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A Handshake With Obasanjo

Uji Abdullahi Iliyasu

In this era of trekking a thousand miles to felicitate with General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who has snatched victory from President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) through a ballot revolution in the March 28 presidential polls, or to greet President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for his epic concession of defeat, or to salute Dr Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of Kano for his conquest of the Northwest for Buhari, I would like to travel to Ota Farm to greet former President Olusegun Obasanjo in his Ota farm. But trekking is now a pure water business.

Therefore, I would like to add some bizarre dimension to the euphoria by honestly requesting a handshake with the former President. Obasanjo as a statesman and artiste has never stopped to inspire me. Like me he is a writer. This is the man who wrote My Command and My Watch.

While he is a published author, I remain unpublished. He looks at life as something light; so do I. And for that he is always my hero. And any middle-aged man in the country today who has rural background should treat Obasanjo as a hero too. After the assassination of General Murtala Muhammed in 1976, General Olusegun Obasanjo came in. Obasanjo introduced his famous Universal Primary Education (UPE) with free tuition, chairs, textbooks and stationeries.

This way, Nigerians who couldn’t have enjoyed education in formal classrooms got university education and more. Then on a morning in September of 1976, my father called to our boys’ hut and announced to me: “Put down your hoe and cutlass and go to school.”

I was shocked beyond descripteresting regiontion at this sweet news. “No farm today. I mean go to school, where you will learn how to read and write in order to become a big man in future.” In place of a hoe and a cutlass, my father gave me a book and a biro, and the rest is now history.

Now I am so learned that I oppose my OBJ, my benefactor, in all his political views. I am so learned that I want President-elect Muhammadu Buhari to use a long spoon when he dines with OBJ because he is a devil! Past leaders who love their countries do not see the end of their tenures as end of their statesmanship; they thus offer tips to new governments on how to make social impact on the citizens.

Why do Nigerians like to thwart Obasanjo’s efforts always? Do you like him to keep quiet like other statesmen who are still alive but fear to make their contribution to the polity because of some pecuniary reasons? No. I will not agree. This is the same man who received the instrument of surrender from the Biafran soldiers to herald the end of civil war in 1970. This is the same man who tore his party’s membership card to support Buhari whom he viewed as the right man to clean the Augean stable which his political godson has messed up.

For those who do not know, it is important to educate them that Obasanjo’s patriotism was a catalyst to the people’s revolution which began on March 28.

Nigerians should remember that during OBJ’s second coming in 1999 as a democratically-elected president, he reintroduced his populist education programme; this time as the Universal Basic Education (UBE), which is free to junior secondary school level. Our children and wards are still enjoying it. He established the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) to fight corruption.

He formed many ministries and parastatals to create employment, and was one of the leading African leaders who formed the New Partnership for African Development, (NEPAD) and its children, African Pear Review Mechanism (APRM), African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The list goes on. This is the man who freed Nigeria from the burden of external debt and safeguarded the future of generations of Nigerians. During his tenure, crimes were fought, employment was created, financial power was given and peace reigned.

I was sad when some forces opposed this man when he was struggling to clinch the position of the Secretary-General of the United Nations in 1991. He said he was frustrated by the British government, Egypt and prominent Nigerians such as Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, late legal luminary Gani Fawehinmi, and Femi Falana on flimsy excuses culminating in his loss to Boutrous Boutrous Ghali of Egypt.

Only a critical mind knows what Nigeria lost by missing the coveted position of UN Secretary-General. This is the man called Olusegun Matthew Aremu Obasanjo, my hero. I wouldn’t celebrate Buhari’s victory alone without his handshake and “Congo style” jubilation.

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