Without much argument, anyone who believes in God must agree that the man, Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo, Nigeria’s two-time leader, is a beneficiary of the inexhaustible grace of God. In fact, when I think about the Holy Bible’s assertion of the tendency of God to have mercy on whom he pleases, Obasanjo comes to mind as one, who, in spite of the feeling of many of his compatriots, continues to receive unmerited favour from God.
At least, two times in what can be said to be his relatively long life, given that he has attained the octogenarian milestone in a country where life expectancy is barely 50, Obasanjo had, in the full glare of the public, sensed the grim stench of death with his bare nostrils but on both occasions, fortune literarily lifted him from the valley of the shadow of death into a place of influence and authority.
When his friend and boss, Gen. Murtala Muhammed, was killed in a coup d’état in 1976, Obasanjo was also meant for extermination but he survived the coup and could, against his will became Nigeria’s leader for the next three years or so.
In 1995, Obasanjo was roped into a phantom coup attempt for which a military tribunal set up by the late Maximum Ruler, Gen. Sani Abacha, sentenced him to 30 years’ imprisonment. Had Abacha not died untimely in 1998, chances that Obasanjo would live to see the end of the 15 years to which his sentence was commuted were slim. After all, longtime friend, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for the same offences died mysteriously in 1997! Obasanjo did not only come out alive after Abacha’s death, he had the good fortune of being the beneficiary of the almost one decade-long struggle to return Nigeria to civil rule, which claimed numerous lives including that of Chief MKO Abiola.
The Obasanjo enigma cannot be entirely subjected to Providence; in addition to whatever fortunes the Almighty might have allotted him, Obasanjo has himself invested unparalleled hard work, focus and determination. It in fact would be no exaggeration to suggest that there is no other leader who has done more to reinvent himself like the Ebora Owu. After all, did he not just acquire a doctorate at the age of 80?
Apart from his legendary hard work, Obasanjo is also unequally far-sighted and courageous. And the truth is that nature itself would be unjust not to reward such a disposition in mortals.
So, with a mixture of divine grace and the competences which he had deliberately built and developed over the years, Obasanjo has, without any iota of doubt, become the most accomplished Nigerian in a variety of areas; some of which I will presently highlight.
As a soldier, the career which first brought him into public view, Obasanjo excelled as a military strategist competent at war and disciplined with power. Leading the military to hand over power to a democratically elected government in 1979 launched him into international politics in a way in which no other Nigerian politician compares.
Obasanjo has also went from being a soldier, a calling which is scoffed at in the part of the country where he hails, to register his name as an intellectual and thinker. He is an effective diplomat at various levels and even at some point attempted to head the United Nations. If any Nigerian is able to walk into the chambers of kings, queens and leaders anywhere in the world, perhaps, that would be Obasanjo.
In addition to all of this, it is not likely that you would find any Obasanjo is a national patriot beyond the scope of any other in Nigeria. From what we know of our leaders, he is possibly the only one would sacrifice the interest of his Owu clan for that of some other ethnic group, unleash on his Yoruba ethnic group in favour of some others or lambast leaders of his Christian faith on a bill of what he perceives to be just and equitable. This is why it is understandable that he would criticise nepotic tendencies in some other leaders.
But what probably set Obasanjo apart most, in my reckoning, is his understanding of the issues that are germane to national development. No matter how much we argue, Obasanjo appears to be the most impactful leader Nigeria has had. His concern for the education of Nigerian children, which is backed up by his own example in the ending pursuit for knowledge; his unending warning for the dangers inherent in the number of unemployed youths that Nigeria harbours; his incessant reminder to authorities about the need to improve the situation of women and give every Nigerian a sense of belonging are clear indications of his towering vision.
But in spite of all of this, can we truly say Obasanjo is a good man and that he is driven by his altruistic nature and his mass benefit in his actions and utterances?
The answer is very simple. To the extent that we agree that there is evil in every man, Obasanjo is fallible in the fashion of all men. Two very great ways in which this man constantly showed his humanity lie in the insufferable capacity for self-adulation. Obasanjo is a victim of intellectual arrogance, a demon which makes him walk and speak with the conviction of being the only one with the panacea for Nigeria’s unending problems.
This messianic affliction leads the former president into seeing himself as an intricate part of the destiny of Nigeria. It is the reason why he literarily imposed the late Umaru Yar’Adua as his successor in 2003 and Goodluck Jonathan in 2011. This is why he is sworn on stopping his former ally and Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, amongst many other examples of his self-adulatory tendencies.
His other very evident vice is the incurable interest in self-gratification. Obasanjo, even when he paints his decisions in national colours, almost seems to have a personal gain however he pilots the ship of the country. When he imposed Yar’Adua, he was almost sure that he would have access to the seat of power and handle the joystick for a long time to come, but he was soon disappointed. The same happened with the Jonathan administration. He soon became a stranger at the President’s table and his godson soon became an enemy number one. And on Tuesday, Obasanjo turned against President Muhammadu Buhari, the same one he assured Nigerians would take us to the Promised Land less than three years back. There just seems to be something far beyond interest of the nation motivating Obasanjo’s choices on our behalf.
To cap it all, Obasanjo breathes infallibility. He has never been heard or known to openly admit to a fault or apologise for misconduct. If he foists someone on us against our wish, the beneficiaries and maybe those of us who had no hand in his decision, get the blame for the disappointment that his protégés almost always become. Just two weeks back, he was blaming the Yar’Adua administration for destroying the anti-corruption structure that he put in place, forgetting that he singlehandedly terminated the ambitions of so many other Nigerians on the score of his sole and unexplained preference for the selfsame Yar’Adua. Besides, he is not disposed to accepting that he, who brings strangers to lead, is as guilty in the event of their failure as his benefactors.
The question however is: are these frailties enough to dismiss the Obasanjo essence as a patriot and uncommon Nigerian?
My sentiment is no! The great Abraham Lincoln once said, “To sin by silence, when they should protest, makes cowards of men.” Obasanjo vindicates himself as a man of courage when at his age, when a lot of his peers at home are tending their grandchildren or pandering to religious and ethnic sentiments, he speaks to power without regard to his previous relationship with those who call the shots. Surely, the man has committed errors against this country more than once but speaking up when time calls for it shows him as man whose eyes are more set on the future than on the past. It does not matter whether he is right or wrong, but he gives Nigerians something to talk about and for that, no silence would compensate.
By: Niran Adedokun for TheCable.
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