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Why is Nigeria so troubled? How do we resolve this country’s problems?
These were some of the questions yesterday at an intellectual exercise to mark former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s 78th birthday.
Two distinguished citizens – former Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Martin Luther Agwai and National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion Director-General Dr. Umar Bindiri – tackled the topics of the day.
But it was Obasanjo himself who summed it all up. The problem, according to him, is leadership.
The lectures were delivered at his Presidential Library in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital.
The former president, who praised his guests for coming to honour him, reiterated that his loyalty to the country comes first and cannot be undermined.
He said once Nigeria gets it right by putting the correct leader in place, the nation’s thirst for greatness, all-round growth would be fulfilled.
He said it would take one person – the leader – to make the positive difference everybody is yearning for, adding that Nigeria has not got every other aspect of her life right because the leadership question has not be addressed.
Obasanjo said: “Loyalty to Nigeria should not be undermined by anything, except the truth; what is right and what is in the best interest of this great country of ours. May God continue to bless Nigeria.
“We have listened to two beautiful lectures, presentation or what you will call them. For me, it has been very instructive and I have not been disappointed by either of the presenters and they have met the expectations.
“But you have seen that they haven’t presented us with magic as solutions to our problems and there is nothing they have told us that is impossible but all they have said boils down to one thing and one thing only – leadership.
“And until we get it right, anytime we do not get it right, we cannot get any other thing right, don’t let us deceive ourselves, whether it is security, science and technology or innovation or the development of the economy or education they all boil down to leadership and at all levels.
“May God give us the leadership that occasions like this deserve in Nigeria. Because when we have that, we will get there. I’m an incurable optimist about this country, and may be because I have seen in a little bit in my short span of life, a little bit of what is possible and a little bit of what can go wrong and what can be made to go wrong.
“And may be that is why I am, incurable optimist and I believe that all will be well in this country. We have no choice anyway, all has to be well.
“We are about 180 million now, our brothers and sisters in West Africa are worried, and when they talk to me and I said why are they worried, they said, ‘if half a million Nigerians go to Republic of Benin, we will overwhelm them; if two million go to Ghana. That is a big problem.
“Even Britain is worried. They are worried. They said the problem is that if one million Nigerians go to Britain, they said in 10 years time, there will be 10 million Nigerians in Britain and they will rather keep us here.
“There is no reason why any Nigerian child, at this point in time should not have a basic education, food and nutrition, not only Nigeria child, any Nigerian should not go to bed without food.
“We have the resources to achieve all that, that we are not achieving it does not mean we don’t have the resources. It is because we haven’t manage our resources well.
“Employment. If all other things are right, there should be no reason for any Nigerian who wants to be employed not to have the opportunity for employment. And if the things that all the young ones are expecting are not there, in 15 years time, they will be good recruits for Boko Haram or its equivalent. Do not let us deceive ourselves.
“You can suppress but if other things that are supposed to be there are not there, you will only suppress. Sooner than later, it will rear its ugly head, and what should be done, you should remove the root, stem and branches and I believe that too can be done.”
Chief Odigie – Oyegun said the APC was on the verge of issuing the former President a membership card after he shredded his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) card, but changed its mind.
He said the tearing of the PDP membership card via proxy was a significant milestone, causing Obasanjo to cross the “threshold” and making him to qualify fully as the “true father of the nation” that anybody can now run to for guidance.
According to Odigie-Oyegun, issuing the former President with the APC membership card would be “demeaning” to a man who should now be seen as “true nationalist, statesman and non- partisan icon”.
The APC National Chairman said Obasanjo stood out as the “only symbol of this country everybody can run to” whenever the need arises.
Odigie-Oyegun said: “Speaking seriously, a few weeks ago, we saw somebody tearing a party card on his behalf and we all went ecstatic, fantastic! So, leaders of the party quickly conveyed a get together and authorised me if we should issue him a fresh card.
“But we sat down soberly and discussed the issue and at the end of the day we said, we use this word, nationalists and statesman very loosely in this country and a wise counsel prevailed and we said this event is more significant than we think, this man has crossed a threshold; he has now become truly father of the Nigeria nation.
“We will be demeaning him if we went to him now and said ‘Baba this is APC party card’. We thought we would be demeaning him by issuing him a card and we said finally, what Nigeria never had; an icon, a father, a non partisan person, the very first in the history of this nation, finally has arrived, somebody we can now all go to; everybody. He will just be open to all of us.
“And what is important was that given the nature of the man, if he says well done, you can go back home, buy a bottle of champagne and toast because if you have not done well, he will equally look you straight in the eyes and tell you to go to hell.
“This is the kind of man General Obasanjo has become and I want to say, thank you very much, may God grant you very long life to enjoy your new status.
To Tinubu, Obasanjo is one man who has great passion for the country. He recalled when he and a delegation of APC members visited him in Abeokuta, the former President assured them if they do the right in the interest of the nation, he would set aside partisan politics to assist them.
Tinubu said: “You trapped me innocently with a great wisdom of a 78-year-old. I’m honoured to be here and many of you will see this as a rare occasion but this is an opportunity to pay tribute to a nationalist, a teacher, a disciplinarian and a tutor in dignity and boldness.
“Yes, it is true, there are no permanent friends or Permanent enemy in politics. What is common is common interest. Once upon a time, some nine years ago, I went to the Villa.
President Obasanjo asked me to walk out.
“And he was just abusing me in the newspapers and I said, ‘Baba, you are a tenant here. This house (Aso Villa) belongs to Nigeria. If I get to Ota, you can send me out. I brought a file about Nigeria’ and he said, ‘that is true, sit down’.
“If I would tell you several events that occurred between the two of us in the interest of the nation, I would write an epistle but today is not for that. But how do you celebrate, truly and honour a man who has kept you on your toes?
“No matter what, between Baba Olusegun Obasanjo and myself, what I can say is a gratitude to you because you kept me on my toes.
“Each time we disagreed on things, on principle, I took him to court one time as the President and he saw me and said, ‘you took me to court, we can’t be friends after the court’ and I told him, ‘I didn’t take you to court, I took Nigerian President to court’ and he said, ‘get off my way’ and I told him, ‘I wouldn’t get out of the way, until I get what I want.’
“And one morning, very early, Professor Mabogunje was there and we were discussing and it was about the development of the country, there’s no doubt about that, it was about rail line and urban development, very serious matter, and I dialogued with him and Prof. Mabogunje was asking me to keep quiet, and Baba said, ‘get out of here.
“And I said, ‘Baba, I am not going out, you asked me to come and we are talking this matter. You love Nigeria. I love Nigeria. You brought a professor of great reputation and he said, ‘sit down, if you want me to do that thing. I am the President, you must also listen to me.’ And I saw that it wasn’t just an emotional thing, it was a passion for perfection at that particular time.
“And then when we started this present regime of merger and alliances, and we visited him and we told him we wanted him to be a navigator, he said, ‘navigator?
“I will try to avoid it because of Nigeria, but if you people put a good team for the sake of this country together, I will give you wisdom.
“And if you look at what has been happening since then, Obasanjo is an open book, you read a line, you pick a paragraph, you learn, you comply, if you drink from that fountain of wisdom, you will see value in it, he is very committed to Nigeria .
“As we were talking earlier, I said Nigeria is the giant of Africa and he said, ‘I hope you will remove the k-leg’ and I said, ‘the elephantiasis would be killed’. He said by what? And I said by APC.
“And the change that is necessary for now was the day I saw him instructing that shredded umbrella card be torn into pieces, and I said what is happening?
“There’s nothing Obasanjo would have wanted in terms of material, oil well, oil lifting, whatever – from Jonathan that he wouldn’t have got or what from PDP that he wouldn’t have got as a retention service.
“But he puts all of that aside, believes in the unity, cohesion, and progress of this country in order to free himself from that bondage of commitment to one partisan politics that is probably drifting in the middle of the storm of a political change, he, will rather be afloat and chat a new course.”
At yesterday’s lecture at his presidential library in Abeokuta were, among others, Obasanjo’s wife Bola, All Progressives Congress (APC) Chairman John Odigie – Oyegun, National Leader Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Senator Amosun, Prof. Akin Mabogunje, former Osun State Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola, former Ekiti State Governor Segun Oni and Akwa Ibom State APC governorship candidate Umana Okon Umana.
There were also representatives of 34 universities at the ceremony.
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