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The President Explains: Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007)

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The critical election of Chief Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo in 1999 will continue to generate interest and comments especially among political historians and researchers alike because it was a watershed in the nation’s political evolution. Looking back, Obasanjo’s mandate gave expression to the burning desire by the Nigerian people to have democracy rather than prolonged military rule. It was also a mark of conviction among the strategic power elite that he had the leadership credentials to restore waning hope and stabilise the polity. Of course, the effective revival of the nation’s economy was also germane.

In all this, it was instructive that the former president would have to democratise leadership and governance because democracy, particularly in a plural setting, will only be useful to the extent that it engenders popular participation. Fortuitously, the idea that Chief Obasanjo speaks with the generality of the people on his programmes and policies via Radio Nigeria was born, running in the process, 15 editions of robust engagements and uncensored interactions with every category of the populace in a monthly programme known as The President Explains.

Perhaps in an attempt to preserve his legacy, the former president has now published the substantive issues in the programme in a book form retaining the title: The President Explains. The 389-page work jointly published by Radio Nigeria and Sola Ojewusi and Associates in association with Attorney Owolabi Salis (Salis Law P.C. Broadway, New York) is in fifteen chapters with a postscript on the history of the programme as narrated by the production crew.

Former Director-General of Radio Nigeria, Dr. Eddie Iroh, who originated the idea of the programme and his successor, Barrister Yusuf Nuhu, wrote their different perspectives on the utility of the programme while the renowned scholar, Professor Akin Mabogunje, presented the book in a thought-provoking foreword. Each chapter opens with an abstract introducing the various topics and ends with a selection of topical comments grouped under the banner: Words on marble. A quick reference.

The subsisting challenge of job creation is the focus in Chapter One. Through the Poverty Alleviation Programme, a nation-wide emergency action to reduce the incidence of mass poverty, government provided financial incentives to skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled individuals to at least engage them in commercial activities or direct employment.

In the second chapter, Labour, Productivity and Work Ethics gained attention. As with the remaining chapters, the topic was preceded by the former president’s reactions to the various questions sent in by listeners or participants in previous topics—giving practical meaning and participatory relevance to the entire book.

Evoking the spirit of patriotism and nationalism, Obasanjo in Chapter Three, addresses the subject: What is in it for Nigeria? Here, he speaks to the soul of the nation, challenging the citizenry to fully embrace the fundamentals of nation-building. Thus rather than asking “what is in it for me”, conscientious patriots should ask “what is in it for Nigeria”, adding with a measured concern that the only way to achieve national rebirth is to put away the “mock and mess” of the past. The former president was emphatic that selfish tendencies begat corruption and corruption in turn begat national decay.

The book goes on to the 15th chapter and it discusses different issues of national importance during Obasanjo’s regime.

Therefore, The President Explains, is a welcome addition to our national history— with 20 pages of colour pictures of Obasanjo over the years, covering his local strides and relevance on the global stage. The sharp print in hard cover is excellent and the interrelated issues covered in the book also remain vital in any serious efforts toward national reawakening and development—be it in policy dimension or leadership attributes. Expectedly, controversy is inevitable here as the book further raises pertinent and subsisting issues in our national conversation. But in an environment where leaders rarely document their stewardship in memoir or any written form, the publication is significant.
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