Coronavirus: Ex-Presidents pull out of Obasanjo’s birthday events


Nigeria’s former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, on Thursday lamented that the outbreak of Covid-19, otherwise known as Coronavirus has impacted negatively on his birthday celebration as some of the events planned for the event were cancelled.

Obasanjo who turned 83 on Thursday revealed this while giving his response to a discussion on Africa as a continent, titled “The place of Pan Africanism in an Emerging World of Besieged Liberal Democracy,” one of the events organised to celebrate the birthday held at  Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL), Abeokuta, Ogun State.

The former President noted two events which were supposed to precede the birthday’s celebration with three ex-Presidents already on schedule as participants were cancelled because of the ongoing rage of Covid-19 across the world.

Obasanjo said the ex-Presidents were invited to share their experience on how they were able to transform their countries to be among the best countries in the world in the two cancelled events.
The former President said, “Malaysia which was worse than us before we gained independence in 1960, South Korea was below us, Vietnam was in war and we looked at all these and we wrote a book.

“One of the things in the programme is to spend the day before yesterday and yesterday to examine how they came up from where they were and what lessons have we learnt from them, but because of Coronavirus, the programmes were shelved.

“I do hope that sometimes in future we would be able to bring it up again because there is a lot to learn about what they have done and how they have din it,” he said.

Speaking on the topic of the discussion, Obasanjo also hinted that his thought was learn from their wealth of knowledge since Pan Africanism started from there,and he felt it will be best for to talk about it.

“The second programme was the subject of Pan Africanism for which we have invited a former Prime Minister of Jamaica, James Patterson, to open discussions.

” When we learnt that Patterson would not be available due to accident , we chose a former President of Sierra  Leone, Bai Koroma, but then, with coronavirus, we had shelved that plan and reached out to a different set of discussants that we have today,” he said.

“We thought that since the Pan Africanism originated from there, let somebody who is the ‘son of the soil’ come and approach the discussion.

“Some people will be saying the ‘what has Pan Africanism got to do with us in Nigeria? We have the problem of insecurity; we have the problem of restructuring and all other problems, so what has Pan Africanism got to do with us?”

“But I am saying Pan Africanism has a lot to do with us, no matter what we do or our present situation. That is why I am particularly happy that we have some of our traditional rulers here today and we also have some of the victims of policies that are good and the ones that are bad.

“We have gotten all the definition that we can have about Pan Africanism, but the only call I want to make is this, Pan Africanism is different from African unity.

“It goes beyond African unity and to prove that, when our leader in 1963 established the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) they did not reckon with Pan Africanism as such to the extent that nobody outside the continent of Africa was considered to be part of the OAU.

“When at the end of 20th century, we decided to re – establish or transform OAU to AU, we decided that instead of five regions which made up of OAU; West Africa, North Africa, East Africa, Central Africa and Southern Africa, we created the sixth region which is the Diaspora Africa”.

“Therefore, we made AU to go beyond the continent of Africa and to embrace the Africans in diaspora. So, we moved from African Unity to African Union, which means we are not only talking about Africans on the continent of Africa, but also Africans outside the continent of Africa”.

“I think that’s very important and that’s why we should talk about Pan – Africanism, what it means and what it can do”.

“The second point is the Liberal Democracy. The point we must all agree about like a friend of mine told me is that “market economy was not designed for us in Africa.”

“He is late Emo Smith who was very close to me. Anytime, we were relaxing there was nothing we could not discuss. One day I said to him, “Emo, you know you people are very wicked?” And he said what do I mean by that. I said you don’t even think of us (Africa) in everything you do. Everything is weighed against us”.

“He asked what’s it that was weighted against you? I said the economic situation in the world. He said “mind you, we created market economy for ourselves. We didn’t create it for you.”

“Now, he won’t say that publicly, but between me and him, he said that. And he meant it. He said “you’re complaining, give me three reasons why I should buy your cocoa for $200, while I can buy it for $100. Bring it to Hamburg, turn it into chocolate and send it back to you and you pay $1,000 for it. Give me three reasons why I should not do that.”

“I said the first reason is common humanity. He said “show me in your economic book where common humanity is factor of production”. Of course, there is nothing like that in any of the economic books”.

The point is this, whether it is liberal democracy or globalization or even democracy, as they practise it, even with them, no two democracies are the same.

“Now, whether we should redefine our democracy or not, I don’t know. But can we have a democracy that satisfies our needs? I think that is the point”.

“It can be defined in our own way to satisfy ourselves and we must be careful when we are doing that”.

“Whatever we define for ourselves, when we are doing that, there will be hues and cry. They will call us names. They will do all sorts of things”.

“Lee Kuan Yew, founding Prime Minister of Singapore was a good friend of mine. When Lee Kuan Yew was moving in the Mid – 1970s, I was in Singapore in 1974. There was no name they didn’t call him and he was worried. When Singapore now moved from third world to the first world, Lee Kuan Yew wrote a book titled “From Third World to First World”. They all shared and basked in the success of Singapore”.

“Now, if we do something not too far away, but radical enough to meet our needs and we succeed, they will grudgingly accept us. But if we do and fail, we will be on our own”.

“What we must realise is that the world will not wait for us. They will not want us to succeed because if we succeed, then we have taken something away,” he concluded.