Dr Joseph Onigbinde/PhD
On January 20, 1961, when John F. Kennedy took the oath of office to become the America’s 35th president, he made a memorable statement, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” This quote pretty much sums the person of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
As a vastly traveled medical doctor who has trained and worked at different levels in three major continents of the world; Africa, Europe and North America (USA and Canada) especially in Public Health, I have interacted with many people including leaders, but none has impressed me as former President Olusegun Obasanjo whom I have known at close quarters in the last five years.
One thing that stands out is the confidence with which he talks about Nigeria, to him it’s like the best product in the world yet under-marketing it. Baba (as Chief Obasanjo is fondly called) oozes confidence when he talks about the prospect in the country, be it, natural resources or human resources. For those who know him, Nigeria is the only project he knows and he has proven beyond reasonable doubt, his unflinching love for the country.
In Africa and internationally, Baba is talked about only in the same sentence as President Nelson Mandela of South Africa. He is revered and respected not only because he has ruled Nigeria but because of his love for the country, Nigeria.
He thinks, he talks, he eats, he drinks and he sleeps Nigeria. I have never met anyone who is more concerned about his country than his personal self. Having served Nigeria as a military head of state and also as a civilian President, Chief Obasanjo has seen it all but nothing gives him more joy than when Nigeria thrives.
So, when I read on Saturday, 3 August 2019 that he had met with some Fulani cattle breeders, I was not surprised. He is a man who will stop at NOTHING to ensure that Nigeria succeeds. He has seen it all, he knows what it means to go to war and he also understands what it means to live in peace.
During his meeting with Fulani cattle breeders in the Southwest as well as Kogi and Kwara States, something stood out, and that is his continuous call for everyone to live in peace irrespective of where they find themselves in Nigeria.
Speaking to the Gan Allah Fulani Development Association of Nigeria (GAFDAN), Baba said that Yorubas wanted peace, harmony, wholesomeness and progress in the region, stressing that the time had come for everybody to acknowledge that “bad things are happening” in the Southwest and which have been attracting bad names to the Fulani in their midst.
But one thing that stunned me is the fact that the action by Chief Obasanjo did not grab the front page of all the newspapers. Many Nigerians have often wrongly accused him of always writing letters to Presidents and leaders when in the real sense of it; he is carrying out more actions than even the government.
The traffic at his country home in Abeokuta is a testament to this. People from all works of life and across the world are always there waiting to see him. How he manages to attend to everyone person or group shocks me. He is always willing to listen to anyone who has a plan or thought about improving Nigeria.
Nothing catches Baba’s attention like the name ‘Nigeria’, he never jokes with it, he loves Nigeria so much that one doubts if he can actually stay out of this country for more than one week but what he loves even more are the people.
He is always constantly seeking new ways of improving the lives of Nigerians, he is seeking new ways of ensuring that Nigeria lives up to its billing as the ‘Giant of Africa’ and he is always seeking peace in this country. For those who have forgotten, when he became President in 1999, he assembled the most balanced, most intellectual cabinet this country has ever seen. Technocrats after technocrats where appointed to key political positions.
Names that readily come to mind are those of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Dora Akunyili, Charles Soludo, Oby Ezekwesili, Nuhu Ribadu, Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, amongst others. His cabinet caught the ‘Nigeria First’ bug from Obasanjo and were willing to deliver and indeed delivered. Nigerià then was more or less a Pariah State owing so much because of bad governance.
But Chief Obasanjo’s sterling leadership turned the situation around. He paid or got relief for Nigeria’s humongous outstanding debts, introduced a lot of reforms including banking, telecommunication, shipping/marine and other reforms which we now enjoy in Nigeria today. Anti-Corruption institutions such as EFCC were not only instituted but war against this cancer was fearlessly and honestly waged without caring whose ox is gored.
Baba is fearless. He only fears God. He talks where others keep ominously quiet. He succeeded in rebranding Nigeria in the international community of nations. But it is either Nigerians’ memories are too short, or many deliberately forget all these great achievements of Dr Olusegun Obasanjo a world leader and indubitable father of modern Nigeria with spurious disparaging comments.
As President, Chief Obasanjo ensured that both internal and even external security were top priority. The Nigerian military was even named the best in Africa which led to him winning international praise for Nigeria’s role in crucial regional peacekeeping missions in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Baba even earned praises from the UK and US government for being the first African ally to openly criticize the abuses committed by former Zimbabwe President, Robert Mugabe. This should be resounding to Nigerians who didn’t know much about his Presidency.
He has never been afraid of speaking to power, once the government is working against the wishes of the people, he speaks up, he says it as it is and he does it without any fear or favour. So when he writes letters to serving Presidents, he does so because he wants the best for the country.
On a personal level he has reached the crescendo, but for Nigeria there is still a long way to go. Even Aare Afe Babalola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria has described him as the best President Nigeria ever had and indeed he is. He is a progressive and a democrat in every sense of the word.
Listing his achievements as President will make this write up endless. A simple Google of his achievements as President and after his Presidency will turn out hundreds of pages. Or do we want to speak about his international engagements?
Obasanjo was appointed as Special Envoy by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo. He held separate meetings with DRC President Joseph Kabila and rebel leader Laurent Nkunda. The result of those engagements was peace.
During the Zimbabwean election of July 2013, Obasanjo headed a delegation of African Union election observers and has embarked on many more since then and that is why Nigerians must understand his urge to fix his own country.
For him achieve great exploits across Africa and the rest of the world, yet his home country is ridden with all sorts of security problems? This makes Baba very sad and that is why I make bold to say that Baba’s love for Nigeria knows no bound.
Dr Joseph Onigbinde, DMD, PhD, Public Health Consultant writes from Lagos