“How Did He Become A Multimillionaire?”: See How Much Obasanjo Had In Account In 1999


OBJ in London, speaks on Buhari,
governors, secessionUROWAYINO WARAMI
30 SEP 2017
Says Yar’Adua was ignorant
Calls reporter ‘bloody idiot’ over questions
on Atiku Abubakar
As the lift in his luxury London hotel
rushes upwards to the 11th floor, Olusegun
Obasanjo squeezes my arm warmly as he
recounts his busy schedule of late. His aide
and two PR people nod approvingly as he
talks of his jet-setting across Africa, his
upcoming appointment with the
Archbishop of Canterbury, and his trip to
New York straight after.
With a new book to promote, the former
Nigerian president from 1999 to 2007 has
been busy. So too has the PR firm behind
the book, offering him up for interviews
far and wide.
Obasanjo can certainly handle it. Aged 80,
he may look like a cuddly grandfather. But
he still has plenty of fuel in his tank and
fire in his belly, as I am to find out later
this morning.
As we enter his hotel suite, an American
news channel is blaring on the television.
He instructs his aide to turn it down but
not off. “I won’t know how to turn it on”,
he says. His assistant shows him the big red
button on the remote before pressing it.
The screen goes black. “Now how will I
turn it back on?” the former president
asks, a touch irritated. The aide quietly
reassures him that he’ll personally see to it
as soon as the interview is over.
Obasanjo’s new book, Making Africa Work,
describes itself as “a guide to improving
Africa’s capacity for economic growth and
job creation”. Co-written with Greg Mills,
Jeffrey Herbst and Dickie Davis, it provides
a detailed overview of various political and
economic challenges facing the continent.
It warns of a growing youth bulge, and
provides dozens of recommendations on
how to encourage the private sector,
diversify the economy and deliver forward-
thinking leadership.
As we sit down across the small table in
his plush hotel room, I start by asking
Obasanjo how well his own president,
Muhummadu Buhari, has been faring on
these fronts since coming to office in 2015.
One thing the two men have in common is
the extent to which they polarise opinion,
though Obasanjo here is unrelentingly
equivocal.
“Buhari has made some announcements.
He has tried to keep on going in the area
of agribusiness, but not enough,” he says,
slowly and cautiously. “It is not yet enough
to prepare the ground for uninhibited
growth of the economy, which we need”.
Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo
“Not enough” seems a sparse and generous
reading of an administration that has
presided over Nigeria’s first recession in 25
years, rising youth unemployment, and
endless policy deadlocks. But even when
pushed on specifics, Obasanjo picks his
words carefully as he repeats familiar
combinations of faint praise and
sympathetic criticism of the man he backed
for office.
“Is Buhari doing enough about it?” he asks
at one point of youth unemployment. “I
don’t believe he is. Can he do enough
about it? Of course he can.”
Obasanjo’s vague and uncommitted
answers contrast with the book he just co-
wrote, which packs a handful of statistics
into virtually every paragraph and offers
dozens of recommendations. But the former
president does eventually hone in on one
specific: Nigeria’s frustrated young people.
The median age of Nigeria’s population is
under 18, and the youth demographic
continues to swell. There aren’t enough
jobs for them, and if Obasanjo were back
in office, his priority would be education.
“Youth em powerment, skill acquisition and
youth employment – education must be
able to do that,” he insists. “If you do that,
the ticking bomb of possible youth
explosion out of restiveness and anger will
subside.”
Obasanjo attributes young people’s
frustrations to many of Nigeria’s problems
today, including the ongoing agitation in
the south-east. Over the past couple years,
the region has witnessed widespread
protests, violence and military intervention
as calls for some states to secede as the
independent nation of Biafra have grown
in volume.
The former president maintains that
secession is not the solution, and says that
the government’s military interventions –
through which hundreds have reportedly
been killed – have “made things worse”.
But he accepts that young activists have
real grievances.
“All youth in Nigeria have legitimate
reasons to feel frustrated and angry,” he
offers. “The protesters don’t even know
what the struggle is all about, but if it gives
them false hope, why not hang onto it?”
What would be his solution to the
escalating crisis over calls for secession?
“Let the elders handle it or ignore it until it
loses momentum,” he counsels. “There are
elders in any community who are still
respected…After all, they’re their fathers
and mothers, grandfathers and
grandmothers, and can still be used
effectively.”
Empowering old people may seem a
counterintuitive approach to resolving a
problem he ascribes to young people’s
sense of disempowerment, but it is perhaps
fitting advice from a man trying to carve
out his own role as an elder statesman.
I ask Obasanjo whether devolution of
powers could also help assuage the
regional disillusionment. The idea of “true
federalism” and “restructuring” has
recently escalated into one of Nigeria’s
main hot button political issues, with
politicians, commentators and the media all
debating the topic at length.
But at this, the former president sits up
and fixes me with a stare from across the
table.
“I don’t believe in true federalism. What is
true federalism?”, he asks. The man whose
tendency in office was always to centralise
rather than decentralise power is suddenly
bristling. He interrupts with more
questions as I respond.
“Why are they not accountable? What
powers do they not have?”, he interjects.
“They have power,” he insists, poking his
finger, claiming that in all but a few
sectors, states can do whatever they want.
“In fact, state governors are more powerful
than the president. That’s the truth,” he
says. “If anybody tells you they want
devolution or true federalism, he doesn’t
know what he is talking about.” With an
audible huff, he leans back.
A broad range of current and former
lawmakers, civil society groups, and
millions of Nigerians would beg to differ.
So too would the ruling All Progressives
Congress (APC), which Obasanjo backed in
2015, at least in its manifesto, which
pledged to “amend our constitution with a
view to devolving powers”.
But a frustrated Obasanjo doubles down.
“The fact anybody talks about it doesn’t
mean it’s right.”

In Nigeria, Obasanjo’s eight years in office
remain highly controversial.
On the one hand, those who see him as a
saviour can certainly point to some
impressive successes. Coming to power in
1999, he inherited a country that was
fragile, coup-prone, indebted and corrupt.
In response, he defanged and
professionalised the army. His government
tamed rampant inflation, earned debt
relief, and built up considerable foreign
exchange reserves. And he established the
Economic and Financial Crimes Commission
(EFCC), a body that went on to prosecute
various high-profile figures – something
many Nigerians never thought could
happen – and recover billions of dollars in
the process.
Obasanjo’s supporters argue that, unlike
his predecessors, he left the country in
better shape than he found it. That’s no
mean feat.
But on the other hand, Obasanjo’s critics
have no shortage of ammunition either.
They point out that his macroeconomic
successes depended on high oil prices and
did little to improve the lives of the vast
majority of Nigerians. They complain that
Obasanjo imposed a handpicked successor –
the relatively inexperienced Umaru Musa
Yar’Adua who died three years into his
first term – on the country in chaotic
elections in order to maintain his
influence.
Obasanjo’s critics also say that the EFCC
ended up being a politically-wielded
weapon and that, if anything, systems of
corruption ossified under his watch. The
House of Representatives recently labelled
Obasanjo the “grandfather of corruption”,
while the EFCC’s former chair is reported
to have said corruption under Obasanjo
was worse than under his notoriously self-
enriching military predecessor.
Ten years after he stepped down, Obasanjo
still divides opinion. Many Nigerians – both
those who love and hate him – wish he
would retire gracefully on his farm. But
that doesn’t seem to be on the cards in the
foreseeable future. The 80-year-old
continues to pull strings and enjoys
significant influence within Nigeria’s
complex political web.
As Nigeria approaches the 2019 elections,
for example, the question of who Obasanjo
will back has been subject to much
speculation. Buhari has been ill for much
of his time in office and wannabe
successors, of which there is no shortage,
have been positioning themselves carefully.
Obasanjo is tight-lipped on his front. “I
don’t cross a bridge until I get to it,” he
states.
One thing that seems clear, however, is
that he won’t be supporting his former
Vice-President Atiku Abubakar. The two
fell out in dramatic fashion in 2007. This
month, there have been growing
suggestions that Abubakar is lining up to
run in 2019. Two days before I spoke to
Obasanjo, the former VP had issued a
challenge, calling on anyone with evidence
of his corruption to come forwards now.
When I ask whether he will respond to this
challenge, Obasanjo is unmoved. “Read my
book”, he says, blinking at me. Is Abubakar
corrupt? Is he fit for presidential office?
Would you support him?
“Read my book”, he repeats in answer to
each follow-up, unafraid to let his silence
fill the room.
By his “book”, Obasanjo is not referring to
the carefully-researched and co-written
Making Africa Work, but his autobiography
My Watch. Published in 2015, it comes in
three volumes, extends to 1,578 pages full
of copy-and-pasted speeches and reports,
and is the size of a small watermelon.
Obasanjo refuses to speak further about
Abubakar as we sit in his hotel room, but
the former president is not usually known
for holding his tongue. He is certainly not
afraid to pick fights and condemn his
opponents is public. However, the reverse
is also true: many Nigerians continue to
demand that he be held accountable for his
time in office too.
As one might expect of a man who has
published 2.2kg worth of autobiography –
not including previous memoirs My
Command and Not My Will – Obasanjo is
highly sensitive when questions over his
legacy are raised.
“Come off it. I had the largest poultry farm
before I became president, the largest in
Africa. The fact I have N20,000 in my
account does not mean I’m not wealthy,”
he snaps, referring to questions over how
he came to be a multi-millionaire despite
having just a few dollars when he entered
office. “Do you understand that?”
When talking about abstract policy,
Obasanjo tried to stay in ponderous elder
statesman mode, but the moment his own
reputation is under scrutiny, he switches to
street-fighter mode. He turns to attack and
starts pre-emptively answering questions I
haven’t even asked.
What’s your response to people who say
that while you were in off-. “My response
is that while I was in office, all sorts of
accusations were made!”
When your successor came into office, he-.
“My successor was ignorant! Totally
ignorant.”
I raise the ongoing problem of electricity
supply in Nigeria, and lessons learnt from
his efforts in office, but he interrupts
before I can finish again. “That is absolute
nonsense. There was a report from the
House of Representatives that proved that
wrong… So what the hell are you talking
about?”
I’m no longer sure. But what he is now
talking about are ongoing allegationsthat
much of the $16 billion spent on electricity
under his watch was lost through
corruption. Incidentally, contrary to his
claim, the report he says “totally absolved”
him in fact recommended he be
investigated and be “called to account for
the recklessness in the power sector during
his time”.
It’s around this time that the PR person,
who has been sitting dutifully in the
corner, proposes that now might be an
apposite time to wrap up. The former
president and I agree, but he is not quite
done.
As I try to explain that many Nigerians still
want to know about his time in office, he
accuses of me having been sent to
interview him by Abubakar and of being a
“bloody idiot”. I feel like I’m getting a taste
of why the octogenarian is still feared in
Nigeria today.
I collect my things and thank the ex-
president for his time. My notes remind me
to ask for a photo, but as he scowls at the
floor, I think better of it. An uninformed
and “disrespectful” youth, I have already
displeased the elder. Now is the time for
me know my place, bow out and be quiet.
Culled from Yahoo News

9 Replies to ““How Did He Become A Multimillionaire?”: See How Much Obasanjo Had In Account In 1999

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