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Obasanjo: Old soldiers never die

By Denrele Animasaun

“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else”- Theodore Roosevelt

There is a well-known saying, “Old soldiers never die; they only fade away”.

I beg to differ: not all soldiers fade away, there is one that is very alive and very much kicking. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is very much present and gaining pace. It seems this 80 year-old soldier is consolidating his legacy and atoning for any wrong he may have done. This old man simply is ensuring those who care to listen, that he will continue to speak his mind on the state of the nation and its future direction, whether people like it or not.

Abroad, he is more appreciated and sought after as a credible elder, mediator and peace maker. Who would have thought but he has earned his stripes and he does have the acumen to contribute his experience to leadership discourse.  He did well for Nigerians as the former president that the former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala attests to a rare feat-that former President Obasanjo left a gross reserve of $43.13 billion, comprising the CBN’s external reserves of $31.5 billion, $9.43 billion in the Excess Crude Account, and $2.18 billion in Federal Government’s savings in May 2007.  Now, that is one monumental feat unsurpassed by any recent President of Nigeria.

In 2013, he wrote a 13-page letter to the then President Goodluck, advising him not to seek re-election in 2015. Of course, the advice fell on deaf ears and Jona’s media hounds went on a rabid verbal attack on Obasanjo, accusing  him of being provocative, they very much told him to shut up.  Now who is the last one standing! In the now famous letter, Obasanjo wrote: “I want nothing from you personally except that you should run the affairs of Nigeria not only to make Nigeria good, but to make Nigeria great for which I have always pleaded with you and I will always do so. And it is yet to be done for most Nigerians to see”.  Obasanjo simply said that he  was compelled to speak out  because he was concerned that Nigeria was moving in the wrong direction, “I could sense a semblance between the situation that we are gradually getting into and the situation we fell into as a nation during the Abacha era”.

Those who have seen the ravages of war, can no longer have taste for another but as usual, arrogance is wasted on the young especially, when all they have is money, power and position. The arrogance of power failed to heed this soldier’s counsel and Nigerians voted with their feet to avert further ruination and disaster. Ironically, what this old soldier wants more than anything, is peace and he is convinced that secession is never the solution, and that the government’s military interventions, “can only make things worse”. Obasanjo is clear that young activists in Nigeria have real grievances and that the government will do well to listen, “All youths in Nigeria have legitimate reasons to feel frustrated and angry, the protesters don’t even know what the struggle is all about, but if it gives them false hope, why not hang onto it?” His solution?” Let the elders handle it or ignore it until it loses momentum; there are elders in any community who are still respected. After all, they’re their fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, and can still be used effectively.”  He strongly believes that empowering old people could have a counterintuitive approach to resolving a problem he identified as young people’s sense of disempowerment unfortunately, there are not many elders left untainted by greed and power to entrust a position of neutrality and sagacious acumen. And besides, how many of the hot headed disrespectful nouveu riche would take the counsel of an elder these days?

Wise men, old men are thin on the ground and besides, many have been silenced by money and power and others are simply been ignored but not this one. Olusegun Obasanjo will say his piece whether it is solicited or not, he is not one for unnecessary pandering, that is the beauty of old age, one does not stand on ceremony as time is premium. Former President Obasanjo is feted as an international elder statesman and as recently, he was in Senegal to mediate the country’s political impasse due to a contentious presidential election. The man has landed a much bigger appointment; a grander position in the United Nations, High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation, alongside 17 other current and former global leaders. How many of the nation’s leaders could fill his shoes or reputation?

The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Gutierrez in a statement, explained the function of the board is to advise him on mediation initiatives and back specific mediation efforts around the world. Gutierrez maintained the Board was established as part of the “surge in diplomacy for peace” which he has consistently advocated. In appointing the former Nigerian President, he described the former president as one of the most distinguished elder statesmen of Africa and, as well his presidency, Obasanjo has been involved in numerous international mediation efforts, including in Angola, Burundi, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa. In 2008 he was appointed the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on the Great Lakes region.” This soldier has done good and it is definitely becoming of the elder he has become. In terms of his legacy, history will be the judge of that.

That’s the way to do it!

It was reported that Tanzanian president John Pombe Magufuli fired two municipal council heads after they failed to recall government allocations for road projects under their districts. Their dismissal was linked to a public event in the lakeside town of Bukoba where Magufuli had gone to launch a new airport. They were summoned to give figures on government allocations but failed. A displeased Magufuli is quoted as saying, “You can’t talk to me like that,” after one of the minister said her failure to recall the figures was because of the scope of her job which included overseeing several departments. There is lesson to be learnt here by their Nigerian counterparts, there is no room for mediocrity and half-baked senior officials. Appointments should be given on merit and capability alone, failure to perform is enough grounds for dismissal. If the culture of incompetency and nepotism shifts, it will improve Nigeria’s productivity, economic growth and thus eventually, redistribution of wealth. Sometimes one wishes for common sense and decency to prevail and if for some strange reasons, it does definitely will change the moral landscape of the country.

*Denrele is off next week




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