Statesmanship and the Role of Past Leaders in Nation-Building


By: Samuel Olakunle

It should not be heard of an elder that he left the embers on his roof to enjoy a snooze fest in the same hut, how much more procure combustible liquids to store in the backyard of a house under the siege of a beginning fire. It is not a convenient thing to say but much more is expected of a person like former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo at this hour of sober reflections for our beloved country, Nigeria. This is not the time for mindless celebrations, taunts and propulsions of personal images at the expense of national cohesion but rather the time when all hands need be on deck to ensure Nigeria proves the world wrong, holds elections and remains united beyond the 2015 elections.

The drama has been on for a while dating back to the release of his open letter to the president two years back filled with many allegations but it is becoming seriously unbecoming of a person of Chief Obasanjo’s pedigree to continue all manners of attacks on the person of the president without any form of regard for the atmosphere and mood of the nation presently. As a former head of state and two-term president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo should by all means be considered a statesman but his actions in recent times deviate from the expectations of one by many degrees.

A statesman should set aside his personal ambitions, idiosyncrasy and ego for the peace, unity and progress of the nation he loves or claims to love. It should be apparent from his public demeanour, actions and speeches that there is a manifest intent to contribute to the building process in the nation or as is urgently required in the Nigerian state presently, to hold in place the threatened cords that bind us. At this point in time, past leaders of the Nigerian nation will do well to set aside personal misgivings and ambitions in order to help stabilize this country, heeding to the eternal words in Niyi Osundare’s poem, ‘Ours To Plough and Not to Plunder’.

With few weeks to the rescheduled dates for the general elections and a renewed push by Nigeria’s armed forces to flush out Boko Haram insurgents from the troubled north-east which necessitated the election postponement, many Nigerians are anxious, eager to hold on to anything coming from anyone they believe should know. It is therefore not amusing that Chief Obasanjo has chosen to play to the gallery repeatedly with theories about reasons for the election postponement, maligning the president in the process and elevating himself to the self-imposed status of the conscience of the nation.

This is not a very comfortable game to play for it is inciting and capable of dire consequences that will affect millions of innocent Nigerians should the wrong buttons be pressed. Palpable panic has seized the hearts of many since Chief Obasanjo threw his weight behind suppositions that there is a plan to impose an interim government on the nation or that the election postponement was a ploy by the president to perpetuate himself in office. Chief Obasanjo undoubtedly has a huge following, retains the capacity to attract the attention of the generality of Nigerians and should therefore deploy his influence to a campaign for calm and restraints across the length and breadth of the nation like many other past leaders have done.

In his book, ‘Power, Politics and Death’, Segun Adeniyi talks on page 73 about former head of state, General Abdusalami Abubakar going on a national assignment to Niger Republic at the instance of late president Umar Musa Yar’adua. Gen. Abubakar till today maintains that calm mien and dignified restraint in his contributions to the polity, continually serving the nation every time he is called upon. Same cannot however be said of the man who succeeded him in office in 1999. In the last three years, Chief Obasanjo has most probably made more divisive statements targeting the presidency than any other living Nigerian and this can surely not be a good way to build the nation.

One can hardly recall former presidents of the United States of America like Bill Clinton and George Bush criticising the incumbent, Barack Obama at every opportunity before the cameras. This however does not mean there possibly could not have been areas of difference in opinions but they surely understand the need to preserve the respect for the office they once occupied and the role they now play as statesmen. All over the world, former leaders have access to current holders of the office of president and contribute their bits to policy directions when consulted. Nigeria is not any different and everyone including Chief Obasanjo knows this.

The Council of State is a constitutionally recognised advisory body to which Chief Obasanjo belongs as a former president. Any misgivings about the present situation of things in the country are best discussed with the president at the Council of State meetings but Chief Obasanjo refused to seize the opportunity when it most recently presented itself a few weeks back. One is therefore tempted to ask, to what end then are Chief Obasanjo’s recent public excoriating of the president and histrionic tearing of his membership card of the PDP?

If it is generally agreed that a statesman acts in the interest of the public good, for the advancement of his and coming generations, it is difficult to situate how Chief Obasanjo’s dramatic gestures will galvanize the country forward beyond attracting sales for his book which he is presently promoting. One cannot but feel that they belong to the same class of actions that late British politician, Aneurin Bevan would have remarked “And you call that statesmanship. I call that emotional spasm.”

The late Nelson Mandela did not become the conscience of the African continent by tearing apart the bond of peace he helped put in place in South Africa by making unsavoury remarks about his successors in office even when their shortcomings were glaring. He maintained a dignified end and became a glorious representation of a noble past that the future of South Africa and indeed Africa will always return to for inspiration. It was he who said “The past is a rich resource on which we can draw in order to make decisions for the future, but it does not dictate our choices. We should look back at the past and select what is good, and leave behind what is bad.” In the same vein, we will have to, as a nation look to the past when Chief Obasanjo ruled this nation and pick from his good deeds to learn from but we cannot remain forever bound to his every whim. He holds the record of being the only Nigerian leader to have handed over power twice and that should be his subtle call at the moment, not an unfocused manner of criticism that does little to advance the march towards peaceful elections.

Nation building is a continuous task whether one is in office or in retirement. All statesmen know this. They know the importance of their words and body language and do well to channel it to promote worthy causes. President Goodluck Jonathan has assured Nigerians and the world that elections will hold and a new government will be inaugurated on May 29, 2015 according to the provisions of the constitution. He deserves the benefit of doubt. All past leaders need to join hands with him to ensure that Nigeria, under him, navigates successfully the waters and shame pessimists predicting doom. Nobody should be on a mission to pull him down at every opportunity for personal gains, nobody including Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.

2 thoughts on “Statesmanship and the Role of Past Leaders in Nation-Building

  1. For whatever reasons obasanjo shouldn’t have acted the way he is acting. a good pieces u have presented above@samuel. no one person is a saint when it comes to governance, no matter what you do there must be areas for critical comments, structural or destructive. obasanjo should have played the role of a statesman if only he is one because based on his recent acts i doubt it.this is not the period of bickering lets all hands be on deck to see a Nigerian that we can all be proud of. To be frant with the rate of development in Nigeria i don’t think president Jonathan has done poorly at all. let us give him the chance to do more for us.For all of you that are making derogatory statement about your leader i cautioned you to be careful. one love good people of Nigeria


  2. OBJ may responded based on his personal sentiment and individual temprament,but truth be told,you can’t pretend that all is well in the country,moreso there is no way u can compare situation or actions of many our leaders here to other countries(not even the US) u mention,OBJ is not a saint and anybody can mis-react due to indovidual reaction to tension or situation,but sincerely yours the Jonathan led govt is a was-out,except if u are with his camp,but basically your write-ups are always very good, enlighten and unbiased,but this particular one is a bit out of d usual path your former ones had been treading


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