BY ’TUNDE THOMAS
It was an august gathering of eminent citizens. A night of fun and glamour when guests gathered to celebrate with Rotary International. It was also a night of shock and surprises. It was last Saturday, and the venue was Shell Hall, MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos and the hosts were members of Rotary International, District 9110 comprising Lagos and Ogun states who were holding Rotary’s Centennial Fund Raising Dinner and Dance 2017.
The event, which has as chairman, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Special Guest of Honour, Minister for Health, Professor Isaac Folorunsho Adewole, was also graced by Lagos and Ogun State governors who were, however, represented by Ogun State Deputy Governor, Mrs Yetunde Onanuga, and Lagos State Commissioner for Wealth Creation, Mr Tunde Durosimi-Etti.
As eminent guests streamed into the hall, and were being ushered to their seats, the question on many lips was whether the former President, Chief Obasanjo would be physically present or not.
While some were saying that Obasanjo was outside the country, others were saying that he might not be able to grace the event because he was busy preparing for his 80th birthday.
The event finally commenced around 6.20 pm when the District Governor, Rotarian Patrick Isehon Ikheloa, signaled members of the musical band of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, who were rendering beautiful music to entertain the audience, to pause.
Not long after the District Governor’s exit from the podium, and the occasion’s Master of Ceremony, was entertaining guests with jokes, the big masquerade being expected arrived. Many could not believe their eyes as everybody stood up from his seat to catch a glimpse of the former President as he was ushered into the hall.
Accompanied by a retinue of aides including his long time associate, Otunba Oyewole Fasawe, Obasanjo graciously made his way to the table reserved for him and his entourage.
Soon, it was time for Obasanjo as the chairman of the occasion to make his remarks.
It was Baba at his usual best. He captivated the audience.
The former President in his opening remarks commended Rotary International for its involvement in several humanitarian projects across the globe, especially its efforts to eradicate polio in Nigeria. While lamenting that it was very sad that Nigerian leaders had done little to bring development and transformation to the nation, Obasanjo said: “What can be more important to me than being in a Rotary event? What can be more important to me than being identified with something good?
“Rotary represents what is good, and Nigerian leaders can learn a lot from Rotary. If our leaders can imbibe spirit of selfless service like Rotary, Nigeria would have been a great nation. If our leaders at all levels are service-oriented like Rotary, Nigeria would have been a much better place for the citizens. It is very sad how much we have failed to do for ourselves as a nation.” While declaring that Nigerian leaders had a lot to learn from the Rotary’s 4 -Way Test of: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all? Will it build goodwill and better friendship? And whether it will be beneficial to all concerned, Obasanjo noted that Nigeria would be transformed if the nation’s leaders could imbibe the ideals.
Obasanjo further implored the nation’s political leaders to learn how to initiate projects that would benefit mankind like the Rotary International.
Not done yet, Obasanjo eventually released the big one. His admonition to the nation’s political leaders on elections and politics caused a reverberating effect in the entire hall.
While urging politicians and political leaders in the country to learn one lesson or the other from the way Rotary elected its leaders, Obasanjo noted that the Rotary electoral process was devoid of bitterness, rigging, wrangling and desperation.
“The other thing I admire about the Rotary as an organization is the way they organize their elections, the way they elect their leaders is not only orderly, but also very unique. A year before a serving leader or District Governor completes his term, members already know who is stepping into his shoe, because they would have conducted orderly election. There is no rigging. No desperation. The supervision and conduct of Rotary election is always wholesome. I recommend this style to Nigerian politicians and political leaders. We must jettison politics of bitterness, rigging and desperation,” he declared.
As Obasanjo canvassed the need for transparency in politics and the need for good governance, many in attendance nodded in approval. After Obasanjo had finished his political sermon and commendation of Rotary, as he made to leave the stage, the Rotarians led by a former Secretary (Minister) for Health in the defunct Interim National Government, ING, Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi told him to tarry a while.
Adelusi-Adeluyi later asked one of the ushers to bring a chair to the podium; that done, he requested Obasanjo to sit down. He noted that it would be the first time any organization would order Obasanjo to sit down.
Facing the audience, the former minister said: “We have a surprise for Baba (Obasanjo) tonight and for the first time any organization would do so, I’m asking Baba to sit down now, whether he likes it or not, we have a surprise for him this night.”
Amid an uproar of laughter and cracking of ribs, Obasanjo not knowing what was in stock for him sat down, and shortly after, other officials of Rotary International led by the District Governor, joined Adelusi-Adeluyi on stage, as they sang birthday songs for Obasanjo. They later presented him a plaque and a giant 80th birthday portrait.
While praying for Obasanjo, Adelusi-Adeluyi noted that the former President had not only been a source of blessing to Nigeria, but the entire mankind.
“As Baba is marking his 80th birthday, our birthday wishes for him is that God should continue to endow him with good health, strength and energy to continue doing the good work he has been doing and for which he has been globally recognized. Although Baba is 80, some of us still believe that Baba is a young boy still imbued with the energy of a youth.”
At this stage, and as if to prove that he is still a young boy, Obasanjo sprang up from his seat, and started jumping up like a young boy. The whole hall erupted in laughter as he jumped up several times to the applause of the audience.
In his address at the event, the District Governor, Rotarian Ikheloa, noted that the august gathering was not just to celebrate the good work being done with The Rotary Foundation fund around the world, but also to collectively look into the future, with a view to realizing that tomorrow’s humanitarian needs might be more than double of the situation at the present.
Urging Nigerians to identify with and support Rotary Foundation through generous donation, Ikheloa said: “The intervention role of Rotarians and the Rotary Foundation on the critical needs of the ordinary people is indeed unending – that explains why our giving efforts must continue.”
In his own remarks, Chairman, Organising Committee, Rotary International Centennial Fundraising Dinner and Dance 2017, Senator Ganiyu Olanrewaju Solomon, said the occasion was a special one as Rotary was set to celebrate 100 years of its being set up for the purpose of doing good all over the world.
In their own speeches, representatives of Lagos and Ogun state governments pledged their states support for Rotary International’s cause, which they described as a noble one.