A season of change. It is also a season of rank hypocrisy. Politicians who supervised previous regimes of corruption and perfidy have been emboldened by the change slogan of the moment to stake their rehabilitation on a pretended fondness for ethical and moral rectitude.
Change, it seems, is being equated with the proverbial scriptural blood that washes away a multitude of sins. No one better epitomizes the spirit of times, this ascendance of self-righteous hypocrisy, than former president Olusegun Obasanjo.
Obasanjo has been touring the country with glee and sanctimonious pageantry. The other day, he was in my home State of Benue at the behest of Governor Samuel Ortom. At a dinner organized in his honor at which he was entertained and sartorially rebranded in Benue traditional attire, he shamelessly impersonated a moral sage. He passed himself off as a moral icon and, like true exemplars of virtue and ethical discipline who espouse, through sheer righteous charisma, the virtue of altruism and ethical infallibility, Obasanjo performed the role to a hilt and with a passion that can only come from overcompensation. He offered advice to the governor on using the resources of the state to improve the lot of the citizens and on the evil of appropriating resources belonging to the people.
He has been doing the same act at other forums and in other States. When he is not on a rostrum waxing sanctimonious about how politicians and leaders have let Nigerians down, he is issuing statements lamenting how corruption has destroyed or is destroying Nigeria. Nigeria, Obasanjo has been saying in interviews and speeches is a country hobbled by corruption.
Is he not one of the politicians who let Nigeria down? Was he not a two-time leader of Nigeria who deserves, by virtue of the multiple opportunities he had to positively alter the course of the country, the bulk of the blame for the problem he glibly analyzes? These questions would require some self-reflexivity to be refracted back to Obasanjo. Unfortunately, he lacks the capacity for reflection and self-critique. And so he persists in advertising himself as incapable of grasping irony. He says past governments (excluding his own?) have frittered away Nigeria’s opportunity for greatness.
Says the man who became president in 1999, his then protégé, el-Rufai, informed us, with only 15,000 Naira in his bank account and with his Otta farm in shambles but who left the presidency in 2007 a multi-billionaire.
Says the man who as president bought shares worth N600 million in Transcorp, a firm he set up and helped to acquire several choice public assets for peanuts. Says the man who now owns a university, the richest and most expansive farming empire in Nigeria, and a presidential library funded by those who were contractors to his government or had benefitted from state windfalls.
Says the man who bribed legislators with billions of naira to secure a third presidential term through a corrupt and doomed constitutional amendment process. Says the man under whose presidency N300 billion appropriated for federal road rehabilitation was transformed into a re-election slush fund under the supervision of then Works Minister, Tony Anenih.
Says the man under whose superintending watch $10 billion was wasted on power sector projects that yielded darkness and further deterioration in Nigeria’s electricity infrastructure.
Says the man who invented and operationalized “do or die” as an electoral manifesto and as a precursor to a scorched earth philosophy of governance.
Says the man who was caught red-handed transporting dollars on the presidential aircraft through his then aide, Andy Ubah. Says the man whose secretive corrupt dealings were scandalously exposed by Atiku Abubakar and Garba Shehu during the infamous Atiku-Obasanjo political feud, which morphed into mutual corruption revelations concerning the use of the PDTF as a personal and Party piggy bank.
Says the man who owns the Green Legacy Resort, Abeokuta, arguably the most prestigious and expensive hotel/golf resort in Nigeria.
Says the man whose fingerprints are all over the Halliburton bribery scandal and who was spectacularly implicated in sworn testimony and court records by convicted British-American bribe distributor, Jeffrey Tessler.
It’s hardly Obasanjo’s fault though that he is now regarded as the conscience or moral voice of Nigeria. With such an amnesiac citizenry, even Hitler, were he to come back from the dead in Nigeria, would find himself on the path to complete redemption. That’s just who we are as a people.
All Obasanjo had to do was hop on the change train for all to be forgiven. In truth, he was already well on his way to total redemption before the change election.
The cover of change has continued not only to shield many of yesterday’s thieves but to also empower them with a strange form of moral hubris. Obasanjo’s hubristic performances during his ongoing national honor tour are a pointer to what’s to come in this genre.
At this rate of national forgetting, former President Jonathan needs only five years to achieve full rehabilitation and go on his own national anticorruption speaking tour. But I am reminded that his rehabilitation may have already begun and he may have already embarked on his own tour of moral pedagogy, given the many pro-Jonathan iconographies and textual material that flow through my Facebook page every day. Again, that’s just who we are.
In other climes, when you commit the kinds of crime committed by the likes of Obasanjo, good gestures and deeds done after the crime can only earn you a few privileges — in prison! And a reduced sentence if you are lucky. Not canonization as your country’s patron saint of anticorruption, patriotism, and ethics.
But this is Nigeria, a country of notoriously short memories and a generous knack for offering unearned forgiveness to the villains of our national political story.