If foreign travel brings success, President Olusegun Obasanjo will be miles ahead of his compatriots. But as Nigeria celebrates 42 years of independence on 1 October, the jury is still out on Obasanjo's performance.
The size of the 88-page first edition of The Trouble with Nigeria, the essay by Africa's foremost novelist, Chinua Achebe, on the social ills of Nigeria was just about that of the palm of an adult. Published first in 1983, it remains a best seller, two decades afterwards. The popularity of The Trouble with Nigeria is due entirely to its blunt thesis that reduced the cause of the sorry situation in Africa's most populous country to just one factor: leadership.
Now, after nearly four years since the end of the eighth military dictatorship (counting from the first one in 1966), it is obvious that the demand for Achebe's powerful little book will continue to soar. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military ruler himself(1976-1979), does not appear to be the leader Nigeria is waiting for.
Just two months to the election year (2003) when Nigerians will again try their luck in their search for a leader, only one accomplishment is indubitably cited as Obasanjo's achievement: the return to democracy after the nightmare years of the military juntas.
A columnist in one of Nigeria's national dailies, Ike Abonyi, put it philosophically in a piece he wrote when Obasanjo had spent only two of the four years of his tenure.
"If I met him now," Abonyi wrote, "I am not likely to tell him that he has failed like most Nigerians ... I will tell him that after 24 months in the presidential saddle ... the visible difference between democracy and military rule as can be seen these past two years is just the dressing, one in uniform, the other in mufti."
One more year into his tenure, the Lower House of the National Assembly came out with a plan to impeach him. The Senate immediately supported it and set up a committee to investigate alleged breaches of constitutional and budgetary provisions. Most doubted from the word go that Obasanjo would actually end up being impeached. Indeed he himself characteristically called the whole effort "a wild joke carried too far".
Another thing, though, also seems to be sure. President Obasanjo at the present level of loss of popularity cannot win an election for a second term. Clearly the popularity he enjoyed in his first months in office has evaporated in the face of the stark social and economic realities.