Nigeria is Sitting Dangerously on Keg of Gunpowder -Obasanjo
•Says govt driving people into poverty through poorly managed good policies
•Declares nation has disappointed Africa, world
•Prides self on recruiting some of the best hands
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, yesterday, took a critical look at the state of the nation and concluded that Nigeria was sitting perilously on a keg of gunpowder.
Obasanjo said the country was pushing many citizens into poverty because of poor implementation of good policies. He lamented that over the past 63 years, Nigeria had not lived up to expectations as the much-taunted giant of Africa, thus disappointing the continent and the world, at large.
The former president spoke in Abuja in a keynote address at the public presentation of a book titled, “Reclaiming the Jewel of Africa,” written by a former Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, who had also served as Minister of Finance, Olusegun Aganga.
Obasanjo said the disappointment cut across the board.
Obasanjo, who addressed the audience at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, virtually, said even though “Nigeria is a potential jewel of Africa, if you want to put it that way, we have never attained that position. Can you reclaim what you have never had or attained?”
He said, “Over the last 63 years, we have not lived up to expectations. We have disappointed ourselves; we have disappointed Africa; we have disappointed the black race; and we have disappointed the world.”
According to him, “What Segun (Aganga) has tried to identify, itemise and recommend in his book is the way forward. But the beginning of charting a new course for ourselves is to admit our failure because we have not always put the round peg in the round hole.
“We are carried along by ego and emotion of self, selfishness and self-centeredness, ethnic and religious jingoism, with total lack of understanding of the world we live in and gross misunderstanding of what development entails and how to move fast and continuously on the trajectory of development.”
Obasanjo identified two major, though interrelated, factors for all-round development.
“These are peace and security, which we cannot achieve without justice, equity and inclusive society,” he said.
He added, “And telling ourselves the truth, we have not done well on these scores in the recent past — in the last decade and a half.
“I will also point at the issue of education, where over 20 million children that should be in school are not in school. We do not need an oracle to tell us the consequences of that for tomorrow.”
The former president said skills acquisition, empowerment and employment of the youth seemed to be ignored or not appreciated.
He stated, “We do not need to look far for the remote causes of banditry, Boko Haram, kidnapping and other organised crimes.
“We are living dangerously on a keg of gunpowder, driving more people into poverty through good policies poorly and thoughtlessly implemented or bad policy and no policy at all.”
Obasanjo, who commended the author for making an impressive contribution to the body of knowledge on Nigeria’s development annals, said, “You are welcome to the League of Authors on Nigeria’s development endeavours. I hope this will not be your last publication.”
He emphasised the need to harness Nigerian talents in the diaspora towards the development of the country, saying, “The point I am making is that we have, both at home and in the diaspora, Nigerians who have attained world and best standard in their character, professions, attributes, performance and reputation in all walks of life. With such men and women, why are we underperforming at home?”
Obasanjo said Aganga “stands out as one of the best in these categories of best performers – home and away” and described the publication as a “timely and relevant book for Nigeria, coming out of practical experience, exposure, professional understanding and interaction.”
He claimed substantial responsibility for drafting Aganga into the “noble Project Nigeria, which I did midway into my incarnation as leader of Nigeria between 1999 and 2007. I first met Segun while he was the Managing Director of Goldman Sachs in London, a very important position in the financial world.
“He was part of the Bank’s delegation that visited me in Abuja between 2004 and 2005 or thereabouts. Both of us connected, quite naturally when he was introduced as Segun.
“But more importantly, because I was highly impressed with his contributions during our discussions, I challenged Segun, who was a diasporan to get more involved, from his base in London, in our nation-building efforts here in Nigeria.
“I am pleased to indicate that my call considerably inspired Segun to establish the Nigeria Leadership Initiative (NLI), which was registered in the United Kingdom in 2006. NLI’s mission is to create a growing, global network of credible, accomplished community-spirited Nigerian leaders, committed to taking responsibility for driving positive change in Nigeria and Nigerian communities.
“Because of its lofty objectives, NLI attracted the support of many global and international organisations, including the World Bank, which mandated NLI to replicate the initiative in Rwanda.
“Our administration also invited NLI to conduct a programme for members of the government in April 2006. This background explains why in 2010, I gently hinted the then President Jonathan of the need for him to appoint Segun as his finance minister. I did not feel let down by Segun’s performance in the two portfolios that were assigned to him. I remain proud of him for his performance.
“Let me make a point here. I always look in and look out for men and women of intelligence, track record of performance, ability, love of Nigeria and humanity and love and fear of God and courage with humility and integrity to serve Nigeria. None of them is perfect nor a saint but all those that I have so recruited, particularly from the diaspora, have performed creditably well in government.
“Segun Aganga is one of them. So are Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Lesley Obiora, Akin Adesina, Rilwanu Lukman, and Bayo Ogunlesi. There are others who secured international appointments after their services at the national level under my watch. Among such distinguished ones are Amina Mohammed, Babatunde Osotimehin, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Oby Ezekwesili, and Akin Adesina after he had initially been encouraged by me to serve at home.”
However, Obasanjo said, “Here I have my first minor disagreement with Segun on this book. It is not in terms of the content, which I will come to later, but in terms of the title. Should it be Reclaiming or Claiming the Jewel of Africa? If we have not reached there, which we have not, our first assignment is to reach there.
“Not long ago, I decided to have on record the experiences of some of the Nigerian ambassadors from independence to date. One of the first set of ambassadors, Ambassador Ogunsulire, during the interview, recollected that at the first meeting of the United Nations General Assembly attended by Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa for the admission of Nigeria as a member of the United Nations on October 7, 1960, Nigeria was referred to as Giant in the sun.”