Many people don’t understand ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo. And he himself knows that many find him a complex person to understand. Why for instance will OBJ take on his good friend, the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, the way he did last week? Why did he also decide to fight ex-President Goodluck Jonathan? Why did he recently take on the National Assembly members calling them corrupt?
These and many more are the questions people often ask about OBJ’s attitude. Unknown to many, Obasanjo himself knows that people don’t understand him. In his recent autobiography, Obasanjo explained that it is not as if he is a difficult person. He says he has a lot to do with his training as a soldier and his philosophy of life.
“By my training and practice in the military and by my upbringing and culture, when you finish an assignment, it is time to go and not look back. In military tradition, when you are pulled out after completing a tenure, your job is done and you do not look back. In my up bringing and culture, it is put thus. Where you have said good night, do not go back to say good evening on the same night.’
I have observed and respected this tradition and culture in all military appointments and assignments from when I was a platoon commander – a platoon being the smallest unit to be commanded by an offiee till when I became a division commander. But I have found that it is quite different in politics, particularly in developing societies. It is not a matter of saying good evening after saying good night, but a matter a contributing to good governance and the wellbeing of all through advocacy, admonition, pressure, and confrontation if and when necessary. To do otherwise is to be remiss in one’s civic and patriotic duties.
As a former CEO of Nigeria one has residual responsibility, hence I was sought out by the military to come back in the 1980s, and by civil politicians in the 1990s. While I could successfully shun the military call and appeal in the 1980s, rejection of the civilian politicians’ call in the 1990s could have been at the expense of Nigeria.
The situation was dire and grave for the nation. Any disaster that could happen to a military formation, to which one may turn one’s back at the end of one’s tenure would only affect a small proportion of the entity and of the population. On the other hand, if any calamity befalls the nation while one is still alivi and can make a difference but chooses not to, one wittingly or unwittingly becomes an accomplice in bringing about that disaster. A watchman cannot be quiescent under conditions of danger to his watch, comrades and the fatherland. He must raise alarm for all to hear and rise up to action to avert danger. If the watchman has done his duty and the people fail to rise to ward off the danger, the responsibility then lies not with the watchman but with the people.
I have never had any obstacles in my mind as to what I can achieve through God’s grace, even when people put physical obstacles in my way. By so doing they unwittingly doubted my ability, motivated me to double my efforts, And strengthen my resolve to succeed and even excel.
I have come to believe that the ‘difficult’ can be achieved immediately and the ‘impossible’ might take some time. I am sometimes underrated and underestimated. To my delight and to the surprise of those who do so, my endeavours in life more often than not end up as success stories.
I have 3 basic tests for my words and actions in private and in public: Is my conscience clear, will it serve the interest of or be beneficial to the majority, and can I defend my words and actions before God and man? Once these 3 conditions are satisfied, I go ahead no matter whose ox is gored. I also always take cognisance of the unreliability of human beings while acknowledging that we have to live with and among each other. In my relationships, I always bear in mind and make room for the possibility of things turning sour. In any situation, I think of the worst case scenario and I prepare for it. But the worst does not always happen, and since ‘preparation has been made for the worst, one can then cope better with the bad that might happen. I was a Queen’s Scout when I was in school. I learnt and committed to heart the Boy Scouts motto: ‘Be Prepared’. Generally, it should be a motto for success in life. On the other hand, we cannot achieve much in life without an element of trust and confidence sharing. But the Russian adage, ‘trust and verify’, must be followed. If verification turns negative, start the process of retracing your steps or re-strategising to reinforce trust and confidence. Life will be impossible without necessary trust and confidence to base living on. Those who seek to ‘capture’ a leader and use him for their selfish ends (and there is never a shortage of such people) first destroy his trust and confidence in others and make themselves alpha and omega to the leader, making everybody else the enemy. This way, the leader is vulnerable, isolate, lonely, and “captured.
A leader must protect himself or herself from being captured, possessed, deceived and brainwashed; even friends may turn out to become enemies. To achieve this, a leader must never compromise himself or her, self as far as relationships and dealing with aides and subordinates are
concerned. A leader must also be open and not keep secrets that will make him or her vulnerable to blackmail by aides. Once aides and subordinates can blackmail a leader, he or she becomes vulnerable and weakened. Impropriety in issues of money, business relations, and sexual conduct can lead to blackmail. No aide or subordinate should be made to feel indispensable. Once this happens the aide becomes a law unto himself or herself.
What I have to guard myself against oftentimes is biting off more than I can chew! As a human being, I canonly be in one location at a time. Although I delegate and devolve duties and responsibilities, I am alway mindful of the Yoruba saying, ‘Ten eyes cannot be like your own two eyes.
No matter how good, efficient and smart the people to whom you delegate may be, there would still be the finer details to worry about in a way they cannot manage or understand. The important thing is that the matters thai would be handled differently by your surrogates, so to speak, would not be so serious and grave that they would have significant adverse efects on the whole project. It is the duty and responsibility of a leader to learn to delegate. Delegation is part of mentoring, and supervisory delegation is a good way to do so.
THE PRESIDENT – HIS PERSON AND HIS TIME
A number of people, some close to me and others not so close but merely interested in knowing more about me, asked for interviews or opportunities to spend a day with me to see how I spent my time, how I worked and reacted to issues in government.
Four of my children surprised me on one occasion. I saw them se- riously and soberly putting their heads together, and I asked them what they were doing. They told me they were trying to psyco-analyse me. I left them without comment. After about three hours, I saw the four of them going in different directions. I asked, “What does your analysis say?” They said that they found that I was more complex than they thought. Jokingly, I said to them that they were poor psychologists. I believe that each human being is a complex but perfect machine that cannot be easily unravelled or analysed. So I was not surprised at the inconclusiveness of my children’s findings on me.
A reporter came to spend a day With me while I was president. He arrived at 6AM, joining me for morning devotion at 6.30 AM. He went everywhere with me until I was going to playa game of squash with my ADC at I am the following morning. He was tired and weak and he said, “Sir, for me, it was a day with the president and not two days. Since you are not sleeping, my own work is finished. Goodnight.” He left and reported faithfully in his newspaper.
I have a habit of clearing whatever issue might be on my mind, regardless of the time of day or night. This means that if I need to call anyone to confirm a detail or a matter I will do so as soon as I need to. Most of my aides and assistants have stories of me calling them at odd hours to ask questions or .give instructions. It is a habit that dies hard and manifests itself in everything that I do. Somebody had the courage once to ask me.
“Why are you so restlessly busy, day and night, and in the process you disturb your subordinates?” My answer was simple, “One, life is short even if one lives for one hundred years; one should, therefore, pack as much as possible into it for the good of humanity. Make maximum use of anytime and opportunity at your disposal. Two, the more one uses oneself or one is used in the service of humanity, the higher one’s value becomes.
Utility enhances value and without value, one is not missed when one should be missed. After all, the purpose oflife is to live it to the fullest and make maximum impact. This cannot be done by one who is indolent or a sluggard. either does fear, cowardice nor lack of vision help”.
I realise, also, that since independence, time wise and in terms of opportunities, igeria has lost a generation. If I cannot regain any of the time lost, I do not want, on my direct watch, to cause igeria to lose any more time or opportunities. Time and opportunities are priceless; when you have them, use them well. My belief is that if you are not held accountable here, you will be held accountable hereafter.
NEUTRALITY AND OBJECTIVITY
There is no such thing as absolute objectivity, as we are influenced by the environment, by people and the situation within which we live, interact and operate. In other words we all exhibit, knowingly or unknowingly prejudices, biases, favourites, likes and dislikes which may colour our thoughts, views feelings, words, and actions. Our objectivity is impaired to the extent that our biases and rejudices impact how we think or act.
And to the extent that our objectivity is impaired are we unable to be absolutely neutral. Objectivity and neutrality are therefore relative. In assessing people’s views, statements, or actions I make allowance for their background and experiences. Apart from biases and prejudices that might have been inherited or acquired, there are other influences – money, position, patronage, association, relationship, fear, intimidation, and threat. In blood and flesh we are all human: feeble, fickle, and susceptible. Neutral, ity might not necessarily be an objective stance on an issue or situation; it might be a cowardly one.
Only very few people can be neutral about me, because I have never positioned myself to evoke so-called neutrality. Some people believe that it is safe to be non-committal or not speak out on issues no matter how important the issues might be. This is either their way of being neutral, or they are cowed into silence or have no guts. Being reticent on critical issues when it is absolutely necessary to speak up could be a sin, if not a crime. On a number of issues of national, continental or global interest or concern, I have views that I strongly hold and that I often strongly and forcefully express. How can you bring about change for good? It is not through docility or acquiescence. Correction and change comes through pressure and influence brought about by well-thought out and well-marshalled arguments for or against an issue on the floor.
The cosy and cool room of so-called neutrality and ‘do-nothing’ does not often draw anybody’s ire or fire, but it does not lead to much development or progress either. Most great people stick out their necks against what they believe is wrong, regardless of if their stand is against the grain of popular sentiment. That cannot be neutrality.
One other factor out of many that has shaped my life is the ability to focus. Inability to focus and concentrate is the greatest enemy of goals and achievement. Part of the useful training in the military is getting the aim
right. First consider all the factors that have bearing or implication on the attainment of the aim. The next stage is implementation. Most people get diverted, distracted, pushed along the garden path in the course of implementation or execution. The graveyard of projects is littered with poor or unfocused implementation and execution. I have the ability anddoggedness to shun extraneous influences, diversions and distractions and concentrate on the issue on hand. In such situations I become impervious to anything irrelevant or unimportant. Sometimes this quality earns me the ire of others who see it as being self-opinionated, know-all, arrogant, or less open to others’ contributions, which might be distracting, discouraging or outright destructive to the goal. In such situations I react uncom promisingly. Arguments and excuses about timing, resources and so on are often given to put you off-focus. Where there is the will, time and other resources will surely follow.
The more of these types of excuses I get, the more resolute and focused I become. If I eventually succeed (which I often do and usually thank God for), the same people who had discouraged me are often eager to claim credit or even the lions share of the glory. I observe this trend all the time.
IGNORING LEPROSY TO TREAT RING-WORM
One common way in which apologists in Nigeria deal with issues or criticisms that make them or their patrons, principals or paymasters uncomfortable is by setting aside the issue, attacking the messenger while ignoring the message. Or, worse still, they proceed to point out lapses and failures, falsely crediting them to the messenger, in order to confuse and muddle up the situation.
I have always been told that, in my case as the victim of such agents and hired attackers, their aim is to demystify me or “pull me down”. How can you demystify one whom God has not demystified or put down? Of course, I learned very early in life that there are many occasions when
silence is golden and may well be the answer to a fool. These attacks are like a crazy dog barking; when it is tired of barking it will stop, and normalcy will ensue. Its barking would have had little or no effect. The
reality will be different from the abnormality of a crazy dog and its barking.
But how much better would igeria, and indeed the world, have been if people responsible for taking positive action on issues would face those issues squarely and deal with them rather than play the ostrich?
When the messenger is made the victim, the situation generally gets worse rather than better; and the messenger may go unscathed, but the one who fails to take necessary action would be the worse for it sooner or later. In addition to this often being my experience in Nigeria, I also saw it in South Africa. Rather than President P. W Botha facing the issue of apartheid and dealing positively with it, he decided to attack me and Nigeria on the crime of genocide in Nigeria, and to attack Malcolm Fraser, the former prime minister of Australia, on genocide committed by Australia on the aborigines. What happened in Nigeria and Australia was not the issue at hand for us as members of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, and we told him that. P. W Botha could have done what was right when the time was right and he would have been honoured for it. But he did not. In a manner of speaking he ignored the leprosy in his country and embarked on treating ring-worm, and eventually he ended up unsung. De Clerk, who had the courage, vision, and understanding to squarely face the outmoded, outdated, and inhuman policy of apartheid, shared the honour of getting rid of the pernicious policy with elson Mandela, the symbol of struggle against apartheid. De Clerk could also have ignored leprosy to treat ring-worm. He could have played it safe, but he did not. South Africa and all South Africans, including de Klerk and his children and children’s children, are today the better for it. Attempts to malign, attack, muddle, and demystify never divert my attention from what I consider my obligation to all humans, beginning from individuals to nuclear families and, indeed, to the global level.
The worst efforts to put me under or pull me down were made by Abacha. In the end God elevated me, and I thank Him and the people of Nigeria that He us d to vindicate and raise me up again. When you are unfairly humiliated by man, remember that the Almighty is there, waiting to uphold and exalt you. I forgave Abacha even before he died. We are taught to forgive as God forgives us, but only God forgives and forgets. To err is human; to forgive is divine. To forget, for me, is amnesia, and this might cause one to fall prey again.
I have no enemies but if you declare yourself as my enemy, I will neither arm you nor will I harm you; and if I have to dig a hole for you to halt you from continuing to pursue me, I will make it just deep enough to make you have to call for help. Who knows who may need to cry for help after a fall into the hole in the future, it could even be the digger himself.