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OPINION: Happy 80th Birthday to Former President Olusegun Obasanjo

By Prof R. A. Ipinyomi, University of Ilorin, Nigeria

Officially former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo celebrates his birthday 5th March and annually. This Sunday March 5, 2017 he will officially turn 80. I am a fan of Obasanjo as a character rather than a fan of Obasanjo as a mortal person. We celebrate his character, especially those of us that have been following him from Kaduna since the first military coup d’état in 1966, or reading his publications. From an obscured  pack from Egbaland to an international figure on his own right. He was Nigeria military Head of State (1976 -1979), civilian President (1999-2007), a political godfather to a number of others and yet one of the most controversial figures in Africa. Whilst a converging answer to a question about the gains Olusegun Obasanjo has brought to African politics and economic development may not be reached, it is still generally accepted that “Obasanjo is Obasanjo without many faces”. Yet very few Africans have been so fortunate like him; he survived the civil war, divorce life and death of wife (s), prison life, failed third – term ambition quashed by the public and his associates, media unfairness or media reality, as if nothing has happened. He has good health and a sound mind on any average day. Congratulations to Olusegun Obasanjo  (Aremu Okikiola) of Nigeria at 80. Like Caleb in the Bible Olusegun Obasanjo can still conquer mountains and possess the land.

But why would a famous man like Olusegun Obasanjo not know  his exact birth name or birth date? He already answered this question for us by accepting the limitations prevailing in his time in Nigeria. There was no official vital registration at the time. Only a few privileged families could document the date of births and deaths; yet those were private efforts by a tiny proportion of enlightened parents. Their efforts were not official records.  What did President Obasanjo do why in office severally to correct this continuing deficiency in our country?

In his seaech to obtain his correct date of birth he could have approached and benefitted from a numerology rather than an astrology he went to in India. This also defines our beloved Olusegun Obasanjo fairly well and conforms to his interesting character. The point is that, even  though you are unsure what your birth name is, unsure exactly when you were born, you should still come out like Olusegun Obasanjo and celebrate any official date and name you freely guess. Today we find that “some, but not all” will take this bold step.

In Africa we shouldn’t blame older generations for not knowing their exact birthdays.  The reasons this may happen are many and they are still persisting.

(a) The births may have occurred between uneducated parents or uncommitted unions who have no knowledge of ongoing vital statistics registration or means to keep birth certificates; (b)The birth may have been during a period the birth country was experiencing government transition and birth reporting system was non-existent or broken, or circumstances prevented registration to obtain a birth certificate; (c)The birth may have been to poor or transient parents who didn’t have the means or inclination to register the birth and obtain a birth certificate or to separated parents.

It would be recalled that, even as late as the 1960s, school principals in Nigeria who were mostly whites, usually gave new students their guesses especially if the new students wanted secondary education and not teaching education. The principals had no confidence in the pieces of paper, written by parents, brought to them containing supposed dates of birth. Hence they fixed birthdates with estimates.

Hence as we celebrate the 80th official birthday, with his excellency Olusegun Obasanjo, let us remember that life is not how long we live it but how well. For example Gen Murtala Mohammed remains a great legend in the minds of many Nigerians, including more than 90% Nigerians who didn’t know him. He ruled Nigeria for about 6 months only (1975 to February 13, 1976). Similarly life is not what offices we had occupied but how well we did in our private lives. As we count our days let us remember that our overall service to our community is the essence of living. Nicked we were born and very nicked we shall go, irrespective of religion or creed. We have a candidate in Olusegun Obasanjo who has great understanding and we are happy to celebrate him.

 

Prof R. A. Ipinyomi

 

 

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