He’s Nigeria’s oldest citizen to bag a PhD
Fred Ezeh, Abuja
At 81, many would have expected President Olusegun Obasanjo, to quietly retire to his Ota Farm home in Ogun State, for a well deserved rest, after he had put in years of service to Nigeria, both as military head of state and civilian president.
With his resilience and tenacity, President Matthew Okikiola Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo, aside having led Nigeria for the longest duration of 11 years has made another national record.
Last week, the general and former president bagged a PhD in Christian Theology at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) making him, until otherwise proven, the oldest citizen of the nation to bag a PhD.
His record even goes beyond just the degree to a major lesson in life that: It is not too late to begin and also that one can’t have enough achievement to make him/her relax so long such is still alive
Some might also be tempted to query his decision to return to school, and of what benefit was doctorate degree certificate to him, when he was neither seeking employment opportunity nor any favour from any government or individual.
These questions, apparently, were irrelevant for the former president when he enrolled in the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), few years ago for a doctorate degree programme.
The news of his enrolment in NOUN for the programme left Nigerians speaking. While it sounded funny and unbelievable to some people, Obasanjo put all seriousness and successfully completed the PhD programme and was awarded the degree at a NOUN 7th convocation ceremony held in Abuja.
NOUN Vice Chancellor, Prof. Abdalla Uba Adamu, who welcomed dignitaries and other graduates appreciated the commitment and dedication of the former president to his academic and research works.
NOUN was blunt to him that: “We have already set standard that cannot be compromised to favour anyone irrespective of social or political status.”
The VC added: “You might recall that Obasanjo played a critical role in granting legal backing to NOUN when he was the president but that didn’t earn him a preferential treatment throughout his academic period in NOUN.
“Nevertheless, his enrolment few years after, and successful completion of his PhD programme in NOUN was expression of his belief and confidence in the quality and standard in NOUN’s academic services.”
The Dean of Postgraduate Studies, Samaila Mande, who supervised the academic works of the octogenarian (Obasanjo) however confessed that he strictly followed the rigorous academic process and completed his research works without any special attention or recognition.
“Besides, he never asked for special treatment or recognition being a national figure. Rather, he strongly requested to be treated equally with other students and that was what we did,” he said.
Meanwhile, Obasanjo, being the first PhD graduate of NOUN, in his unique and comical nature took the attention of dignitaries and other 14,771 graduates that participated in the convocation. He ensured that everyone had reason to laugh at one point or the other.
Many of the celebrants were surprised that in spite of his busy schedules, Obasanjo participated fully in all activities that culminated in the convocation last Saturday. Each of his steps, moves and utterances attracted the lens of uncountable cameras that struggled to either take a picture or video of the memorable event.
He was the center of attraction during the convocation lecture delivered by the Vice-Chancellor, Igbinedion University, Edo State, Prof. Eghosa Osaghe, at the NOUN headquarters in Abuja. The convocation lecture, as usual, preceded the convocation.
But it was indeed a big fight for appreciable number of security officials who were forced to apply extra measures to control the crowd that besieged the tent of the former president to, perhaps, take pictures or videos of him in his unique convocation gown.
The crowd further appreciated the humility of the former Nigerian president when he politely requested to join thousands of fellow graduates at the convocation ground instead of special seat that was provided for him at VIP stand.
Speaking shortly after the conferment of the doctorate degree award in Christian theology, Obasanjo corroborated the earlier statement by NOUN management that he never received preferential treatment throughout his period in the school.
He said: “We had an agreement from the point of entry that I shouldn’t be given any special privilege or recognition as former Nigerian president. My reason was because I wanted to pass through the system like every other student and I am proud that I did that with all due diligence.
“I carried my NOUN bag like every other student. I attended classes and wrote my exams like every other student. Most helpful was the learners’ support services which I maximized just like every other eligible student.
“Most instructive and educative of all was my field work in the northeast. It exposed me to the true state of the geopolitical zone. I was availed the opportunity to interact with people of different strata in different local communities and they spoke candidly to me on the state of things there.
“The experience I gathered from there, indeed, enriched my knowledge and my position on any socio-economic/political discussions of the region. It made me to understand that poverty is not our lot or that of anyone but as a result of the conscious or unconscious decisions made by our leaders.
“My PhD work in NOUN presented me with high sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. This is because, at the last count, I have received no fewer than 20 honorary degrees from top ranked universities in the world but the NOUN PhD was the one with a difference.
“It exposed me to different set of realities which are inexplicable and confirmed that neither age, social status, nor any other challenge is an excuse in education and knowledge pursuit, perhaps, using the platform of the Open and Distance Learning (ODL).”
He appreciated the school management, his teachers, supervisors and fellow students for their support, particularly their respect for his earlier request to be allowed to pass through the academic process. “My teachers and supervisors were firm, strict and ensured that I passed through the process and I appreciate them for that.”
He said his second aim for enrolling in NOUN was to show Nigerians and the academic world that knowledge or education acquired from Open and Distance Learning (ODL), was not inferior from same knowledge or education acquired from conventional universities.
ODL services, according to him, are even cheaper, flexible and, perhaps, should be tailor made to conform with the changing request of the students. He also appreciated the effort of NOUN particularly in the provision of standard and quality academic opportunity for students to work and learn.
In response to the public complaints of bad leadership, Obasanjo encouraged Nigerians to make good choice of leaders that have the capacity to pull Nigeria out of poverty and underdevelopment dungeon.
He said: “Nigerians must choose leaders who know what development clearly means and what it takes to achieve that. Such leaders are the ones who will step on toes of friends and well wishers that might resist their development agenda for selfish or other reasons.”
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari, who is the Visitor to the school, identified some lapses in NOUN learners’ support services and challenged the VC and his management team, to strengthen the system for efficient and effective service delivery to the students.
Buhari spoke through the Executive Secretary, National University Commission (NUC) Prof. Rasheed Abubakar, and assured graduates and other aspiring students that NOUN certificate is duly recognized, particularly in fresh employment, promotional opportunities or further academic pursuit.