Skip to main content

IBB And OBJ Can Accomplish Something By Sonala Olumhense

Following the earthquake in Virginia in the United States last week, someone asked me in New York: did you feel the earthquake?

Following the earthquake in Virginia in the United States last week, someone asked me in New York: did you feel the earthquake?

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('content1'); });


That was no earthquake, I answered.  I explained that the sinking, shivering feeling that shook and rattled people and structures hundreds of miles from Virginian was Libya’s Muammar Ghaddafi tumbling into the ocean. 

At about the same time, two of Nigeria’s former so-called leaders were telling the public, for the first time, what they truly thought of each other.  Nigerians were pleased that Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Bademasi Babangida were telling each other exactly what the populace has been trying to tell them for about 25 years: that only in Nigeria would either of them have got away with what they inflicted on their people. 

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('content2'); });

Here is the question is this: How do you measure a great leader?  It is on this question alone that the public spat between the two men must be considered.

You measure a great leader by the sense of hope his people feel when he leaves office. There is no other ruler, pun intended.

If a leader truly has served, upon his departure the people are awash with confidence and gratitude.  They are filled with hope and they speak in glowing terms about that leader.  If a leader served with purpose and compassion, the people know that they have been served, not served debris on their dinner plates.  If a leader has served, the people confront the future not with fear or recrimination, but with energy and boldness.

Let us apply this measurement to Nigeria, beginning with 1993.  In June of that year, “President” Babangida had brought an eight-year political journey of his own definition to a chaotic climax.  Casually annulling the best election in the nation’s history, he sent the country into tumult.
The obvious winner of that election, Moshood Abiola, who was Babangida’s friend, was denied his prize.  As it turned out, IBB had by his action also signed Abiola’s death warrant.

It is symbolic, not ironic, that the same IBB said last week that had he had the resources available to OBJ he would have shown his country “wonders.” That is proof that IBB continues to measure himself in convoluted riddles.  It has yet to occur to him that it is always about true patriotism, not mountains of oil wealth.  That is why the $12bilion that the Gulf War threw into IBB’s hands mysteriously vanished; he did not see it as resources to be used for Nigeria.
In his years in office, corruption in Nigeria became a legitimate trademark, as did the tortuous political and administrative gerrymandering he brought to a crash-landing in June 1993. 

His lying, conniving propaganda machine, which was known as “Mass Mobilization for Self Reliance, Social Justice, and Economic Recovery” (MAMSER), preached drivel IBB himself did not believe in.  It included re-orientating Nigerians “to shun waste and vanity and to shed all pretenses of affluence in their lifestyle, to propagate the need to eschew all vices in public life, including corruption, dishonesty, electoral and census malpractices, ethnic and religious bigotry.” 

IBB said he would have shown Nigerians wonders?  Actually, he did: Nigerians saw him investing fitfully in foreign economies.  He sent his children abroad to get an education. He and his family got their medical care abroad.

That June of 1993, when Nigerians finally kicked the pretentious “President” aside like a deflated felele ball, he said he was stepping “aside,” as though to the toilet next door.  The parting gift to his people of a man who said his military hero was Shaka Zulu was a divided and disillusioned nation.

Let us now apply the same measurement to Chief Obasanjo.  Thrown into prison by the same downhill skiing that IBB set in motion in June 1993, Obasanjo found himself back in power in 1999.  

Nigerians imagined that between the self-important speeches Obasanjo had made in the years since 1979 and his suffering under Sani Abacha, he was returning not simply to save the nation, but to ensure it thrived so much it could never again be sold into slavery. 

Obasanjo went to work, but he ended up employing the most baffling formula of all: several passes forward into the opponent’s penalty box, followed by a long backpass to his own goalkeeper. 

That is why his leadership was long on bluster but shallow in achievement.  He would wake up suddenly, brimming with a good idea, but by nightfall he would have subverted it himself.   It was in his theatre of the ad hoc that some of today’s monsters were bred.

Here is an abbreviated checklist of hope squandered: The very promising economic reform scheme, National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS), will be remembered as one of the most remarkable magic tricks since independence.  Within one year, even Obasanjo was not remembering the NEEDS he had marketed so proudly. 

The anti-corruption story was not much more than a scorched-earth offensive against his dead foe, Sani Abacha, from whom about $2.5 billion was recovered.  The problem is: the funds have never been accounted for.  The anti-corruption “war” had one other front, but most of its victims were Obasanjo’s political foes; his friends had nothing to fear.

Obasanjo won Nigeria a credible debt relief in 2006, but once he put the People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) most vicious locusts back on the farm, the gains quickly vanished.  Meanwhile, one “top Nigerian official” pocketed N60 billion in the debt relief process. 

Obasanjo was such an arrogant man he claimed he was the only Nigerian he could trust with a particularly lucrative Ministry.  Little wonder his wealth knows no bounds: from the Petroleum Trust Development Fund; the 2003 re-election campaign; the Presidential Library fund, he has had a lot of help.  And now he swaggers over industries; a vibrant secondary school; a university, a church, and a rejuvenated farm.  His reform programmes reformed Obasanjo from poor and powerless to rich and remorseless.

Little wonder that, in the end, it was all so good for him he was willing to bribe the entire federal legislature with humongous sums to enable him remain in office. 

The paradox is that he left office but remained in power: Not only did he singlehandedly determine his successor—a man he knew was hollowed out by physical sickness, political emptiness and philosophical weakness—he manipulated the PDP constitution to enable him retain Chairmanship of its Board of Trustees.  That is why each time Nigeria threatens the opponent’s penalty box, the ball is passed back across the field to her own goalkeeper.

And that is why Obasanjo, the Emperor from whom the Empire never departed, is incensed that anyone would challenge his sense of importance.   But he, like IBB, is making a mistake.  Once a hoodlum acts on the fabled question, “Your money or your life,” he is a hoodlum for eternity. 

IBB and OBJ are certainly rich people, but neither of them can claim to have enriched or ennobled their country half as much as was within his power, just as none of them can justify the size of his wealth.  The morale of this story is this: It is not how much they had to spend for Nigeria; it is how much of themselves they spent for Nigeria.

Each of these men had the opportunity to be remembered as a true hero, but they chose differently.  It is a sobering coincidence that in one of those inexplicable ironies, each of them lost his wife in a foreign hospital.  In his time, each man enjoyed an overwhelming sense of power, but regrettably not of history or of perspective. None was capable of the high-mindedness and sacrifice that speaks so eloquently for true statesmen.

Yes, I felt Ghaddafi falling into the Atlantic last week.  But I could not help feeling that had it been in the days of either IBB or OBJ, they would have welcomed him into Abuja like a hero.  They did it with Liberia’s Samuel Doe.  They did it with Somalia’s Siyad Barre. 

Unlike some people, I fully discourage the idea of a ceasefire between IBB and OBJ.  For a change, they can accomplish something, such as finishing an opposing army.  This country is not big enough for both of them.
•    [email protected]



googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('comments'); });