The life of Nigeria’s former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, has run full circle. As a retired Military General, two-time leader of the Country (Military Head of State-1976 to1979 and elected President-1999-2007), large-scale farmer, author, Christian theologian (a clergy of some sort that is), international mediator and member of the founding team of Transparency International, which is a well-known and highly-respected world body with the mandate to promote good governance across countries, Obasanjo is therefore, by all standards, an eminent personality.
His peers in terms of attainments are definitely only a few. This clearly means that he occupies an unrivalled position which guarantees him deference from a lot of those who, ordinarily, would have maintained a huge difference with him.
Obasanjo is not unaware, even if not sufficiently careful, of and about the sensitivity of his status. The man arrogates to himself not only the absolute knowledge of the country but also the exceptional wisdom to interpret all issues that relate to its survival and development which makes him to continuously manifest domineering and over-bearing tendencies to the disapproval of a lot of Nigerians.
The former President, in fact, seeks to equate himself with Nigeria and therefore assumes that his opinions approximate to national policies and the collective objectives of the citizens. He always quickly attributes the survival of the country to the sacrifice he, among many other civil war veterans, made to keep it intact; an act that he claims has put him far above all those who have no such a record.
However, Obasanjo is regularly counselled by many Nigerians not to consider his credentials, as intimidating as they are, as a licence to behave anyhow. It is rather expected that all those records should make him a lot more humble, considerate and sensitive to issues about governance, politics and co-existence among the various communities in the country.
It worries some critical segments of the Nigerian population that the former President has never bothered to exercise restraint and caution in his comments on national issues to the extent that most of his statements are, most often, regarded as divisive and therefore inimical to the unity of the country that he boastfully describes as the product of their own effort. This attitude, by the judgement of many observers, runs counter to the spirit of statesmanship to which he is naturally associated.
There is, in fact, a perception now that Obasanjo is always in a hurry to take undue advantage of any ugly situation to express views that can generate controversy all in a bid to attract attention and all the benefits that come along with it to himself. He, in a typical manner of an opportunist, apparently enjoys being in the news even for the very wrong reasons in the belief that his relevance, nay indispensability will continue to grow.
At the same time, he is considered by many other people as a realist who, even at the risk of being unpopular, speaks out his mind with the hope that some other minds will understand. Those who have such an impression of Obasanjo have continued to make the point that as one of the architects of modern Nigeria whose concern for the country is understandably unquantifiable, he can not ignore issues and situations on the basis of the fear that comments on them will generate unfavourable reactions from certain quarters.
This particular conclusion necessitates the persistent calls on government to which the former President normally directs his observations to, rather than either ignore or disparage him, look into the merits of all his arguments with a view to understanding and subsequently applying the relevant ones in the course of policy formulation and implementation. While the government can, in the name of politicking, seek to puncture Obasanjo’s self-righteousness posture, it should not for the sake of politics completely disregard all or most of his recommendations.
He, on the contrary, is seen by his critics as an antagonist who derives pleasure from the execution of any act that evokes anger in others. Almost every of his actions and pronouncements are interpreted by such critics as a deliberate attempt to antagonize his targets and consequently aggravate their agonies or spoil their happiness.
All these varying impressions of Obasanjo in the minds of Nigerians are clearly suggestive of the immense value and controversial nature of his personality. It is about only him among all the Country’s past leaders that has been able to keep himself on the public domain in this manner probably because he is the only one who has the capacity to do so.
Whichever view one holds on Obasanjo the fact remains that he, unlike almost all the other past leaders, shows tremendous interest in the happenings in the country and demonstrates a corresponding desire to selectively pick issues and blow them until they become subjects for debate. By so doing, he contributes to national discourse which eventually results in the enrichment of the governance and political processes.
But whether the man is an opportunist, a realist or just an antagonist, there is the need for him to be a lot more tactical in his approach to issues. The country has a lot to gain from his measured actions and pronouncements and a lot to lose to his recklessness which, for example, his subscription to the misleading Islamisation and Fulanisation theory represents.
*** Gimi is a Kaduna-based journalist, public analyst and columnist.