The latest PhD holder in town, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, may be an enigmatic personality whose politics and letter writing skills always divide public opinion. Nevertheless, there is an aspect of him about which all Nigerians, even his harshest critics, are unanimous: the indomitable quest for excellence.
In November, 2006, just few months to the end of his twoterm Presidency, the then President Obasanjo did the unexpected by enrolling for a postgraduate diploma programme at the National Open University (NOUN).
Everyone thought it was a fluke, an attention-seeking plot by the seemingly unpredictable old soldier. By June, 2007, a month after handing over power to his successor, we learnt that Obasanjo was taking his studies seriously. From all indications, it was not a joke and Baba was in school really, working hard on his studies.
In January 2009, we learnt he graduated. Congratulations! During the convocation ceremony then, the NOUN Vice- Chancellor, Prof. Olugbemiro Jegede, described the former President as “a shining example of how seriously a student should take his learning.
Like everybody, he sat for all the examinations using anonymous matriculation numbers….” S u b s e – quently, in September 2014 precisely, news hit the airwaves again that Obasanjo was returning to school for his Master’s degree and PhD. His reason for doing that was stated by him: “I’m going back to school because I have to have something to aspire to in every endeavor of life.” As he told “Premium Times” further then, “I always aspire to something new in my farm. I do that in my international activities.
I do it in my writing. I do it in the improvement of my academic work which helps to sharpen my brain and strengthen my faith.” In January 2016, Obasanjo was among the graduands at the fifth convocation ceremony of NOUN. While speaking at the convocation, the Vice-Chancellor then, Prof. Vincent Tenebe, noted that “having been given admission to study MA/PhD in Christian Theology, Obasanjo will continue with his PhD fully.” Prof. Tenebe noted further that the achievement was “very unique considering his age and commitments” while remarking that the graduand, Obasanjo, made “a very good cumulative grade point.”
Again, in late last year, the photographs of Obasanjo as he was defending his PhD did trend for some time on the social media and it was clear he had completed his PhD work. Then, on January 20, 2018, at the seventh convocation ceremony of NOUN, Dr Obasanjo emerged one of its first PhD graduands. So, since he registered in 2006, Dr Obasanjo in spite of his several commitments did not look back until he got his PhD!
The reason for narrating the educational journey of the arguably most accomplished Nigerian is to show that education is a life-long activity that cannot be constrained by age. There is no time one cannot return to school, even in one’s 80’s. There is something intriguing and impressive about someone as great and accomplished as Chief Obasanjo going through the stage-by-stage process of advanced learning till he reached the pinnacle.
There is something fundamental that the young and the old should learn in terms of pursuing one’s academic goals with determination and purposefulness. Well, the journey to having a PhD would not have been easy for the former President, who was used to giving orders and giving directives.
However, with determination and commitment, he crossed the hurdles, endured the challenges at each stage and the world was watching. He didn’t just wake up one day to graduate; he was following a process till he completed it. Dr Olusegun Obasanjo is the biggest evidence that age and status are no barriers to education.
That one is too old to go school has been proved false and the onus is on everyone to appreciate that a life that is not nourished by continuous learning in dead, even if not buried. In a country like ours where role models are not many in the public domain, Dr Olusegun Obasanjo has challenged us to seek, to yearn and know more.
More importantly, he has also demonstrated that the essence of education is not for mere material purposes like getting a job and gaining a promotion. The essence of education, in Obasanjo’s own words, is to sharpen our brains and strengthen our faith. This means that higher learning is a nourishment for the soul and he whose soul is not nourished and mind not broadened is practically dead.