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My Obasanjo Moment

By Babajide Awoyinfa

In the life of every man, there is a moment you cannot forget, a moment you feel like capturing, freezing and framing as a picture in your heart.

For me, that special day or moment was sometime last week when I was privileged to meet one of the greatest leaders of our time, the grand old man who was lucky to lead Nigeria first as a military head of state and later as a democratically elected President.  I don’t know whether to call him Grandpa, Baba, General, Chief or ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo.  All the five caps fit him.      

Oh, what a man!  In less than an hour of meeting this man of history, you have learnt a thousand and one lessons in life.  There were times I experienced a double facepalm—pardon my Internet slang—because of Obasanjo’s humorous nature and love for drama. 

I went to Abeokuta with my dad, Mike Awoyinfa, accompanied by his friend Uncle Dare Babarinsa, to go book an appointment for an interview. Dad is writing a biography on the great man, the humble business icon Aliko Dangote and he badly wanted an interview with Obasanjo, the man in whose time as president of Nigeria created the opportunity and the enabling environment for Dangote to become the cement manufacturing giant of Africa and one of the richest men in the world today featured on the prestigious Forbes’ list. 

Dad has also been interviewing notable people within Nigeria and the rest of the world who know Dangote closely, as well as insiders within his business empire to share their insights on this inspirational man.  He has just completed a similar book on the other Nigerian business giant, my dad’s friend, hero and namesake Mike Adenuga and is looking for the next big challenge.  And as a way of mentoring me, he takes me along his interviews, watching him ask all kinds of questions, learning the ropes and helping him to take pictures.  Occasionally, he asks me to ask questions.  I was looking forward to ask Obasanjo one or two questions, but unfortunately the opportunity didn’t come my way.  Poor me!     

We got to his Hilltop Mansion in Abeokuta one cloudy morning with a threat of rain; it was a great sight, as you could see the whole city of Abeokuta spread out and viewed with my eagle eyes, from the elevated height of his house.  A breathtaking view it was!  For the first time in my life, I got to see a parrot—green coloured with a red crown on its head and a protruding beak.  It stood in a cage like a “gateman” at the entrance of his house.  I said hello to the talking bird, but I got no reply.  His living room is big and magnificent, with a very big, life-size photo portrait of the General and a lot of chairs to accommodate visitors.  We waited for him until we were told to go and meet him at his new Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, not too far from his house. Within the scenic library environment located on vast acres of a rocky hill, I also saw a camel in real life for the first time too; it was really an adventure for me. Luckily for us, as we drove in, we saw Obasanjo’s convoy driving out, heading to the Green Legacy Resort, a four-star hotel owned by Obasanjo and annexed to the library.

There, the old soldier stepped down from his black-tinted SUV.  He was looking really old now.  He walked slowly, without a walking stick, dragging his feet, bending and slowly waving back to people greeting him.  We finally got to meet him. And after introduction, Baba, instantly was ready to share his Dangote story—a subject that obviously appealed to him.  My dad couldn’t believe his luck!  I could see it in his eyes as he nervously fished out his iPhone to record the interview. 

I listened to every word that came out of the wise old man’s mouth.  His answers came slowly and at times in whispers.  Age has truly taken its toll.   I can still picture it all: his croaky voice, his mannerism, his intellect, his confidence and eloquence.  You can see that this man is truly a leader, a man of history with a lot in his mind, a man of experience, who has seen it all.  A no-nonsense leader for that matter.  You don’t mess with Obasanjo during an interview.  Ask him a “stupid” question and you will regret asking it.  Interviewing Obansanjo is like a boxing match, you should be on your guard always, all the time, as they say in boxing. You don’t know when the punch is coming; so you have to be on the alert.  For asking one question he didn’t like, he tackled my dad and gave him a dressing down.  After nearly twenty minutes, he gave the knockout punch and it was all over.  No more.  He had said enough. 

Dad asked the last question and he didn’t even answer.  He just stood up and was going and we followed him. As we got to his car, I found myself caught in an unexpected drama.  My Obasanjo moment.  Out of the blues the old soldier, a master of surprises asked me surprisingly:   

“Young man, who will you want to be like when you become a big man?”

I was shocked, I never saw it coming, I was the last person I would ever imagine to be questioned by an ex-military head of state, ex-president, a Godfather in Nigeria and an African statesman.   I paused for 3 seconds and a lot ran through my big head like a competition of who I should mention. I first thought of saying Olusegun Obasanjo, but I felt he would sense that I was being diplomatic.  I also thought of Mike Awoyinfa, but he would still know I am being biased.

Lo and behold! Aliko Dangote came to my head, and I knew for sure that he really likes him. Immediately I mentioned Dangote’s name as the man I would love to be like, he gave me a pat on my shoulder and said: “Young man, you need to work very hard then.”

The whole drama was so unexpected that I didn’t even have the time to record it. I wanted it recorded as a video so that I can show my friends on Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat.  I gathered courage by pleading with the great man to repeat the question while I record it with my phone, so as to share it on social media as my own moment in history, my Obasanjo moment.  And kindly enough, he played along with me, this playful old soldier, by repeating the question and I answered it while recording it all on my phone via a selfie! 

One day, I will build my own presidential library and there I will keep this recording of the great old man Obasanjo interviewing me Babajide Awoyinfa, a young leader of a greater tomorrow.    

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