By Isaac Asabor
There is no denying the fact that Britannica is an organization that is reputed to have a team that cut across researchers, editors, technologists, designers, and quizmasters united in their commitment to telling stories, teaching, and never losing sight of the fact that learning is one epic, lifelong journey. Without resorting to eulogizing the organization, it is expedient to say that it has a substantial presence in virtual space. In its lexicon popularly called “Britannica Dictionary”, it defines an elder statesman as a retired government leader who gives advice to current leaders, and also as a respected man who has been a member of a group or organization for a long time.
Against the foregoing backdrop, it is not in any way an exaggeration to say that the foregoing description aptly finds expression in Olusegun Obasanjo’s personality by virtue of being an army general, who was the first military ruler in Africa to hand over power to a civilian government, even as he served as Nigeria’s military ruler from 1976 to 79 and, as a civilian president from 1999 to 2007.
As contained in the foregoing Britannica’s description which implies that an elder statesman must as a matter of duty be speaking truth to power, it is not an exaggeration to say that Obasanjo has never relented since he vacated Aso Rock as Nigerian president in 2007. The basis for the foregoing view is inextricably linked to the fact that Britannica in its somewhat job description of an elder statesman says, “Elder statesman as a retired government leader gives advice to current leaders”, it will not be offbeat in this context to ask whether as a retired government leader, precisely as a two-time number one citizen of Nigeria, has been playing the role of an elder statesman by advising contemporary leaders. Aptly rephrased, “Has Obasanjo, since retirement, been speaking truth to power? If the question is posed to most Nigerians that have been following him as he patriotically plays his elder statesman’s role, their unanimous response to the question would predictively be in the affirmative.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Obasanjo has been playing the role of an elder statesman, more than any other elder statesman alive in Nigeria, through letter writing, and which has for the umpteenth time pitted him against not a few politicians, and some of their overzealous spokespersons.
For the sake of clarity, lexicographers are unanimous in their definitions that speaking truth to power simply means “Standing up for what is right and telling people in charge what is what. That is the idea behind the phrase “speak truth to power”, which is invariably an expression for courageously confronting an authority, calling out injustices on their watch, and demanding change”.
It will be recalled that on 2nd December 2013, former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote to now-former President Goodluck Jonathan, a letter that clearly competes as one of the most acerbic in modern history, accusing him of ineptitude and of taking actions calculated at destroying Nigeria.
It will equally be recalled in this context that in the 18-page letter, Obasanjo unarguably scolded Jonathan by reminding him that “Nigeria is bleeding and the hemorrhage must be stopped,” and warned, by saying “Before It Is Too Late.” Not only that, he said Mr. Jonathan has failed to deliver on his promises to the Nigerian people, stem corruption, promote national unity, and strengthen national security.
He added that rather than take steps to advance Nigeria’s interest and make policies that are capable of raising the standards of living of Nigerians, Mr. Jonathan had betrayed God and the Nigerian people that brought him to power, and has been pursuing selfish personal and political interests based on advice he receives from self-centered aides.
In a similar vein, it will be recalled that ex-President Jonathan on September 22, 2015, wrote a letter to Obasanjo, informing him of his plans to set up a foundation on which platform he will stand to continue serving humanity.
In response to Jonathan’s letter, Obasanjo in a letter dated October 12, 2015, advised him to use the Foundation to show remorse, and use it to engage in soul-searching and reviewing his past actions as well as consider the Foundation as a platform through which he can heal his conscience and demonstrate penitence over his past actions.
Also in July 2019, a letter that Obasanjo wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari, was made available to the media by his Special Assistant Media, Mr. Kehinde Akinyemi. As conveyed by the letter, Obasanjo highlighted the weak points of Buhari in addressing critical challenges across all sectors of the economy, and in the same vein prayed for him at the conclusive part of the letter thus: For the sake of Nigeria and Nigerians, I pray that God may grant you, as our President, the wisdom, the understanding, the political will and the courage to do what is right when it is right and without fear or favor. May God save, secure, protect and bless Nigeria. May He open to us a window of opportunity that we can still use to prevent the worst from happening. As we say in my village, “May God forbid bad things”.
Still, in the same characteristic manner, Obasanjo had recently in an open endorsement of the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Mr. Peter Obi, in his New Year message to Nigerians elicited angry reactions from the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, and that of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar.
Presidential Campaign Council (PCC) of APC described the endorsement of Obi by Obasanjo as “useless”, alleging that the former president hardly has strong electoral value. The PDP PCC reacted in like manner, saying whether Obasanjo likes it or not, Atiku would be president in his lifetime, the presidential campaign council of the LP said other former Nigerian leaders should emulate Obasanjo and endorse Obi. However, in my view, those who hate Obasanjo for playing his role as an elder statesman have the choice to hate him, while those that like him equally have the collective choice to like him, but one fact remains, Obasanjo will always speak the truth to power.
In fact, a dispassionate appraisal of Obasanjo’s letters to the two presidents at different political dispensations, as expressed in this context, shows that he is an elder statesman that should be saluted at all times rather than being vilified for always speaking truth to power. Moreover, Obasanjo needs to be applauded for his positive take on democracy and criticism of bad leadership. In fact, there is a place in posterity for the elder statesman who always echoes the sentiments of the people and who embodies their rage. It would have been a pity if hapless and voiceless Nigerians have no one like Obasanjo who could represent their collective fiery anger and revolt against the ongoing bad leadership that is been driven by morbid fear and hunger. Without a doubt, the seemingly intractable challenges Nigerians are the moment facing are being orchestrated by the leadership and by complicity, followership of the APC, and which unarguably prompted the elder statesman to endorse Obi who promised Nigerians of reversing the retrogressive trend of governance.
Without a doubt, Obasanjo has remained a notable elder statesman that has fearlessly been speaking truth to power, and literarily holding politicians’ feet to the fire. Thus, there is no scintilla of hyperbole to say that by always speaking truth to power the elder statesman has indeed been pumping oxygen to Nigeria’s democracy as it seems the country’s lungs are not able to provide enough oxygen on their own for Nigeria to be breathing well as it was wont to before the ongoing leadership dispensation commenced.