What a difference a few years make. A decade ago, General Olusegun Obasanjo was hailed as a respected international elder statesman with goodwill at home and abroad. His return to politics has utterly tarnished his reputation and Nigerian newspapers are flooded with daily vitriolic attacks on his leadership, personality and private life. It seems that becoming President for a second time destroyed his legacy. What went wrong?

It seems that Nigerian leadership is a poisoned chalice. Each Nigerian leader is always welcomed with tremendous goodwill, but is usually savagely attacked and their legacy denigrated after leaving office. Prime Minister Balewa is not remembered as Nigeria’s humble golden voiced first independence leader. He is the forgotten Prime Minister that presided over a corrupt regime that was violently overthrown by the army. Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi’s role as the greatest African soldier of his generation is rarely mentioned. He is simply the forgotten leader who could not do anything right. General Gowon is not the magnanimous leader who led the country through its worst crisis and kept the country together after a brutal civil war. He is just another corrupt military dictator who stayed too long. Even the once reverred General Murtala Muhammed is now criticised for desroting civil service morale with his purges, and is often recalled as a “war criminal”. General Obasanjo’s role as the first Nigerian leader to voluntarily leave office is no longer remembered. President Shagari is remembered as a lame duck President that presided over a chaotic administration and who let his Transport Minister loot the treasury. Major-General Buhari is not a principled leader who tried to fight corruption and introduce sanity and discipline into public life. He is a heavy handed human rights abuser. General Babangida is the man who presided over the most painstakingly conducted presidential election in Nigeria’s history, then voided the results. Ernest Shonekan is a footnote. General Abacha was the man who took Nigeria to the depths of hell and ruined its international standing. The second coming of Obasanjo was not a welcome relief from decades of miliary misrule, but was the “worst” ruler in Nigeria’s history. How true? Has Nigeria ever had a good leader?

Have Nigerians been so brutalised by years of misrule that they reflexively criticise any leader? Nigerians are professional complainers when it comes to their leaders. Savage attacks on the country’s rulers in a national past-time. They have not been fair to Obasanjo in this regard. On both occasions that he has ruled Nigeria, Obasanjo has left the country in better shape than he found it. After he left office in 1979, each successive government after him was worse than the one preceding it. Then he bucked the trend when he returned to power in 1999. He inherited a broken, dispirited, bitter, bankrupt and ostracised country that was wrecked by years of misrule, military coups and looting.

Yet Obasanjo is blamed for problems he did not create and which he inherited. Little attention is paid to his accomplishments such as fighting corruption and at least elevating it to a national talking point. In the days of General Abacha, the General’s son was fond of using the Central Bank of Nigeria as a personal bank account and would withdraw raw cash from it. Before Obasanjo, no Nigerian public official had ever been prosecuted and convicted of corruption. Obasanjo’s drive against corruption claimed prominent scalps such as the Inspector-General of Police, and state governors. Such measures were unprecedented. His efforts to reduce corruption also led to Nigeria’s Paris Club debt being paid off, in the process making Nigeria the first African country to pay off its Paris Club debt. These debts it should be remembered, were incurred between 1980-1999 (the exact period of time between Obasanjo leaving office after his first stint as Head of State and returning to leadership nearly 20 years later).

Obasanjo also did something which no leader before him, military or civilian was courageous enough to do. He defanged the military, by retiring politicised officers and professional coup plotters who were responsible for the military coups that constantly stunted Nigerian democracy. Before leaving office and handing over to his successor President Yar’Adua, Obasanjo sarcastically noted the manner in which he is blamed for all of Nigeria’s problems, whether or not in fact he is responsible for them:

“Many of them blame Obasanjo, and like the man in the drama, even when his wife does not have a child, Obasanjo is to blame. And, if he wants only one child and his wife has multiple births, Obasanjo will be blamed. Those who blame someone else for their own inadequacies will want to substitute Obasanjo for Yar’Adua. But it doesn’t work because it’s only when you identify your own inadequacies and correct them that we would move forward.”

Site Updates: please note that the great speeches section has been updated with the speeches of (a) Gen Sani Abacha upon taking power in November 1993, and (b) Gen Abdulsalam Abubakar after the death of MKO Abiola in 1998


5 responses

  1. It is very true that Nigerians are being unfair to Obasanjo. This guy has done for Nigeria during his first and second tenure as leader of this country than what any other leader has done in terms of economic or infrastructural development


    Nigerians are anything but critical of Obasanjo and his style of leadership. Obasanjo’s undoing was his arrogating all problems and solutions to himself. Of course, he never ceased to tell anybody who cared to listen that he was not under obligation to take advice from his retinue of advisers and he never did.Obasanjo presided over one of the worst administration in Nigeria by the proclvity of that unfortunate administration to cronyism and the tendency for vindictiveness. After all did Iyabo Obasanjo not say as much in one of the interviews she granted to one of the Natinal dailies. When asked about the father’s tendency to avenge self, she drew an anology with a child sent to school and was often harrassed until he or she learns to fight back.He was equally egoistic and brooked no opposition. Recall that insecurity was rife within the period he presided over the affairs of the country. Any administration that fails to secure the lives of the administered,is a failure. In this wise his administratoin was running neck to neck with the often vilified Abacha government. Or was it not during his time that Bola Ige,Harry Marshal,Dikibo,etc died. Or have we forgotten the Odi and Zaki Biam holocausts. What about the unfortunate political brigandage in Anambra State.In fact, the man should be packed for the Country’s Hall Of Shame. Fast!

    1. That was articulate retort to a frankly irritating attempt at laundeing OBJ’s permanently tarnished image(like as if he had any positive image in the first place going by fela anikulakpo’s lyrical assessement of him even in his hey days in the 70’s)

  3. OBJ,
    Let them them continue to crisize u and that will give u long life. You kow Nigeria never appricate good things blc people needs to sit down and see the good work the man has done but people should stop codemimng him. Please leave him alone i believed he has tried his best for Nigeria. whatever opinion people have about him that is their own opinion he has tried, if only we can appricate him. He pick best brain to fight corruption, in financial area people like Ungozi Iunwela, Soludo CBN covernor and health area Dora Akuyili. the poor man has tried his best for niger Abeg.

  4. Tribalism is the major key of Nigerian downfall,..I have never see a country with many tribes progressing.OBJ is a disgrace in my own knowledge,he is not worth to be a president of a federal republic..To be sincere, if we goes to the root you will found out that this people that are defending OBJ are Yourubas or the ones that benefits one crime or the other in his regimes..SHAMELESS NIGERIA!!! SAY THE TRUTH AND IT SHALL SET YOU FREE,,..FOOLS!!!

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