Obasanjo: The message matters, not the messenger

THE pushback has been furious; laced generously with abuse, odium and reminders of his own past failures and missteps, real and contestable, critics of the letter penned to Nigerians by a former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, have inundated the media with rebuttals. The most vitriolic have come from the camps of the Presidency, which the letter had dismissed as disastrous and incompetent, and from the presidential candidates and parties it condemned while endorsing one of the contestants. Beyond the cacophony however, the former leader raised key issues on the future of the country that deserve deep introspection.

Obasanjo stirred the hornet’s nest when he released a “letter to Nigerians,” where he raised salient national issues. Given his antecedents, past partisanship, and his roles in the trajectory of the failing federation, many would say he deserves the bashing he has been receiving. The truth is that Obasanjo is part of Nigeria’s history; he can rightly claim to be part of its middling successes, but he cannot escape blame as part of its huge failures. The faulty foundation he laid as pioneer leader of the Fourth Republic, the ugly precedents he set and his anti-democratic disposition overshadow his few, though laudable achievements as two-term president 1999-2007.

Voters may also downplay his endorsement of one of the presidential candidates. That is his private right that is not binding on any other voter, and its influence on the ballot is debatable. Nigerians are also familiar with his frequent sanctimonious preachments not accompanied by example and his constant hugging of the limelight. But it would be wrong to dismiss the important issues he raised that speak to the current state of anomie, the country’s leadership deficit, the future of Nigeria, and the challenge before the youth. Being a two-time head of state (the first as military ruler) and commanding some global recognition, his interventions in national life, stripped of speculated motives, carry weight.

Nigerians should not be distracted, either by Obasanjo’s partisanship, or the fury of those who sought and were denied his endorsement, but are now fighting back like wounded lions.

There are important points to ponder in the missive. His assertions on the importance of the 2023 elections and making the right choice are spot on. Regular elections are essential in a representative democracy, the only acceptable way to choose leaders. With the country tottering so precariously, the importance of voting and doing so based on scientific, rational considerations cannot be over-emphasised. Poor choices over the last 23 years have produced woeful leadership at all levels and pushed the country towards failure.

Obasanjo’s description of the last seven and a half years under the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), as a movement “from the frying pan to the fire,” and “hell on earth” is glaringly accurate. The cumulative failures of successive leaders, beginning with Obasanjo himself, have peaked on Buhari’s watch. Poverty and hunger are on the rampage: 63 per cent or 133 million Nigerians are reckoned to be ‘multidimensionally poor.”The 2022 Global Hunger Index ranks country ranks Nigeria 103rd out of 121 countries with a score of 27.3 per cent rated as “serious.”

Insecurity has reached failed state dimension. The recent attack on a train station in Edo State in which 32 persons were abducted reflects the siege. According to the National Security Tracker, 9,076 persons were killed in violent incidents last year and 4,680 others abducted. SMB Intelligence reported that N653.7 million was paid as ransom to kidnappers between July 2021 and June 2022; more than 500 incidents were recorded, 3,420 persons abducted, and 564 killed by kidnappers. Hostage International listed Nigeria after only Mexico and Venezuela as having the world’s highest kidnap rates.

The Global Terrorism Index 2022 listed Nigeria sixth most terrorised country, ravaged by Salafist Islamic groups, ferocious bandits and Fulani herdsmen/militants, and shadowy gunmen in the South-East.

Nigeria is at the crossroads, riven by mutual mistrust among the ethnic nationalities and faiths, a battered and worsening economy and pervasive despondency. The economy is precarious; over 90 per cent of income is spent servicing the over N44 trillion national debts. The naira has recently lost over 200 per cent in value; inflation reached 21.47 per cent in November and is still climbing.

Most crucially, Obasanjo’s appeal to the youth and the wider electorate to use the opportunity of the 2023 elections to reshape their destiny aligns with the fundamental goals of democracy as a vehicle for long-term growth, the challenges of the moment, and the long-term advocacy of many, including this newspaper.

Nigerian youths have been ill-served, and along with women, children and the rural poor, the biggest victims of years of incompetent, corrupt and visionless leadership. They should take a decisive stand in the coming elections; complacency and boycott of the polls is self-subversive.

Unemployment among the youth is 42.5 per cent, according to the African Development Bank, compared to 33.3 per cent for the entire population. Trading Economics forecasts youth jobless rate to reach 57 per cent this year; 53.4 per cent of young Nigerians were unemployed in 2020, said UNESCO. Not only this, they are harassed by police, some killed and others dehumanised. Frustrated, many youths are emigrating legally and illegally, taking to crime, prostitution, and drugs at home and abroad.

Obasanjo’s message to the youth therefore resonates: “The power to change is in your hands. Your future, my future, the future of grandchildren and great grandchildren is in your hands. Politics and elections are numbers game. You have the numbers, get up, stand up and make your numbers count.”

The youth and indeed all registered voters should take critical look at the various candidates at every level, and taking their antecedents, character, plausible programmes and the company they keep into account, collect their permanent voter cards and make informed choices.

Democracy thrives when citizens participate in their numbers. The country cannot afford for much longer, the culture of corruption, maladministration, deceit, insecurity, economic ruin, and disrespect for the rule of law that have characterised the last 23 years. Only the voters can make that change happen.


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