Olusegun Obasanjo of Operation Feed the Nation/Zero Hunger

by Augustine Togonu-Bickersteth
Olusegun Obasanjo

Olusegun Obasanjo of Operation Feed the Nation and Operation Zero Hunger: Cultivating soil and mind, Cultivating Talent and friendship: Cultivating Peace

badan dazzles. Ibadan has been referred to as not only the political capital of south west Nigeria, but also the political nerve centre of the black  world as well as  being the world’s largest indigenous black city. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, then Nigerian  Head of State, during a farewell visit to the south west, specifically in Ibadan, pacifyingly re-christened the west; there at the  Liberty stadium venue of the Farewell address he said “You shall no longer be known as the wild wild west. You shall now be known as the wise wealthy west”. Prior to these words, it  was said “When the west sneezes the rest of Nigeria catches cold”.  Shortly after handing over as President, Obasanjo could be seen Driving his obokun Mercedes on the Ibadan Highway. it was 1979, 40 years ago, when Obasanjo re-christined the west. the west had only  just a few months back supposedly lost the Presidential election to Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari. Well, it was something of a contest between East, West and the North

Prior to the election, Nigerians were told by the powers that be that the best candidate would not necessarily have emerged the winner of the election. The west took their candidate, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, to be the best. Not all the west voted for Awolowo, neither did all the north vote for Shagari  and not all the East voted for Azikiwe. Oxford trained Odimegwu Ojukwu, leader of secessionist Biafra, long after the war, referred to Obafemi Awolowo as the best President Nigeria never had but his kinsman from the east, Chinua Achebe,  had a different view so he revealed in his book, The Trouble with Nigeria and Another book, There Was a country. We shall meet another  man from Oxford in this write up.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo lost  the election by a narrow margin and some observers believe he may have been caught in a cross fire or proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union because of his socialist leanings. Awolowo was known to the soviets during the Nigerian civil War. According to Olujimi Jolaoso, pioneer diplomat, in his memoirs In The Shadows, the Ajaokuta Iron and Steel complex contract  was a “Thunderous  Thank You” to the Soviets for coming to the rescue of the Nigerian side during the Civil War.  The western powers chose not to support Nigeria and instead advised  Nigeria to make do with  whatever arms or ammunition that had already been  purchased. Awolowo is referred to as the Chief strategist during the civil war. The Russians supplied fighter jets. Obasanjo was to receive the instruments of surrender. As if drawing from the biblical injunction “Blessed are the Peace makers” Obasanjo has now emerged  a Christian Theologian, walking well into the occasion, mediating peace between  marauding Herdsmen of Northern Nigeria and feuding Farmers of Southern Nigeria

Obasanjo is highly revered by some including those who say they belong to the Obasanjo school of Politics. He has been called “Foremost authority” and “Oracle” as it pertains to  Nigeria and  how Africa interacts with herself and with the rest of the world. He is  atimes almost  deified

In a world where we are told “If there are no sinners there would be no saints” Obasanjo has been accused of being a sinner. Almost crucified. He has been a target for humiliation much against the advice of the ancients of his country that you do not humiliate a courageous man.  Nigerians have been enjoined to forget the messenger but study the message

A torch bearer of 1.2 billion Africans and blacks worldwide, Obasanjo is gracefully courted abroad and severally hosted by iconic leaders, world leaders who he may even interact with on first name basis .

An astute political communicator, now followed by the masses of readers of Nigerians newspapers, Obasanjo, sitting on his presidential throne, had quite rhetorically questioned the use of such disciplines of sociology and mass communication. His country Nigeria is now plagued by an interplay of sociology and economics. There are several youths and adults not in education, employment or training. Obasanjo had said then, that it is not the business of government to create jobs whilst admitting that there were millions of people unemployed. That business had been outsourced to entrepreneurs who as we know like to change the world. That business was also sorely outsourced to business men who strive to maintain the status quo.

On a significant Birthday, Obasanjo was seen as a Team Player complete with professional Jersey but his real sport is squash racquets, a dual sport which  psychologists could use to reveal his style of leadership. Obasanjo  affirmed that he needn’t take advice from his advisers; infact he was reported to  have lectured them sometimes. He kept the Oil portfolio to himself and  practically usurped the functions of the foreign affairs minister in his days as President.

Going by the words of Wangari Matthai, Enviromentalist and Nobel Peace prize winner, Obasanjo, a Farmer and Avid Reader, is the Archetype person  cultivating soil and Mind. But Obasanjo cultivates not only Soil and mind. He cultivates Talent and friendship  and he cultivates Peace.

On  Talent and friendship Obasanjo has amongst others,  Professor Ladipo Akinkugbe, Philosopher, Statesman and Physician the world’s second and only living Black fellow of  Baliol college, Oxford, referred to as the legend of the Ibadan Medical school  and one of the four geniuses from Government college Ibadan.  Obviously referring to Obasanjo cognitive abilities, Akinkugbe would add that, Obasanjo “Has got it upstairs”. As if to confirm that, Obasanjo on a routine medical check up far away from his own state, somewhere in the south south, revealed he had a Brain scan and the result showed,  he said “My Head is correct” Akinkugbe is obviously Obasanjos Go-to Man for matters on Higher Education and  Health. At one point Akinkugbe declared “I cannot do everything”. He was invited to the Presidential villa a record number of times.

Professor Wole Soyinka  perhaps the worlds greatest living Dramatist was classmate of Akinkugbe at Government College, and partner in wrong-doing   by Akinkugbes Autobiography, Footnotes and Footprints. Soyinka would have a somewhat different view of Akinkugbe who refers  to Obasanjo as agreat African. At a 70th Birthday celebration of Akinkugbe where Wole Soyinka was billed to give a lecture and where Obasanjo was expected, Obasanjo came in behind schedule and at that point, Soyinka, the lecturer, quipped “Somebody has wasted our Time”. In Akinkugbe’s  Autobiography, he had favourable words for those who are on time.  Akinkugbe particularly mentioned, Queen Elizabeth of England, who doubles as the Head of the commonwealth now here was a former Chairman of the African Union arriving by “African Time”

A Prophet is with honour, by  Tunji Olaopa, is a biography of the economics guru Professor Ojetunji Aboyade who had served all Nigerian heads of Government from Balewa to Babangida.  The now Professor Tunji Olaopa would reveal what  appears like a serendipitous meeting between Soyinka and Obasanjo over a pot of stew in the kitchen as owned and administered by Professor Beatrice Aboyade, wife to Professor Ojetunji Aboyade, west Africa’s first PhD in Literature, Pioneering Librarian, information Scientist and Archivist. Daughter of a Bookseller, its not exactly known what role she may have played in the setting up of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library and act which has drawn scorn  and controversy  from not a few including  Professor Wole Soyinka.

Some would argue that whatever the reasons for controversy,  a Library, “a poor man’s” university is a good thing and library development is very rare in Nigeria. The concerned persons could go on to ask what have the others done with  money? The commentators are also wont to add that a lot of the problems the Nigerians people take to their elected representatives could be better solved by consulting Librarians or consulting books and other resources as can be found in a library. They could argue that one word in a book could change a community and even a country. So it happened in Malawi when a 14 year old boy discovered the word “WINDMILL” in a book with that word he saved his village from famine and is now the subject of a book, The Boy Who Harvested The Wind.

Obasanjo, seemingly unconcerned, could be found dancing in public in Buba and sokoto or cassock in front of the pulpit dancing along with the children’s choir. He exudes a lot of confidence  rather than  paranoia .   Broad minded, progressive and unprecedented  he made a woman the mechanic for the presidential fleet of cars  and what’s  more he appointed  or recruited the a record number of top notch women in his administration.  Today, from Operation Feed the Nation which he launched as  Head of State, Obasanjo has now aligned his avuncular and indefatigable self to Zero hunger, one of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.

Perhaps confident of himself and all his dealings, Obasanjo had affirmed that the Nigerian President, Muhammad Buhari, would continue to  address him as  “Sir” until he dies.

This Address of “Sir” by Buhari to Obasanjo is the often neglected, disappearing, or disregarded, or just absent act of spirit de corps.

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