It does not matter whether you like or hate him, you just must agree that Chief Matthew Okikiola Obasanjo is like no other Nigerian and it is not often that you find such men.
Obasanjo, military head of state for three years and two-time civilian president has been celebrating his 80th birthday even though he owns up to not knowing his exact birthdate.
A man of immense goodwill and ill will at the same time, Obasanjo himself admits that God has been partial to him given the level of success that he has attained from the very humble beginnings he emerged from decades back. “I was born by parents who were stark illiterates. There was no road to our village at the time I was born,” OBJ as he is widely known in the country reflected as he explained what he described as the almighty’s unusual kindness to him.
Right from the civil Nigeria fought between 1967 -1970 until this moment, there has been no period in the past five decades that the Obasanjo has either not been a major issue of discourse or a key influence in the history of the country. Of course, as it is known with human beings, there are various opinions about the success that he has achieved with these opportunities.
Take the example of his leadership of Nigeria between 1999 and 2007, a sizeable number of Nigerians are still angry with Obasanjo for not making the best use of those eight years to set Nigeria on an irreversible path of progress. Others see those years as some of the most directed in the last 18 years.
You can list some of the achievements of that administration. One which showed Obasanjo as a visionary, in my opinion, was his insistence on reforming the Pensions infrastructure in Nigeria, in spite of all opposition. Although this was eventually abused.
His supporters will also identify the GSM revolution, the introduction of the nation’s anti-corruption bodies, Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC). There was the dogged consolidation of the Banking sector as well as the debt relief package achieved by his administration. Things looked so good at the time Obasanjo was leaving that the sustenance of some of the policies he introduced would no doubt have lifted Nigeria from its stunted development. But the misfortune of an attempt to get a third term in office and the misguided choice of a successor set Nigeria years back!
A man of sharp intellect, uncommon wit, street wisdom and native intelligence, Obasanjo has done so much for himself that he could pass as Nigeria’s most connected leader whether you talk internationally or within the country.
But like every human being, Obasanjo is accused of so many failings by critics, some of who got estranged from him after many years of affinity. An overriding tendency associated with OBJ is selfishness. I have heard people who have known him for years say that he would not discuss any issue without looking out for a way in which he would personally benefit. This, critics argue, limits his impact.
People have described him as a liar, manipulator of facts as well as a control freak. This is why Obasanjo has fallen out with literally every Nigerian leader after him even if he was instrumental to their attaining office, in the first instance. He is also believed to be very unforgiving and vindictive.
Notwithstanding all that however, OBJ has remained the darling of God and tons of world leaders. God himself says he does not judge men the way men judge other men and that he would have mercy on whom he chooses to have mercy. Even OBJ understands and wonders why God has been so merciful to him in spite of all his inadequacies failings.
Part of the mercies of God is that Obasanjo turns 80 today and can look back and see thousands of lives that he has impacted. The things that God does are unquestionable, which is why like him or not, you cannot but wish this leader of men, intellectual and enigma, a happy 80th birthday and many happy returns.