Former President Olusegun Obasanjo will be clocking 80 by March 5, 2017. The former Nigerian leader recently admitted that he was not really sure about when he was born.
Ahead of the celebrations, Mr. Obasanjo recently sat down with a group of journalists in his Abeokuta home to talk about his life and times, and his hope for the future. PREMIUM TIMES Editor-in-Chief, Musikilu Mojeed, was there.
You are now 80. What did you discover about yourself as president?
One of the things I discovered about myself is my stamina to go on. I never knew I could start work, sit down at 8:00 a.m. At 5:00 p.m., come home and play squash. Then go until 2. am. Then try and sleep, wake around 5 a.m. to play squash again. Attend morning devotion and be at work at 8:00 a.m. in the morning.
Or phone a minister at 1:00 a.m. and say ‘Hey! Minister, what have you done about A, B, C, D?’
With that job, I discovered that part of me and it has become my way of life.
But things don’t seem to have changed in terms of your everyday life. Since you got out of office, your schedule is still tight.
I remain what I am: a stupid village boy. Born in the village. Raised in the village. Grew up in the village. Doing a number of things by accident. Went to school by accident. Joined the Army by accident. Rose through the ranks by accident. Though I went to the Congo, not by accident. I went there and came back after I did what is right and what is wrong there. Then came back and continued to rise in the Army.
What do you mean when you say ‘by accident’?
You see, some people will say: ‘Yes, my family. I came from a military family.’ I didn’t come from a military family. Some people will say: ‘Yes, I was planning it. It took me two years to plan.’ I didn’t plan it.
I was going to my family one day and he asked if it is farming I will continue to do for the rest of my life and I said yes. I had a cousin who had left the village and went to Abeokuta to become a vehicle mechanic.
My father asked if I had alternative and I said if I had an alternative it would be mechanic. School didn’t cross my mind then.
So I told him if he would send me to school, I will go. So that was an accident.
He brought me to Abeokuta from the village. I went to five different schools. Because we came late, I was not admitted. So I stayed with my uncle-in-law — that’s the husband of my aunt.
After three months, my father came and asked him not to turn me to a lazy man. Because I was going with him to Ogun River to catch fish. So my father took me back to the village. That was an accident.
My village, about the end of the year, people go about the villages for harvest. Some people came to our village, including the headmaster of the school in the nearby village. My father entertained them. Afterwards, he asked the headmaster if he had admission for me and he said yes.
The headmaster said I should come at the end of the month, it was in September, to register.
So when I got to the school, a teacher in charge of registration asked what my name is. I told him I am Olusegun. He asked Olusegun…what? I told him Olusegun, Matthew Olusegun.
He then said he was asking about my last name, my father’s name. Then I told him, asking for my father’s name was an insult. I have never mentioned my father’s name before.
That would have been my first and last name in school but for the understanding of the headmaster. Because I attempted to slap the teacher for daring to ask my father’s name.
So the headmaster said they should lie me flat. He said they should give me three strokes of the cane. I might not have gone to school. I might have ended my school on the first day.
So, when I talk of these accidents. They’re things that you don’t say you planned before.
I didn’t even plan to go to war. By virtue of the corps I belonged to in the Army, the engineering corps, I shouldn’t have been to war.
I was in Ibadan when I was announced. One Justice Akinkugbe, his house was not far from my depot. He questioned why it would be an engineer that they would call to go to war. He said there was no future for the country.
But when I returned from the war, he called me and apologised and said he had the wrong opinion of me before. I didn’t even know that he said those things about me before I went to war.
Then I explained to him that before I went into the Army Corps of Engineers, I had basic, normal military training for infantry or whatever. When you get to a stage in your military career, then you will do staff and command training. Which means that, it doesn’t matter your specialisation, you now go into the normal run. So you could be an engineer and command a brigade. You could be an armour corps and command a brigade. You could be an artillery and command a brigade. You could be a signal and command a brigade.