An article posted on BBC's website today caught my attention. Nigeria's president (or should that be emperor?), Olusegun Obasanjo, said that any Nigerian who was not prepared to die for the country did not deserve to be a Nigerian citizen. Well, well, well...that sounds like words of patriotism from the country's 'number one' citizen. Words that will enrage the average Nigerian. The earlier such a person walked out of Nigeria, the better for the country, the president said on national television on Sunday evening. He added, betraying his intended target, that if that person had held public office in the past he was an impostor and did not deserve the office.
Well, the person he was talking about was Omololu Olunloyo, a professor of mathematics and one-time governor of Oyo State in western Nigeria. (Who is the father of one of my good friends, and someone who I have met several times, someone who inspired while I was in secondary school, and someone I'm proud to know personally).
So is Nigeria worth dying for? Personally, I think not.
Nigeria has had one problem in her 44 years of independence, poor leadership, a plague Obasanjo has managed to inflict on us the three times he's been 'appointed' president. And this poor leadership filters down to the citizens, making Nigerians what must be one of the most unpatriotic nations in the world. We're known for everything bad, drug smuggling, people trafficing, fraud, corruption, you name it, we've probably got it (or it's in development). Take one look at our past military leaders, each of them is a billionaire (in dollars not naira). The government is trying to retrieve over $1 billion from the family of the late General Sani Abacha. General Babangida's billions are talking as he nurses ambition to become president again in 2007. Obasanjo's farm and private resort in Otta started out as 'Operation Feed the Nation' in the 70s when he was a military ruler, now it's 'Operation feed Myself'. Everywhere you look, you see people who have used the privilege given to them to lead the people to enrich themselves, and enrich themselves stupendously. The last senate president, Pius Anyim,allegedly used 1 million naira a month to look after his dog. His predecessor, Chuba Okadigbo (of 'blessed' memory) was impeached after the following accusations were levelled against him:
Bought another eight official cars for $290,000 bringing his total of official vehicles to 32
Spent $225,000 on garden furniture for his luxury government house
Spent $340,000 furnishing the home to his taste, $120,000 over the authorised budget
The unauthorised purchased a massive generating and inflated the price to $135,000
Accepted a secret payment of $208,000 from public funds
I could go on and on about how our leaders have let us down again, and again, and still be at it tomorrow morning.
But let's look at this particular case a little closer.
In a funeral speech, Mr Olunloyo recently said that he once asked Nigeria's former Justice Minister Bola Ige if Nigeria was worth dying for. According to him, Mr Ige said that he was sure that Nigeria was worth living for but he was not so sure that it was worth dying for.Mr Ige was assassinated by unknown gunmen in his bedroom three years ago. At the funeral, which President Obasanjo attended, Mr Olunloyo said that with all he now knew about Nigeria, he was convinced Nigeria was not worth dying for. The controversy has sparked a country-wide debate about patriotism and duty.
Most Nigerians believe that Bola Ige was killed to further the political ends of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP). He was a member of the opposition party, and against the advice of many people decided to join Obasanjo's government in 1999. His party, the Alliance for Democracy (AD) had very firm roots in the South-West part of the country (the Yorubas), and it is generally believed that he was killed to deprieve the AD of his wisdom, leadership and direction. If this is true, it worked. The AD was dramatically defeated in the 2003 elections, and has become a political laughing stock. Only one of the six AD governors returned to his seat, while from about 30 senators in the last dispensation, they are left with only 5. So did Bola Ige die in vain? Wait for this.....
Last week, Iyiola Omisore, the man who was arrested for Bola Ige's murder was freed after 18 months in prison. Omisore was a deputy governor in the AD government of Oyo state, and he was impeached a few days before the murder. While in prison, he decamped to the PDP, ran for election as a senator...and wait for it.....WON ! (Did I mention that he was in prison?). Yesterday, he returned to the senate. Despite his absence for most of the last legislative session, Senator Omisore is expected to draw most of his unpaid salaries which according to the Senate leader, Dr. Dahaltu Tafida, were being kept for him pending his release. And he is also the vice-chairman of the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Inter-Government Affairs. (Did I mention that he was in prison). SO how does a senator win an election, get elected to a senate committee and get off for murder? I think all this is a reward for staying in prison so long, and if this is true, then that means that Obasanjo himself is behind the whole mess. And he wants people to die for Nigeria? If you ask me, it's really sad, but I think Bola Ige died in vain.
And to top it all off, some facts about Mr Olunloyo. One of his sons has been in a wheelchair since 1978. Mr. Olunloyo and his whole family were on their way to Lagos, and they got caught up in the infamous 'Ali must go' riots. (At the time, Ali was the minister of education). Someone threw a building block into the back of the car, that hit the poor boy on the head. And why were they travelling? Mr. Olunloyo was going to take up a new post within the Federal Ministry of Science & Technology in the first government of none other than Gen Olusegun Obasanjo !!
When someone who has sacrificed so much for Nigeria makes these kind of comments, you have to sit up and listen. Becuase they're probably right. If Nigerian leaders want their citizens to be patriotic, they can start by leading by example.