A former Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Iyabo Obasanjo, who served as a Commissioner for Health in Ogun State between 2003 and 2006; and following that was elected to represent the Ogun State Central Senatorial District in the Senate where she served as chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health between 2007 and 2011. Senator Obasanjo as chairman of the committee was instrumental to the birth of the National Health Bill which, however, was not passed under her stewardship of the Committee talks about Nigerian politics in this interview
Following her stint in public service and a failed attempt to return to the Senate in 2011, she returned to the academia in the United States. While taking a passive interest in Nigerian politics, Dr. Obasanjo, however, took more than a passive interest in the aspirations of the United States Democratic Party 2016 presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, describing his socialist inclined polices and detachment from the party establishment as her attractions. Obasanjo who disclosed that she attended rallies in support of Sanders described the emergence of Mrs. Hilary Clinton as a mistake that did more harm than good for the Democratic Party in the main election.
Dr. Obasanjo, a Veterinary doctor and daughter of former Nigerian president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, recently relocated from Massachusetts to Virgina in continuation of her work in the academia. She responded to issues in Nigeria and the recent presidential elections in the United States in this interview.
What do you do now in the US?
I teach at a University. I got my Ph.D. about 20 years ago, and so it comes in handy to teach at tertiary institutions.
You have relatively settled in America, are you in touch with developments in Nigeria?
I don’t follow on a regular basis. Of course, if there is an important event going on, like the elections of last year, I search for the news but usually I don’t follow. Sometimes I hear of things long after the events have passed or in talking to friends and family.
So, what is your assessment of developments in Nigeria?
Sad! How a country with so many talented people could be in such mess is saddening. It is the future that actually is frightening. How are children and grandchildren going to do in the future when no one is planning for the future?
Do you see the “Change” Nigerians made at the federal level last year leading the country in the right direction?
Twice recently I have come across interviews of the President (Muhammadu Buhari) and it seems his focus is just on oil and gas. Focusing on oil and gas, a natural resource we have no control over is what got us to where we are and somehow he thinks it will get us out! The time of oil as a king commodity is past and never coming back.
In the history of humanity, the commodity that becomes king changes from time to time. From the time of the OPEC formation in the early seventies till now, oil had been king.
It will no longer be because if we continue using it at the rate, we have in the last 100 years we will not have a planet. Countries that didn’t use their income from oil to generate other sources of income will be in dire straits, hence Nigeria’s economic woes. Taking oil for granted as if it would be at high prices forever is idiotic.
Now if change means more focus on oil and gas as the President is saying then obviously change has not come.
Your party or would I say former party, PDP is today torn asunder. How do you think the PDP got to this stage and how do you think the party can be revived?
I have no idea but it is not only about the PDP, almost everything in the country is upside down.
What is your perspective on the elections in the United States? What do you think led to the emergence of Mr. Donald Trump as president?
I don’t think the elections were about electing Trump; it was about rejecting Hillary Clinton, but I am not sure that lesson was learned.
Who did you support in the US elections?
I supported Bernie Sanders because he was the only one that genuinely advocated for a reduction in inequality. The worse the socio-economic indicators of a country, the larger the inequality. Large inequality is a mark of a poor underdeveloped country and the US inequality is getting worse and no one seemed to even use the word inequality other than Sanders during the primaries.
In poor countries, the majority are barely able to live or get by on a daily basis while a small percentage live as the rich in rich countries and this is why they are poor. The mark of a great country is not how many billionaires it creates; but the life of the lowest, poorest individual defines a great country, and so I believed Sanders would make the US a greater country by addressing the pain of its poorest citizens.
In what way do you think the Trump regime would affect Nigeria?
Again no idea and not my call.
The Obama regime was believed to have shown little regard for Nigeria. Do you agree and if so, in what way do you think the damage can be repaired?
What do you mean by little regard? When he was visiting Ghana, I had a young Nigerian student say to me that he was disregarding Nigeria by going to Ghana and not visiting Nigeria. Part of his reason for going to Ghana was that it had just discovered oil and an American company was bidding for rights, his wife’s genetic test indicated she is of Ghanaian ancestry, and it is also one of the few countries in West Africa that can be classed as a liberal democracy to which Nigeria does not fit in. Why is an American President visiting you important?
Do you think the Chinese were waiting for an American President to visit before executing their development agenda that took the people out of poverty in the shortest time in the history of humanity?
Nixon visited China because he realised it couldn’t be ignored any longer not because the Chinese pleaded for a visit.
So continue to focus on the outside (rather) than doing the internal development work and worry about the regard or not others have for your country instead of making your country one that cannot be ignored.
Do you see a woman soon breaking that ceiling and emerging as president in America in the near future?
Of course. Young women couldn’t relate to Hillary and she had been around so long that there was a house full of opposition research on her. The first female president will probably not be tied to politics through her spouse but would have made it on her own recognition.
What lessons do you think Nigerians can learn from the political developments that recently happened in the United States?
Don’t know and it’s not my call. Have Nigerians learnt anything about democracy ever? Hard to say.
Do you see yourself ever playing any political role in Nigeria in the near future?