By Stanley Ibeku
Ordinarily, one will want to ask what an 80-year old wants to do with a doctorate degree. Though few cases of octogenarians enrolling for first degrees abound, however it is quite rare to find people in that ‘rank’ seeking to be PhD holders.
But for Olusegun Mathew Aremu Obasanjo, former military head of state and civilian president, his latest academic voyage might provide reasons why a ‘grandpa’ will return to school to seek greater depth of knowledge, create new knowledge, discover new things and develop new skills. In about three years from now, the village ‘boy’ whose name cannot be ignored in the country’s developmental history hopefully will add a doctorate degree in Christian Theology to his epaulets.
His life has been a remarkable reference for many. Chief Obasanjo’s place in history cannot be faulted as he has and is still, in some cases traversing the military, political, academic and socio-cultural courses with finesse and verifiable feats.
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo recently described him as a global citizen. His rise from the military to the civilian corridors of power shows clearly that perhaps destiny and sheer hard work still ranks high for success in life endeavours.
Since he completed his second tenure as a democratically elected president, Chief Obasanjo has been very busy. It has been one engagement or the other.
He has been involved in national and international discourses. He has not shied away from contributing to weighty developmental issues and he seems not stopping soon. No doubt, he remains one of Nigeria’s living legends with vast knowledge of governance and development issues.
Amid his engagements, Baba has been involved in controversies. Controversies are not to be bad entirely as in some cases man needs to be controversial in order to perfect his ideas. As Vanguard newspaper editorial of March 21, 2017 puts it ‘Obasanjo is an ebullient public figure who does not run away from controversies, some of which will have wilted the courage of less determined mortals. He has also struck the boisterous posture of an intellectual in his own right.
Perhaps, Obasanjo is adding colour to his posture as a public intellectual by proposing in May, to address some identified challenges in the North East of the country through rigorous independent academic rituals. Chief Obasanjo presented his research proposal to the Faculty of Arts of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) as part of the requirements for the award of a PhD degree in Christian Theology. Chief Obasanjo had earlier obtained bachelor and master’s degrees from the same institution.
Obasanjo’s research proposal’s topic is particularly interesting. “Resolving the Unfinished Agenda in Liberation Theology: Reflection on Leadership, Poverty and Underdevelopment in North-eastern Nigeria.” While I am not privy to the proposed problem statement, methodologies and significance of the study, but I am confident that his research, if conducted with utmost rigour and in line with laid down academic procedures should contribute to the effort to resolve the myriads of challenges facing the North-East region.
Whether we admit it or not, the North-east is a big burden to the country. The level of devastation and seeming frustration occasioned by the Boko Haram insurgency is better imagined than experienced. The region is in dire need of greater attention. Dissecting issues of poverty, leadership and underdevelopment becomes more crucial at this time.
His study which is expected to provide answers to some pertinent questions relating to the variables in focus should be something to cheer. Chief Obasanjo’s touch of Christian theology to the gaps identified is of particular interest. His contributions to literature as well as recommendations from his final thesis should be able to help address the objectives of his study.
This singular voyage by the ex-Head of State has shown that life is about seeking knowledge and making useful impact. Chief Obasanjo said he enrolled in the NOUN to set an example and demonstrate the importance of seeking knowledge despite one’s age.. Clearly, he is helping to rewrite our national narrative.
His pursuit of the highest academic qualification in the university shows that there is no end in knowledge. Also. nobody. no matter the class, status or wealth is too big to learn. In other words, age is no barrier to learning.
Additionally, no matter the status in life, one can still subject oneself to the discipline and regiment of student life again. Having attained the highest office in the land, Chief Obasanjo has demonstrated uncommon disposition. A man that can be said to be ‘made’ already, his class is certainly not a factor here.
Certainly, Baba will have to sacrifice a lot including pursuing money if his thesis is to be concluded in record time. This step is an inspiration both to the young and the old especially those seeking to contribute to knowledge.
Obtaining a doctorate degree comes with hard work, patience and perseverance. Chief Obasanjo is certainly bound to be confronted by associated challenges and he seems to know this. According to him, “if you want to learn, you must subject yourself to a form of discipline: taking exams, making sure that you go through the rigours of learning and so on.”
Perhaps his resolve and strategies will determine how the challenges will be attenuated. ‘Distractions’ in terms of his busy engagements seem to be a key factor. The former president has always been participating in different discourses and functions. If he is not seen pioneering an initiative, he is being consulted on matters of public importance.
PhD work requires that the student/candidate devote requisite time and resources too. Perhaps, Baba has come up with his work plan to accommodate his persona.
Unlike most PhD students who are battling financial challenges, Baba may have an advantage here. The academic journey is no easy one and requires huge financial resources. Chief Obasanjo, according to media reports, said he has begun his fieldwork already by visiting Borno State.
I am sure that his final thesis will be in the spotlight especially considering his research interest and perhaps his rather uncommon candidature. However, as it is with most academic outputs that have been resting in the university shelves, one would expect that Chief Obasanjo’s final work will not be meant for the NOUN shelves only.
He, alongside his assessors, should ensure that his contributions to knowledge are translated to practice. As he embarks on this academic journey, I wish him an eventful and successful time.
Ibeku, a postgraduate student at University of Ibadan, is affiliated to Ibadan Business School.