By Ogbonna Amadi
NEW YORK- Ex-Nigerian President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo,Â whose relationship with the media, Nigerian journalists have deemed adversarial, took the extraordinary and unusual step of playing nice to The Diasporan Star newspaper and commended the publisher, Mr. Ekerete Udoh, for projecting the best of African pop culture in the United States.
At a rare encounter with the Nigerian and world statesman at the Tropical Grill Restaurant, on Rockaway Boulevard, Queens, New York, where he had gone to dine with close friends last Saturday, the former president was obviously in an expansive, convivial and exuberant mood.
I had introduced myself to Obasanjo and presented him with a copy of my newspaper. He immediately flipped through and apparently satisfied with the contents and layout asked, â€œDo you circulate the paper all over the U.S.? To which I answered in the affirmative.
I, thereafter, told him I would love to ask him a few questions on the state of affairs in Nigeria. The president, laughing, said: â€œI am an old soldier. I donâ€™t think I am the person you should talk to.â€ Pointing to General Martin Agwai, the former Chief of Defence Staff, who was also part of his entourage, he said, â€œSomeday you should talk to him.â€
When pressed on if he was disappointed that President Umaru Yar’Adua (whose election he was an active enabler) has reversed some of his laudable programmes, he looked at me and in a very open and candid manner said: â€œ I always believed that when a leader steps out of the scene, he should allow the incumbent to chart his own course, make its own mistakes and correct them. I donâ€™t think it is healthy for former leaders to indulge in the art of criticising their predecessors. I know you are a good journalist, but you will not get me to say more than what I have told you,â€ and laughing, he gave me a pat me on the back.
Obasanjo exhibited that unique aspect about his personality that people close to him have said over the years he embodies- that he is a very charming and nice person to be around with, and for the over one hour that I was in his presence, that aspect came through in clear and unmistakable manner which left me wondering if the media may have misunderstood the real essence of the former president by the manner they have defined and projected him.