By Allwell Okpi/Punch
Obasanjo said this in Lagos on Tuesday after delivering a lecture titled, ‘Leadership foundation and underpinning’ as the guest speaker at the forum of the Nigeria Leadership Initiative.
He said after observing that Nigeria was at the precipice and under heavy debt, he focused on holding the country together, securing debt relief and improving the image of the country.
When asked if he had regrets concerning his two cycles of political leadership of the country, Obasanjo said, “When I was military Head of State, my main concern was how do we forge a united country and a self reliant country? So, the constitution was very important. We established a constitution that helped us to achieve that.
“When I came back in 1999, some people came to me and said I will be the last president of Nigeria. There were different groups at that time; there were the Egbesu Boys, the OPC and the Arewa. Some people thought the centre would not hold together. The need then again was how do we hold the people together and how do we pay off our debts?”
He added, “Nigeria was a pariah state, which nobody wanted to touch. But by the time we left, Nigeria was the darling of the world. So (for that) I don’t think there was anything I wanted to achieve that I didn’t achieve.”
He however admitted that his administration did not succeed in fixing the power sector, but blamed it on paucity of funds.
“If I had had money, I would have started working on power earlier than we started. People have forgotten that when I came in, there was little funds to do much. But then we started the National Integrated Power Project and the oil companies that were supposed to assist us were not forthcoming. I think it was only Agip that built something,” he said.
To buttress the achievement of his administration, Obasanjo said when he became President in 1999, Nigeria’s reserve was $3.7bn and the country was spending $3bn every year to pay interest on debts.
“At the time we owed about $35bn. But by the time I left, our reserve was about $45bn. We had paid all our debts. Our debt sum, all that we owed was about $3bn. And we had about $35bn in what we call the excess crude account for a rainy day. And when we left they said the rain has come and cleared the account,” he said.
Obasanjo also stressed the need for training of leaders in Africa to effectively respond to the global challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century.