Obasanjo’s lecture on ethics: An assault on the future
On Thursday, the 9th of August 2018, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria made what was a much-anticipated visit to the University College Hospital, Ibadan for the 17th Annual Distinguished Guest Lecture of THE FORUM, a student organization geared towards developing leadership potential in medical students. The visit presented a biting paradox and was an attempt at historical revision. For the topic of the lecture as delivered by Chief Obasanjo, the guest lecturer was none other than ‘The Challenges in Ethics in National Development’. Pertinent topic, but an inappropriate speaker. The event was well attended, mainly for the chance of seeing the Ebora of Owu in person.
But this was a guest lecture at the nation’s foremost tertiary institution, yet the preoccupation of most attendees, staff and students alike, was the vain, superficial, mundane excitement of being in the presence of a former president of the nation, rather than the topic of discourse. It didn’t matter what he did in office, it didn’t matter what brand of leadership he represents. It wouldn’t have mattered if it had been Sani Abacha or Idi Amin of Uganda in the hall. Once there’s any tinge of influence or power, oppressive or not, the university community is ready to associate and give adulation.
The chairman of the occasion was Emeritus Professor Olujimi Akinkugbe and also in attendance was the Provost of the College of Medicine, Professor Olubunmi Olapade Olaopa, and the Chief Medical Director of the UCH, Professor Temitope Alonge, who served as host and co-host of the event respectively. The only interesting parts of what was a boring lecture were the citation of the chairman of the event and opening and closing remarks by the host and the Chairman. It was a clear case of the appetizer and desert being better than the main meal.
According to the distinguished professor, one enviable attribute of Obasanjo is that he speaks his mind no matter whose ox is gored and he revealed that the late Nelson Mandela once expressed to him that Obasanjo is a blessing to the African continent. Prof Akinkugbe also mentioned that Obasanjo enjoys a rich plate of controversies and in what would appear as a brilliant display of wit to excuse the controversies he added ‘ but controversy is the lifeblood of progress in any society’
What the Emeritus Professor, however, failed to mention is whether the blood of innocent women and children shed on the plains of Odi is the fuel needed to power development. He equally failed to mention if bribery, hooliganism, racketeering, rigging and election violence which were prevalent during the Obasanjo presidency, and typified by Lamidi Adedibu who the former president revered as an institution, are the lifeblood of progress. Why did the cerebral professor also known for his diplomacy and dulcet voice speak so glowingly of the former president? It may not be unconnected to a long-standing friendship perhaps evidenced by high profile appointments as: foundation chairman of JAMB in 1977, vice chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University in 1978, chairman, management board, University College Hospital, in 2000 and the award of the Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic, CFR in 2006, all during the reign of the former president.
Those who think this is a personal vendetta or that it is about the man without a sin casting the first stone, miss the point. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo enjoys a number of controversies in his private life and those are largely his business. But this is about public morality. This is about holding politicians and public officials to a level of ethical standard. The distinction between our regrettable past and the much-desired future must never be blurred or distorted as done by allowing Obasanjo give a lecture on ethics. Despite his achievements in Office, the summation of the Obasanjo presidency is not something we should replicate or present as an enviable standard for the nation.
Obasanjo can well serve as a symbol of the years of bad governance that has bedeviled this country. Presenting him as an example of good behavior, that the younger generation can emulate as occasioned by his lecture on ethics is not only counterproductive, it makes a mockery of the better future we hope for. While there may be certain topics Obasanjo is well suited for, he is certainly not the man to project when talking about justice, about honesty, about integrity and discipline. This is equally about the deplorable state of our nation. This is about our propensity to promote the trivial and major in the minors. Obasanjo and indeed THE FORUM are only suitable metaphors for the sorry state of things. The culture in our citadels of learning is no longer different from the stomach infrastructure of the local population. Guest speakers are often invited not for their ideas, but for their big names and the cash they can donate. Individuals are decorated with awards in exchange for money, not minding their antecedents. No doubt, a former president like Obasanjo should command some level of followership. What is worrisome is that this desire to be associated with influence will overwhelm substance in Ibadan, the supposed intellectual capital of the nation.
What can be more antithetical to an intellectual culture? A popular Whatsapp update during the program was ‘Obasanjo live in UCH’ but if things weren’t quite unfortunate, would it be so surprising that a national leader would visit the foremost health institution in his country? This is about challenging the status quo as it is the duty of the intelligentsia to envision society, and our universities are sadly failing with that.
The said lecture was populated by quotes from the holy bible. But it doesn’t matter whether Obasanjo’s faith is feigned or real. If this nation were to jettison impunity for justice – one of the core principles of ethics, the retired general may be restrained to giving sermons behind bars to inmates in any of our maximum security prisons. This should be seen as a distress call. Our tertiary institutions are doing this nation a disservice and the coming generation is almost lost. There is a need for reorientation of the country by showcasing worthy role models, promoting virtues, and directing the right narratives.
Adeyoose wrote from Ibadan
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