OPINION | Olusegun Obasanjo at 80

With fanfare, former President Olusegun Obasanjo marked his eightieth birthday. While inspiring encomiums, it highlighted his influence worldwide as a man of power and what some of his admirers and critics call enigma. Prominent citizens showed up at his Ota, Ogun State retreat. The celebration’s high moments were at his presidential library in Abeokuta, the state capital.
Yet we cannot but salute the man who has demonstrated a resilience and staying power not only in his soldiery, but as a politician. He has been a recurring character in our history since the 1960s, and has not ceased to stamp his views and influence on the nation.
He has hardly attracted consensus. In fact, he has fattened on controversies. One of the reasons he is called an enigma is the view that he reaped where others sowed. The civil war that raged between 1967 and 1970 did not feature him as a principal force as commander until the tail end. Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle, otherwise known as “the black scorpion,” steered the campaigns through the dreary terrain and swamps of today’s Niger Delta from Warri to Port Harcourt and even mapped the strategy to run over what was called the OAU. That is, Owerri, Aba and Umuahia. The battle was in the last stretch and victory was assured when Adekunle was recalled from the battlefield and Obasanjo took over.
It is more than a little simplistic to say he merely stepped in to accept the instruments of surrender from Biafra. He could have fluffed the last flushes of hostilities. All is well that ends well. So, he made it end. He deserves the credit even if we cannot deny Adekunle all his plaudits for years of great soldiery.
He succeeded General Murtala Muhammed who was killed in a coup, and became the head of state and the first to hand over power to civilians. He was to deny that he backed the move to give him a third term.
He stepped in as a patriot in the aftermath of the June 12 crisis. He won though his Yoruba base voted against him. He brought the nation back on its feet.
Yet, he will be remembered for more things. One, he strained the struggle for federalism by ossifying what his critics called mainstreaming. He de-emphasised the states, and forced the states to bow to the demands of a central government. The nation witnessed this barrack mentality in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) crisis.
When he publicly tore his party card in 2015, he was unknowingly pronouncing a verdict on his machinations as the party leader when he was president.
His handling of the economy has been controversial. But we cannot forget that the fortunes of the average Nigerian dropped on his watch and when he left office, they did not fare better than when he mounted the high chair. But he takes the credit again for the wireless revolution in the country with the abundance of cell phones and wireless services in a new burst for jobs and commerce. Yet some critics say anyone could have had that credit who became president. But Obasanjo did not stand in its way, and he deserves to glow in its day.
He might have been accused of a lopsided fight against corruption, but the institution and momentum are here to stay. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) have become symbols of our rot as a people and the fight to stop it.
History eventually may be mixed on the man, but he is likely to enjoy more accolades than condemnations.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*