Olusegun Obasanjo, a man who has ruled Nigeria as a military dictator and as a democratically elected president, has stirred the hornet’s nest again.
At the 2016 Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Forum in Lagos, on Oct. 29, he boasted that he had hoped to create 50 Nigerian billionaires while he was president but created “only 25”. Mrs Folorunsho Alakija, Africa’s richest woman according to Forbes List, was one of them, Obasanjo said on the occasion, in a reply to Alakija who had explained the frustrations she faced while her company explored for oil.
Obasanjo said: “I do not know you from Adam and there is no reason I would have denied you what rightfully belonged to you. So, you have struggled, and you have struck oil; God bless your heart. My delight is to be able to create Nigerian billionaires and I always say it that my aim, when I was in government, was to create 50 Nigerian billionaires. Unfortunately I failed. I created only 25 and, Madam, you are one of them.”
A flurry of comments on social media has followed the former leader’s remark. Many have questioned Obasanjo’s sanity; others have said his comment is instructive because it shows Africa has remained backward because of bad leaders. Some believe Obasanjo (79 officially but said to be over 86) has become senile.
Obasanjo has yet to say whether he himself and some of his children and friends were among the billionaires he created. If he could make a woman he didn’t know “from Adam” a billionaire, what could he have made those he knew?
An often repeated query is: did Obasanjo create 25 billionaires only to turn 170million other Nigerians paupers? Among the several scandals unearthed during his tenure (1999–2007) was the over $20billion spent on electricity but which yielded only darkness on account of lack of power. Publicly-owned assets were “sold” or dashed to cronies of people in government at the time. Obasanjo himself admitted he had “blind” shares in some blue-chip firms. While still serving as president, Obasanjo built a multi-billion-naira university and a presidential library. Yet, he said he had just N20, 000 in his account after his release from jail in 1998, and shortly before he ran for president.
One commentator who goes by the moniker “Vita in Diaspora” posted in Vanguard: “There was an interview Obasanjo granted the Financial Times of London during his heady days as president in which he made this mission statement of his presidency — that he wanted to create similar “oligarchs” as existed in Russia in Nigeria.
“The journalist was horrified. To say that despite the horror and poverty created on Russian society by Boris Yeltsin and his “oligarchs”, someone would see them as a model to be copied was unbelievable. No human being on earth can beat this level of wickedness and stupidity other than Obasanjo himself.
“The question may be asked, if Obasanjo single-handedly created 25 billionaires by ‘dashing’ them our common wealth, how much did he ‘dash’ himself and his family members? Well, your guess is as good as mine.
“These are the ‘things’ that have been ruling Africa’s most populous nation, the most populous black nation on earth. Sorry! It’s a pity!”
Those from the Niger Delta placed curses on the man who bragged about making others billionaires from the proceeds of oil in their own backyards, while their people (Niger Deltans) who own the oil are poor.