An encounter with Obasanjo

Former President Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo, like all great men, means many things to many people and institutions. To the University of Ilorin, his personality is etched in gold for many reasons out which space will allow three.

Three reasons

First, his Government, led by the late General Muritala Muhammed, established the University in  1975 and it was he as Head of State who actually gave the University its first Vice-Chancellor, Emeritus Prof. Akin Akinkugbe, in 1976. Besides, the former President remains the only Visitor or Nigerian President who has personally visited the University, if my memory serves me right, till date. Then, Obasanjo stood behind the University against the aggression of the forces of retrogression.

In spite of what his critics would say, his legacies live on and he is far better by far, like the University of Ilorin, than many leaders of Nigeria since Independence. A recent encounter with him at his Obasanjo Presidential Library at a short retreat organised by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) for IT professionals, representatives of higher institutions in Nigeria, labour, human rights, national student body, opinion leaders, academics and other stakeholders brought him more within my focus.

Like Lincoln, like Obasanjo

Having a first-hand insight into the main library, which is to be commissioned soon, is thrilling. This is because what is called Obasanjo Presidential Library is just like one Disneyland, expansive with everything needed for study, research, tourism and pleasure. It was so nice to have tea with the man who is not known to sit on the fence on any issue.

Going through the visionary project, the first by an African President, reminded me of a similar experience of exploring Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in downtown Springfield, Illinois, in 2006. It was really exhilarating then going through the house of the man who abolished slave trade and promoted equality. I still remember the ditty, “What a pleasant home Abe Lincoln has!”

Five Lessons

The experience of that encounter with Obasanjo was great with many take-aways among which five only are shared here:

Keep your records

Keeping records is good but many people don’t do it. Going through the library, one would be marveled to see the primary school results of Obasanjo and many other documents, including love letters, and his correspondences with his children. It was a fresh awakening that records should be kept, at least for posterity.

Obasanjo keeps all his letters and he is the type that would tell you if you wanted to see any letter, he would go and bring it for you. Individuals and institutions have a lot to learn here.

Apologise and be great

As I once wrote, “If somebody says you have wronged him and you have wronged someone, the heavens would not fall if you say, ‘I am sorry’” (  The readiness to apologise is a true mark of greatness and it was so inspiring that Obasanjo would easily do so.

When an alumna of the University of Ilorin and celebrated activist, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, told the former President how security agents acting on “orders from above” brutalised her and her colleagues, the late Gani Fawehinmi and Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, during one of their protests some 12 years ago, Obasanjo apologised and gave an eye-opening account of how the security people do their work. He gave his own account when he was in charge of providing security to former Head of State Yakubu Gowon, who was on an inspection to a facility within his jurisdiction many years ago.

Have your facts

When the Chief was asked of some of the actions he took on labour as a military Head of State between 1976 and 1979, Obasanjo gave his facts that were not controverted by Comrade Isa Aremu. At the end of the day, the actions he took were not only in the best interest of the country but also in the interest of those who even opposed him. He was able to demonstrate that leadership is not about pleasing people immediately, it is about taking actions that would bring enduring benefits, even if they are difficult at first, as long as one has one’s facts.

He was also able to recall his encounters with the late Fidel Castro of Cuba and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. More interesting was the dramatic way he resolved the conflict between the rival Zimbabwean parties with which they were able to face their enemies and gain independence.

Read, read and read

There is no doubt that an encounter with Obasanjo would reveal to you clearly a leader that reads, a personality that exerts himself intellectually. His analysis of Trump’s America was profound and he didn’t miss any detail until he ended his analysis with a telephone conversation between US President Donald Trump and President Muhammadu Buhari just a day before then.  He is a vibrant mind that recalls easily and makes references effortlessly.

Simplify your life

In spite of all his unique and hard-to-surpass achievements, Obasanjo is remarkably simple. He would exchange banter and have selfies and groupies without airs. Meeting him made one to appreciate the profundity of Leonardo Da Vinci’s quote that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” and Anuj Somany’s submission that “a man’s simplicity is the beauty of his humanity in life.”

The Alma Mater wishes all students success in their examinations!