviewer. I humbly apologize for the miserable quality of the video material, particularly the audio that was hardly audible at the beginning of the recording.
Physical fitness and smartness
I started off by asking the former President the secret of his smartness and physical fitness as this will come as no surprise to people who know him at close range. Visibly looking nothing less than 70, the President never fails to enthuse observers with his energy reserve and extraordinary physical activities. I actually remember a day in his company in London sometime in the year 2014. He was to locate an address somewhere in Central London and his embassy-assigned Chauffeur had mistakenly parked his car roughly half-a-kilometer at the wrong address. Upon noticing the flaw, President Obasanjo would not step in the car again to cover the 500-meter-distance. Defying the protest of his Personal Assistant he simply said “We will walk the distance” and walk he did to the amazement of all. I, therefore, chose to toe the traditional African line of conduct by not asking an elder what his true age really is.
His candid insight into his private life, revealing his sporting activities on the golf course, the squash court and tennis court, marks a rare moment of getting personal with the former General. In the section of the video recording that was marred by a very poor audio, the President explains the psychological state of mind that he has developed over time that sees him not dwelling on bitterness, hearsays, anxieties and unnecessary worries. He emphasizes the need to watch what he eats, when he eats and how much he eats. He sees his present physical condition as the cumulative impact of several factors.
No, No, No!
When we went political however, I was struck by the fact that he carefully avoided any statement on where, precisely, he thinks the government of his political foster son Goodluck Jonathan derailed. I attached much importance to this question because I know a school of thought that strongly believes that former President Jonathan derailed in the moment that he sacrificed the Obasanjo power base for the combined power base of Ibrahim Babaginda and Edwin Clark. I deliberately refused to press him further on this question due to limited time and other important questions that I had in mind.
In fact, he does not deny that he played a pivotal role in seeing the emergence of Goodluck Jonathan as President of Nigeria. The involvement of ethnic minorities in the business of national leadership in a country that belongs to all the ethnic groups, was a matter of urgent priority to keep the nation functioning.
Given the generally accepted poor scoring and rating of the Goodluck Jonathan’s government and the negative perception that it ended up embodying, however, I pointedly asked General Obasanjo if he has “any regrets and apologies” for facilitating the Jonathan Presidency. I was struck by his emphatic “No, No, No!” The installment of a President from an ethnic minority was in his views the ultimate fulfillment of Nigeria. If there should be any regret whatsoever, it would probably be the impediment that Jonathan’s failure constituted to Nigeria’s progress.
In his inimitable trademark manner, President Obasanjo is simply candid, down-to-earth and unflinching.
Naira 2.8 billion oil money that was missing
He addresses several issues thereafter, ranging from the usefulness of President Buhari’s current globe-trotting that is coming under massive attack through the dwindling price of crude oil, agitation for Biafra (which he simply considers to be dead and buried), the present state of the People’s Democratic Party (which he also believes is as “dead as Dodo[sic]”) down to the contentious issue of the allegedly missing Naira 2.8 billion oil money of his military days.
President Obasanjo laid the blame for the Naira 2.8 billion oil money scandal fairly and squarely on mass media sensationalism. The handwritten note of an external auditor, who sought to figure out, how precisely Naira 2.8 billion – the entire budget of that year and the rough equivalent of $ 5 billion at the time – was spent, somehow found its way into the hands of journalists, who ended up sensationalizing an auditor’s question mark that they did not truly understand.
Now simply sit back and enjoy the full video and join the debate to take Nigeria to the next level.