General Olusegun Obasanjo gained quite a reputation internationally when he handed over power to a civilian led government in 1979.
It wasn’t in keeping with tradition of most military coupists at the time in Africa, where many didn’t even declare a date to handover power, talk more keeping to it. Infact one of the reasons adduced by General Murtala for toppling General Gowon was his disinterest in announcing a timetable for a transition to civil rule.
Interestingly, the date set for transition to democracy and eventual handover was declared not by Obasanjo but by his assassinated predecessor. This did not deter him from seeing and midwifing the transition to civil rule to its logical end. It wasn’t impossible to see why this could’ve been so seeing that he practically ruled in a manner that would’ve pleased the late Murtala Mohammed, who’s portrait though now late still featured prominently alongside his in public buildings and arenas, as though he still lived.
Under Obasanjo’s short reign several infrastructural and social programmes were embarked upon, notable of which was the Operation Feed The Nation, OFN which appeared to have ended in his farm, to which he retired to at the end of his reign.
The Constitution produced by the Constitutional Conference convened by Obasanjo became till date the longest legal document for which Nigeria was governed since independence, and remains a reference material even after the 1999 constitution was adopted and signed into law.
The spat between Obasanjo and his kinsman Fela Anikulapo Kuti, resulted in the latter dedicating some of his hit songs to the former and his deputy, General Shehu Musa Yaradua, was a major dent in his first stint as Head Of State. Those hit songs were in the main derogatory and anti-establishment, interestingly Fela appeared to have information about government and its inner workings exposing their shady deals in his songs, for which when one considers that most of those at the helm of government affairs were avid listeners to Fela’s music and ardent disciples religiously worshipping at his shrine and would’ve, at one point or the other divulged ‘state secret’ to either Fela directly or to any of the numerous girls that frequented Fela’s ‘Kalakuta Republic’ back in the day, one wouldn’t be surprised as to how such came to be.
Fela’s songs drew the ire of the military establishment leading to his incarceration under Obasanjo’s regime, and the infamous saga in which Fela’s mother (of many firsts in Nigeria’s history) was thrown down from the balcony of Fela’s house. It’s no surprise therefore that the sons of the late music maestro refused to accept the Centenary Awards by the Federal Government last week, basing their decision on governments’ reluctance to apologise for that and other events where their late father had had cause to clash with the Federal Government, howbeit military at the time.
Nigerians, appeared to forgive Obasanjo for whatever sins he might have committed simply because he handed over power as promised to a civilian government, though his people of the Yòrùbá stock felt betrayed by him for allegedly manipulating election results to favour a Northerner in person of Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
Thus Obasanjo became a stranger in his home land, and though he would have another go at Nigeria’s top position as Civilian President, going on to win a Second Term in office, he never gained the kind of following, near occultic bestowed upon the Yòrùbá hero, cum demigod- Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Love or Loathe him, Obasanjo’s impact on Nigeria is enduring, at a point sycophants called him, ‘The Father Of New Nigeria’. Unfortunately, despite his exploits both locally and internationally his home is replete with scandals, some of which are so shameful to even be whispered talk more shouted on rooftops, unfortunately those stories his staff mouthed in hushed tones to many who cared to listen will be proclaimed on rooftops by no less personalities than his children.
The story of Obasanjo will continue when we review his second coming to power. As for the presidential contenders, the Southerners failed to unite to upstage a united North due to mutual distrust. The Igbos couldn’t bring themselves to trust the Yorubas led by their charismatic leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was being undermined by another Yòrùbá, the wealthy and flamboyant Chief M. K. O. Abiola as member and major financier of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN whose candidate, Shagari won the 1979 elections while southerners bickered. Another tale for another day.
The Northern Governors forum in wishing Obasanjo a Happy 77th birthday today stated that the former president was instrumental to the unity of Nigeria, a truism only very few Nigerians will dispute.