Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has urged the government to “quickly and voluntarily” implement all necessary reforms to address the country’s prevailing political and security challenges.
Obasanjo who visited Maseru this week told the Lesotho Times that the reforms should be implemented without pressure “from outside” if the country is to achieve lasting peace and stability.
The former Nigerian ruler said he was in Maseru on a two-day visit at the invitation of the government.
He would not give specific details about the invitation although Trade and Industry Minister Joshua Setipa said General Obasanjo had been invited to explore investment opportunities in Lesotho.
“I had an invitation from the government and I have found the visit very instructive,” General Obasanjo said in an interview.
“I have met with the Foreign Affairs Minister, the Trade and Industry Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Prime Minister and His Majesty, King Letsie III. And I am meeting the Minister of Agriculture tomorrow morning (Tuesday) before I leave the country.
“The government, of course, made me fairly aware of the ongoing security and political issues the country is grappling with.”
He continued: “I am also here for what I would call self-education. It has been a pleasure to be invited to Maseru. I haven’t been to Lesotho since 1986 when I came here as co-chair of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group.”
Asked what he thought of Lesotho’s political and security challenges which have seen three main opposition leaders—Thomas Thabane, Thesele ‘Maseribane and Keketso Rantšo of the All Basotho Convention, Basotho National Party and Reformed Congress of Lesotho respectively—fleeing into exile, General Obasanjo said it was up to Basotho themselves to resolve whatever challenges they might be facing.
“All the reforms that are necessary will be implemented by the leadership of this country. And they must do it as quickly as possible, voluntarily, without being pressurized from outside,” he said.
On his part, Mr Setipa said he invited General Obasanjo three weeks ago and was happy that he responded promptly.
The former Nigerian ruler owns Obasanjo Holdings Limited whose subsidiaries are very strong players in the agriculture, manufacturing, property and media industries in Nigeria and neighbouring states. Mr Setipa says Lesotho could also benefit from such investments.
Mr Setipa said the government could use General Obasanjo to lure Nigerian banks into investing in Lesotho.
General Obasanjo was Nigeria’s head of state between 13 February 1976 and 1 October 1979 and from 29 May 1999 to 29 May 2007, and has since been appointed to lead or be part of several influential international bodies.
“The reason I invited General Obasanjo to Lesotho was because of his interest in investing in poultry farming and his connections to the banking industry in Nigeria which is strong enough to compete with South African-led commercial banks operating in Lesotho today,” Mr Setipa said.
“He is interested in poultry farming and has large farms in Nigeria and other West and East African states and we want him to also consider investing in Lesotho. There are opportunities here for him to tap into.
“Strong Nigerian banks can also be easily attracted to open businesses in Lesotho with his assistance. Nigeria is second in Africa, if not at par with South Africa, as far as their banking business is concerned. We think there can be an opportunity here for them.”
The minister further emphasised the need for African nations to engage more in trade with each other, adding having close ties with General Obasanjo could “open avenues for such opportunities”.
Mr Setipa explained: “We are a big consumer of cotton from many other African countries and why can’t we buy from Nigeria? There is a whole, big range of goods we can trade with each other.”
Mr Setipa said General Obasanjo had engaged in “very frank discussions” with the government on a wide range of issues, but mostly economic growth.
“His advice to the government was much appreciated from those frank discussions. And from a Trade and Investment perspective, I am very much interested to have him invest in this country,” said Mr Setipa.
Asked if the opposition knew about General Obasanjo’s visit, ABC secretary general Samonyane Ntsekele said: “No; we are not aware of the visit. All I heard from rumours was that he was here on business, which had nothing to do with our concerns, top among them the implementation of the SADC recommendations.”
The SADC recommendations followed an investigation into the 25 June 2015 fatal shooting of former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao.
The chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has since urged Lesotho to “urgently implement the recommendations of the (Justice Mphaphi) Phumaphi report with a view to ensuring lasting peace and stability in Lesotho”.
In a Press statement released on 16 May 2016 and posted on the AU website, Ms Dlamini-Zuma emphasized the need for Lesotho to implement the SADC recommendations to foster democracy and the rule of law.