It was banters and reminisces all the way as former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (retd), former President Olusegun Obasanjo and a former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Ahmadu Ali relived old times at certain points in their military careers.
The occasion was the launch of Ali’s biography – “Many Colours Of A Rainbow,” at the Shehu Yar’ Adua Centre, Abuja, on Thursday.
Obasanjo was the chairman of the occasion while Gowon was father of the day.
As chairman of the occasion, Obasanjo was listed to deliver the welcome address.
Typical of him, he did not come with a prepared speech. He mounted the podium and cleared his throat in his characteristic manner.
Expectedly, journalists that came to cover the event immediately adjusted their sitting positions. Some were ready with their tape recorders while others had their writing materials in the ready.
Their ears stood erect like a rabbit’s as they waited for the usual “bombshell” from the ex- President. The news hounds were very sure that Obasanjo was going to “vibrate.”
Protocols over. The reporters had already set their tape recorders rolling. Chmm…chmm…chmm. The old man cleared his throat once again.
“When we were discussing earlier, Ahmadu (Ali) said Gen. Gowon is older than him but that he (Ali) claimed to be older than me. Then I asked Gen. Gowon if his date of birth was recorded and he said his late father wrote it down and kept it in his bible.
“I asked Ahmadu if his own date of birth was recorded and he also said his father kept the record. And I told them that’s why they could talk like that. My own date of birth was recorded in my mother’s memory.”
And the entire hall went toothy for a while. Then Obasanjo cleared his throat once more and continued: “When I was in primary school, my teacher sent me home from school to get my date of birth. On getting home, I asked my mother for my date of birth and she shouted at me that I was being stupid.”
Recalling his mother’s response at the time, Obasanjo quoted his mother as saying, “I gave birth to you on Ifo Market Day. I had prepared to go to the market with other women on that day but I fell into labour at dawn. So I could not go the market. The other women went to the market and came back only to find that I had given birth to you. So go and tell your teacher that you were born on Ifo Market Day.” The hall erupted in another bout of prolonged laughter.
He then went down memory lane to capture his relationship with Ali who was then a fellow army officer.
According to the ex- President, it was way back in 1975 when Ali approached him for assistance.
Ali, then a Federal Commissioner for Education, wanted a particular building located close to Race Course, Lagos, for use as office accommodation.
Incidentally, the said building was being occupied by an agency of the United States as operational office.
“So a few days after, I conspired with Ahmadu and mobilised troops to surround the building as early as 4:00 a.m. When the officials of the agency came to report for work in the morning, soldiers prevented them from entering the building. That was how I seized the building for Ahmadu and his staff,” Obasanjo recalled.
Then hell was let loose. The U.S government had protested the action, which sparked a bitter diplomatic row between the U.S and the then Federal Military Government, headed by Gen. Gowon. Consequently, Obasanjo was summoned to Dodan Barracks where he said he was tongue-lashed by Gowon and other superior officers at the time.
“I was scolded and dressed down by Gen. Gowon and other superior officers for my actions. I was seriously washed down.”