At 83, Baba Obasanjo is still fit and trim, showing no traces of receding physical vitality that signals advancing age. And being fit as a fiddle, the former Nigeria’s President still invests his energy in the service of God, humanity and nation building.
Whether as General Olusegun Obasanjo of the Operation Feed the Nation era, or as Matthew Okikiola Aremu Obasanjo of the anti-apartheid age, or as Presidential letter writer, or even President Obasanjo of the garrison political epoch, we see Obasanjo making his mark a variety of ways in a country where he has been destined to be both the father-figure and godfather.
As Baba Iyabo dances his way to his nineties and beyond, at each period, it is easy to look at the footprints he is leaving in the sand of time. Those who see Chief Obasanjo as representing the moral compass of the nation may not be mistaken, especially when viewed against the background of his many interventions during disquieting moments of Nigeria’s socio-political progression.
Such was the quality of his manifestation that when the country was thrown into national mourning by the assassination of the first purposeful leader, Murtala Ramat Muhammad in 1976, Obasanjo came on the scene to sustain the agenda for development and national unity.
As he appeared on the political landscape after Murtala’s demise, Obasanjo opened the eyes of Nigerians to the undying need for food security as the pathway to real sovereignty, insisting that a country that cannot feed its population is already on the highway to Golgotha.
Manifesting the discipline expected of the military, which is his primary constituency, Obasanjo set the date for the official handover of political power from the brass hats to the civilians. The goodwill engendered by that resolve helped in no small way to deepen Nigeria’s statehood by appropriating the collectivist, as opposed to the exclusivist approach to nation building, which military rule represented.
And, demonstrating that there is actually life outside political power, immediately Obasanjo left the office of head of state, he veered into international diplomacy by associating himself with the idea of a Commonwealth Group of Eminent Persons.
Without knowing it, Obasanjo allowed himself to be formed by situation and circumstances as Nigeria’s emergent statesman with a global outlook. He ploughed the experience of his short stay in office as Nigeria’s military head of state into the search for veritable answers to the leadership deficit that had continued to keep the African continent down and dormant.
What is more instructive about the retired General’s unsuccessful run for the office of the chief executive of the world body is the fact that he did not withdraw into self abnegation or pity, but decided to retool himself in the tiny details of international diplomacy.At the end of the day, having burrowed into many books, Obasanjo became a reader moved to emulation, as he authored books about his life story, experience and outlook on life. And so, from My Command, through Not My Will, This Animal Called Man and the multi-volume My Watch, Baba Obasanjo showed not only the workings of his mind, but also his desire to impart knowledge.
From his lowly background, General Obasanjo has been able to demonstrate in words and gestures, even by his achievements that education remains the key to development as well as a powerful social crane to lift man out of the morass of ignorance and poverty.
His military background must have equipped him with the confidence and courage to face the challenges of the society. That could be why most often than not those who tried to put Obasanjo down or use his lowly background against him received severe verbal punches in return.
At his 80th birthday, the former President told The Guardian that his spat with Nigeria’s lone Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, does not ensue from personal bitterness, but informed by the fact that “Wole should not have cathedral opinion about everything, because he is a poor political analyst.”
You cannot talk about Baba Obasanjo without remembering his many letters to sitting Presidents, most of which are couched in critical appraisal and acerbic condemnation of absolutist tendencies.
From former President Shehu Shagari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari, Obasanjo’s letters helped to shape their administrations and leadership styles.
Although he had received flaks from his interventions, those who associate the retired General’s missives with mischief have never traced malice to his desire to alert the leaders of obvious slips.
That could explain why despite his most recent salvo against President Buhari that his administration runs as if no one is in charge, the President still had to shower encomiums on the former military head of state and civilian President.
Felicitating with Baba Obasanjo on his “life of courage, dedication and service to Nigeria, Africa, and humanity in general,” President Buhari noted that the former President’s “commitment to Nigerian nationhood remains outstanding and commendable.”
The President added that “his sacrifices for the continent, including standing up for democracy in many countries,” are praiseworthy.Many of such warm sentiments flowed freely as the Ebora of Owu turned 83 years. But none exceeded in dept the message from his former deputy, Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
While recalling that no Nigerian living or dead has impacted on the nation as Obasanjo, Atiku declared: “No living Nigerian has given as much to Nigeria in peacetime and in war as you have. May Almighty God grant you many more years in good health and continued service to Nigeria and the world at large.”
Perhaps it is on account of his abiding love for the youth as the leaders of tomorrow that life has favoured Obasanjo with enormous grace, such that he remains young in heart and body, never aging and refusing to be caged by adversities or vicissitudes of daily living.
For many years to come Nigerians would, no matter what befalls the country, always hear the echo of Obasanjo, Obasanjo, Obasanjo as they count their blessing of democracy and search for good governance, social welfare and harmonious co-existence. That in itself attests to the fact that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo remains the father of our nation.