Understanding The Complexity And Contradiction Of Olusegun Obasanjo (pic)

By Muyiwa Olayinka


Chief Olusegun was the Nigerian Head of State from February 13 1976 to October 1 1979. He was elected as a democratically elected President serving two terms from May 29 1999 to May 28, 2007.

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Dr Olusegun Obasanjo is an enigma that has remained in the consciousness of Nigeria. A retired General of the Nigerian army, an engineer, who served in the military at various levels and discharged himself creditably.

He became a public figure by sheer providence; when he became the commander of the Third Marine Commando that ended the dark era of 20 months old Biafra civil war in 1970. He accepted the surrender note from  Lt Col. Philip Effiong of the Biafran Republic. He superintended the 3Rs (Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Reintegration) proclaimed and initiated by General Yakubu Gowon, the then Nigeria Head of State.

He became a national hero after ending the war. He was appointed the Federal Commissioner for Works in 1975 by the military regime of General Yakubu Gowon. Unfortunately, the military government of General Yakubu Gowon was overthrown while on a foreign trip to Kampala, Uganda at the OAU (Organisation Of Africa Unity summit, in a bloodless coup by young military officers.

General Murtala Muhammed became the military Head of state on July 29 1975; Obasanjo was appointed his deputy as the Chief of Staff Supreme headquarters.

Unfortunately on February 13 1976 in a counter coup, Muhammed and some military officers were killed in broad day light. Obasanjo survived the coup in a miraculous way because he was marked for death by the ring leaders.

He became the Head of state, according to him; he said he was persuaded to take the appointment as expressly stated in one of his book ‘Not My Will’. He took over and continued with the reforms of his late boss. He kept to the transition timetable drawn by his predecessor, Gen Muhammed, by establishing Constituent Assembly that preferred the American Presidential system to the Parliamentary system that was in operation since independence before the first military coup of 1966. He handed over to Alhaji Shehu Shagari on October 1st 1979, an act that was uncommon in Sub Saharan Africa, at that time, and retired gloriously from the military.

In retirement he took to farming and engaged in many diplomatic shuttles around the world. Among many think tank groups he was part of, he formed the African Leadership Forum, to address and identify some problems facing Africa as a continent. To underscore his active participation in international politics, he aspired for the office of the Secretary General of the United Nations, when it was Africa’s slot.

As he was active in diplomatic shuttles abroad, so also in his home country, Nigeria. He never shied away from proffering solutions and became the voice of the nation. A man not ready to keep mum, he criticized many unpopular policies of every successive governments. His criticism many at times did not go down well with some administrations but he got himself into trouble with the military junta of General Abacha.  He was subsequently framed up in a military coup while away from Nigeria. He was informed about the trouble looming at home, advised to seek for political asylum; but refused and came back.

He was arrested along with other serving military men and some civilians including his former Deputy, Major General Shehu Musa Yar’adua. They were convicted in trumped up charges and sentenced to death by the military tribunal. Their death sentences were commuted to various jail terms after the uproar and condemnation by eminent personalities both locally and internationally.

Recollecting his experiences during the trial of the coup, Obasanjo said ‘My saddest day was when I sat in front of a military panel set up by the late former Head of State, Sani Abacha to try me over a phantom coup, and sentenced to death and later commuted to 30 years of imprisonment’

Fortunately for Obasanjo, Abacha died in office and regained his freedom by the General Abubakar Abdusalami led government that succeeded the previous government . Unfortunately his former deputy, Shehu Musa Yar’adua died in prison.

In 1999, when ban on political activities was lifted and Nigeria was preparing to return to civilian rule, Obasanjo was favored by the pro establishment to play a critical role. Obasanjo was granted state pardon and his conviction was quashed. Fate smiled on him just like when he became the first military head of state, he was chosen both by the established politicians and his former constituency (the military), to run for the office of the President in the Fourth republic.  He won the election and became the democratically elected President of Nigeria. A man whose businesses were in ruins, trying to get his family together, picking the pieces of his life again became President against all odds and other established politicians. As at that time it was reported he had N20,000 (less than 60 dollars) in his bank account.

Obasanjo achieved remarkable successes as a democratically elected President. He introduced some far reaching reforms in all critical sectors of the economy.  Some are highlighted below:

He took Nigeria from a pariah status to become the newest bride courted by the comity of nations. Within this period, two serving USA Presidents namely Bill Clinton and George Bush (jnr) visited Nigeria at different times. Other world leaders paid more than passing interests to Nigeria with increased foreign direct investments.

Nigeria got a major debt relief from the Paris club, cancelling larger chunk off the national debt and exited completely from the debilitating trap of debt servicing.

Nigeria joined the GSM revolution in the telecommunication industry, opening up investment opportunities that are currently multi-billion dollars ventures.

In a dramatic fashion, unprecedented in the history of Nigeria, Obasanjo retired all military officers that have held political offices. This singular action brought an end to military interregnum in political and democratic processes, culminating in the longest period of sustaining democratic ethos.

As an active foundation member of corruption watchdog, Amnesty International, pained by the scourge of corruption, Obasanjo established the twin agencies of fighting corruption, namely, ICPC and EFCC. Since the establishment of these agencies, they have recorded remarkable achievements in recouping illicit and stolen funds, locally and internationally.

His space program through NASRDA (National Space Research and Development Agency) led to the establishment of NigeriaSat 1 (communication satellite) and Nigeria SatX high resolution earth satellite. Many young Nigerians benefited from the space programs through training.

In the oil and gas sector, Obasanjo introduced the oil bidding round exercise to replace the opaque and abused discretionary allocation of oil blocs.

In power sector, the comprehensive Power Sector Reform bill was sent to the National Assembly to unbundle the monopolistic and public controlled policy. Though the bill stalled at the National Assembly for a period of time, it was eventually passed, opening doors for private companies’ participation.

The National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) in conjunction with the collaborative funds from the local and state governments led to the building of many thermal power stations, in Nigeria, after many years of neglect with reckless abandon by successive governments.

Despite his achievements in office, Dr Obasanjo shot his government down with an attempt to elongate his term in office, with the controversial constitutional amendment. This third term arrangement was surreptitiously introduced through the back door, to elongate his constitutional two terms, but the National Assembly shut down the controversial bill.

In trying to understand the complexities and contradictions of Dr Aremu Olusegun Okikiola Mathew Obasanjo, I will like to define him these ways:

Obasanjo is a man of letters

Olusegun Obasanjo is the only former President and Head of state, in Nigeria that has written many books documenting some of his experiences, as a child growing up, a military man, a civilian and an administrator. He has enriched the history of Nigeria with some of his books, especially his active participation at almost every critical stage of this great nation.  He also documented his rich repertoire in his diplomatic shuttles around the world. Some of his books are My Watch (vols 1 to 3), My Command, Not My Will, Nzeogwu, This Animal Called Man (written in Abacha’s gulag), Democracy Works: Re Writing Politics to Africa’s Advantage (with other authors), Africa Through The Eyes Of A Patriot, Challenges Of Leadership In Africa.

Obasanjo has an overbearing attitude.

One can unarguably confirm that he knows a lot about Nigeria, his people and her idiosyncrasies, having played important roles.  With this deep knowledge about the country, he exudes an over bearing attitude over matters concerning the country. It can be so annoying that he does this with brazen effrontery. He has this ‘I know it all attitude’ with constant criticisms of many serving leaders both before and after him, not in glowing terms but in scathing manners. Obasanjo is fond of breaking all known national and international protocols by publicly writing embarassing public letters to incumbent Presidents. He has written two open letters to the current President, Muhammadu Buhari. He has created more enemies among some sections of Nigerians

Obasanjo is a man of tradition

He has deep affection for African traditions and cultures. A Yoruba man from the Southwest part of Nigeria, he proudly displays his culture proudly with his mode of dressing. He’s famously known for wearing Adire, a popular Egba fabric with matching caps. He popularized the ‘Ankara’ textile when he was the President. This has become a household item known as ‘Aso Ebi’ for social occasions in Nigeria. He’s a polygamous man with many wives and children.

A titled Chief from Owu kingdom, his father’s ancestral home, in Ogun state, identifies with his people culture. In a rare public display, Obasanjo an octogenarian was publicly seen prostrating for 40 year old newly crowned Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, depicting the greeting culture of Yoruba. This is Obasanjo’s quintessential African man.

He’s a symbol of Nigeria’s unity

This unique character stands him out among all living Nigerians that have led Nigeria at the topmost level. You can accuse him of many wrong doings but one fact that cannot be denied is the fact he is a detribalized Nigerian. He has shown this rare quality in a nation seriously divided along ethnic and religious lines.

Every ethnic tribe in Nigeria feels comfortable with him. He has not denied any section of Nigeria their rights and privileges as the military Head of State and a civilian President. Critical capital projects were distributed across the length and breadth of Nigeria.This has worked for him in many ways, a strong reason why he was brought from retirement to lead the Fourth republic in 1999.

This virtue made his ethnic Yoruba stock to detest him and labeled him a traitor. They accused him of denying the revered leader, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo of becoming Nigeria’s President in the Presidential election of 1979. He handed over power to late Shehu Shagari that won the controversial election. It was the eletion  the Supreme Court declared the winner with 12 2/3rd, a legal lexicon and a new terminology in our politics history.

He puts himself in a more precarious position when he criticized and made scathing remarks about Awolowo in his famous book, ‘Not My Command’. Obasanjo has consistently rejected the toga of a Yoruba leader but describes himself as an elder statesman and a Nigerian of Yoruba extraction.

He seeks knowledge.

Obasanjo has not ceased to amaze many Nigerians, when he bagged a Ph.D. at the age of 81. As a President he re organized the abandoned and moribund Nigerian Open University (NOUN), a distance learning University, first of its kind in Nigeria. The aim is for many Nigerians to be educated in a virtual University. He started and completed his program in theology NOUN after he left office. He followed it up and bagged his PH.D.

He established the controversial Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library OOPL for research and educational purposes, first of its kind in Africa. The library also contains some of his memorabilia, memoirs and other time tested and related materials.

Obasanjo is loyal to himself

It is generally believed that Obasanjo is loyal to himself only. He has displayed this quality in many ways. He had many running battles with many of his friends, colleagues in the military, acolytes and loyalists. He shifts allegiance at his whims and caprices. He had criticized many Nigerian leaders on modes, styles and operations, but dispassionate analysis of him reveals he’s guilty of some of his criticisms.

As a democratically elected President, he was autocratic spurning many court judgments, worse of all, supervised one of the worst elections in Nigeria. Late President Umaru Yar’adua that succeeded him in office confirmed that he benefited from a sham election and attested the election that brought him to office in 2007 was flawed.

Federal and Lagos state governments were embroiled on the creation of  new local government units, the Supreme Court faulted Lagos state’s process of creating the local government units was ‘’inchoate’’. Obasanjo withheld the Lagos state’s allocation after the Supreme Court judgment affirmed he had no power to do it.


Be that as it may, Obasanjo has contributed immensely to the development of Nigeria, even at a great cost to him. He lost one of his children to death as a military Head of State, and his wife Stella when he was the President. The fact remains that his generation are fading away, and they must give way to the new generation.

Nigeria is presently at a cross road with the emerging realities. The nation is almost tilting towards disintegration as a result of distrusts among the ethnic groups. The problems of Boko Haram, terrorism and insurgency, killings resulting from religious and ethnic rivalries, the herdsmen crisis, low capacity utilization, dwindling revenues from oil, vices as kidnapping, armed robbery, ritual killings tend to exacerbate the already tensed situation . The clamor for True Federalism, Restructuring, Regional integration as solutions to the knotty national problems, entail new hands to take Nigeria to the next level. This is imperative because the likes of Dr. Obasanjo, General Babangida, and President Buhari that fought for the unity of Nigeria do not believe in all these new approaches to nation’s building.

They must step aside for the new generation, support and guide them to engender a new rebirth

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