FORMER President Olusegun Obasanjo has said Nigeria no longer enjoy the influence and power it wielded on the African continent in the past.
He blamed the development on poor leadership while addressing eminent citizens at the launch of a book, “The Letterman, (Inside the ‘Secret’ Letters of former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo”), in Abuja on Thursday. December 1.
The book comprises some of Obasanjo’s correspondences since he was young in the Nigerian Army and even before he joined the military.
Obasanjo advocates girl child education
Editor-in-Chief of Premium Times, Musikilu Mojeed, is the book’s author.
The book consists of letters Obasanjo wrote with uncommon boldness to his superiors and juniors in the Army, leaders in Nigeria and across the globe, most of which have never been made public.
The Chairman of the occasion was Mr Yusuf Ali, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) while former President Goodluck Jonathan was a special guest of honour. Jonathan was represented by former Minister of Aviation Osita Chidoka.
Addressing the gathering, Obasanjo said Nigeria already had everything it needed but lacked good leaders.
“I think we probably don’t appreciate what we have as a country. I believe if we appreciate it and make good use of it, we will do better than we do.”
Obasanjo averred that Nigeria was not where its founding fathers expected it to be.
For instance, during the administration of Jimmy Carter as United States President when Obasanjo was Nigeria’s Head of State, the US would not do anything in Africa without consulting Obasanjo’s government. But the former President said that had changed because Nigeria no longer commanded the respect it enjoyed.
Citing how Nigeria has lost its relevance, Obasanjo said Qatar brokered peace for factions in Chad after its former leader, Idris Derby’s death created a melee.
Qatar’s intervention led to the formation of a new government in Chad. Obasanjo said in the past, Nigeria would have played the peace-making role rather than Qatar.
He urged Nigeria to avoid overstretching God’s patience.
“I believe that the right lessons must be learnt. God has given us all that we need to have. That we are not doing what we should, God is not to blame. We should blame ourselves.
Obasanjo’s comments on the book
The former President said the author did not consult him before collating his letters into a book.
The ICIR reports that only the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto and the book reviewer Bishop Mattew Kukah knew the former President would be at the launch, as Obasanjo revealed in his speech.
Kukah had concluded the review before the former President, who flew in from Ethiopia in the morning, stormed the launch venue.
“As you have heard from Musikilu, he did not take my permission. Until last week Monday, I really didn’t know that he was writing a book when he brought me two copies. Hardback copies.
“I read the book. I was completely flabbergasted by the amount of work he has done in writing the book,” the former leader said.
Obasanjo said he didn’t know what to do, whether to punish the author or applaud his effort. “One, he didn’t tell me before doing the job, but he has done an excellent job.”
He said he first resolved to shun the launch, but after reading the book, he was happy.
According to him, he called the author at least twice to comment on some revelations in the book.
Obasanjo explained that Bishop Kukah convinced him to grace the launch.
The former President said he firmly believed in letter writing, stressing that it was key to human and social development.
He said he was not only raising concerns in his letters but providing solutions.
“I will go to my letters and see because there must be some that you (the author) didn’t show,” he said on the possibility of the author adding more to the book in the future.
He then said jokingly: “But when you were having that conversation, for the fact that you did not take my permission, you went into my archive, you connived with some of my staff, and you did what you have done, I was trying to seek advice from Bishop Kukah what I should do with you. Bishop Kukah started praying. This is not a matter of prayer. This is a matter of misconduct that must be punished.”
This newspaper reports that Obasanjo is famous for his critical letters to Nigerian presidents, including Goodluck Jonathan and the incumbent Muhammadu Buhari, whenever he thinks that governance is rudderless and the nation is veering into a precipice.
How I got Obasanjo’s letters – Author
The author, Mojeed, said he always maintained a good relationship with his sources.
He was at Obasanjo’s home in Ogun State nearly a decade ago for an interview.
The former President wasn’t happy with some of the journalist’s questions.
While departing, Mojeed asked about the progress of the Obasanjo’s Library, on which work was ongoing.
Obasanjo led the journalist to the project and conducted him around it.
The archive section of the library, where there were thousands of books and letters, caught his attention.
“We spent not quite 20 minutes. What fascinated me the more were the letters. Some blue boxes, some red boxes. What I was thinking at the time was that there could be letters that could form the basis for exclusive stories.
“I picked them, and I drew one. It had correspondences with foreign leaders. I drew one and pulled out the letters. But as I was about to flip through, Baba’s aides found out. Since Baba brought me there, I had to abandon the box. But at that time, my appetite was sufficiently wet. I thought I needed to come back here, if not for anything but for great stories that could arise from the library.”
He said the former President did not give him access to the letters, but he used his skills as a journalist to get them.
“This is completely unauthorized work. Baba did not give me access. In any case, I can accuse him of blocking access.”
Mojeed returned to the library later.
That was after he had contacted Obasanjo and the former President advised him to follow the rules.
He had also formally requested access to the library from its managers. They told him they had yet to open the facility to the public officially.
The journalist eventually got access to the archive section of the facility, where he took copious notes and also snapped many letters with his phone and iPad after he was told he could take anything out of the library.
“I suspect that if I had approached Baba and said these are the letters I have, and this is the work I’m doing, I suspect that he would not allow me.
Mojeed believes that he has access to all of Obasanjo’s key correspondences.
He also said he didn’t publish some of the letters, which he considered too classified.
According to him, some of Obasanjo’s aides called him and told him he should know that some of the correspondences were classified. He responded that the documents he published were over 50 years old and had lost their ‘classified’ status.
Meanwhile, Mojeed opined that Obasanjo did not explore the richness of his library enough in some of the books he published.
“I’ve read some books that Baba wrote, from ‘My Command’ to ‘Not My Will’ to ‘My Watch’ and a few of them. I believe that if Baba had known what he had in his library, the books would have been remarkably different. I believe he has forgotten a lot of things.”
Mojeed explained that the book has made him understand Obasanjo better.
He said growing up in the South-West, and to date, many Yorubas don’t like Obasanjo because they believe that he denied the late Obafemi Awolowo, who is from the region, from becoming President when he was a military Head of State.
But instead, he allowed the late former President Shehu Shagari to win the 1979 presidential election.
Asked if he justified Obasanjo’s letters, given his knowledge from those he read, Mojeed noted that there would be a need to get the side of the people to whom the former President addressed the letters.
However, he opined that his understanding of the letters showed the former President was very selfless, patriotic, and passionate about Africa and the black race.
Like Obasanjo, Mojeed said poor leadership was the major reason for Nigeria’s underdevelopment.
He said there would be no progress in the country if it failed to address the challenge of poor leaders it parades.
Book, a metaphor for Nigeria media – Dapo Olorunyomi
In his opening remarks, Premium Times publisher Dapo Olorunyomi said the media must hold the government to account and protect citizens’ rights to choose their leaders in a democracy.
“Paired with his tactical insistence on interpretations and on the keen understanding of events, rather than merely chronicling them, Mojeed lifts the work to the heights of professional history, restoring its authenticity away from what a 19th-century novelist, Zola, had called the vulgar nudity of facts.
“This work is also a metaphor for the Nigerian media, particularly in an election season, for the sub-text of all the letters in this book ultimately speaks to the key concern for the need for democratic governance of which goal is how to build states that are effective, responsive to social needs, inclusive, and accountable to citizens.”