Last Tuesday, Former President Olusegun Obasanjo Marked His 76th Birthday Where He Gave Thanks To God And As Well Spoke At A Lecture With The Theme: ‘Women And Youth In The Promotion Of Cultural Security And Development In Africa’.. Femi Durojaiye Writes
It was full praises on Tuesday when the former president Olusegun Obasanjo marked his 76th birthday anniversary. Part of the event was a lecture with the theme: ‘Women and Youth in the Promotion of Cultural Security and Development in Africa’ organised by the Centre for Human Security and UNESCO Institute for African Culture and International Understanding held at the Obasanjo Presidential Library Abeokuta, Ogun State capital.
The former president who marked his birthday with banquet of activities, climaxing with the presentation of prizes to winners of competition, debate on human security in Africa by colleges and universities across the continent was full of gratitude to God for making him witness the day. He vowed to continue to fight for the unity of the country.
“No doubt people without culture have no history or identity. Africa is a land of astounding cultural diversity and this is evident in the plurality of the language, religion and cultural communities in each of the country. As one moves from one part of the continent to the other the values, beliefs and moral conceptions of the people changes in an interesting manner which could be likened to a beautiful rainbow,” he said.
These were the words of the celebrant while giving his speech at the birthday anniversary that drew people from around the world. The celebrant who was full of smile started with the relevance of women and youth in the promotion of cultural security and development in Africa and also the effect of culture on development cannot be overlook.
According to him, “I have always in a very succinct way referred to culture as the totality of way of life of any people and if you then say like a Nigerian social critic that some people have no culture, how dare you say that? Because what you are saying is that these people have no way of life, does it mean they have no language, does it mean they have no food, clothing, dances and other things, in totality makes a way of life of people.
“But beyond that, culture is also central to our identity and if you want to suppress and dominate people, destroy their culture, eliminate their culture and that is why you now have black people who have been taken away from Africa who are now Mr. Stone and the likes,” Obasanjo further explained. Obasanjo said, in most African countries, names mean something and you don’t just give a “child a name. Culture tells us where we are coming from, where we are and to plot where we are going. To me, culture is like history, if you have no history, you have no memory and if you say you have no culture, you have no past, may be you have no present and I wonder how you will have future.
“I have been very concerned about the destruction, that over the years have hit on our culture in Africa as an instrument of suppression, domination and enslavement. I grew up being told in school that Yoruba is a vernacular and not a language and I must not speak it in school, I wonder whether in English schools, English is regarded as a vernacular, I have asked my friends why Yoruba is a vernacular which should not be spoken and English is not a vernacular in England and should be spoken.
“But if you can see that, and you can see the effect from the children that were brought up on this premise, whatever they may be, they may be able to speak English like the queen of England but then what is expected of them when they are with their peers is that which is authentically theirs, their language, their food, their mode of dressing which, invariably some of them have lost,” Obasanjo noted.
The former president reiterated the fact that, Africans must identify with what “I called commonalities in cultures” so as to use these commonalities to further unite our understanding so as to build that constructive relation whether internally within countries or internally within Africa. He said this will bring everybody closer as one people, saying in Yoruba language that come means ‘wa,’ in another language it is ‘bia’ and I think in another place it is ‘zo,’ you can see the similarity and then, with these similarities, whether you say ‘wa,’ ‘bia’ or ‘via’ you are saying the same thing, we should all see ourselves as one which will to further strengthen the bond of friendship, fellowship.
“To me culture is dynamic and progressive and not everything in every culture is what should be upheld. If culture is dynamic and progressive, we should throw searchlight on our culture, The one that are not going to help us let us throw them away and look at what the aspects that will help us particularly in the area of development.
“If 75 per cent of our population is made up of women and youth, then there is something in the subject that we have taken for discussion today. I mean that not to give them adequate consideration, not to invest adequately with them, not to identify their role, we can only be undermining our own development.
“I believe we should eliminate the aspect of our culture that still emphasises that youth must be seen and not be heard. I suffered under this because I was not suppose to look at my father in the face, I didn’t know my father, for many years had tribal marks and he had, who the hell am I to look at my father in the face because the culture says I should look down when my father talks,” he said.
Obasanjo explained that, “we should discontinue to uphold the culture that says women have no share in their parent’s and husband’s inheritance? And as we have been told 70 per cent of our food is provided and produced by women who are now landless by our culture and have no access to anything that will help them in production and productivity in their farms.”
He said the role of “women and culture in cultural security and development is very important, investment in women and youth in cultural security and development in Africa is very important, we must realise that our charity must begin at home particularly in development.”
At the event, President Goodluck Jonathan, represented by his Chief of Staff, Mike Ohidomen, Corporate individuals, represented by Oil and Gas magnate, Femi Otedola, Jim Ovia of the Zenith Bank and Visafone fame, technocrats, academia, members of the diplomatic corps as well as the art community and traditional institutions described former Obasanjo as a strong builder of modern Nigeria that deserves honour.
Other personalities include Steve Oronsaye, Dora Akunyili, Bucknor Akerele and a whole lot of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members, among them Olagunsoye Oyinlola.
Responding to a toast, remarks and speeches after three and a half-hour programmes at the public launch of “Olusegun Obasanjo- the Presidential Legacy-1999-2003,” the celebrant said two times in the past, opponents of either his person or project had walked up to apologise to him in the past.
He banked on history therefore to say that he would continue to triumph despite all odds at the launch of the book co-edited by Emeritus Professor of Medicine, Oladipo Akinkugbe and Ahmed Joda and written by former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Emeka Anyaoku and one hundred and ninety-nine other Scholars.
He also vowed to use the last drop of his blood to preserve the unity and progress of Nigeria, first and foremost and Africa and the world in general, coming with an anecdote of a popular Christian songs “in our early days when we use to sing: “Bo keyin kan lenu mi, maa sin Jesu dandan,” (if it remains one tooth in my mouth, I will worship and praise the Lord Jesus,”
He used the song, which he modified thus: “Even if it remains the last breadth in me, I will work, preserve and promote the unity and progress of Nigeria, work for Africa development and indeed promote humanity.”
Obasanjo, who recalled how one of the traducers of the OOPL came to apologise to him right within the Library complex while he (Obasanjo) was in company with Professor Akin Mabogunje, equally obliged that “the Man who was to hang me also came to apologise to me.” Although he said he did not have the patience to educate the man (whose name he did not mention), he however added that Akinkugbe took time off to school the traducer and take his apology.
Anyaoku, while chairing the launch, said he obliged to write on the Obasanjo years from the perspective of foreign policy, “because I was there when he was an actor on the global platform,” recalling how he chaired the 70th Birthday of Obasanjo in Abeokuta six years ago.
The former Secretary-General regaled the audience with scriptural knowledge by quoting from the Books that God allowed man to live 120 years, therefore pontificating that he would be available to chair the 80 birthday of Obasanjo. Anyaoku, who was quick to add that he would be 84 when Obasanjo would be 80 quoted Genesis 6:3 to support his wish to be 120.
In a toast to the celebrant, former Judge at the World Court in the Hague’s, Bola Ajibola, said the image of Obasanjo he saw when the latter came to him to say he was going to the army was that of someone on a suicide mission and “I took pity on him,” recalling also how the Ota farmer was a flagship at the Baptist Boys High School, by virtue of being the Librarian.
Ajibola toast was corroborated by the Olubara of Ibara, Jacob Omolade another classmate of Obasanjo, who hinted once again “poverty bound us together even though we were mates and friends.”