BY DAUD OLATUNJI
It was truly a celebration of the person, passions and patriotism of three time Nigeria leader, Olusegun Obasanjo. Many friends and some foes of the man that has been a recurring decimal in Nigeria’s politics turned out to celebrate him at a two day event staged in Abeokuta.
THE two- day event to honour President Olusegun Obasanjo was, by some accounts, orchestrated to give some life to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in the Southwest. What better way for a party ravaged by internal crisis to rouse itself than to orgnaise a programme around one of the Southwest’s most enduring political figures. However, the absence of some notable PDP disenchanters from the programme, to some extent, questioned that objective.
The two day event had first a lecture in the imposing Obasanjo Presidential Library and on the second day, a civic reception on the sprawling grounds of the Ake Palace in Abeokuta. Given the international and national platforms Obasanjo has distinguished himself on, it was not surprising that the guest list at the events cut across national boundaries.
Heading the list was the Guest Lecturer, former president John Kuffor of Ghana, President Goodluck Jonathan who was represented by Vice-president Namadi Sambo and some notable beneficiaries of Obasanjo’s political patronage including Senate President David Mark and erstwhile vice-president of the World Bank, Oby Ezekwesili.
The PDP national chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, the incumbent governors of Adamawa, Imo, Akwa Ibom and Delta states were present, though the host governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun was absent and was represented by his deputy, Segun Adesegun. Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State was represented by his Chief of Staff Prof. Yahya Kuta, Sule Lamido of Jigawa was represented by his deputy, Ahmed Mahmud, and Plateau governor Jonah Jang was also represented.
Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State was the only governor present on the first day of the two day event which also had Chief Ernest Shonekan, Senate President, David Mark, Ezekwesili, former Special adviser to President Obasanjo on legislative matters, Florence Ita-Giwa, the Olubara of Ibara, Oba Jacob Omolade and former Military administrator of Western Nigeria, Vice Admiral Akin Aduwo eulogised Obasanjo.
But the reception had a more national attendance with all six geopolitical zones ably represented. The Secretary of the PDP BoT, Senator Waliu Jubril, brought the message of the PDP North Central, describing the former President as “our Baba”.
Adamu Bello gave the message from the Northeast, Mrs. Nenadi Usman gave the message on behalf of the Northwest, Governor Rochas Okorocha gave the message of the Southeast, Governor Godswill Akpabio gave the message from the South-South while the message of solidarity from Obasanjo’s new friends in the Governors Forum was brought by Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State.
Given the unfolding battle of wits between President Jonathan and Obasanjo ears were tuned to what Jonathan would say in his speech read out by Sambo. Jonathan as expected was conciliatory saying his administration would build on the foundations laid by Obasanjo’s administration.
Kuffuor on his part was quick to note Obasanjo’s salutary role in stabilizing his government when he came to power in 2001 in Ghana. “I had limited options at this time. I quickly ran to Obasanjo and requested that he should lift the fuel embargo Nigeria placed on Ghana for refusing to service its debt.
“Obasanjo graciously accepted and began to sell fuel to Ghana on favourable terms. This singular gesture served as impetus for the uplift of Ghana when other donor countries across the globe refused to offer assistance,” Kufuor recalled.
Kufuor also recalled how Obasanjo was instrumental to several conflict resolutions between African countries, thereby promoting peace on the continent.
The Chairman of the occasion, the former Head of Interim National Government, Chief Earnest Shonekan described Obasanjo as a man of integrity, saying , Obasanjo was the first Nigerian Military leader who in 1979 relinquished power peacefully to a democratically elected government. Senator Mark, also eulogized Obasanjo, describing him as an outstanding Nigerian statesman and a national icon whose love for thenation would be difficult to surpass.
Governors Emmanuel Uduaghan and Godswill Akpabio of Delta and Akwa-Ibom states respectively also extolled the virtues of the former President at the programme, describing him as “the defender of the defenceless.’
They both recalled how Obasanjo fought on the part of justice against the powers that opposed them in their respective states when they sought elections as governors of their states. The National Chairman of PDP, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, in his remarks described Obasanjo as a living legend, recalling that the party made giant strides during his administration. He described Obasanjo as a symbol of hope, noting that he was relentless and fought with dogged determination at a time when most
Nigerians had given up hope: Responding, Obasanjo appreciated organisers of the event, and attributed all his accomplishment to God. Noting the references on how he ensured the ascendancy of both Uduaghan and Akpabio to power, he said: “When their situation arose I had to make special enquiries, I found what I found that they are good men that were about to be deprived of what is for them. And one of the things I abhor, I abhor injustice, so, I went along with them to enthrone justice.
“Let me take the case of Governor Uduaghan because, we can learn from them. Governor Uduaghan was a Secretary to the government of Delta state under governor James Ibori and one of the reasons that people had against him was his close connection, so to say with Ibori.
“I wanted to find out, because at that time we knew little about the character of Ibori, so I called him, I said, tell me all these things that Ibori did, how much of it did you know , how much were you part of the cover up, how much of it were you part of the transferring of money and this distinguished doctor looked at me in the face and said I was doing my job as I know best how to do it. But not only that what do I need the money for, I am a medical doctor, I had two children at that time, so my needs in life were very limited you can check me any part of the world you will find that I am as honest as you see me .
Colleague of a failure
Obasanjo, however, responded in a different tone to the assertion by Governor Okorocha that he and Obasanjo were colleagues having contested the 2003 PDP presidential primaries with the former president.
“How can I be a colleague of a failure? You are a failure in contesting for the presidency of Nigeria!,” the ex-president said, pointing at Okorocha to the bewilderment of the governor and some guests.
I met him (Okorocha) not long ago by virtue of the fact that he was brought up in Jos, one of the few cities that I found in the 50s and 70s as genuine melting pot in Nigeria; he probably would not have been able to achieve what he has achieved. “He is a true Nigerian. And when he wants to pull me down, he will say we are colleagues. How can I be a colleague of a failure? You are a failure in contesting for the presidency of Nigeria!”
The former president also used the opportunity to underpin the threeprinciples behind most of the actions he took while in office saying: He said they are “Can I defend my action before God? Can I defend my action before the people? Will my action benefit majority of people’, adding that a leader should be “fearless and courageous” and be ready to step on “toes” whenever it was necessary.
Obasanjo also expressed optimism that Nigeria and the African continent would very soon be ranked as one of the best countries and continents in the world.
Other dignitaries at the event included the embattled PDP National Secretary, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, former Ekiti Governor, Chief Segun Oni, former Ondo State Governor, Dr Olusegun Agagu, and Rivers State Deputy Governor, Mr. Tele Ikuru, who represented Governor Rotimi Amaechi.