Abeni Aso-Oke

Obasanjo@87: Grand Salute to Embodiment of Africanism and Leadership. By Prof. M.K. Othman

Obasanjo@87: Grand Salute to Embodiment of Africanism and Leadership

Olusegun Obasanjo
Abeni Aso-Oke

On August 21, 2017, I held my head high, overwhelmed by the pride of being a Nigerian in the United States of America. Thanks to the portrait of Olusegun Obasanjo, conspicuously hung in an auspicious room called the “Hall of Laureates” at the World Food Prize Foundation in Des Moines, Iowa. I was daydreaming until the resonance of the articulated voice of Ambassador Kenneth Quinn woke me with his unforgettable statement, “These are pictures of pioneer board members of the World Food Prize Foundation.” I was not expecting to find a picture of a black African hanging amid the photographs of board members in the laureates’ hall. Still, the picture of one of our own, Chief Obasanjo, was there. He indeed made me happy and moved with dignity. That was not all; Ambassador Quinn proudly announced that the 2017 World Food Prize Laureate was won by one of us, a famous Nigerian, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Nigeria and current President of the Development Bank. Thank God I witnessed the investiture of Dr. Adesina as a recipient of the World Food Prize, which made me observe the personality of Chief Obasanjo closely.

Abeni Aso-Oke

Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has many parts, which can be seen from different perspectives. Obasanjo, from all prisms, reveals his multiple parts: the soldier, the statesman, the politician, the pastor, the journalist, the author, ex-military leader, ex-political prisoner, ex-president, ex-diplomat, farmer leader, opinion leader and molder, member of the eminent person group, and radical with his ideas and conviction, telling the truth in every circumstance to influential administrative and religious leaders. Sometimes, he was a controversial public figure as he boldly engineered the removal of two governors. Obasanjo is sometimes actively hyper-responsive to situations or circumstances and has little patience for protocol. For example, during his official visit to Kogi State, an overzealous policeman beat ordinary people with a stick to control the crowd. That caught Obasanjo’s attention with irritation; he got a stick and tried to beat the policeman in the same manner, publicly displaying his disdain for the methods used to control crowds in public spaces. Another unique feature is that Obasanjo has a survival predisposition.
Obasanjo is a survivalist par excellence. At barely 24 years old, he developed his first survival instinct in 1961. Obasanjo was captured in the Congo Republic by the mutineers while he was evacuating Roman Catholic missionaries from a station near Bukavu. The mutineers considered executing him but mysteriously released him. The second time was in 1969, when he assumed leadership of the Third Marine Commando Division with around 40,000 troops during the Nigerian civil war against Biafran separatists. He bravely fought Biafran raids on Aba for nearly six weeks; he was well-known for traversing every portion of the war-fronts, and he was wounded and could have been killed while doing so. These deeds helped him gain a reputation for gallantry among his troops. In December 1969, Obasanjo launched Operation Finishing Touch, directing his forces to push on Umuahia, which they captured on Christmas Day. The action dissected Biafra into two parts, and on January 7, 1970, he launched Operation Tail-Wind, forcing the Biafran leaders to surrender. Obasanjo accepted it, and the bloody war ended on January 12, 1970.
The last survival was when Obasanjo was arrested on Monday, March 13, 1995, on the allegation of his involvement in a coup attempt. Obasanjo, however, was released by General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who became the Head of State following the death of General Sani Abacha after spending three years, three months, and three days of incarceration.
Obasanjo’s ultimate survival was part of the Devine package designed for Obasanjo’s humanitarian services to Nigeria, Africa, and the world. He was instrumental in ending the Nigerian Civil War. As the second in command, Obasanjo helped General Murtala Mohammed provide the most inspiring leadership to Nigeria and Africa and the most vital voice of the black race. He continued with Murtala’s policy after the latter’s assassination. Obasanjo handed over to a democratically elected government in 1979 as promised, and coincidently, twenty years later, in 1999, Obasanjo emerged as democratically elected President of Nigeria. Influenced by pan-Africanist ideas, he keenly supported the conversion of the OAU to the African Union and served as its chair from 2004 to 2006.
My most exciting angle from Obasanjo’s perspective is his role in agricultural development. He was the primary catalyst for the entry of the Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA) in Nigeria and Malawi. SAA was created when Africa experienced its worst famine in the 1980s, which left Africa with a staggering loss of human dignity. That famine propelled the trio of President Jimmy Carter, Dr. Norman Borlaug, and Mr. Ryoichi Sasakawa to target the year 2000 to end hunger in Africa through SAA intervention. Obasanjo was invited as a prominent Pan-Africanist during the planning phase, and his input aided in strategy and focus. My interaction with Obasanjo in 2022 was very revealing. He reminisced, “The original goal of ending hunger in Africa was 2000. If we were to choose countries where the impact of Sasakawa Global 2000/SAA would be made, Nigeria would have to be involved because it is home to nearly 25% of Africa’s population. Without Nigeria, it is impossible to bring this kind of people-centered intervention and get quick and noticeable results in Africa.” That was convincing, and Nigeria became the third country selected for the SAA intervention.
Furthermore, in 1993, Obasanjo became the first African to be admitted to the esteemed SAA Governing Board. That was not all. When SAA ultimately came to Nigeria in 1992, Obasanjo, being what he was/is, a patriotic nationalist, allowed logic and comparative advantage in the selection of location where SAA interventions started, not starting from his state or hometown as politicians of today do. Thus, Kano and Kaduna were the first states to enjoy SAA activities. In the first decade of SAA’s stay in Nigeria, all activities were done in the six states in the north. In the last 30 years, SAA has contributed to food security in Nigeria by empowering about 20 million smallholder farmers in 18 states, and the counting continues. Who is Chief Olusegun Obasanjo?
Olusegun Obasanjo was born in 1937. He was born into a farming family in a village near Abeokuta. At eleven, he attended the village primary school, beginning his academic journey, and performed remarkably along that path. However, after finishing secondary school, he realized he could not go any further due to financial restraint. It was then that he decided to join the army in 1958. He joined the military and immediately started rising through the ranks. He became the Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1976. Three years later, Olusegun Obasanjo handed over power to a civilian government, making him the first in Nigerian history. Among his many achievements was holding various positions in the United Nations and other international and national organizations. He is the longest-serving Head of State and President in Nigeria, having served eleven years out of the 64 years of post-colonial Nigeria. After retirement from active politics, Obasanjo focused more on farming, agribusinesses, and intellectual discourse, as he authored many books and earned a Ph.D. in theology in 2017. His farm, regarded as one of Nigeria’s largest farms, has produced the country’s highest-quality agricultural products for over forty years. Obasanjo is a colossus in Nigeria’s nascent history, so writing about him is inexhaustive. Still, one day, time and materials may permit me to chronicle his actions, reactions, and legacies in a biography, which will be exciting and inspiring to future leaders.
Chief Dr. Obasanjo turned 87 on Tuesday, May 5, 2024. Please join me for a grand salutation to the Embodiment of Africanism and Leadership, Chief Olusegun Matthew Okikiola Ogunboye Aremu Obasanjo GCFR. Many more years of service to humanity, Sir, OBJ.

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