Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has said the country is currently facing economic problems due to the failure of the Goodluck Jonathan administration to plan for a rainy day.
He told Iyalodes and eminent women leaders from the South-West, who visited him at his Hilltop residence in Abeokuta, Ogun State, that the nation’s reserves which as of 2007 stood at $67bn had been depleted by the Federal Government.
The former President was responding to a call by the delegation led by the Iyalode of Yorubaland, Chief Alaba Lawson, and the Iyaloja General of Nigeria, Chief Folashade Tinubu-Ojo, to lend his voice to the socio-economic crisis rocking the country.
Stressing that the country did not deserve the situation it currently finds itself, Obasanjo vowed that he would not keep quiet until the right things were done.
He said, “When I was leaving office about eight years ago, I left a very huge reserve after we had paid all our debts.
“Almost $25bn we kept in what they called Excess Crude Account, it was the excess from the budget we were saving as reserve for a rainy day.
“When we left in May 2007, the reserve was said to have risen to $35bn. But today, that reserve has been depleted.
“After paying our debts which was about $40bn, including debt forgiveness, the remaining (debt) was not more than $3bn.
“Our reserves after we had paid off these debts amounted to about $45bn. As I said, they continued to rise till the end of 2007. I heard that the reserves increased to almost $67bn before the end of the year.
“Our reserves now, I learnt, stand at only $30bn.”
Although he noted that the slump in oil price would naturally have a negative impact on a monolithic economy like Nigeria, Obasanjo said that “ anyone who is wise enough should know that since we depend on just one mineral resource and since we have no control over its pricing, we should be planning for this type of situation we currently find ourselves and the way out of it.”
The former President lamented that “our inability to have healthy reserves had brought us to “this economic quagmire.”
He added, “A leader must be forward-looking and plan ahead. At the beginning of last year, the budget was based on $78 per barrel. That year, the Federal Government spent more on recurrent expenditure and a little on capital expenditure.”
Obasanjo also pointed out that the devaluation of the naira had unleashed other consequences on the economy.
He said, “That (devaluation) is why the naira has been falling against the dollar. What would now happen? I learnt if you want to buy a dollar now, it’s about N192 or N195. What it means is this, what you had been buying for N150 to a dollar, now you need N192 or N195 to buy it.
“That is the real situation. Is there any remedy? There is but it does not come overnight because it means we have to give up all the bad things we had been doing.”
The Ogun State-born former Head of State also berated the leadership for robbing Nigeria of its God-ordained greatness.
He said,”God made Nigeria a great nation. Is it that those living here have no brain? Is it that the leaders are not thinking? Or that we don’t have the resources?
“When I was in the army, our slogan was, ‘There are no bad soldiers but bad officers.’ Wherever soldiers are not doing well, blame the officers. The same thing obtains in the family, communities, towns and the nation.
The former President, who also denied quarrelling with Jonathan, told the Iyalodes and eminent women leaders that he was surprised to have read in a newspaper on Monday that some people in government were jittery on learning of their visit.
“Is (it) that Jonathan and I are not in good terms?, he asked and immediately provided an answer himself. He said, “There is nothing as such. I have no grudges against Jonathan and I think Jonathan equally has no grudges against me. I’m not quarrelling with Jonathan but all I know is that whatever is good for Nigeria, that I’m ready to die for.
“I emphasise that whatever is good for Nigeria, is what I’m ready to defend with my life. Whoever, I emphasise, whoever says he would not do anything good for Nigeria, even if he says he’s ready to go ‘koko bellow,’ I’m ready to square it up with such a person.
“I say again, whoever that person may be, I want you to get that correctly. If this country is going to change for the better, it must start from the top and if it’s going to be otherwise, it must start from the top too.
“I have had some little experience about this country. I was a Head of State and a President; so what is left? If I talk, I know what I’m talking about. Whoever wants, should listen to me and whoever feels otherwise, may turn a deaf ear. But when I’m talking, I’m talking with my understanding and intellect.
“I’m drawing from my experience and from what I’ve learnt with others and from other countries and fellow eminent citizens of the world that I relate with.”
Obasanjo frowned on the alleged impunity being perpetuated under the current administration, warning leaders of the consequences of such actions.
He said, “God put you in a position for a purpose and if you fail, you will give account to God. It was Prophet Samuel that God sent to anoint Saul to be a king. When he misbehaved, it was the same God that sent Prophet Samuel to the house of Jesse to anoint another king.
“But when Samuel got to Jesse’s house, he was attracted by the physical and outward appearance of Eliab. But God told him, he was looking at outward appearance whereas He was looking at the heart. We must not keep quiet concerning this nation.”
On the general elections, Obasanjo said he had no apprehension, stressing that the country would survive just as it did during crises such as Operation wetie, the 1966 coup and the civil war.
He said, “The 1964 election led to Operation Wetie. I saw people being slaughtered . There were also the 1966 coup, the 1966 progrom and the civil war. We survived them. Then, there was (Sani) Abacha period. We also we survived it.”
Operation wetie was the political crises that erupted in the defunct Western Region after the 1965 regional elections. It was characterised by the wetting of political opponents and their followers with petrol and setting them ablaze.
Obasanjo recalled that when he was about to contest the presidential election in 1999, he was told that it would end up like the botched polls by the Ibrahim Babangida and Abacha juntas.
“They said that Abubakar Abdulsalami was also out to deceive us. Some people said after me, there would be no Nigeria again; But, after me, there have been two presidents .The God we serve is God of Nigeria.”
On the solution to unemployment in the country, he advised the government to turn to agriculture instead of laying emphasis on oil and gas.
He advised, “If we are going to solve unemployment problem, it is through agric business and not through oil and gas. We have no alternative.
“Agriculture is renewable because the land can be used over and over again, but, once you lift a barrel of oil, it is gone forever.’’
Obasanjo also advised the women and other Nigerians to vote for candidates with good track records and not those making empty promises.
“Good governance starts with the selection and voting of good leaders. Don’t lose your votes. Ask questions. What are their track records? Pay less attention to what they are saying, look out for what they had done.”
On his membership of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, Obasanjo said, “I am still in the PDP , though not active. With the kind of people and behaviours I see in the party, I don’t think I can stand before God and defend them.”
Obasanjo had in an 18-page open letter to Jonathan in December 2013, accused Jonathan of promoting deceit, corruption and mutual distrust ahead of national interest.
He said in the letter titled “Before it is too late” that in spite of his previous letters which were neither acknowledged nor responded to, he was again constrained to warn the President that dangers were lurking in the corner should he fail to heed his advice.
At the public presentation of a book by a former Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other–Related Offences Commission, Justice Mustapha Akanbi(retd.) in Novemeber 2014, Obasanjo again accused Jonathan and the National Assembly of promoting corruption and poor governance in the country.
He also upbraided the President by describing him as an incompetent leader during the public presentation of his three-part autobiography My Watch on December 9, 2014.
He rated the Jonathan administration as colossal failure, grounded by ineptitude.