I have just returned from President Olusegun Obasanjo’s 80th birthday celebrations in Abeokuta, Ogun state (actually I’m still in the car driving back to Lagos) and I am very proud that Nigeria is blessed to have had a man like Obasanjo as a citizen.
Let me say that the event, including the unveiling of his Presidential library, the first of its kind in Africa, was a gathering of The Who-is-who in Nigeria and Africa.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was there as was Ernest Bai Koroma, President of Sierra Leone. Also there was US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s grand daughter with a delegation of prominent American visitors.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan was there as were multiple Governors crossing across party lines (Obasanjo has transcended partisanship).
The attendance of both friend and foe and admirers and detractors reaffirms why I love President Obasanjo. I love and respect him for a trait that he and I share – patriotism. The venue of the celebration was filled with both people who supported him and those who fought him.
One thing I believe in is focus. In life, one has to be focused on a goal and not on a person. If you focus on a goal, you must be willing to work with even an enemy to achieve that goal.
To me, I believe that the height of maturity is to be able to work with even those you do not like. Obviously that will include enemies.
But the thing about enemies is that they bring out the best in you. They challenge you more than your friends because you want to prove them wrong.
But most importantly, the best way to defeat an enemy is to make him your friend. This is something I learnt from President Obasanjo in the years that I worked and lived with him in the Aso Rock Presidential Villa.
Perhaps one big expectation of mine that was not met at the event is the absence of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s deputy, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
No matter what both men may think of each other, together, they both ushered in a period of unprecedented economic growth and stability in Nigeria. The stability they ushered in was both political and economical.
The institutions they jointly built are the reason why our democracy stood the test during the absence of then President Umaru Musa Yar’adua between 2009 and 2010 without collapsing and why it is standing the test today, in the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari, and instead of collapsing, it is doing even better.
So, in the midst of all that felicity and joyfulness, I was rather sad that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was not in attendance.
President Obasanjo and Atiku share a lot in common. They both governed Nigeria together as seasoned politicians with strong personalities. They both have a passion for education which they actualized by founding private universities that are thriving today. They both have the Midas touch in business as their private businesses are booming (Atiku is the second largest employer of labour in Adamawa state with only the state government employing more than him while Obasanjo Farms is the largest poultry farm in Nigeria – if you have eaten KFC chicken, you have eaten Obasanjo chicken).
So I would really see it as a dream come true for me if they both can overcome their differences and reunite in the interest of Nigeria’s goal of becoming the beacon of hope for the Black world.
If these two men, who have successfully created wealth for themselves, collaborate, imagine how much wealth they can create for Nigeria.
Look at what they achieved together: from less than one million telephone lines in Nigeria pre-1999, today we have over one hundred million telephone lines due almost exclusively to the brilliant work that both of them did through the telecoms industry deregulation.
Today, the institutional framework for fighting corruption (the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Anti Corrupt Practices Commission) is the brainchild of their administration.
That administration proved to be adept at putting round pegs in round holes by sourcing for brilliant Nigerians. People like Dora Akinyuli, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, Charles Soludo, Oby Ezekwesili, Frank Nweke Jr, Mukhtar Shagari and many other brilliant whizkids to whom they delegated power and authority that helped revolutionize Nigeria and lifted her to displace both Egypt and South Africa as Africa’s most prominent voice.
Looking back at how much they achieved together, I want to appeal to them to once again take their eyes off whatever animosity might exist between them and focus instead on the goal of realizing the achievable great future for Nigeria in their lifetimes. They must remember that nations grow best when old men plant trees whose shades they know they may never enjoy.
And that is the spirit I took to Abeokuta. While there, I met the minister of transport, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. Many may remember that Amaechi had been crossed with me for a difference in opinion we had last year and I am sure they never expected me to be so happy seeing him and start talking with him at the event.
I literally prevented him from leaving the venue without my permission (jocularly of course) until we had taken a picture and hugged each other.
It is very important for all Nigerians to understand that we are all brothers and sisters with the same father (God) and the same mother (Nigeria).
If we fight each other to the grave then it is our neighbors like Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin Republic, that will inherit our estate. God forbid.
When we fight each other over our ports, our importers import instead through Benin Republic. When we fight each other in business, foreign investors go instead to Cameroon. When we fight each other in building refineries, refineries get built in Niger Republic instead and when we do not unite to fight terrorists, Chad unites and fights them even on our own soil. All these detract from us being the Giant of Africa.
And this is the same philosophy I want the Peoples Democratic Party to adopt. Enough of the back and forth fight.
Sheriff may not be the best choice but since the court has spoken, let us obey the court and accept him and then follow our Constitution to hold a new National Convention to chose a new executive and once this is done we would have permanently put an end to division and schisms within the party.
Look at the All Progressive Congress; they need the PDP more than the PDP needs itself. For the lack of effective opposition, the APC led federal government is faltering. They are not just faltering alone, they are taking Nigeria down with them.
Was it not Edward R Murrow who said that ‘when the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.’
Well, if you juxtapose Nigeria in that quote, you will begin to see why Nigerian businesses are dying and our economy is contracting. The PDP, by not getting our acts together to focus on providing effective opposition, is vicariously to blame for the dismal performance of the inexperienced APC led federal government.
But now back to President Obasanjo. Sir, even if you do not know when you were born, I at least know why you were born. You were born to make Nigeria great again and as the man who in one fell swoop paid up Nigeria’s debt and restored Nigeria’s standing in the international community, my prayer for you is that God would likewise forgive your debts to Him and restore you to a pride of place in His kingdom whenever that time comes (hopefully a long, long time from now).
Happy eightieth birthday to the father of modern Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo.
• Murray-Bruce is the founder of the Silverbird Group and Senator representing Bayelsa East in the National Assembly
Published March 2017 0n This Day