Obasanjo at 80 or 90

Whether he admits it or not, former President Olusegun Obasanjo has entered the sunset of his life on earth. It’s a privilege to live to old age in today’s turbulent world. The Bible somewhere prescribes 70 years (three scores and 10) as man’s lifespan; any day longer is a bonus. Obasanjo should know this: he’s a theology scholar!

What is Obasanjo’s actual age? He told guests last week that he didn’t know, and that he once travelled to India to find out. Without success. The witch doctor or seer merely told him he would live long, he said. How he arrived at March 5, 1937, as his date of birth appears strange, given that his mom only told him he was born on Ifo market day. Ten years ago, his first son Gbenga told a journalist that his father was over 80 years – but still “active” in bed.

Obasanjo may have therefore clocked 90 already. But that is not even important. All wise people agree that it’s not how long one lived but how well they lived that matters. So let’s end the guessing game about his age. Officially speaking, he is 80 today! To the Ebora Owu I say “Happy birthday! May you live for 50 more years!”

Anyone who has had a chance to live to 80 or even 70 years ought to worry about his legacy or what he would be remembered for.  John Kennedy once stated that people remember other people for one thing, not two. I believe he’s right. I remember Nnamdi Azikiwe as the foremost nationalist who won independence for Nigeria. I remember Obafemi Awolowo as a leader who offered free education to his people in the south-west. Murtala Muhammed fought corruption but died during the fight. Dim Emeka Ojukwu fought as Biafra’s leader to defend his people. Ibrahim Babangida annulled a free and fair presidential election. Abacha was a brutal dictator who was perhaps taken out along with Moshood Abiola to pave way for democracy’s return. Yakubu Gowon fought a civil war and later started praying for the forgiveness of his sins.

What shall the future generations of Nigerians remember Obasanjo for? Now that Nigeria has re-introduced history as a subject in schools, I don’t know what the young chaps will be taught. But, just as I commented in 2006, people will remember Obasanjo for attempting to rule Nigeria for a third term by changing the country’s constitution to achieve his selfish desire. And there is nothing Obasanjo has done so far to change that tag. Many would even consider that epitaph very generous: they have reserved worse words for him.

In remembering another person, many don’t talk about the person’s wealth or his children. They don’t talk about the magnificent houses he built or the private jets he bought or his business empires. Such things are meaningless. Only ideals last. Thus, even though Obasanjo may live to 100 or 120, the name of Murtala or Nzeogwu who died young will last longer than his in the history of Nigeria.

Overall, I mark Obasanjo’s generation in Nigeria out as the worst so far. It’s the generation that fought a senseless war that killed more than 3million of their compatriots. It’s the generation that staged coups and counter-coups. It’s the generation that killed Nigeria through bad leadership and monumental corruption. Some of us may ascribe some good things to them, but the future generations will not.

Apart from Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, members of Obasanjo’s generation have ruled Nigeria from 1966 to date. They still plot to install the leaders of Nigeria until they die out or replace themselves with their children.

Take Obasanjo as an example. I first set eyes on him early in 1978 while I was a new student in secondary school. I was late to the hall where he was received in our school that day, and, as I was walking toward the hall, Obasanjo and his entourage were leaving. So I stood inside a flower garden as the convoy of vehicles was passing slowly. I beheld Obasanjo (with heavy tribal marks) standing at the back of a van. I waved to him and he waved back to me. Later, I asked those who listened to him what he said and they told me he said that we young ones were the leaders of tomorrow.

That was almost 40 years ago. Obasanjo was head of state then. He retired from the army in 1979 and, 20 years later, he was back as “elected” president. Not yet satisfied, he wanted a third term or life term like Robert Mugabe. When the gambit was foiled, he worked to determine all future leaders of Nigeria. Anyone who disobeyed him became an enemy.

The small boy that waved at Obasanjo in 1978 is now approaching old age, but Obasanjo’s generation is still in the saddle. When will “tomorrow” come? I put the same question to Babangida inside his Minna residence in 2010 and, in reply, he said “tomorrow” had already come because some governors were younger than me then.

History will judge Obasanjo’s generation harshly (the words of the late Omo Omoruyi on IBB). It will be more terrible for those of them that live long enough to witness a revolution during which the bones of the dead could be exhumed and then hanged, a fitting punishment for those who had betrayed their country, looted it dry and then left it to die.

Living up to 80 or 90 years is a rare opportunity. I believe Obasanjo still has a chance to reinvent himself and perhaps erase the ugly memories of the past. I would advise him to stop meddling in the politics of Nigeria. He has already lost the opportunity to write his name in gold by restructuring Nigeria. Only after he left office did he start regretting it, but wasn’t he told at the time?

His generation falsely lays claim to patriotism by insisting on the “indivisibility” of Nigeria, as if it created the country. I predict that those of them who live long enough will witness a cataclysm in Nigeria, unless the country’s leaders do the right thing within the next decade. Obasanjo himself alluded to a breakup on Thursday when he called for prayers so that the country wouldn’t sink like the PDP. Nigeria prays.



 I’m mourning two friends now.

Michael Elochukwu Ogbe, 16, an SS3 student of ASACS International School, Bwari, Abuja, died of a neck/head injury during a high jump on Wednesday. My neighbour’s only son, Elochukwu was like a son to me as well. His body will be taken to, and buried in, his hometown Agulu in Anambra State on March 25.

Shehu Dauda, 61, a veteran journalist, was reported dead Friday night and buried yesterday in accordance with Islamic rites. Dauda and I first worked together at Newbreed magazine in 1992; he was the editor then. Earlier he was the editor of Sunday Triumph of Kano and The Mail in Lagos. We met again in 2005 at LEADERSHIP in Abuja and co-led it to become a daily on February 1, 2006.



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