Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has given insight into how he has so far escaped death by the whiskers at least a dozen times in his 78-year stay on earth. In his latest three-volume autobiography, “My Watch”, Mr. Obasanjo wrote about how he survived infant mortality that consumed all but one of his siblings, how local herbs and concoction helped kept him alive after a life-threatening scorpion bite, and how he almost perished in the Ogun River while learning to swim. The former president, who recently spoke to PREMIUM TIMES about the book, also narrated how he escaped unhurt in several auto crashes, and how he survived a plot by suspected assassins to kill him at the University of Ibadan. Mr. Obasanjo narrated, “Being one of two of my mother’s surviving children (out of seven), I must have had the grace of God to cross the hurdle of infant mortality.
The other five never lived up to age one. The vicissitudes of rural life and limited resources did not guarantee survival for children born in my time and in the place I was born. Growing up in the village I was bitten by a scorpion once, and I survived it. The local herb and concoction applied by the native doctor worked in my case. I heard later that it did not work in some other cases. “When I was in primary school in Abeokuta, I went to the Ogun River to try to swim. My friend and classmate who went with me urged me to dive with him into the water; I asked him to go in first and I would follow. He dived in and hit his head against a rock, and he never survived.
My mother pulled my ear and warned me never to go to the river for swimming again. That marked the end of my attempt to learn swimming. “When I was attached to the Welsh Guards in Pirbright, I had an accident while learning to drive. It could have been fatal for me and for the oncoming motorcyclist, but we both survived. On returning to Nigeria, I had another accident in which the military vehicle I was driving without proper authority was a write-off. I survived with a fractured hand.
As a young officer on a UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Congo Leopoldville, now Democratic Republic of Congo, I had an encounter with Congolese soldiers that could have been fatal. “I returned home from the Congo and was posted to the Nigerian Army Engineers, where I had to learn to ride a motorcycle for reconnaissance purposes. I took a motorcycle ride out alone on training and had a nasty accident where, again, the motorcycle was damaged beyond repair, and I was saved by wearing a steel helmet. The story of my escaping death by the skin of my teeth during the civil war when four of my bodyguards died on the spot has been told elsewhere. “When I left public office as a military head of state, I was appointed Distinguished Fellow of the University of Ibadan in the Institute of African Studies. I was given a house to stay in when I had work in the university. On one occasion, I was to give a lecture and to spend the night there; but curiously, I decided to inspect the whole building and the compound.
I found, to everybody’s surprise, a neat hole cut through the glass window; and on the mosquito wire netting on the window was a hole close to the head of the bed, just big enough to accommodate the muzzle of a pistol. I never slept in that house again. The whole university community, and Professor Tekena Tamuno as the vice-chancellor, was alarmed. “On my way from Abeokuta to Ogbomosho to attend the graduation ceremony of pastor Bolarinwa, who I sponsored to Baptist Theological Seminary, I was waylaid by armed robbers.
They cut in front of my car to stop it, got out and shot into the air, and entered their car and drove off. Calmly, I got out of the car with my driver and other passengers. I came to understand that if they had known that I had been the one in the car, they would not have zeroed in on that car, or they would have killed me to avoid getting arrested. I also understood that the police followed them to a logical conclusion. In addition, I have heard all sorts of fetish stories about how people tried or were trying to kill me and how I escaped through supernatural powers.
I neither believe in nor practice anything fetish. “My greatest escape from untimely death was brought about through the machinations and snares of Abacha. Even that was God’s doing.” Mr. Obasanjo said because of his several close shaves with death, people built a myth around him, circulating tales that he was more than an ordinary human being. “Once, a writer described me as a man with seven lives,” the former President said. “That is, of course, an exaggeration; there is no man with more than one life.
But when you have almost miraculously escaped death on a number of occasions, superstitions and myths are built around you. One might even be credited with powers that do not belong to one. For instance, being called ‘ebora’, which means spirit.” Saying he does not believe or indulge in fetish practices, Mr. Obasanjo said he had remained alive till now simply because of God’s consistent generosity to him, a debt he said he would continue to pay by “thanking and worshipping God while placing myself unreservedly in the service of humanity and God”. “In my opinion, to whom much is given, much must be expected. God has done so much to preserve my life and protect me,” the former President said. “He has done so much to pave my way and crown my efforts with success. Bishop Hassan Kukah put it this way: “God has singled you out and has been overgenerous to you.” I agree with him. And I have nothing to do except to keep thanking and worshipping God while placing myself unreservedly in the service of humanity and God, continuously on the watch. It is leadership and responsibility.”