Yesterday, former President Olusegun Obasanjo celebrated his 80th birthday party with pomp and pageantry, including the opening of his presidential library, the first of its kind in Africa albeit a decade after the construction started.
Indeed, the history of Nigeria cannot be even remotely complete without talking about President Obasanjo, who is Nigeria’s longest-serving leader having spent three years as the Head of State between 1976 and 1979, and then two terms as its democratically-elected president.
President Obasanjo shot to national limelight during the Nigerian Civil War when the 3rd Marine Commando Division which he commanded took Owerri, effectively bringing an end to the civil war. He has not stopped making news ever since, and he became the first African military ruler to voluntarily relinquish power in 1979.
All these should make President Obasanjo one of Nigeria’s most eminent elder statesmen; however, it is in this respect that he is often found lacking.
President Obasanjo has a penchant for rewriting history to favour him, such as his constant denials of having harbored the ambition to amend the constitution to allow him two terms while he was president, despite all evidences to the contrary.
In some other instances, he has made grave allegations without providing evidence, such as the accusation he leveled at former President Goodluck Jonathan in an 18-page letter in December 2013 for authorizing the training of a killer squad ahead of the 2015 elections.
This is not to say that President Obasanjo should not defend himself when he feels he has been accused unfairly; however, he has often done that using language that is uncouth and beneath his standing.
Not only that, he has sometimes been the first to fire a salvo, giving off the impression that he relishes a fight which was evident in his last book, My Watch, which was released in April 2015 despite a protest by Senator Buruji Kashamu that the book contained what he considered as libel against him.
Former presidents and heads of state are expected to stay above the fray of partisan squabbles and personality clashes, and whose words are soothing balms to the nation, especially in times of conflict. These are roles that the peers of President Obasanjo, such as former Heads of State Yakubu Gowon and Abdulsalami Abubakar and former President Shehu Shagari have excelled at. President Obasanjo still has a lot to learn in this regard.
This is not to say that the former President has not sometimes played the role of a statesman excellently, such as in leading election observer missions to other African countries and in playing the role of a mediator, such as he did in December 2015 at the behest of President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, being an elder statesman should not be something he does sometimes, but rather who he should become all the time.
While he still remains strong and active, we hope that President Obasanjo devotes the rest of his life to worthy causes befitting of a statesman.
We join the rest of Nigerians and the world to wish him a happy birthday.