Monday, 15 December 2014

Olusegun Obasanjo: A master of deception

The shipping sector is inadvertently shaped by events in the larger Nigerian society. This is why I have taken the liberty to sometimes ‘deviate’ from discussing ‘core’ maritime issues to taking a broader view of the country’s socio-political environment.
In the past, I have written about former President Olusegun Obasanjo in this column. I particularly praised the former President for paying quality attention to the shipping sector during his tenure as military ruler from 1976 to 1979, and in his second coming as civilian President from 1999 to 2007. Obasanjo it was who reformed the ports, reformed the docklabour industry, signed the Cabotage Act and merged the National Maritime Authority (NMA) with the Joint Maritime Labour Industrial Council (JOMALIC) to form the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), among other bold initiatives. Obasanjo personally visited the port to commission the PTML terminal built by Grimaldi in 2006. The controversial 19 ships bought for the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) in 1979 were bought by the Obasanjo administration. And when we invited him to chair the opening ceremony of the third annual Nigeria Maritime Expo (NIMAREX) last year, he obliged and honoured the invitation.
Unlike President Goodluck Jonathan, Obasanjo was clear-eyed about the role of the shipping sector in national development. He also had a good understanding of the kind of policies to formulate and steps to take in setting the sector on a growth trajectory.
All of these said, however, Baba Iyabo’s egregious way of life should give any of his well-wishers concern. I wonder how the man sleeps. He seems to enjoy controversy and derive pleasure from attracting public odium to himself. He also doesn’t know when to stop. Since he reluctantly left office on May 29, 2007, Obasanjo has daily hugged headlines for the wrong reasons.
In a messy divorce proceeding between Gbenga Obasanjo, first son of the former President and his estranged wife, Mojisola Olayemisi Amope, which came to the public domain in January 2008; Gbenga accused his own father of having sex with his wife before awarding contracts to her. Gbenga’s celebrated marriage to Moji, which took place at the Archbishop Vinning Memorial Church, Ikeja, in April, 2000, headed for the rocks barely four years after the lovebirds exchanged marital vows. Gbenga stated in his affidavit that the paternity of the two children that are the product of his marriage to Moji was in doubt, considering the alleged multiple sexual relationships she had with several men.
As if that was not enough, in November of the same year, his wife of 45 years, Mrs. Oluremi Obasanjo, published a 142-page book entitled Bitter-Sweet – My Life with Obasanjo, which is an autobiographical account of her experience in the relationship with the man.
I have read the book and I found its content quite amusing and rather shocking. The book is a curious portrait of Obasanjo who started out in life as a kind, tender and loving person, but whose pride and arrogance later became dominant. It drips with the narrative of a once caring and romantic man who allegedly became a serial philanderer, often focusing on women quite close to the family.
Mrs. Obasanjo went further to describe her husband as "complex" and "a curious subject" who neither forgives nor forgets wrongs done him by others.
Her words: "Obasanjo is complex and a master of the art of deception. He is a curious subject. He is self-opinionated. This has become worse nowadays. Unfortunately, he does not forgive nor does he forget. He is a bohemian and can be an exploiter. I remember how he outmaneuvered me in a business deal."
Why would a wife go to such lengths to talk about her husband publicly? Well, you might need to read the book yourself.
We all remember vividly the provocative letter written by Obasanjo to President Jonathan in 2013. Obasanjo would condemn any government in power. Nobody else is good enough for Nigeria. Here is a man who delights in attacking all his predecessors and successors. Shagari, Buhari, Babangida, Shonekan, Abacha, Yar’Adua and now Jonathan all tasted Baba Iyabo’s caustic ‘koboko’ tongue.
In the snippets from his new book, ‘My Watch’, which he launched last week and which I read online, Obasanjo attacked every other person including Jonathan, Wole Soyinka, Atiku Abubakar and several others. He accused Jonathan of not heeding advice and the question I ask is ‘Why must Jonathan do what Obsanjo says?’ No one was beyond reproach. No character was too big to be cast in what he considered to be their true image, which, in most cases, is contemptible. Some personalities who have presented themselves as leaders and reformists will have to present counter-evidence to defend their reputation: Abubakar Atiku, Bola Tinubu, Tony Anenih, Nasir El Rufai, and many others. In the book, their characters were presented as defective as their personas are large. Obasanjo described former Vice President Abubakar Atiku as a “blatant and shameless liar”. Nasir El Rufai was described as “a brilliant man, economical with the truth”. He was not much kinder to some Yoruba chieftains whom he described as preferring rather to be “rulers in hell, if they cannot be rulers in heaven”. He described Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as “definitely one of the worst cases” in terms of corruption. He was much kinder to General Mohammadu Buhari whom he said “would not be a good economic manager” though he would be “a strong, almost inflexible, courageous and firm leader”.
In December 2013, the former President’s first daughter, Iyabo ruled out further communications with him until his death. In her reaction to a letter entitled “Before it is too late”, which the former President wrote, sent to President Jonathan and leaked to the media, Iyabo described her father as a liar, manipulator and two-faced hypocrite determined to foist on Jonathan what no one would contemplate with him as president. She accused him of having an egoistic craving for power and living a life where only men of low esteem and intellect thrive.

Obasanjo has had his time. He ruled this country with an iron fist for 11 years and he should learn to become a statesman. He must not have his way at all times and the sitting President is not bound to take orders from him. Obasanjo’s regime as civilian president recorded modest achievements for this country but he now runs the risk of casting to the swine, his own legacies.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

End of the year, so what?

Sometimes being a writer totally sucks but then; writing gives one the unique opportunity of serving as the conscience of the society.
Being a professional writer is a strange and wonderful thing - kind of a combination of philosopher and vagrant. It permits experiences that a fortunate few will ever get to have, and many more that would make most 'normal' people wonder why on earth someone would purposefully subject themselves to such emotional torment.
It was in light of this incredible cross-section of joy and despair, inspiration and rage, that I drew up a set of questions to enable the maritime sector analyse the Year 2014.
I am embarking on this exercise because in order to embrace the new, we must release the old. It is said that a trapeze artist cannot swing from one bar to another without letting go. An important part of preparing for the New Year is to review the past year—to release it—and to learn from it.
My questions (and answers) aim to stimulate the thinking of the movers and shakers of the maritime sector. You don't have to agree with my answers though.

Q: What did we accomplish in the maritime sector this year?
A: Nothing.

Q: What would we have done differently? Why?
A: Everything, because none of our past approach worked!

Q: What key project did we complete?
A: None.

Q: What were the three most significant events of the outgoing year?
A: Seminar, seminar, seminar

Q: What did we do right?
A: Nothing.

Q: What were our biggest challenges/roadblocks/difficulties?
A: Government.

Q: How is the maritime sector different this year than last?
A: Roads into the ports are worse off. Nigerian ship owners are worse off. PAAR did not function as promised. Importers/agents still cut corners, as disclosed by their leaders.

Q: For what are we particularly grateful?
A: Ijora bridge did not collapse in the year.

Honestly apart from a few private operators in the industry who raised one's hope of a better tomorrow through their committed investments, everything else points to a gloomy future for our beloved maritime sector. For example, it is two and a half years already since President Goodluck Jonathan hosted a retreat on charting a roadmap for the development of the maritime industry. Several stakeholders enthusiastically attended the retreat with the hope that the sector would finally get a deserving attention from the Federal Government. A Presidential Committee was set up with the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar as Chairman and maritime lawyer, Olisa Agbakoba as Vice Chairman. The committee members worked within their terms of reference and promptly submitted their report to the President. The President, I learnt, referred the report to the Economic Management Team. The EMT made its input and returned the President for implementation but that was the last anyone heard of it. Does this show seriousness in developing the maritime sector?

I will be happy to know your own answers to my questions.