Obasanjo to Jonathan: probe me, not my aides
Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday challenged the Federal Government to probe his eight-year administration instead of descending on his cabinet members.
Besides, he criticised the establishment of an agency to protect oil pipelines, describing the action as a move for 'another chop, chop' - a veiled reference to corruption in governance.
Obasanjo, who spoke at the 50th birthday thanksgiving for a former Vice-President of the World Bank, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, at the TEAP-RCCG 45 in Abuja, said he was ready to account for his tenure.
He said if the government found anything wrong, he would carry the can.
The former president was reacting to the recent moves to probe Ezekwesili by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the challenge thrown to the former World Bank Vice President by the Presidency to account for her tenure as Minister of Education.
Facing Ezekwesili, Obasanjo said: 'Actually, those who wanted to probe you, you should have asked them to, because if they are honest probers, they would find out that the government of Nigeria should give you money for what you have done for this country without stealing money.
'I have always said this, whatever you want to blame in my government, blame me, don't blame any of those people who assisted me. If there is any credit to dispense we share it. But for anything you want to say is wrong, I was the one in charge and I was in charge.'
Looking at some of his former cabinet members, Obasanjo added: 'When I look at you, I thank God for making you available to serve my administration, to serve Nigeria and serve God at the time you did.'
The ex-President condemned plans to create a special desk or agency/commission for national integration.
He said: 'The entire constitution of Nigeria is for integration; what else do you need? You have a constitution that is intended to integrate the country. You have things (agencies) like the Federal Character Commission; what is that one meant to do? It is for integration. The entire constitution is all about integrating this country. If at all we failed to use it, it can even be said we have breached the constitution. You don't need a commission for integration.'
Obasanjo also said moves to set up an agency for pipelines protection are meant to further perpetrate corruption.
He said: 'This morning, I was travelling from Abeokuta. I was listening to radio. I heard that they said that they are going to set up an agency for pipeline protection. Now, what are the police there for.? What are all the security agencies that we have doing? This is another chop chop.
'I just hope that we will get it right. We have no choice; we have to get it right. Let us decide individually that I would do what I have to do to bring about change in Nigeria. If you do that, let me assure you, you will be called names. You will be abused; some people are hired to do that. But like Oby, say what you believe is right and stand by it.'
Mrs. Ezekwesili said: 'I was born to parents who are from a humble family. My daddy was a man of uncompromising integrity. My daddy worked in Nigerian Ports Authority. He used to say to us that the Nigerian Ports Authority has become a centre of corruption. That was so many years ago. My mother talked my father out of public service because she was afraid for him.
'My mother used to go to Tejuosho market, like what we call bend down boutique, to buy clothes for us. She knew what they called grade one Okrika. We did not have money. We were poor but were rich in values. Those values shaped everything about my life. From young age, good governance and accountability mattered to me.
'I feel a sense of completion of a certain phase in my life. When I look back and I just remember so much that God has done in my life, I can't help but really understand God as the one who gives grace.
'It is only because of the grace of God that I am what I am today. It is not because I deserved it but because God decided that he will take a child from humble home and enable my parents to give me education, and laid on my path the opportunity to prove myself. Then He blessed the work that I did at different stages of my life.'
In an interview with reporters at a reception at the Peace Centre, International Conference Centre, Ezekwesili said corruption would sink Nigeria.
She said she would not stop talking against bad governance because it is her civic right.
She pleaded with Nigerians not to swallow up their voice against lack of accountability and transparency.
Ezekwesili is optimistic that Nigeria will attain greatness, but the nation needs 'sacrificial leadership' to move forward.
She said: 'I cannot even really relate to a life where people want to enjoy something they have not worked for. It is just an anathema because my family was founded on the principles of reward on the basis of efforts, hardwork, diligence and character.
'I have a very, very positive and optimistic view. I think I am congenitally optimistic. Concerning Nigeria, I am an eternal optimist. It does not matter if I am the only one standing and believing that this nation will attain the greatness that God destined for it. I am prepared to be that.
'It does not matter what you see. Hope that is seeing is not hope. This nation will transform; true transformation will come to Nigeria.'
Asked if she is interested in politics, she added: 'No. Actually, there is nothing about being interested in politics, if you understand democracy.
'Democracy is incomplete without the engagement of the citizens in the process. The demand for accountability and for results is the role of citizens, You don't have to be in politics in order to be an active citizen engaged in the democratic process.
'The reason that we have lacked results and accountability since our first democratic experiment in the 60s was simply because the citizens failed to play that role. I am not going to be a citizen that acts like a eunuch like there is no capacity to demand accountability.
'So, I am not a politician. The day I decide that I want to be a politician, you don't need to guess, you will see me. I am very candid. I am very frank; I am too honest to play games on things that I believe in. I don't want to be a politician. I am not a politician but I am an active citizen who is basically carrying out the role that every citizen of this nation must carry out.
'My general overview is that we are going through the throes of challenges that require a very strong sense of sacrificial leadership. The corruption in the society right now is so endemic, it's almost become democratised. And that is going to sink us. We need not implode under the weight of corruption. We need to tackle corruption and tackle it as you would tackle cancer. It can kill.
'There is no need pretending that this country is not burdened by the weight of a cancerous phenomenon that is called corruption. Every Nigerian knows that we have a problem. This is a broken society and it has permeated every aspect of our national life. So, we must do something about it.
'That is why, for example, when I talk about the active citizen that engages the democratic process. That is what I mean. The motivation that drives me is that look at me, the child of a poor family in a relatively decent society, I got a kind of education that has taken me thus far.
'I was Minister of Education. A similarly poor child, who would come from the kind of family I came from when I was young, will not have the kind of opportunities that I had in this same nation. That is what it is about. It is not about anything other than building a decent society.
'We must build a decent society that does not sow the terrible seeds of inequality that I see around me today. When I see the children of drivers, gardeners and I see that they will not get the kind of education, the kind of access that I had, the kind of opportunities that led to this life that I have, it pains me. That is what it is about.'
Responding to a question, Ezekwesili said she is not controversial.
She said: 'Am I controversial? I don't think I am controversial. I am not one bit controversial. I, actually, am not. Perhaps why you are saying that is because of the incident on the Excess Crude Funds. No.
'You should say that the government did not handle a citizen who has served this nation with all her heart well. My speech to the young people in UNN, Nsukka at the graduation ceremony was not picking on the government. It was picking on the collapse of the governance system in the petroleum sector and the fact that the oil sector had not delivered any benefit to the poor and that it needed to be tackled. That is what it was about. I am not controversial.
'I don't have to run for an office in order to make change happen. What I believe in is that every citizen has an important role to play. The most important role of the citizen is voice. Nobody is going to take my voice. Voice is God-given. God has given each and every Nigerian the voice in order to determine the kind of results that we are going to get from our leaders.
'In a democracy where you swallow up your voice and you sit quietly and you are murmuring in your home, nobody that is leading will have the incentives to offer you results. Every one of us must demand for results.
'The resources that are spent in this nation are greater than anything about 25 countries in Africa spend. There are some 25 small countries in Africa that do not have the equivalent of the budget that we spend.
'So, to that extent, you can see that if there are no results that are coming out of the spending of oil money in this country, it must become your responsibility. It should not be my responsibility alone. The society must be mobilised to play its active responsibility in underpinning democracy that works for the larger number.'
Asked if JAMB and NECO should be scrapped, she said: 'I cannot comment on that directly. But I do know that when I was Minister of Education, we tried to look at a consolidation process because with technology, you can actually converge a lot of the services that examination bodies offer.
'So, whether it is JAMB, NECO or it is WAEC, you can bring them togather and can integrate their platforms. We wanted to have that kind of mechanism and restore the integrity of the examination and their certification process.
'You would have to first think of the idea analytically, you must analyse it properly. And you need to engage with the National Assembly because they would need to repeal any necessary laws that need to be repealed.
'But it must be done on the basis of the outcome. It must be that you know clearly what outcome you are seeking to get, not simply that you are in a very incomplete manner trying to scrap them.'
In his sermon, a former Chaplain of Aso Rock, Rev. Williams Okoye, said: 'Life is not about material things that some of us are concerned about today; life consists far more than clothes and food.'
Some of those who attended the church and reception were: ex-Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Muhammadu and his wife, Maryam Uwais; a former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof. Charles Soludo; a former Special Adviser to the President, Mr. Joseph Makoju; a former Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Mrs. Irene Chigbue; ex-Federal Capital Territory Minister Nasir el-Rufai; a businessman, Mr. Hakeem Bello-Osagie; a former Secretary to the Rivers State Government, Senator Magnus Abe; and the Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Ms Arunma Oteh. The Nation