By Fassy Yusuf
EVER since he took over from Colonel Benjamin Adekunle (The Black Scorpion) as Commander of Third Marine Commando (3 Division), Nigeria Army on May 12, 1969, General (then a Colonel) Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo (you may also prefix him as Chief, Dr., Theologian or Engineer) has become a main issue in the Nigerian polity.
Hate him or like him, the history of this country in the last fifty years would be incomplete without references to the role of this Owu-Egba born Theologian.
Biafra surrendered to Nigeria on January 12, 1970 and Colonel Obasanjo had the fortune of escorting the Biafran team led by Colonel Philip Effiong to the Dodan Barracks, which was the seat of power then to formally surrender to General Yakubu “Jack” Gowon, thus ending the Nigerian civil war.
Obasanjo was later made the Federal Commissioner for Works. When Gowon was ousted in a palace coup on July 29, 1975, Obasanjo was named the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters by the Military junta.
Unfortunately, his boss, General Murtala Ramat Muhammed was assassinated in an abortive coup led by Lt. Col. Dimka on February 13, 1976. Consequently, Obasanjo assumed the leadership of the country ‘against his personal wish and desire’.
To his credit, he returned the country to constitutional democracy on October 1, 1979. Obasanjo retired to his farm in Ota as a statesman lending his voice to national discourse.
He began the Ota Farm House Dialogue Series of which this writer participated. He was acerbic and critical of other administrations that came after him. He seemed to have solutions to all the nation’s problems.
He was largely tolerated. However, his acerbic wit got him into trouble during the regime of the maximum ruler, General Sani Abacha.
He was arrested, ‘tried’ and convicted by a military court of being part of a planned coup, albeit he protested his innocence.
However, General Abdulsalami Abubakar who took over following the death of Abacha on June 8, 1998 released Obasanjo from prison and granted him state pardon.
This situation paved the way for Obasanjo to contest for the presidency of the country in 1999 under the umbrella of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
He was sworn in as President, Commander-in-Chief of the country on May 29, 1999. He spent two terms of four years each and handed over power on May 29, 2007.
Since leaving office, Obasanjo has assumed the role of official assessor and critic of successive administrations (after him) and in some cases, administrations before him.
No doubt, he has achieved what nobody in this country, dead or alive, ever achieved. He was a war commander.
He was a minister. He was a vice president (chief of staff, Supreme headquarters). He was military head of state; and he was a democratically elected president of the country. We must give all these to him.
What a feat? Although, Dr. Obasanjo is himself averse to criticisms and would hardly take to any advice in all the leadership positions thrusted upon him in this country, he has never allowed any opportunity to slip by without criticising the activities of those in power or telling them how issues should be handled differently.
He writes frequently on the state of the nation and most people think he plays to the gallery.
This is not to say that there is no sense in most of his criticisms. However, the belief of most observers and analysts is that giving his privileged position, he needs to be more circumspect and discreet about some of his vituperations and writings, and the channels he deploy.
In other words, since he has access to those he is criticising or advising, does he not make better sense to consult and dialogue with them rather than constant seeking of relevance and cheap publicity and popularity through the media?
Why not adopt the approach of Gowon, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Shonekan, Uwais, Belgore and other statesmen constituting the National Council of State? So, what is the latest from Chief Olusegun Obasanjo?
He gave his latest sermon in Abuja last Thursday (September 10) entitled Moving Nigeria Away from Tipping Over, which he ‘preached’ at a consultative dialogue attended by some socio-cultural groups including the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF), Afenifere, Middle Belt Forum, Pan Niger Delta Forum and Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo.
The sermon represented what the audience wanted to hear. By the way, ‘a sermon is an oration or lecture by a preacher.
Elements of the sermon often include exposition, exhortation and practical application (Wikipedia).’ The outing of Obasanjo last Thursday can therefore, be taken in the context of a sermon.
‘Today, Nigeria is fast drifting to a failed and badly divided state; economically our country is becoming a basket case and poverty capital of the world, and socially, we are firming up as an unwholesome and insecure country’, the wise OBJ preached.
We should strive to disaggregate or discountenance the messenger and concentrate on the message as General Obasanjo was never known to be amenable to advice and criticisms when he was in the saddle of this country and sermonising every now and then could be nauseating to those who are familiar with his ubiquitous antecedents.
But then, we cannot ignore his last Thursday’s ‘sermon’ at ‘Mount’ Abuja. Indeed, his ‘sermon’ dealt in the main, on the challenges bedevilling our nation.
He sermonised about the products of mismanagement of diversity and socio economic development of the country, secession and drums of war, problem of disunity, forging of rapprochements, living together in understanding, mutual respect and love with equity, justice, inclusiveness, etc.
He also touched on dealing with ‘internal issues of terrorism, organised crimes, banditry, kidnapping, human trafficking, drug, money laundering, and corruption. He hammered on what one may call the eight D’s- death, destruction, debt, disease, deceit, disbelief, disenchantment, and doubt, among others.
‘We need to see our way through to 2023 and beyond in some form of unity of purpose, reasonable security, shared values, true democratic practice, inclusiveness and shared society,’ he submitted.
Unemployment, derelict education, decaying social infrastructures, economic stagnation and the state of our health system should also be issues that we must address holistically.
Obasanjo has sermonised again and it appears Aso Rock is uncomfortable, once again, for not using the ‘right channel’ to remind those currently in power of the enormous challenge of governance and those issues requiring urgent resolution. However, we cannot assume all is well with our country.
It is now more compelling for the leadership of this country to take the bull by the horn.
For how long shall it take us to work toward ensuring or institutionalising transparency, equity, justice and egalitarianism in our country?
Must one section continue to dominate other sections? Why is it so difficult to have the people’s Constitution as opposed to the present fraud?
If we truly practise federalism, why can’t we have true federalism in the real sense of it? Why is the country so enmeshed in corruption and abuse of public office?
Why is the preponderance of our budget used in serving the bureaucracy, the executive and legislature and thus, we neglect critical areas that can take us to greatness?
The unitary system we operate under the guise of federalism has been the bane of this country since 1966 and until the situation is reversed, no meaningful progress can be made.
Some parts of the country are benefitting from the dysfunctional state; but this must change.
We must change the rudderless state of the nation and move in the right direction.
No doubt, the latest sermon from OBJ is another clarion call and must be seen as such.
It is thus apposite for us to ignore the messenger and concentrate on the message. As long as OBJ lives, we should expect more ‘sermons’ from him for our present and future leaders, the channel(s) adopted notwithstanding.