By OLABODE OPESEITAN
Happy birthday to President Olusegun Obasanjo, a feisty leader who meant different things to different people.
I absolutely did not like the way he persecuted Globacom Chairman, Otunba Mike Adenuga. It was a low point for his administration.
I remember visiting Aso Rock to meet the ADC to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to deliver a message from Dr. Adenuga while my then principal was in exile, after being hounded by Nuhu Ribadu’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) mainly to settle political scores. During one of the follow up phone calls, the ADC said Yar’Adua asked him (Adenuga) to freely return to Nigeria, assuring that he would not use the instrumentality of state to unjustly persecute anybody, especially those who were creating jobs in the country. Yar’Adua believed such personalities should be cultivated, not antagonised or terrorised so that they could help to create more jobs.
The second low point of the Obasanjo Presidency, for me, was the heavy-handed manner in which his government handled the withholding of federal allocations due to Lagos State local governments. The FG had sanctioned the state for creating new local government areas. Even after the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that there was nowhere in the 1999 Constitution where the President was authorised to suspend or withhold the statutory allocation payable to Lagos State or any state on this matter, the FG kept insisting on why it would not release the funds. The same Femi Fani-Kayode who is now masquerading as an advocate of rule of law, played the ignoble role of justifying Obasanjo’s failure to obey the Supreme Court ruling. That recalcitrant action easily could have crippled Lagos state if not for the ingenuity of Bola Tinubu’s government.
The third low point was the failure to upgrade or build quality infrastructures including roads (Benin-Ore road, Lagos-Ota road and others too numerous to list were in deplorable conditions), airports etc. Neither was the government able to provide adequate electricity nor fix the refineries.
In spite of all these shortcomings, the Obasanjo Presidency was still a success. Obasanjo is a patriot who loves Nigeria passionately. While you may accuse Muhammadu Buhari of ethnic bigotry, Obasanjo is a true statesman who wants the best for every part of Nigeria. Some of his enduring legacies include the Pension Fund from which the Buhari government now wants to borrow trillions of naira, GSM, debt relief, security, agriculture and business growth. During the Obasanjo Presidency, more Nigerians were gainfully employed. Many people were so comfortable they could easily buy brand new cars, particularly in Lagos. The middle class enjoyed an unprecedented growth.
The Central Bank of Nigeria Governor then, Charles Soludo said he was always on his toes because President Obasanjo could call at anytime to ask why the CBN was not giving enough support to the productive sectors of the economy. Obasanjo firmly believes that whatever is not tracked does not get done.
The biggest impact Obasanjo has on me personally was his decision to further his academic studies at an advanced age, culminating in a PH.D when he clocked 80.
I spent the last one year in the United States acquiring every knowledge I could from Post Graduate Diploma in Digital Business Strategy (PGDDBS) to Application of Artificial Intelligence to Business Strategy and Entrepreneurial Studies.
When I looked at the curriculum of the PGDDBS anchored by Professors from Columbia Business School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (#MIT), Sloan, I almost backed out because it was too intense. But when I remembered President Obasanjo, I told myself, if Baba could go through what was probably a more rigorous process at a much older age, then I could. And I did, in flying colours.
Congratulations to Baba Obasanjo. May God Almighty continue to give you more wisdom and courage to pressurise our leaders (who seem to be hard of hearing) to do the right thing.