May 23, 2024

OBJ, Please remain OBJ

BY Mike Ozekhome, SAN, CON, OFR, Ph.D, LL.D, D.Litt, D.Sc.

I celebrate you, a living legend and uncommon African icon, Chief (Dr) Olusegun Mathew Okikiola Obasanjo ( OBJ), on your 87th birthday, which took place on March 5,2024. On paper, you are 87, having been born on March 5, 1937. But, you have maintained to me and all who cared to listen, again and again, that your age was merely an assumed approximation on paper, because some of your classmates have already died or celebrated their 90th, 92nd and 93rd birthdays. I believe the latter more, for it comes straight from the horse’s mouth. For example, one of your classmates, Dr Onaolapa Soleye ( born 11th November, 1933), who was former Minister of Finance, just died four days after he turned 90 years. He has only just been buried. Whatever be the case, whether you are an octogenarian ( in your 80s), or a nonagenarian (in your 90s), no one can dispute your imperishable contributions to the development of the Nigerian nation in particular and the African continent in general. This is why, even as you have lovers and traducers across the world (because of your “My Command,” which is “Not (your) My Will”), no one can ignore you and your looming presence.


Like the stubborn scar, you have refused to go away. You always leave your marks even after the healing of the sore. So, hate him or love him, you, OBJ, have become a recurring decimal in our national discourse and conversation. You easily stir the hornet’s nest with effortless éclat. When you speak, you generate national uproar. You write fiercely, fearlessly and ceaselessly.

You still wield your mighty pen in a more menacing and devastating manner than you once wielded the gun when you took over control of the 3rd Marine Commando from Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle during the better-forgotten three years bloody fratricidal Civil War in Nigeria. You had also accepted the mantle of surrender on behalf of Nigeria from General Phillip Effiong who did so on behalf of Biafra at Dodan Barracks, Lagos. This was on 15th January, 1970 (Armed Forces Day), though you told me this was a mere formality as the handover agreement had already earlier been signed some days earlier. For these historic acts, your name had already entered our history books. And for many more positive reasons too.

When you write your usual probing and inquiring letters (an art and pastime for which you have since become accustomed and famous), you cause national ruckus. You ruffle feathers, bruise toes and figuratively draw blood. But, those sitting leaders or rulers that ignored your message in those piercing, intellectually-grounded letters that drip with rare vision and wisdom in their full length, breadth and erudition, and preferred to go for the messenger, rather than the message, had always done so at their own peril.

You were first arrested on the orders of then military dictator, General Sani Abacha on March 13,1995, over a phantom coup attempt. You were initially released on the intervention of ex-American President, Jimmy Carter; and again re-arrested in the night of June 13,1995, and taken to an unknown destination. You were tried in company of your military Deputy Head of State, Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Col Lawan Gwadabe and Chris Anyanwu, a magazine publisher. You were initially sentenced to death after the phantom coup trials before another panel set up by Abacha reduced the sentence to 30 years, and again to 15 years imprisonment. We in the human rights community picked up the gauntlet, marched, protested and rallied daily on the streets of Lagos and elsewhere. We forced the then military junta led by Gen. Sani Abacha to commute your death sentence to mere imprisonment. You were still serving in Yola Prisons when Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar ordered your release. Yar’Adua was not so lucky. He died in Abakaliki prison where he was serving on 8th December, 1997.

Little did we, or you ever know, that a child of destiny and like the phoenix, you would rise once again from your ashes and become president of Nigeria between 1999 and 2007. This was after you had emerged Head of State (1976-1979), succeeding the then Head of State, General Muritala Mohammed, who was mindlessly slain during the Col Buka Suka Dimka-led military coup on 13th February, 1976. Make no mistake about this sir, I was also one of the leading lights who valiantly led the fiery battle of opposition against your third term agenda bid. I had wondered then why you desired to. I spoke piercingly against it at the Niger State Government Lodge where we had gathered to puncture your perceived inordinate ambition for self transmutation and succession. I believe in retrospect now. You would also have been wondering what you had indeed forgotten in Aso Villa that you were going back for, having already etched your name in the sands of time and got elevated into the pantheon of Nigerian heroes in less than 70 years on mother earth.

Two years ago sir, you greatly honoured me by singing my happy birthday song and cutting my birthday cake, assisted by another living nonagenarian legend and quality university education Czar, Aare Afe Babalola, SAN, CON, LL.D, at the Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti ( ABUAD). This was after I had delivered the 10th convocation lecture of this arguably numero uno African University and one of the very 400 leading universities in the world. I am, very proudly, a visiting Professor of Law at this great University that just made one of the best results (over 16 First Class and about 69 Second Class Upper Division) at the Nigerian Law School. I was greatly humbled because I had, as a little boy in the 60s, heard about your war time exploits whenever we gathered around a little transistor radio. I was then in St Mary’s Primary School in my then little rustic village of Iviukwe, near Agenebode in Etsako East Local Government Area of Edo State.

Remain who, whom and what you are sir. Don’t ever change, for you are far too old now to change and learn how to become left-handed. Remain OBJ. Continue to play football as you do always. Continue to enjoy another passion of yours- singing and dancing- (even if your vocals fall far short of Nightingale’s, and your shuffles not Michael Jackson’s). Continue to do more research and write more books and letters. You have just written a new book titled, “The Art of Leading: Unconventional Wisdom from Biblical Leaders.” Before this, you had already written tons of books, including the following, perhaps more than any living African leader ever did: My Watch (Vols. 1-3, which is your memoir); Not My Will; Call to Duty; A March of Progress: Collected Speeches of His Excellency Lt. General Olusegun Obansanjo; Forging a Compact IN U.S.-African Relations; Nigeria and International Trade Address; The Head of State’s Broadcast to the Nation, Wednesday, 29th March, 1978, Embodying the Land Use Decree No.6 of 1978; Nzeogwu: An Intimate Portrait of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu; Women of Virtue: Stories of Outstanding Women in the Bible; My Command: An Account of the Nigerian Civil War, 1967 – 1970; Guides to Effective Prayer; The Leadership Challenge of Economic Reforms in Africa; Africa in Perspective: Myths and Realities (The Russell C. Leffingwell Lectures); Africa Embattled: Selected Essays on Contemporary African Development; A New Dawn: A Collection of Speeches of President Olusegun Obasanjo; Hope for Africa: Selected Speeches of Olusegun Obasanjo; The Challenges of Agricultural Production and Food Security in Africa; Work of Earth; Democracy Works: Turning Politics to Africa’s Advantage; Making Africa Work; This Animal Called Man; Addressing Africa’s Youth Employment and Food Security Crisis: The Role of African Agriculture in Job Creation; Constitution for National Integration and Development; Women of Virtue; Africa Through the Eyes of a Patriot; Before It Is Too Late…and the Reactions that Followed; Years of Reconstruction: Selected Foreign Policy Speeches of Olusegun Obasanjo; I See Hope; Hope For Africa; Sermons From Prison; Standing Tall: Selected Speeches of Olusegun Obasanjo; Management in Agriculture and Rural Development: A Practitioner’s View; The Asian Aspiration: Why and How Africa Should Emulate Asia—and What it Should Avoid; Before I Die; Africa, Rise to Challenge: Towards a Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Cooperation in Africa (CSSDCA) and more. So,write, write and write. Don’t stop. After all, you didn’t go back to the university after your presidency in 2007 to bag a Ph.D by thesis for the fun of it. So, you have been sharing your thoughts on many issues. Don’t stop now. We are not tired of reading you. We are hungry for more. Remain consistently consistent, blunt and unapologetic about it. Make no mistakes, some surely hate you for this. But, more adore you for it. I am one of them. Because, the truth, especially naked truth, is always very bitter. But truth is about conscience. Like Uthman Dan Fodio once declared, ‘Conscience is an open wound; only the truth can heal it.” This is why the Holy Bible tells us, “…and thou shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). Baba, continue to ask the right questions. And where possible, go ahead and question the answers also. Don’t ever drop your humour that makes standup comedians green with envy. Enjoy peace that passeth all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
Above all sir, don’t die yet. Don’t even think about it. Shun death and its monstrous visage with all your heart and soul. Mock it. Grab and hold on to Gen 6:3 (120 years on earth). Nigeria, Africa and indeed the Black world still need you and your gargantuan services and contributions.
Happy birthday sir and many happy returns of the day. It is well you you, baba. In all, please, OBJ, remain OBJ.

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