For the fact that Buhari is currently in power, and it is therefore difficult to discuss his previous and current times in office, we shall skip the Buhari era.
General Babangida took over from Buhari in 1985. Perhaps, no Nigerian leader has deliberately studied the country and cultivated networks across the nooks and crannies of Nigeria like Babangida. He is also the most misunderstood Nigerian leader. He started a deliberately well- articulated programme, assembled arguably the best cabinet to date and embarked upon the most profound and most fundamental political and economic engineering in the nation’s history. In his eight years as military president, there is virtually no institution that Babangida did not impact upon, directly or indirectly.
Babangida was said to have “institutionalized” corruption, but what his government earned in the eight years of his time as military president is not up to what the subsequent Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government got as revenue in one year. And the difference is very clear. Babangida created 11 states and many local government areas and saw their effective takeoff; he did the Third Mainland bridge in Lagos and the only dual carriageway in the north from Abuja to Kano; he created enduring institutions such as the National Defence College, NIA, SSS, DIA, NDIC, NSITF, DFRRI, People’s Bank and, above all, he effectively moved Nigeria’s capital to Abuja from Lagos.
In contrast, what has the PDP got to show for the trillions they got in the last 16 years? Poverty, illiteracy and diseases, I suppose. In addition to the billions Nigeria got since this Fourth Republic from high oil price in the international market, the PDP government sold virtually all the nation’s assets, including thousands of government houses, and looted the monies realized. With the mindboggling revelations of the stealing and unprecedented looting of the nation’s treasury particularly in the immediate past administration, the Babangida administration is appearing like a saintly one in comparison and can be rest assured that history will be kind to it because now we know who really institutionalized corruption. One legacy of Babangida that is not frequently mentioned is the fact that he consciously tried to mentor the youth and women in both political and economic spheres and he ran an inclusive national government that did not alienate any part of Nigeria. He is good at balancing and that was why the most radical and the most conservative elements of Nigeria all found accommodation in the IBB regime.
Chief Ernest Shonekan, who took over from Babangida, is the only Nigerian leader who did not come through either election or military coup. He made his name in business and is an accomplished corporate person, heading the UAC for many years before he was appointed chairman of the Transition Council and subsequently head of the Interim National Government. Chief Shonekan is coolheaded, amiable and a team player. It tells a lot about his forgiving spirit that he later served as chairman of the team that drafted the Vision 2010 Blueprint of National Development under the person who overthrew him, Gen. Sani Abacha. Like Shonekan, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar was an accidental leader who took over after the death of Abacha and organized the shortest transition that ushered in this Fourth Republic.
Obasanjo became the first Nigerian military leader to be back to power as a democratically elected civilian president. He took over in 1999 from the military, coming to power with a solid reputation as a tested, experienced and trusted nationalist and patriot. He is one Nigerian who has the most national acceptance and Nigeria-wide constituency. No wonder he hit the ground running by appointing his government’s key personnel on the day he was sworn in. Obasanjo, in his second coming, re-established Nigeria’s leadership role in Africa. He also quickly learnt the art of politics. His pan-African credentials helped Nigeria to be in the forefront of the formation of the African Union (AU). He set up institutions such as ICPC and EFCC to fight corruption. His belief in Nigeria is not in doubt and his passion for Africa is unequalled.
One could say anything about Obasanjo but one thing is clear: he was in charge; in fact he was in absolute charge of the government, the party and the nation. He was firm when national integrity and unity was threatened. He is passionate about Nigeria, having fought for its unity and in fact received the instruments of surrender from Biafran secessionists in 1970. Obasanjo also believes in the youth and that was why he brought to the limelight such vibrant ones like Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, Nuhu Ribadu, Oby Ezekwesili and Femi Fani-Kayode, among others, during his presidency. Nigeria knows Obasanjo and Obasanjo knows Nigeria, and that is why he is a national icon.
Dr Goodluck Jonathan took over as president when President Yar’Adua died in office about two years into their joint tenure. In less than 10 years since he joined politics, Jonathan was already president – talk of “good luck” in his name. Power thus came to someone who is humble, simple, very unassuming, even shy. Everyone who knows President Jonathan knows that he is inherently a good person but a poor judge of character. That was why it was very easy for some vested interests to hijack the government he was heading, loot so much, and perpetrate evil without getting punished or even detected. Even his wife who later acquired a bad reputation was initially not a bad person.
For instance, when Mrs Patience Jonathan went to Bauchi for the 2011 presidential campaign, she took time to visit the family of the late Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa. She removed her shoes as custom demanded, out of respect, and subsequently told her husband what she saw which led to President Jonathan helping to renovate Balewa’s family house in Bauchi and even sent an aircraft to bring Mrs Balewa to Abuja to visit him in the Villa. Out of respect and the fact that Balewa was Nigeria’s first foreign minister, President Jonathan named the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Headquarters in Abuja after the Prime Minister. Jonathan was just terribly mismanaged by some bad people around him. But it tells a lot about his love for Nigeria that he phoned to congratulate President Buhari who defeated him in the 2015 polls, the first time an incumbent was defeated and the first time a loser congratulated a winner, conceding and not even going to court to challenge the outcome. That is the mark of a gentleman and statesman.
History is on the side of the oppressed.
-By ABBA MAHMOOD