— Oct 3, 2014.
Chief Olusegun Matthew Aremu Obasanjo is a man of many intrigues. His life is full of many stories to tell and to read. It is either his exploits as a military head of state, his imprisonment and release from incarceration, his emergence as civilian president, his vehement letter writing, his control and influence from Ota Farm or his muscle-flexing with a sitting president. This time around, it has to do with his going back to school when he is, officially, close to 80 years.
In this edition, LEADERSHIP Friday takes an in-depth look at Obasanjo’s sudden enrolment at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) and the reasons why he decided to be addressed again as a student.
Former president Olusegun Obasanjo is, to say the least, full of surprises. When a bloody coup took the life of General Murtala Ramat Muhammad and Obasanjo became the head of state, he surprised Nigerians and, indeed, the whole world when he kept faith with a hand-over date which culminated in the peaceful return of power to a civilian government on October 1, 1979. That was at a time when top military officers were busy strategizing on how to topple one another and terminate successive regimes through military coup d’états.
Obasanjo, as the man at the helm of affairs after the death of Murtala, simply behaved differently. He became the first military head of state to voluntarily hand over power to a civilian administration in 1979, an act he was rewarded for 20 years later on May 29, 1999, when General Abdulsalami Abubakar handed over power to him as an elected president.
When Obasanjo was brought out of prison in 1998 following the death of General Sani Abacha who had thrown him into jail, he emphatically said ‘no’ to journalists who wanted to know if he was going to contest the presidency. He asked them a rhetorical question: how many presidents did Nigeria want to make out of him?
That was ahead of 1999 presidential election which was being midwifed by the military junta led by General Abdulsalami Abubabakar. Not quite long after, Obasanjo joined the presidential race where he contested against Chief Olu Falae, a contest which kept Nigerians curious to know which President Olu… Nigeria was going to have out of the two of them.
Recently, on December 20, 2013, Obasanjo came out with a shocker when he wrote an open letter to President Goodluck Jonathan. In it, he raised an alarm that President Jonathan was, among other things, training “snippers” ahead of the 2015 general elections. That singular letter raised a lot of dust which took a long time to settle as both Obasanjo’s own daughter, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo Bello, and Jonathan took up their pen and paper to reply Obasanjo.
Similarly, the former president came up with another surprise when he, on Tuesday, September 30, 2014, went back to formal education for further studies. Obasanjo had, on the said day, registered as a student at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Lagos, to study concurrently for a Master of Arts (MA) and Ph.D degrees in Christian Theology in the School of Arts and Social Sciences of the institution. The elder statesman has just taken this bold step at the age of 77. Nigerians were amused, astounded and elated in equal measure. The man has never lacked courage.
Apart from General Yakubu Gowon, Obasanjo is the only former Nigerian head of state or government who has gone back to school after his time in office. Interestingly, Obasanjo did not go back to school to study MA and Ph.D in Christian Theology because he wants to be a pastor. No. Rather, there are other reasons why the former president went back to school at this ripe age.
First of it all is that, according to him, he likes taking innovative steps. Secondly, Obasanjo went back to school to underscore the point that age is not a barrier to seeking knowledge. He stated during his registration at the institution that the acquisition of knowledge at any age is critical to personal and national development and transformation.
Another reason why Obasanjo chose to go back to school is, according to him, to learn more about God, serve God better and have a better relationship with Him. Indeed, this is a right choice. In life, Obasanjo is blessed in all descriptions. On earth, he is like one who has his own paradise. But what is a mundane paradise compared to a heavenly paradise? Perhaps, with an understanding that the two are not comparable, he has decided to know God better and serve Him better as a way of working his way into the heavenly paradise when he time expires on this side of life.
It is, therefore, not out of place that Obasanjo is in search of better knowledge of God as a way of building a better relationship with God which can qualify him to see God. How very strategic!
Obasanjo had obtained a post graduate diploma in 2009, and he will work towards his PhD by first getting a Master’s Degree.
Another force driving Obasanjo back to school is the need for innovation. To show how he desires to aspire for new things, he said, “I’m going back to school because I have to have something to aspire to in every endeavour of life. I always aspire to something new in my farm. I do that in my international activities. I do it in my writing. I do it in the improvement of my academic work which helps to sharpen my brain and strengthen my faith.”
Humility combines with the reasons surrounding Obasanjo’s journey back to school. To have accepted to go back to NOUN and mix with other students, not minding his position as ex-president, not minding his age, is an act of humility in itself. And to show his humility the more, he has requested the management of NOUN to treat him like an ordinary student.
Another reason why this Nigeria’s former president went to NOUN is, as he puts it, to “showcase this university, knowing full well that this country will at no distant future be able to provide adequate access to millions of Nigerians who are yearning for knowledge”. It, therefore, follows that Obasanjo’s admission into NOUN is a way of giving credibility to the institution which was established by his administration in 2001.
No wonder he used the opportunity to call on Nigerians in search of university education to consider the institution as a good option.
Obasanjo’s enrolment into NOUN is also a challenge to Nigerian youths among whom reading culture is abysmally on the decline. For if Obasanjo goes to school at 77 as a father, grandfather and, perhaps, a great grandfather, despite all the distractions and commitments confronting him because of his political status, Nigerian youths have no excuse not to aspire to do more.
Furthermore, Obasanjo registered at NOUN for his MA and Ph.D because he needed something to keep him actively engaged. Since he left office as president after an unsuccessful attempt for a third term, two main projects have been keeping the former president busy – his presidential library and his biography.
He said that “having made reasonable progress on those projects, I thought of what next to keep me challenged, and this admission you have graciously given me is one of them. I want to occupy every minute of 24 hours in a day doing something active, progressive and enlightening and to do good to humanity.
“Eight of my children have Ph.Ds. and I told two of them that when I have difficulty, I will call them to teach me. This is important to me because the knowledge I would acquire will be mine, so there is no shame in learning, and if I do well, the credit goes to those who taught me”, Obasanjo said to stress his need to engage himself in something tasking but rewarding in his old age.
Like little Eze in the novella, Eze Goes To School, written by Onuorah Nzekwu and Michael Crowther, Obasanjo has the unwavering determination to go to school. While Eze had a lot of challenges and difficulties to grapple with, Obasanjo’s challenges may be distractions from political associates and protégés who may be needing his wise counsel when he is occupied with doing research work in his Masters and doctoral studies.