I am in Berlin for my own event but I had gotten an invitation from the office of Prof. Peter Eigen (Transparency International) to attend this specially organized lunch for Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo at the HUMBOLDT-VIADRINA School of Governance and Berlin Civil Society Center. The major reason I attended this event was to get a chance to ask the ex-president a few questions about his stewardship as the president of Nigeria between 1999 and 2007.
When the event started, Prof. Eigen actually spurred me into finally deciding I’d the ask question I felt Chief Obasanjo needed to answer. The Professor praised the ex-president so much I had to look at the table again to be sure it was not Nelson Mandela seated there. Do not get me wrong, the ex-president had his good and bad days as the president of Nigeria but there was no way he was as saintly as Prof. Peter Eigen made him look. I must admit that the introduction made a funny thought run through my mind; is this really the man who started Transparency International? When Prof. Eigen was done, I was even more convicted the audience – mostly Germans – needed to know that the just introduced Saint from Africa may not be as saintly as painted. We had lunch and then President Obasanjo spoke for over 30 minutes though scheduled to speak 20 minutes but that’s fine because after all he is “Baba.”
Question time Prof. Peter Eigen said. My hand was first up and the Prof. was fair in pointing me out to ask my question. I introduced myself simply by mentioning my name. There are a million and one questions you’d want to ask Chief Obasanjo given the chance. My own case was not helped by the fact that I had thrown the house open on Twitter for folks to tell me what question they’d have me ask the very powerful Obasanjo. I really wanted to ask him about his broke state coming out of prison in 1998 and becoming a billionaire years later during his presidency, but I felt that’d set the whole place on fire.
My question went thus:
“You have been severally praised for your economic decisions as President amongst other achievements. In the same vein, the 2007 elections which you organized is widely regarded as one of the worst in history, do you take responsibility for this?
Secondly, Nigeria is just about 52 years old and you held power for about 10 of those 52 years. Today there are 112 million poor people in Nigeria, do you accept responsibility for being part of why this is a reality in Nigeria considering the fact that 1 out of every 5 years of our Independence had you as President?”
These questions were just two of the many questions I believed the ex-president needed to answer and answer lucidly. Third term would have been another but I knew the answer to that during the live performances of the drama. I just wanted to see a man accept some responsibility for his failures as much as he does his successes.
President Obasanjo was visibly rattled by my questions. It of course did not help that his question and answer session started on a balloon-busting note considering the image of the Messiah Prof. Aigen had painted of him.
Obasanjo: You are one of these people that stay abroad right?
Omojuwa: No. I am based and have always been based in Nigeria!
Obasanjo: Let me educate you. Not one life was lost during the 2007 elections. The results of the 2007 elections was similar to those of 1999, 2003 and 2011. Thirteen innocent corpers (sic) lost their lives during the 2011 elections, if that is the type of election you want, good luck to you (note the Jonathan subliminal ?) | Note how the “success” of his election was never about whether votes counted or anything of that sort. By the way, you should google “2007 Nigerian elections” and see how several observers described it in the worst of terms but isn’t the Messiah always right?
Speaking further, the ex-president answered my question on taking responsibility on the unacceptable poverty rate thus;
Obasanjo: In 1999, 71 per cent of Nigerians were regarded as living under $1 per day. I reduced that to 54 per cent in 2004 and by 2007 it was under 38 per cent. The figures for 2010-2011 were 69 per cent. I accept no blame for the poor performance of others who came after me.
Fair enough some of you would agree. Through out his response, he was staring at my end but I totally ignored him because I felt returning a gaze may just add more petrol to the ex-president’s obvious burning anger. I had come to rock the boat it seemed. Most of the Nigerians there had gone to pose for pictures with him. Not that it wouldn’t be nice to have a good picture pose with Chief Obasanjo but my feeling at the time was with the Peter Aigen introduction of Obasanjo.
After the event I figured it would help to pick the ex-president’s brain a bit more. I allowed all the gentlemen get their picture rounds and the finally got the big boss to myself. He was the first to speak when he asked pointedly and accusingly, “who are you working for?” Now that is a classic question in Nigeria. The question arises out of the belief that Nigerian citizens do not do things like challenge authority by themselves, they had to have been sponsored by “vested interests.”
I replied him with a smile “I work for myself. I am a Blogger!”
He replied this time moving as he spoke, “a Blogger? That is not a profession. A Blogger, whatever that means. That is not a profession.” And I replied with an even bigger smile, “it’s all right sir.” And thus ended my first direct encounter with the man who has had the single most opportunity to change Nigeria. Whether he succeeded or not is not the call of this piece to make.
The ex-president had totally fit into the profile he had been painted by many with the chance to know him personally. I will find time to write about what he said about Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala that made me realize she remains in his black book still. Once an Olusegun Obasanjo, always an Olusegun Obasanjo.