Obasanjo: The man who saw it all and did it all…his way!

Factual Pursuit of Truth for Progress
By Chris Paul Otaigbe


Frank Sinatra’s song ‘My way’ lyrics typify Olusegun Aremu Okikiola Obasanjo’s life these past eight decades and three years.

As the Owu-born retired army General faces the final curtain of his life, it is clear and he always made it very clear to all who care to know that he had lived his life to the fullest. He had traveled each and every highway of Nigerian socio-political, economic and even cultural stratosphere. Through it all, where those corridors were within his beck and call, he did it his way.

While everyone else struggled to get the best from Nigeria, he had it all entrusted onto his lap.

As he clocks 83, he looks back and exhales sitting on his favourite chair in his favoured spot atop his Abeokuta hilltop, the geographical lexicon now used to describe the residence of Nigeria’s ex-Heads of State especially of the military stock.

A synoptic scan of his life can be captured in these five paragraphs:
Chief Obasanjo, is a Nigerian military and political leader who served as military head of state from 1976 to 1979 and later as President of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007. Ideologically a Nigerian nationalist, he was a member of the People’s Democratic Party.

Born in the village of Ibogun-Olaogun to a farming family of the Owu branch of the Yoruba in southwest Nigeria, Obasanjo was educated largely in Abeokuta. Joining the Nigerian Army, where his specialism was in engineering, he spent time assigned in the Congo, Britain, and India, rising to the rank of major.

In the latter part of the 1960s, he played a major role in combating Biafran separatists in the Nigerian Civil War, accepting their surrender in 1970. In 1975, Murtala Mohammed seized power in a coup and established a military junta. After Mohammed’s assassination the following year, the military-appointed Obasanjo as the head of the government.

Following the 1979 election, Obasanjo handed over control of Nigeria to the newly elected civilian president, Shehu Shagari. In 1993, Sani Abacha seized power in a military coup, enthroning the Generals Muhammadu Buhari/Tunde Idiagbon military regime. This was followed by the General Ibrahim Babangida military presidency and much later Sani Abacha’s military government. Obasanjo became an outspoken critic of the human rights abuses taking place under Abacha’s administration. In response, in 1995 Obasanjo was arrested, imprisoned, and tortured; while in prison he became a born again Christian. He was released following Abacha’s death in 1998.

Entering electoral politics, Obasanjo became the People’s Democratic Party’s candidate for the 1999 presidential election, which he comfortably won. He was re-elected in the 2003 election. Influenced by Pan-Africanist ideas, he was a keen supporter of the formation of the African Union and served as its chair from 2004 to 2006. Attempts to change the constitution to abolish term limits were unsuccessful and brought criticism. 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 late 1970s and for his Pan-African efforts to encourage cooperation across the continent. Critics have focused on his avoidance of constitutional norms and their perception that he became too interested in power during his presidency.

However, minimizing his story in five paragraphs would not be sufficient to explain the moments of this great general and one who can be easily appreciated as the luckiest Nigerian citizen and leader that ever lived. Those memorable moments define the high points of Nigeria’s history.

At the time of his birth, there were no records of his birthdate hence, Matthew Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo would later have his passport read his date of birth as March 5, 1937, which was an estimate.

He was the first of nine children; only he and a sister survived childhood. The church in the village was part of a mission set up by the U.S. Southern Baptist Church and Obasanjo was raised a Baptist. His village also contained Muslims and his sister would later convert to Islam on marrying a Muslim man.

Obasanjo’s father was a farmer and until he was eleven years old, the boy was involved in agricultural labor. Aged eleven, he then started an education at the local village primary school, something encouraged by his father. After three years, in 1951, he moved on to the Baptist Day School in the Owu quarter of Abeokuta. In 1952 he transferred to the Baptist Boys’ High School, also in the town. His school fees were partly financed by state grants.

Obasanjo did well academically, and at school became a keen member of the local Boy Scouts. Although there is no evidence that he was involved in any political groups at the time, it was at secondary school that Obasanjo rejected his forename of “Matthew” as an act of anti-colonialism. Meanwhile, Obasanjo’s father had abandoned his wife and two children. Falling into poverty, Obasanjo’s mother had to operate in trading to survive.

To pay his school fees, Obasanjo worked on cocoa and kola farms, fished, collected firewood, and sold sand to builders. During the school holidays he also worked at the school, cutting the grass and other manual jobs.

In 1956, Obasanjo took his secondary school exams, having borrowed money to pay for the fees. That same year, he began courting Oluremi Akinlawon, the Owu daughter of a station master. They were engaged to be married by 1958. Leaving school, he moved to Ibadan, where he took a teaching job. There, he sat the entrance exam for University College Ibadan, but although he passed it he could not afford the tuition fees. Obasanjo then decided to pursue a career as a civil engineer, and to access this profession, in 1958, answered an advert for officer cadet training in the Nigerian Army.

In March 1958, Obasanjo enlisted in the Nigerian Army. He saw it as an opportunity to continue his education while earning a salary, he did not immediately inform his family, fearing that his parents would object.

It was at this time that the Nigerian Army was being transferred to the control of the Nigerian colonial government, in preparation for an anticipated full Nigerian independence, and there were attempts afoot to get more native Nigerians into the higher ranks of its military. He was then sent to a Regular Officers’ Training School at Teshie in Ghana.

When stationed abroad, he sent letters and presents to his fiancé in Nigeria. In September 1958, he was selected for six months of additional training at Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot, southern England. Obasanjo disliked it there, believing that it was a classist and racist institution, and found it difficult adjusting to the colder, wetter English weather. It reinforced his negative opinions of the British Empire and its right to rule over its colonized subjects. At Mons, he received a commission and a certificate in engineering. While Obasanjo was in England, his mother died. His father then died a year later.

In 1959 Obasanjo returned to Nigeria. There, he was posted to Kaduna as an infantry subaltern with the Fifth Battalion. His time in Kaduna was the first time that Obasanjo lived in a Muslim-majority area. It was while he was there, in October 1960, that Nigeria became an independent country. Shortly after, the Fifth Battalion were sent to the Congo as part of a United Nations peacekeeping force. There, the battalion were stationed in Kivu Province, with their headquarters at Bukavu.

In the Congo, Obasanjo and others were responsible for protecting civilians, including Belgian settlers, against soldiers who had mutinied against Patrice Lumumba’s government. In February 1961, Obasanjo was captured by the mutineers while he was evacuating Roman Catholic missionaries from a station near Bukavu. The mutineers considered executing him but were ordered to release him. In May 1961, the Fifth Battalion left the Congo and returned to Nigeria.

During the conflict, he had been appointed a temporary captain. He later noted that the time spent in the Congo strengthened the “Pan-African fervor” of his battalion.
On his return, Obasanjo bought his first car, and was hospitalized for a time with a stomach ulcer. On his recovery, he was transferred to the Army Engineering Corps. In 1962, he was stationed at the Royal College of Military Engineering in England. There, he excelled and was described as “the best Commonwealth student ever”.

That year, he paid for Akinlawon to travel to London where she could join a training course. The couple married in June 1963 at the Camber well Registry Office, only informing their families after the event.

That year, Obasanjo was ordered back to Nigeria, although his wife remained in London for three more years to finish her course. Once in Nigeria, Obasanjo took command of the Field Engineering Squadron based at Kaduna. Within the military, Obasanjo steadily progressed through the ranks, becoming a major in 1965. He used his earning to purchase land, in the early 1960s obtaining property in Ibadan, Kaduna, and Lagos In 1965, Obasanjo was sent to India. En route, he visited his wife in London. In India, he studied at the Defense Services Staff College in Wellington and then the School of Engineering in Poona.

Obasanjo was appalled at the starvation that he witnessed in India although took an interest in the country’s culture, something that encouraged him to read books on comparative religion.

Obasanjo flew back to Nigeria in January 1966 to find the country in the midst of a military coup led by Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna. Almost all of those involved in organizing the coup were from the Igbo people of southern Nigeria Obasanjo was among those warning that the situation could descend into civil war

He offered to serve as an intermediary between the coup plotters and the civilian government, which had transferred power to the military Commander-in-Chief Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi As the coup failed, Olusegun met Ironsi in Lagos. Ironsi soon ended federalism in Nigeria through his unification decree in May 1966, something which inflamed ethnic tensions. In late July, a second coup took place. In Ibadan, troops of northern Nigerian origin rebelled and killed Ironsi, also massacring around two hundred Igbo soldiers. General Yakubu Gowon took power.

While this coup was taking place, Obasanjo was in Maiduguri. Hearing of it, he quickly returned to Kaduna. There, he found that northern troops from the Third Battalion were rounding up, torturing, and killing Igbo soldiers.

The Governor of Northern Nigeria, Hassan Katsina, recognized that although Olusegun was not Igbo, as a southerner he was still in danger from the mutinous troops. To protect them, Katsina sent Olusegun and his wife back to Maiduguri for ten days, while the violence abated. After this, Obasanjo sent his wife to Lagos while returning to Kaduna himself, where he remained until January 1967. At this point he was the most senior Yoruba officer present in the north.

In January 1967, Obasanjo was posted to Lagos as the Chief Army Engineer. Tensions between the Igbo and northern ethnic groups continued to grow, and in May the Igbo military officer C. Odumegwu Ojukwu declared the independence of Igbo-majority areas in the southeast, forming the Republic of Biafra. On 3rd July, Nigeria’s government posted Obasanjo to Ibadan to serve as commander of the Western State. The fighting between the Nigerian Army and the Biafran separatists broke out on 6 July.

On 9th July, Ojukwu sent a column of Biafran troops over the Niger Bridge in an attempt to seize the Mid-West, a position from which it could attack Lagos. Obasanjo sought to block the roads leading to the city. The Yoruba commander Victor Banjo, who was leading the Biafran attack force, tried to convince Obasanjo to let them through, but he declined.

Obasanjo was then appointed the rear commander of Murtala Mohammed’s Second Division, which was operating in the Mid-West. Based at Ibadan, Obasanjo was responsible for ensuring that the Second Division was kept supplied. In the city, Obasanjo taught a course in military science at the University of Ibadan and built his contacts in the Yoruba elite.

During the war, there was popular unrest in the Western State, and to avoid responsibility for these issues, Obasanjo resigned from the Western State Executive Council. While Obasanjo was away from Ibadan in November 1968, armed villagers mobilized by the farmers’ Agbekoyas Association attacked the Ibadan City Hall. Troops retaliated, killing ten of the rioters. When Obasanjo returned, he ordered a court of inquiry into the events.
Gowon decide to replace Colonel Benjamin Adekunle, who was leading the attack on Biafra, but needed another senior Yoruba. He chose Obasanjo, despite the latter’s lack of combat experience. Obasanjo arrived at Port Harcourt to take up the new position on 16 May 1969; he was now in charge of between 35,000 and 40,000 troops. He spent his first six weeks repelling a Biafran attack on Aba. He toured every part of the front, and was wounded while doing so.

These actions earned him a reputation for courage among his men. In December, Obasanjo launched Operation Finishing Touch, ordering his troops to advance towards Umuahia, which they took on Christmas Day. This cut Biafra in half On 7 January 1970 he then launched Operation Tail Wind, capturing the Uli airstrip on 12 January. At this, the Biafran leaders agreed to surrender.

On 13th January, Obasanjo met with Biafran military commander Philip Effiong. Obasanjo insisted that Biafran troops surrender their arms and that a selection of the breakaway state’s leaders go to Lagos and formally surrender to Gowon. The next day, Obasanjo spoke on regional radio, urging citizens to stay in their homes and guaranteeing their safety.

Many Biafrans and foreign media sources feared that the Nigerian Army would commit widespread atrocities against the defeated population, although Obasanjo was keen to prevent this. He ordered his troops in the region to remain within their barracks, maintain that the local police should take responsibility for law and order.

The Third Division, which was more isolated, did carry out reprisal attacks on the local population. Obasanjo was tough on the perpetrators, having those guilty of looting flogged and those guilty of rape shot. Gowon’s government made Obasanjo responsible for reintegrating Biafra into Nigeria, in which position he earned respect for emphasizing magnanimity. As an engineer, he emphasized restoration of the water supply; by May 1970, all major towns in the region were reconnected to the water supply.

In June 1970, Obasanjo returned to Abeokuta, where crowds welcomed him as a returning hero. He was then posted to Lagos as the Brigadier commanding the Corps of Engineers. In October, Gowon announced that the military government would transfer authority to a civilian administration in 1976.

In the meantime, a ban on political parties remained in forces; Gowon made little progress towards establishing a civilian government. Under the military government, Obasanjo sat on the decommissioning committee which recommended dramatic reductions of troop numbers in the Nigerian Army over the course of the 1970s.

In 1974, Obasanjo went to the UK for a course at the Royal College of Defense Studies. On his return, in January 1975, Gowon appointed him as the Commissioner for Works and Housing, a position he held for seven months, during which he was largely responsible for building military barracks.

In 1970, Obasanjo bought a former Lebanese company in Ibadan, employing an agent to manage it. In 1973 he registered a business, Temperance Enterprises Limited, through which he could embark on commercial ventures after retiring from the military. He also continued to invest in properties; by 1974 he owned two houses in Lagos and one each in Ibadan and Abeokuta.

There were rumors making the rounds that Obasanjo engaged in the corruption that was becoming increasingly widespread in Nigeria, although no hard evidence of this ever emerged. His marriage with Oluremi became strained as she opposed his relationships with other women. In the mid-1970s their marriage was dissolved In 1976 he married Stella Abebe in a traditional Yoruba ceremony.

In July 1975, a coup led by Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and Joseph Garba ousted Gowon. They had not informed Obasanjo of their plans as he was known to be critical of coups as an instrument of regime change.

The coup plotters wanted to replace Gowon’s autocratic rule with a triumvirate of three brigadiers whose decisions could be vetoed by a Supreme Military Council. For this triumvirate, they convinced Murtala Mohammad to become head of state, with Obasanjo as his second-in-command, and Danjuma as the third. Ilife noted that of the triumvirate, Obasanjo was “the work-horse and the brains” and was the most eager for a return to civilian rule.

Together, the triumvirate introduced austerity measures to stem inflation, established a Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, replaced all military governors with new officers who reported directly to Obasanjo as Chief of Staff, and launched “Operation Deadwood” through which they fired 11,000 officials from the civil service.

Following a failed coup by Lt. Col. Buka Suka Dimka in which General Murtala Mohammed was killed, Obasanjo was chosen as head of state by the supreme military council on the 13th February 1976.

Obasanjo resigned as head of state and also resigned from the army on 1 October 1979, handing over power to the newly elected civilian president of Shehu Shagari.

February 13, 1976, coup plotters, led by Army Col. Dimka, marked him, Murtala and other senior military personnel for assassination. Murtala was killed during the attempted coup, but Obasanjo escaped death. The low-profile security policy adopted by Murtala had allowed the plotters easy access to their targets. The coup was foiled because the plotters missed Obasanjo and General Theophilus Danjuma, chief of army staff and de facto number three man in the country. The plotters failed to monopolize communications, although they were able to take over the radio station to announce the coup attempt.

Obasanjo and Danjuma established a chain of command and re-established security in Lagos, thereby regaining control. Obasanjo was appointed as head of state by the Supreme Military Council. Keeping the chain of command established by Murtala, Obasanjo pledged to continue the programme for the restoration of civilian government in 1979 and to carry forward the reform programme to improve the quality of public service.

The military regime of Obasanjo benefited from oil revenues that increased. This permitted government spending for infrastructure and improvements on a large scale; critics thought it was poorly planned and concentrated too much in urban areas. The oil boom was marred by a minor recession in 1978–79.

The government planned to relocate the federal capital from Lagos to Abuja, a more central location in the interior of the country. It intended to encourage industrial development inland and relieve the congestion in the Lagos area. Abuja was chosen because it was not identified with any particular ethnic group.

However, as head of state, Obasanjo reduced the share of oil royalties and rents to state of origin from 50 to 30 percent.

Industrialization, which had grown slowly after World War II through the civil war, boomed in the 1970s, despite many infrastructure constraints. Growth was particularly pronounced in the production and assembly of consumer goods, including vehicle assembly, and the manufacture of soap and detergents, soft drinks, pharmaceuticals, beer, paint, and building materials. Obasanjo’s government invested powerfully in infrastructure, and the number of “parastatals”, jointly government and privately-owned companies proliferated. The Nigerian Enterprises Promotion decrees of 1977 further encouraged the growth of an indigenous middle class.

Heavy investment was planned in steel production. With Soviet assistance, a steel mill was developed at Ajaokuta in Kogi State, not far from Abuja. Agriculture and associated projects generally declined, although the government undertook large-scale irrigation projects in the states of Borno, Kano, Sokoto, and Bauchi with World Bank support.

The oil boom revenues led to a rise in per capita income, especially for the newly emerging urban middle class. Inflation, particularly in the price of food, promoted both industrialization and the expansion of agricultural production. With the government encouraging food crops, the traditional export earners — peanuts, cotton, cocoa, and palm products — declined in significance and then ceased to be important at all. Nigeria’s exports became dominated by oil.

Education also expanded under Obasanjo. At the start of the civil war, there were only five universities, but by 1975 the number had increased to thirteen, with seven more to be established over the next several years. In 1975, there were 53,000 university students. Similar advances were made in the expansion in primary and secondary school education, particularly in those northern states that had lagged behind others. During Obasanjo’s regime, universal primary school education was introduced nationwide.

Obasanjo was also accused of being responsible for political repression. In one particular instance, the compound of Nigerian musician and political activist Fela Kuti was raided and burnt to the ground after a member of his commune was involved in an altercation with military personnel. Fela and his family were beaten and raped and his aged mother, the political activist, Funmilayo Ransom Kuti, was thrown from a window which resulted in fatal injury and eventually her death. Fela carried a coffin to the then Obasanjo’s residence at Dodan barracks, Lagos as a protest against political repression.

The second republican constitution, which was adopted in 1979, was modelled on the Constitution of the United States, with provision for a President, Senate, and House of Representatives. The country was prepared for local elections to be followed by national elections, in the hopes of returning Nigeria to civilian rule.

On October 1, 1979, Obasanjo handed power to Shehu Shagari, a democratically elected civilian president, hence becoming the first military head of state to transfer power peacefully to a civilian regime in Nigeria.

During the administration of Sani Abacha (1993–1998), Obasanjo spoke out against the human rights abuses of the regime, and was imprisoned in June 1995 for alleged participation in an aborted coup based on testimony obtained via torture. He was released only after Abacha’s sudden death on June 8, 1998. While in prison, Obasanjo became a born-again Christian.

Recollecting his experience during the trial of the coup, Obasanjo said “My saddest day was when I sat in front of a military panel set up by late former Head of State, Sani Abacha to try me over a phantom coup, and sentenced to death and later commuted to 30 years imprisonment.”

Obasanjo won the 1999 Nigerian presidential election, he ran as a candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, and won with help from military generals Ibrahim Babangida and Aliyu Mohammed Gusau who delivered the Northern establishment for him, and defeated Chief Olu Falae, the joint candidate of the All Peoples Party and the Alliance for Democracy.
Obasanjo was re-elected In the 2003 Nigerian presidential election, and won by a margin of more than 11 million votes.

Obasanjo spent most of his first term travelling abroad. He succeeded in winning some Western support for strengthening Nigeria’s nascent democracy. Britain and the United States, in particular, were glad to have an African ally who was openly critical of the abuses committed in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe at a time when many other African nations (including South Africa) were taking a softer stance.

Obasanjo also won international praise for Nigeria’s role in crucial regional peacekeeping missions in Sierra Leone and Liberia. However, he got slacks at home for his role in allowing undue support of the West for wars Nigeria prosecuted successfully, alone, during the regimes of Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha under the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). Many believed he cheaply submitted the credit that was due Nigeria to the leadership of the Western powers who his critics regarded as his masters and puppeteers.

The international community was guided in its approach to Obasanjo in part by Nigeria’s status as one of the world’s 10 biggest oil exporters as well as by fears that, as the continent’s most populous nation, Nigerian internal divisions risked negatively affecting the entire continent.

Some public officials like the Speaker of the House of Representatives and President of the Senate were involved in conflicts with the President, who battled many impeachment attempts from both houses. Obasanjo managed to survive impeachment and was renominated.

Obasanjo was re-elected in a tumultuous 2003 election that had violent ethnic and religious overtones. His main opponent, fellow former military ruler General Muhammadu Buhari, who was Muslim and drew his support mainly from the north. Capturing 61.8% of the vote, Obasanjo defeated Buhari by more than 11 million votes.

In November 2003, Obasanjo was criticized for his decision to grant asylum to the deposed Liberian president, Charles Taylor. On June 12, 2006, he signed the Greentree Agreement with Cameroonian President Paul Biya which formally put an end to the Bakassi peninsula border dispute. Even though the Nigerian Senate passed a resolution declaring that the withdrawal of Nigerian troops from the Bakassi Peninsula was illegal, Obasanjo gave the order for it to continue as planned.

With the oil revenue, Obasanjo created the Niger Delta Development Commission and implemented the Universal Basic Education Program to enhance the literacy level of Nigerians. He constituted both the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Resuscitated the National Fertilizer Company in Kaduna and (Onne) Port Harcourt. Obasanjo increased the share of oil royalties and rents to the state of origin from three to 13 percent.

Before Obasanjo’s administration, Nigeria’s GDP growth had been painfully slow since 1987, and only managed three percent between 1999/2000. However, under Obasanjo, the growth rate doubled to six percent until he left office, helped in part by higher oil prices. Nigeria’s foreign reserves rose from $2 billion in 1999 to $43 billion on leaving office in 2007.

He was able to secure debt pardons from the Paris and London club amounting to some $18 billion and paid another $18 billion to be debt free. Most of these loans were accumulated not out of corruption but during a period 1982–1985 when Nigeria operated exchange control regime that vested all foreign exchange transactions on the central bank of Nigeria.

Obasanjo was embroiled in controversy regarding his “Third Term Agenda,” a plan to modify the constitution so he could serve a third, four-year term as President. This led to a political media uproar in Nigeria and the bill was not ratified by the National Assembly.

Consequently, Obasanjo stepped down after the April 2007 general election In an exclusive interview granted to Channels Television, Obasanjo denied involvement in what has been defined as “Third Term Agenda”. He said that it was the National Assembly that included tenure elongation amongst the other clauses of the Constitution of Nigeria that were to be amended. “I never toyed with the idea of a third term,” Obasanjo said.

Obasanjo was condemned by major political players during the Third Term Agenda saga. Senator Ken Nnamani, former President of the Nigerian Senate claimed Obasanjo informed him about the agenda shortly after he became President of the Nigerian Senate.

“Immediately, I became Senate President, he told me of his intentions and told me how he wanted to achieve it. I initially did not take him seriously until the events began to unfold.”

He also insinuated that Eight Billion Naira was spent to corrupt legislators to support the agenda. “How can someone talk like this that he didn’t know about it, yet money, both in local and foreign currencies, exchanged hands,” he asked.

Femi Gbajabiamila corroborated Nnamani’s account but put the figure differently, “The money totaled over N10 billion. How could N10bn be taken out of the national treasury for a project when you were the sitting President, yet that project was not your idea? Where did the money come from?” In the following quotes, Nnamani said President George W. Bush warned Obasanjo to desist from his plan to contest presidential election for the third term: “If you want to be convinced that the man is only telling a lie, pick up a copy of the book written by Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary to the Government of the United States of America. It is actually an autobiography by Rice. On page 628 or page 638, she discussed Obasanjo’s meeting with Bush, how he told the former American President that he wanted to see how he could amend the Constitution so that he could go for a third term.

To his surprise, Bush told him not to try it. Bush told him to be patriotic and leave by May 29, 2007.” He disclosed.

Concerning corruption, the former President has not been able to explain to Nigerians how over $16 billion he spent on the electricity project for Nigeria never saw the light of day and no one has been prosecuted even though the money cannot be accounted for. Similarly, the over N300 billion spent on Roads Project under the Late Anthony Anenih, who was then his Minister of Works could not be accounted for.

On August 22, 2005, the then governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, submitted a petition alleging corrupt practices against Obasanjo to the EFCC.

Although, there may be no hard evidence against the former President, the most conspicuous evidence of corruption, as alleged by his hard critics, remains the multi-billion-dollar mansions, Hotel, Schools and Presidential Library built in his name. many wondered how, for one who was taken from Prison with less than N50k in his account could have amassed such wealth legitimately and turn into such a powerful multi billionaire.

Mohammed Gani-Fawehinmi, son of the Late Human Rights Legend described the Owu General as the richest African retired Head of State alive accusing Obasanjo of being worth over $300 billion.

Late Gani’s son was so emotional about the former President that he kept calling the retired General “common thief” during his Vote of Thanks at the 2020 edition of the 16th Annual Gani Fawehinmi Memorial Lecture held in honor of his father yearly.

He became chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, with control over nominations for governmental positions and even policy and strategy. As one Western diplomat said, “He intends to sit in the passenger seat giving advice and ready to grab the wheel if Nigeria goes off course.” He voluntarily resigned as the chairman board of trustees of the PDP in April, 2012. Afterwards, he withdrew from political activities with PDP.

In March 2008, Obasanjo was “supposedly” indicted by a committee of the Nigerian parliament for awarding $2.2bn-worth of energy contracts during his eight-year rule, without due process. The report of this probe was never accepted by the whole Nigerian parliament due to manipulation of the entire process by the leadership of the power probe committee. It is not on any official record that Chief Obasanjo was indicted.

Obasanjo was appointed Special Envoy by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo. He held separate meetings with DRC President Joseph Kabila and rebel leader Laurent Nkunda.

During the Zimbabwean election of July 2013, Obasanjo headed a delegation of African Union election observers.

In May 2014, Obasanjo wrote to President Goodluck Jonathan requesting that he should mediate on behalf of the Nigerian government for the release of the Chibok girls held by the Boko Haram militants.

On 16th February, 2015, he quit the ruling party and directed a PDP ward leader to tear his membership card during a press conference. His fans chose to regard the Owu Chief as the navigator of the then newly formed opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Although, at this time, with or without his influence or contribution, the APC was already poised to win the Presidential election and most of the States including Ogun, his State.

On 24 January, 2018, he wrote serving President Muhammadu Buhari highlighting his areas of weakness and advising him not to run for office in 2019. To date, all his letters to incumbent presidents have preceded their downfall.

January 31, 2018, his political movement called “Coalition for Nigeria Movement” (CNM) was launched in Abuja. On 10th May, 2018, the movement adopted African Democratic Congress (ADC), as its political party, to realize its dream of a new Nigeria.

20th November, 2018, he officially announced his return to the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP during a book launch “My Transition Hours,” written by former President Goodluck Jonathan.

In December 2017, Obasanjo defended his Ph.D. thesis at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). He now holds a Ph.D. in Theology. That was about two years after he completed his master’s degree in the same course.

Ideologically, Obasanjo was a Nigerian nationalist.

He was committed to a form of Nigerian patriotism and the belief that Nigeria should be retained as a single nation-state, rather than being broken up along ethnic lines In 2001, he stated that his long term goal was “the nullification of all forms of identification except Nigerian citizenship”. He argued that dismantling Nigeria along ethnic lines would result in the ethnic cleansing and violence that had been seen during the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s Ilife argued that Obasanjo’s Nigerian nationalism was impacted both by his detachment from the Yoruba elite and by his time in the army, where he worked alongside soldiers from a broad range of ethnic backgrounds. Ilife thought that although Obasanjo had been too young to play a major role in the anti-colonialist struggle for Nigerian independence from British rule, he was “marked forever” by the “optimism and dedication” of the independence movement.

In office, Obasanjo’s task was to ensure that Nigeria functioned both politically and economically. Over the course of his political career, Obasanjo moved from the belief in the advantages of state involvement in heavy industry, which was common in the 1970s, to a commitment to market liberalism that had become dominant in the 1990s. The decisions he took were usually based on political considerations rather than on legal or constitutional principles, something which was a source of concern for some of his critics.

Obasanjo married his first wife, Oluremi Akinlawon, in London in 1963; she gave birth to his first child, Iyabo, in 1967. Oluremi was unhappy that he maintained relationships with other women and alleged that he beat her. They divorced in the mid -970s. That decade, he also had a relationship with the broadcast journalist Gold Oruh, who bore him two children. He married his second wife, Stella Abebe, in 1976, having met her on a visit to London. In 1987, his second wife/ex-wife, Lynda, was ordered out of her car by armed men, and was fatally shot for failing to move quickly. On 23 October 2005, the President lost his wife, Stella Obasanjo, First Lady of Nigeria the day after she had an abdominoplasty in Spain. In 2009, the doctor, known only as ‘AM’, was sentenced to one year in jail for negligence in Spain and ordered to pay restitution to her son of about $176,000.

Ethnically, Obasanjo is Yoruba, a cultural identification he reflected in his speech and choice of clothing. However, he always foregrounded his Nigerian identity above his Yoruba one, repeatedly stating that “I am a Nigerian who happens to be a Yoruba man. I am not a Yoruba man who happens to be a Nigerian.” Throughout his life he expressed a preference for rural over urban life.

He has been a lifelong teetotaler. He has been characterized as having a sense of discipline and duty, and emphasized what he saw as the importance of leadership. He was meticulous at planning. Obasanjo always emphasized the importance of deferring to seniority, a value he had learned in childhood.

Ilife described Obasanjo as a man with “great physical and intellectual energy” who “exercised power with skill and ruthlessness, sometimes unscrupulously but seldom cruelly.” He had, according to Ilife, a “remarkable capacity for work”. He was cautious with money, living modestly and seeking financial security by investing in property.

In addition to a variety of other chieftaincy titles, Chief Obasanjo is the holder of the title of the Olori Omo Ilu of Ibogun-Olaogun. A number of other members of his family hold or have held chieftaincies as well.

Although his fans described Obasanjo as the outstanding member of the second generation of independent African leaders who dedicated themselves to the consolidation of their postcolonial states.

Obasanjo’s critics believed that he had been corrupted by power and that, particularly during his second term in office, he became driven by the idea of indefinitely retaining power for himself.

An author with twenty-four books under his pen, some of which include three volumes of My Watch, My Command, Ngeogwu among others.

Below are some excerpts from ‘My Watch’, one in a series of three volumes of autobiographies by Obasanjo which was launched at the Lagos Country club Ikeja, Lagos, Tuesday, December 9, 2014. The book, which contains several national issues from past to present.

 “I remember that in 1978 or 1979 Chief Awolowo visited me while I was military head of state and shared with me how he would always stay at home to attend to the work at hand and only make a private visit to the UK once a year for health reasons if he became president of Nigeria.”
 “I made it clear to the chief that once he became president of Nigeria, he could have no private visit to anywhere as such. Wherever he would be, he would be on duty, and the totality of his life would be public. I jokingly added that the only privacy he might lay claim to would be when he was at home with Mama Chief H.I.D., and that even then his security staff would be on twenty-four-hour duty.”

“The unprepared and unplanned transition from Yar’Adua to Jonathan was a more difficult exercise in some respects. One reason was the ‘cloak and dagger’ manner in which Yar’Adua’s illness was handled. The illness of a President cannot be regarded as private. His health has implications for the security and wellbeing of the nation. For the president and those around him to have attempted strenuously to keep the fact of the severity of his illness from public smacks of ignorance of the enormity of what the job entails and the level of provinciality of their understanding, attitude, and approach.”

These two major events became the watershed in Nigeria’s history in which Obasanjo’s decision directed or derailed the trajectory of Nigeria’s political landscape depending on who is looking the landmarks.

In the words of the legendary Sinatra’s great song, Obj can look back at some of his errors in history and say he had few regrets. But then again, he would argue they were too few to mention because as a trained military officer, he did what he had to do and saw it through without exemption. Planning each charted course, each careful step along the byway and more, he did it all and did it all his way.

Yes, there were times and Nigeria knew when he bit off more than he could chew. But through it all, when there was doubt, Aremu Okikiola Mathew Olusegun Obasanjo ate it up and spit it…because he wanted his way and got it done his way.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here