By Eric Elezuo
If there is one Nigerian leader, serving or retired; living or dead, whose influence supersedes all known theory and looms large; that person arguably is Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. A former military head of state of former civilian president, Obasanjo, who clocked 84 years on Friday, has seen it all.
Born Olusegun Matthew Okikiola Aremu Obasanjo, GCFR on March 5 1937, one of Nigeria’s most influential leader is a well groomed political and military leader with his clout transcending the national circle and cascading through the African continent and resting solidly on the international or global stage. He is a pan Africanist.
Obasanjo was born in the village of Ibogun-Olaogun to a farming family of the Owu clan. He had his early education in Abeokuta before joining the Nigerian Army, where he specialised in engineering. He served in the Congo, Britain, and India, and rose to the rank of major.
Known to be combatant, Obasanjo participated in returning the Biafran nation back to Nigeria after a fierce civil war in the late 60s. In 1975, he became the Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters, which by interpretation is the number two citizen, after a military coup. General Murtala Mohammed was the head of state. He however, became the head of state, a year later when Mohammed was assassinated in a failed coup. As head of state, he became very vocal among voices supporting groups opposing white minority rule in southern Africa among other endeavours in the continent.
His democratic principles were brought to the fore when he promptly supervised the return to civil rule in 1979, and handed over control of Nigeria to the newly elected civilian president, Shehu Shagari. He then retired to Ota, Ogun, where he became a farmer, published four books, and took part in international initiatives to end various African conflicts.
However, fate beckoned on him one more time in 1998 when the Abdulsalam Abubakar military junta decided to hand over power to civilians. Obasanjo was pulled from the prison custody where late head of state, Sani Abacha had placed him. He was released following Abacha’s death in June 1998. While in prison, he became a born again Christian, with providentialism strongly influencing his subsequent worldview.
Obasanjo won the presidential election in 1999 on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) platform. He was re-elected in 2003, and served till 2007. In retirement, he earned a PhD in Theology from the National Open University of Nigeria.
Obasanjo has been described as one of the great figures of the second generation of post-colonial African leaders. He received praise both for overseeing Nigeria’s transition to representative democracy in the 1970s and for his Pan-African efforts to encourage cooperation across the continent.
At 84, Obasanjo has not only remained relevant in all human endeavours, but has been active and agile enough to be personally present wherever his attention is needed.
It is therefore, no wonder that encomiums and felicitations have continued to flow in from persons from all walks of life to celebrate the octogenarian, who wrote his name in gold in the history of world politics, and Nigeria’s in particular.
The following are some of the birthday greetings that graced the media space for the African icon:
A GLOBAL FIGURE WHOSE CONTRIBUTIONS CANNOT BE EASILY FORGOTTEN – PDP
…At 84, PDP Salutes Obasanjo, Extols His Patriotism…
“The PDP describes President Obasanjo as a patriotic leader, global figure and exceptionally energetic administrator, who has made immeasurable contributions, both as a military leader and as democratically elected President, for the survival, unity, stability and development of our dear nation.
“As a military leader, Chief Obasanjo fought for the unity of our dear nation during her turbulent hours as well as making immense personal sacrifices for the return of democratic rule with the birthing of the Second Republic in 1979.
“Twenty years after, as a democratically elected President, on the platform of our great party, the PDP, Chief Obasanjo further united our nation with the entrenchment of democratic values of all-inclusiveness, rule of law, respect for the constitution, regard for the sensibilities of Nigerians as a people, transparency in governance and establishment of various institutions for good governance in all critical sectors of national life.
“Nigerians celebrate President Obasanjo for running a visionary administration, leading to the revamping of our productive sectors, settling of our foreign debts, turning our nation into an international investment destination and elevating her from a pariah and debtor nation to becoming one of the fastest-growing economies of the world under his watch.
“Our party extols President Obasanjo’s undying sense of patriotism and love for our dear nation for which he has remained fearlessly active in his counsels, directions, admonitions and firm stance against injustice and impunity in the polity, and urges leaders, across the board, to emulate his all-inclusiveness and commitment to the nation.”
OBASANJO IS A SINCERE PATRIOT – FORMER PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN
“As you mark this occasion of your 84th birthday, I join your family, friends and well-wishers to thank Almighty God for a fulfilling and highly eventful life.
“You are a sincere patriot who has sacrificed so much for the growth and development of our dear country. Your leadership both as a military Head of State and President at different periods produced landmark achievements in uniting and deepening the bond that holds together our diverse country.
“Baba, you are a great African who has contributed so much to the consolidation of laudable regional and sub-regional initiatives on the continent. You will continue to remain relevant in the task of nation-building, especially in this period when the peace and stability in many African nations are greatly challenged.
“We pray to God to protect and strengthen you to enable you to continue to lend your experience and wisdom to the development impetus of our dear country, Nigeria.”
I WISH YOU A WARM BIRTHDAY – FORMER VICE PRESIDENT ATIKU ABUBAKAR
“On behalf of my family, I wish our great leader and former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a warm birthday celebration. It is to the glory of the Almighty that you are celebrating today, and it is my fervent prayer that you shall live longer.
“In your lifetime, Nigeria shall be great again. I wish you many happy returns and congratulations, Sir.”
NIGERIA BENEFITED IMMENSELY FROM YOUR LEADERSHIP – DELTA STATE GOVERNOR, IFEANYI OKOWA
“On the occasion of your 84th birth anniversary on Friday, I heartily rejoice with you and your family on behalf of the Government and people of Delta.
“As a country, Nigeria benefited immensely from your leadership at various times as several key infrastructure and economic reforms were the hallmarks of your leadership.
“Even at 84, you have continued to give yourself to the service of our nation through your fatherly advice.
“I join your family, friends and well-wishers to thank Almighty God for your life and to pray that He continues to bless you with robust health, guidance, protection and enduring provisions. “I wish you, our dear father, a well-deserved 84th birth anniversary celebration.”
MAY GOD STRENGTHEN BABA OBASANJO – SENATOR ORJI UZO KALU
“On behalf of the people of Abia North Senatorial District, I felicitate with former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
“Baba Obasanjo has contributed at various times to nation building.
“As the former President clocks 84, I pray to God to strengthen Baba Obasanjo in his endeavours.”