Fate and faith, as Obasanjo turns 85 years – Part 2
His mere support role behind Murtala, though dignified, was however short-lived, as the latter was assassinated in a very bloody attempt at takeover of power on 13th February, 1976. Totally unrehearsed, though latent with potentials, Obasanjo found himself at the pinnacle of national power as Head of State. His three years reign as Commander in Chief (1976 – 1979), was therefore premised on the continuation of what he started with his erstwhile boss. He therefore saw to the conclusion of the power transfer agenda on 1st of October 1979, an outstanding step which was an enabler for democratic rule for other African countries.
Post Jack-Boot Activism
The return to civilian rule in 1979 naturally marked OBJ’s exit from military service at just 42 years of age. He garnered much experience during his brief period as Head of State and also went through a profound transformation. From being a national leader, he began assuming a broader toga.
At a time when Africa was still in search of continental leadership, especially as the likes of Kofi Annan (1938 – 2018) who in 1997 became the Secretary-General of the United Nations and former South African President, Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013) were not yet on the scene, OBJ filled a natural vacuum. He became the voice of nascent African democratic ideal.
He also created an intellectual framework around himself by setting up the African Leadership Center at his farm house in Ota, Ogun State. This was the first of its kind, with American type setup of post Presidential office platforms for high level intellectual rigor. It actually ended up becoming a miniature Camp David and the ALC provided an atmosphere for exchanges on matters pertaining to Africa’s social and economic development.
Nationally, he also emerged a vocal voice for return of the military back to the barracks as they never allowed his democratic emplacement barely breathing space to fluster.
Come Back To Power
In the ensuing political “galabagalaba” as the Ijaws will say it, Obasanjo’s fellow town man, Chief MKO Abiola who won Presidential elections on 12th June, 1993 was not only denied his mandate, but incarcerated unjustifiably.
To worsen the injustice, Chief Ernest Shonekan (1936 – 2022), ace businessman, who was handpicked by same military junta of the day led General Ibrahim Babangida to form an Interim National Government (ING), got summarily shoved aside. This was just after six months in office. The climax of spiral national discontent, especially in the aggrieved South-West was the death of Abiola under circumstances that are still concealed in grey clouds, now twenty four years after. Expectedly, national reconciliation, and group appeasement of Obasanjo’s Yoruba ethnic nationality, which is Nigeria’s third-largest group, became compelling.
The question, similar to what the prophet Isaiah asked was “whom shall we send and will go for us”? The answer was not farfetched: Obasanjo, who was still shackled in maximum security prison! He was nervously released from prison in 1998 by, new military strongman, General Abdulsalami Abubakar and co-opted to enter the Presidential race in Nigeria under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) formed in that year. Expectedly, he easily won the election in 1999 and after ruling for four years, got re-elected in 2003 till 2007.
Performance And Reforms In “Agbada”
Baba’s return to political power was replete with remarkable accomplishments.
In snapshots, Nigeria’s relief from external debt by the Paris Club to a value of about $18 billion was particularly greeted around the world. By 21st April, 2006 a total relief of $30 billion from all sources had been achieved. It was a far departure from tokenism under the Heavily Indebted Countries (HIDC) initiative, which the World Bank introduced in 1996.
Restless and unremitting, wholesome projects, programmes and activities touching all aspects of national life has left indelible impact. In an extremely profound manner, he placed the accent of government policy on good governance and transparency as well building institutions, all critical nuggets of modern democratic practice that still appeared alien at the time in many African countries.
For all these, he instituted the institutional framework such as Bureau for Public Service Reform (BPSR), Public Service Training Institute, Bureau for Public Procurement Act, Electric Power Reform Act (EPSRA), Budget Office of the Federation, Debt Management Office (DMO), Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP). Others are Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE), Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC), Pension Commission (PENCOM), Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), National Communication Commission (reestablished), Nigerian Technology Incubation and Development Agency (NITCDA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Cabotage Act, Infrastructure Regulation and Concession Commission (ICRC) Act, Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC), Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), etc.
His government came up with multiplicity of initiatives and innovations in all aspects of the economy.
Furthermore, he pushed hitherto budding Nigerian businesses to the pinnacle of the world marketplace and global competitiveness. Not only one, but over a dozen Nigerian entrepreneurs and their business houses soon made it into Forbes ranking lists as continental big sharks that ride the roughest weather even in foreign waters.
During his years of civilian Presidency, OBJ was able to combine his over-stretched schedule at home with an itinerant activist diplomatic shuttling. Permanently, his Presidential jet, NAF 001, also nicknamed “BBJ” was in the air either visiting one of the 36 states of Nigeria or landing in various national capitals for meetings.
Evolution Into Global Eldership
On 29th May, 2007, Obasanjo completed his two constitutional tenures and left office. Exiting from a high political office as President of Africa’s largest democracy and perhaps one of the most heterogeneous nations in the world, it would have been expected that he will decelerate the pedal and take some deserved rest. No way! At age 70 when he left office, he rather became more brazenly active and restless.
To be continued tomorrow
Igali is a retired Ambassador.