Categories: On the GoYour Say

An open letter to Olusegun Obasanjo (I)




Dear Dr Olusegun Obasanjo,

Please accept my warmest greetings and prayers for more sound health, peace, and tranquillity. I am one of the millions of Nigerians that read your letter of January 2018. You wished Nigerians a belated happy New Year then. Please accept my delayed felicitations over the doctorate degree that you have earned not so long. Your letter of January raised more dust in the country adding to the Harmattan dust of the season then. Personally, I feel it is rather unwise to let your letter go without any rejoinder. Therefore, I decided to reply you in this rainy season because rains wash away dust. Your epistle squarely chastised President Muhammadu Buhari’s person, government and its programmes and officials. The President in his own wisdom ignored you. Though many people wanted him to act the way of a Yoruba proverb which says: If a big masquerade claims it doesn’t see the smaller masquerade, the small masquerade will also claim it doesn’t see the big masquerade. I read your letters(s) with rapt attention, sense of critical thinking, and analytical mind.

My dear Dr Obasanjo, your letter might upset the President and men and women within and around his political parlour and social halo. I watched the lukewarm and agitated kicks against your letter. I also observed the deluge of debates spurred by your letter in the electronic, print and social media. Why shouldn’t Nigerians reply you at least to balance the history? Since pen is mightier than sword then failure to respond is undeserving for our history and democracy. Silence is consent. I am afraid you will assume your letter speaks the final truth. A Hausa adage says: the horse of the talkative runs faster. Hence, I want other Nigerians to get my dissenting rejoinder to you. I also hope it reaches the ears of diplomats who keenly watch unfolding events in our country.


Since January, I have been itching to take pen to respond to your letter. Nevertheless, in writing this reply I have tried to invoke principles of scholarly writing just to make my points scalable and objective. At least, your journey to PhD has exposed you to some of these principles of contextualisation and disinterested analytical thinking.

In keeping with scholarly way of doing things, I employed certain methodologies that helped me understand the text you have scripted. For instance, your own autobiography My Watch facilitated my understanding of your history, characters, manners and mannerisms. I also chased several book indexes looking for a big noun called Obasanjo to help me get what others said about you. Similarly, I drew perspectives from some established scholars such as Daniel Kahneman and Nassim Taleb to help me figure out how Obasanjo thinks. I tried to be transparent enough because I want operate like a physician. Under normal circumstances, a good physician should tell clients everything about procedures of surgical operations they may undergo. Sir, do you know that I x-rayed you under African political and traditional leadership styles enunciated by Ali Mazrui? In the same fashion, I diagnosed your presidency through Dave Barbers’ presidential personality model. What I am driving at is to see whether your letter to Nigerians in which you reported Buhari to them actually holds water. I intend to write more letters to you on various issues ranging from governance, economy, corruption, security, youths, agriculture etc. Hopefully, this is the first in my series of letters to you and its subject matter is leadership and governance.

Having said all these, I have to make a firm disclaimer: that I personally hold no iota of grudge against Dr Obasanjo. I see President Obasanjo as an esteemed elder statesman. I believe you are a divine gift to Nigeria. Your remarkable antecedents in the military during the civil war and your loyalty to General Murtala Muhammed in his life and death have always impressed me. As you pointed out in My Watch (p. xii), in your life you “have always evoked an admixture of commendation and condemnation, encouragement, envy, spite, unsavoury remarks and so on… ”. That is what I will call vicissitudes of life of eminent people like you.  I firmly believe that Dr Obasanjo is very sincere about Nigeria’s, indivisibility and bridge building across its ethno-religious chasms. I am also convinced that in Obasanjo’s mind Nigeria’s unity is eternally non-negotiable. Indeed, God has destined you to be one of the greatest Africans whose greatness spills over from 20th to 21st century. I appreciate President Obasanjo for giving us EFCC an organisation that many Nigerian politicians fear more than the Almighty God. I knew much about your patriotism from late Chief Oyewole Jegede one of the foremost educationists in Nigeria whom you awarded national honours – MON in 1979. I did my NYSC assignment in Ado Ekiti under him in 1999. Where will one take your flair for writing oh my author President? To be an author of books is not easy. At least, a Hausa adage says: if passing urine is nothing let the hen do it.


Humans are fallible. In fact, there is Hausa adage which says, human being is only up to nine and never up to ten. Sometimes Mr Hyde in us dominates Dr Jekyll in us and that is bad enough. Your letter carries weighty allegations on the current state of governance in Nigeria. I essentially disagree with them wholly and particularly in the light of your antecedents as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Indeed, I have perceived from your letter an extreme sense of prejudice, selfishness, and forgetfulness. For simplicity, I breakdown my responses into paragraphs and sub sections as follows.

  • Nigerian Leadership and Obasanjo’s Burden

Dear Sir, just like Poet Kipling, the author of the Whiteman’s Burden jolted the Whites to act on their racialized moral obligations to kick-start civilisation of the non-whites, I think you always feel you have a moral obligation to make every Nigerian leader more democrat and performing. This attitude of moral supremacy you harbour sounds to me something like NOIREO – No One Is Right Except Obasanjo. Your letters to current and past Nigerian leaders attest to this posture. Your angry pen is not respecter of everyone. It always hurriedly pass verdict on sitting Nigerian leaders asking them to dismount the horse or never mount again. For me, it amounts to manipulation when you coined the term AOBJ – any option but Jonathan – as it appears in your January Letter. How can you take Nigerians for a ride? Perhaps, the slogan you are evangelising now is any option but Buhari – AOBB. Any time a Nigerian leader fails your taste then he/she must go?

Your one-man watch over Nigerian leaders is startling as it always spits your supremacy and monopoly of knowledge of democracy and good governance. In effect, the title of your autobiography also underscores your sense of moral supremacy – My Watch. How can you watch over Nigeria for God’s sake? Are you the biblical Melchizedek? God is the only Watch. He delegates the watch to many of His servants across the spectrum of time in Nigeria and elsewhere. With our limited days and fallible thinking faculties an individual cannot watch over this big nation. Institutions watch over American democracy and not Abraham Lincoln.

Sir, as I said earlier you have a great passion and zeal for our country to reach zenith of democratisation. Nevertheless, your regimented viewpoint rarely considers the danger of single thinking. Our compatriot and literary giant Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie admonishes about the danger of single story. The potential Nobel Prize winner in literature warns that we risk critical misunderstanding of issues when one sided outlook is used to define others. Your letters and press releases make me to infer that history may mark any person replicating this kind of character as suffering from Obasanjo Single Story Syndrome (OSSS). Unfortunately, even one of your closest service and political associates late General Shehu Musa Yar’adua understood your NOIREO and OSSS pranks. General Yar’adua boycotted the launch of your book on Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu because in his opinion “he was not the fine officer General Obasanjo’s book tries to portray him. He could not even plan his coup properly to make it succeed beyond Kaduna”. Yar’adua’s statement justifies my own argument that you don’t care about implications of what you write when you write.


Nonetheless, I want believe that another thing that defines your thinking and your writing style is the absolute macho power inherent in you. One of the new words that made entry into the Oxford dictionary in 2018 is ‘mansplaining’. The word refers to how a man explains something to a woman in a disdainful or condescending way. Your letters often mansplain things to Nigerians. Your recent release and clarion call for Coalition for Nigeria Movement merely portrays you as an alpha-male. Israeli author Yuval Harari in his bestselling Sapiens remarks that among chimpanzees dominant males form alliances to fight competitors under the alpha-male before whom all others kowtow. Harari noted that human alpha males build coalitions for their own desire, power, and also to keep their authority intact. Since 1990s you are known for erecting canopies where you are the alpha-male who choreographs the music that plays out in Nigerian political landscape for good or bad.

  • What Type of Leader is President Obasanjo?

My dear ex-President, in the Introduction of My Watch you satisfactorily defined leadership and its scopes. I believe your definition is not only sufficient, but is borne out of your own experience of leading the biggest black nation in two rounds. While I am satisfied with the definition given in My Watch. I feel it is essential for Nigerians to understand what type of leader Dr Olusegun Obasanjo himself is or was?

Sir, you may recall that in 2001, at Jacobey Dickens Centre in Chicago State University, Professor Ali Mazrui delivered a lecture in honour of General Abdulsalami Abubakar. I think you were there. Professor Mazrui personally gave me a copy of the lecture when he was in Kano in 2006 to commemorate the silver jubilee of the assassination of General Murtala Muhammed. Ali Mazrui identified nine types of political leadership systems and four pre-colonial leadership traditions. So where do you actually belong as a leader? The first category belongs to charismatic leaders where Kwame Nkurma, Nnamdi Azikwe, and Idi Amin sit. The second category covers mobilisation leaders and their examples include Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Steve Biko, and Martin Luther King among others. The third type is reconciliation leaders where you have General Yakubu Gowon, General Abdulsalami Abubakar and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The fourth category is housekeeping style of leadership manned by Daniel Arap Moi. The fifth class belongs to disciplinarian leaders where you have General Murtala Ramat Muhammed and General Muhammad Buhari only. The sixth type is patriarchal system of leadership manned by Nelson Mandela, Jomo Kenyatta, and Houphouet Boigny. The seventh type belongs to technocratic leaders where Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia appears.  The last type is Personalistic Political Style of Leadership manned by Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Jean Badel Bokassa, Laurent Kabila, Hosni Mubarak and Odinga Odinga. On the other hand, the pre-colonial leadership traditions include elder tradition, sage tradition, philosopher kings, and warrior traditions. This category has little or no examples from African colonial and post-colonial leaders.

I was shocked to see that you do not feature within any of the positive styles of leadership. But I am happier that you do not feature under categories that are not so good. Some years back, I watched you over the NTA expressing shock that you were not listed among those marked to be eliminated under the Dimka led coup. I am still trying to understand their motive of ignoring the no. 2. Indeed, I helped myself by delving into the fathom of literature to find where you belong as a leader in Africa. Answer came through South African political scientist who reviewed African leadership styles Dr Jo-Ansie van Wyk in his paper entitled: Political Leaders in Africa: Presidents, Patrons or Profiteers? In that paper, Dr van Wyk asserts that “African leaders such as Thabo Mbeki, Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Al-Qaddafi and Olesegun Obasanjo have a significant interest in regional and international affairs.” At least, this gives a sense of your group and leadership peers.


What I find very interesting about Mazrui’s Africa leadership is its veracity and verifiability. For instance in the case of Muhammadu Buhari whom Ali Mazrui toasted as disciplinarian, Dr Obasanjo confirmed this unequivocally in My Watch vol. 1 p.396 where he said “…the two arch-planners and executors to oust Shagari – Ibrahim Babangida and Aliyu Mohammed – were being left cold in the way Buhari and Idiagbon ran affairs. Secondly, Buhari was about to deal with Aliyu Muhammed by removing him from the army for a case of indiscipline involving finances.” This is how far I have gone exploring leadership styles for which you do not have a favourable ranking. But I must say Dr van Wyk’s account is correct if one recalls your interest in becoming the UN Chief Scribe. Similarly, the opening paragraphs of your January letter to Nigerians also portrayed your deep sense of interest in international development agenda. However, I found solace for you in the words of Nigeria’s foremost Professor of Geography and good friend of yours, Akin Mabogunje, who calls you a pragmatic, insightful, strategist and expeditious leader. This appears in a book of essays in your honour namely, Olusegun Obasanjo: The Presidential Legacy 1999-2007. The only Nobel laureate in Nigeria, the revered Wole Soyinka has recently profiled your leadership traits in his Intervention VIII: Gani’s Unfinished Business. Intervention VIII: Gani’s Unfinished Business. I cannot comment on that Armageddon, gargantuan, and graphic salvo fired on you by the playwright.

In an attempt to get your leadership profiling, I also used Professor James Dave Barber’s book entitled the Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House which helped me understand your presidency better. Since Nigeria also operates presidential system then it is comfortable to use the Barber’s model to gauge your presidency. The model characterised American presidents on the following basis:

  1. Active-Positive: these presidents have high esteem, they are flexible and are goal oriented.
  2. Active-Negative: these presidents are compulsive and power-seeking
  3. Passive-Positive: these presidents are genial and agreeable but easily wounded
  4. Passive-Negative: these presidents are dutiful but easily withdraw from political fights

Definitely, I see President Obasanjo as an Active-Negative President considering his ever power-mongering posture.

  • Dr Obasanjo and the Lice of Good Governance

Sir, you characterised Buhari administration’s performance thus: “the lice of poor performance in government – poverty, insecurity, poor economic management, nepotism, gross dereliction of duty, condonation of misdeed – if not outright encouragement of it, lack of progress and hope for the future, lack of national cohesion and poor management of internal political dynamics and widening inequality – are very much with us today”. My simple response on this is: when last is Nigeria not unknown with these lice?  At least, the exceptions are very few. Are these lice inexistent in the country’s body between 1999 and 2007? Nonetheless. I am not contesting that there are grave challenges that the current administration needs to address with more seriousness.


Sir, I have no doubt that you have a fair understanding of the art and science of government. However, after reading your letter I am left with an understanding that your knowledge of governance in its broader sense is rather askew. I am afraid that you are part of the engineers that created the habitat of the lice in our governance system and government performance failures. As parasites, lice are spread by their hosts be they colleagues, family members, co-worshippers or co-travellers. Nigeria has derailed from planning its development pathways since after IBB halted national development plans and replaced them with rolling plans. From your presidency to date, no administration has sniffed the idea of re-introducing national development plans that would be supported by strategic plans. We do things aimlessly and we do not have baseline numbers that give us ideas on what to do for who? Even as we embraced the private sector and liberalised the economy, we fail to realise that the private sector is only interested in what they can earn from our resources.

Most Nigerian leaders lack a good grip of what to do with Nigeria. Even our social scientists and other academics have failed to highlight what Nigeria needs and ought to do in the wake of fast changing world characterised by deep uncertainties and the VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – scenarios. Indeed, the current situation in the country calls for what Oran Young, an American environmental governance scholar calls Type I and Type II Governance. The former entails introducing new governance mechanisms to address emerging uncertainties and the latter involves augmenting existing governance structures. This is what Nigeria needs instead of the restructuring uproars and refrains.  For decades, government programmes have hardly factored in decision-making for plausible features or even consider LTPA – long term policy analysis.

Obasanjo’s Leadership and Governance Strides: Bull in a china shop

Sir, I have said it earlier that the focus of this letter is only on leadership and governance. Hopefully, I will do more research on the strides of your presidency on economy, security, environment, combatting corruption, poverty, etc. Here, I have outlined some of your strides that have seriously undermined our democracy and punctured good governance for a long while. Unfortunately, some of these antecedents have spilled beyond your presidency to infect tenures of Presidents Yar’adua, Jonathan and Buhari respectively.

  1. Creation of Governorates and Erosion of Institutions and Truncation of citizens’ rights to electoral offices

Dear Dr Obasanjo, in my own thinking you have done a fatal damage to Nigerian democracy through the way you engaged the State Governors. What you did was never done before. The constitution is very clear on duties and responsibilities of state governors and President. For reasons best known to you, you transferred ministerial appointments to hands of Governors in PDP-led states in particular. Again, you made it that most other major federal appointments came through them. This makes them excessively powerful and influential to the extent that they converted their states into new kingdoms that I call governorates. Governors fight legislators or control them and try determine or sketch their fate in parliament. To make things worst you surreptitiously transferred the right to presidency to the circle of State Governors and their deputies as in the case of Yar’adua and Jonathan, and Jonathan and Namadi. Did you do this in order to buy loyalty and enjoy absolute control over the country? Indeed, this is terrible. I think Buhari did better by resisting Governors and took own decision in appointing his own minsters and other appointees. Up to know the country is wallowing in this catastrophe of only whom the governor likes will be electable.

  1. On Obasanjo’s Foresight, Hindsight, and Insight in Leadership

Although you are senior to President Buhari but I think he has deeper insight, hindsight and foresight than you. You invited Atiku Abubakar and soon you realised he is too smart for your liking. You launched a mother of all battles on your deputy – a person that can replace you constitutionally if the need arises. You must have known Atiku very well before you asked him to be your no.2. I can hardly believe that your struggle with him is essentially about fighting corruption. I once saw you over the TV speaking about loyalty in the council chambers of the villa where you said something like loyalty (to you) must be 100% even 99.99% is not acceptable. Well I am sure I am not 100% loyal to the being that created me. Here you seem to be with Personalistic leaders such as Kamuzu Banda, Laurent Kaila and others in that fold as identified by Mazrui. I am confident that Buhari did his homework and considered Nigeria first before he picked VP Osinbajo. I have no doubt that Osinbajo is loyal, faithful, knowledgeable, honest, frugal, patriotic, trustworthy, calm, and descent person to the liking of every good person.

  1. Suffocation of States Judicial and Legislative Independence

While State Governors have continued to bask in the aura of nasty powers that you plastered on them, ironically many of them hold tight grips over their state cabinets. It is rather sad that State Governors also hold jugular veins of their state judiciary and parliaments. Many state governors also bite on the nerves of local government areas suffocating them at will. This situation is very ominous to our democracy. ALGON and many others have at various times sought for your intervention but hit the hard rock. Quite recently, President Buhari signed a bill that grants financial autonomy to states judiciary and legislatures. Here too, Buhari astonishingly towers over and above you in strengthening grassroots democracy and good governance in Nigeria.

  1. Supporting Perpetual Inequality and Injustice

Because your letter accused Buhari of fostering inequality please let me remind of the mother of all inequalities in Africa and who created it. On September 20th 1999 President Obasanjo inaugurated the Federal Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) which among others created murderous and senseless allowances for political office holders. You are one of the principal beneficiaries in what appears to be highest pays for political office-holders in Africa. I know how Singapore arrived at remuneration for their political officers in an inclusive and clean way. Then, how can you even surmount courage talk on rising inequality in Nigeria while you are the architect of real inequality? It is sad that the lofty pays to public officers that you initiated has not retarded corruption on the land. It is frustrating that many public officers including state governors have pillaged states and public agencies. By your own wisdom you created post service soft landing for them. They are guaranteed life time pays by the state. You break into my house steal my property and I pay the thief door breaking allowance. What a worst inequality in a country where teachers, engineers, and lawyers only eke out. I call on President Buhari to initiate measures to stop or edit such irrational and unpopular decision.

  1. Institutionalisation of Counterproductive Public Service Policies

My dear Dr Obasanjo, under your watch as President of the Federal Republic, Nigeria witnessed one of the worst public service policies known as monetisation. Under this system some highest ranking officers can earn more than 20 times higher than their lowest paid colleagues. Wherever you have such setting some is very wrong and derails from international best practices. The worst angle of monetisation is how it undermines our institutions of democracy. For instance, legislature is one of the most defining features of democracy everywhere. In the name of monetisation, we lost official residences of Senate President and Speaker. Ideally, these buildings should be seen as one of the abiding symbols and pillars of our democracy. Your monetisation policy led to conversion of these symbols into personal properties of individuals under President Jonathan’s administration. Yet, no any letter from you followed that self-centred and unpatriotic action. Just imagine if Capitol Hill is sold to the leadership of the Congress. The monetisation policy that you introduced has failed to reduce public expenditure and corruption. Government continues to purchase official cars and maintain drivers even for the officials not exempted by the monetisation policy. I challenge President Buhari to revisit monetisation policy in the country as some countries such as Ghana have since dropped it. I am happy that Buhari’s administration has since initiated efforts to recover our stolen official residences of the Senate President and the Speaker.

  1. Nigeria’s Global Diplomacy

Sir, in your letter you berated Buhari’s capacity for diplomatic prowess saying that you “know his weakness in understanding and playing in the foreign affairs sector.” This I find very nauseating. I do believe that the way world leaders welcome and associate with President Buhari shows his reputation and that translates into Nigeria’s diplomatic profiling. I am sure you did not receive as much ‘elegant reception’ as Buhari got in the White House and other presidential and royal palaces around the world.  While I do want go overboard being not a diplomat. My personal experiences proved to me that Buhari strikes many minds around the world. I may share with you two of my experiences in the UK and Norway. The first instance happened at Blavatnic School of Government in Oxford University while attending the 2016 World Bank’s Annual Bank’s Conference on Africa. I was shocked with a comment passed on Buhari by one of the senior economist of World Bank. He told me that Buhari’s credibility is unequalled to most other African leaders. He met with Buhari through duty line and lamented on Buhari’s rigidity in implementing their advice on economic reforms. I reminded him Nigeria got nothing from Bretton Woods’ institutions other than poverty and devaluation of Naira. I told him that I will also salt-pinch and salami-slice World Bank’s anti-poor policies. The second incident happened at Oslo and Akershus University in Oslo, Norway. After I presented my paper around the lunch time two officers of the Norwegian foreign ministry approached me and asked if they could join me at lunch table. I obliged and three of us fetched our meals and sat together. First, we discussed security issues in Nigeria before they brought in Buhari. But initially they were not sure if I would commend or condemn Buhari. But as discussion ensued rather friendly and in tune with delicacy the tone changed. They also extolled Buhari for his known credibility. Nevertheless, I was surprised how they condemned some names in Nigeria as being very corrupt and self-centred leaders.

Dear Dr Obasanjo, in your letter you mentioned to Nigerians that “we must have abiding faith in our country and its role and place within the comity of nations.” I firmly believe that my encounters in the UK and Norway convince me that the personality of the current present has catapulted the image of Nigeria considerably. Because I travel frequently I understand that visa issuance by many countries for Nigerians has improved significantly.

  1. Where is Obasanjo’s Goodwill and Good deal for Democracy and Genuine National Reconciliation

I find the following sentences in your letter very antithetical: “[d]emocracy is sustained and measured not by leaders doing extra-ordinary things.” Leaders can do extraordinary things that can uplift democracy for good. IBB’s administration tortured Nigerian democracy, and that is the beginning of Nigeria’s recent gloomy journey to confusion, misgovernance and mutual distrust. The recent liquidation of anger and melancholy for Abiolas and other June-twelvers by Buhari’s regime is unparalleled in the history of Nigeria. I just don’t know why your own truth and reconciliation committee known as Oputa Panel was not used as platform to heal wounds and bitterness that Abiolas and other Nigerians were engrossed in for decades.

  1. Manipulation of Elections under President Obasanjo

When you accused Buhari of “dereliction of duty and condonation of misdeed” I really pitied both of you. I am sure it will pain the soldier in Buhari and in my sight it demotes the soldier in you. Sir, the worst condonation of misdeed and dereliction of duty unfolded under your watch. You led the country through unclean rounds of elections that favoured you and your party. I think President Goodluck Jonathan and his predecessor President Umaru Yar’adua were more honest than you as far as electoral processes are concerned. President Yar’adua condemned the very election that put him on the horse through your midwifery. On the other hand, Dr Jonathan showed an exceptional and historic sportsmanship when he congratulated Buhari in the earliest. Dr Jonathan is also known to have grumbled about that election after facing tough questions outside the country.

  1. Dr Obasanjo and His Type II Error

Dear, Dr Obasanjo, let me reiterate that I am not in doubt of your patriotism and loyalty to Nigeria. But, it is not apposite for an individual to claim mastery of solutions and overriding proficiency of leadership of the country. Being a former leader you have your own weaknesses, I expect you upper-lip to be a bit tighter. I am unhappy that some undesirable elements may find solace and courage in your wide open mouth. You have known Buhari more than most Nigerians do. Your letter fails to recognise his modest and sincere contributions since he mounted the seat. The country has witnessed a lot of changes and there are remarkable differences and breaks with the past. I believe that by rejecting Buhari you are only committing what scientists call Type II Error. This is the inability of a scientist to detect the difference when it actually exists. All scientists believe Type II error is more serious because there is possibility that nobody will try looking at that problem again.

Before my next letters please accept my warm regards.

Yours faithfully.

Aliyu Salisu Barau writes from Kano

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