By Festus Adedayo
Professor of Linguistics and President, Academy of Letters, Francis Egbokhare of the University of Ibadan, on an Ibadan, Oyo State, radio programme where we both appeared yesterday, made a profound analysis of the ongoing political chess-gaming in the All Progressives Party (APC). Only last week, at the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the party, President Muhammadu Buhari had dissolved the party’s National Working Committee, (NWC) appointing the Yobe State governor, Mai-Mala Buni,as Caretaker Chairman. Other chain reactions which apparently signaled a huge conflagration in the party, came in tow. This was reminiscent of similar crisis which led to the implosion that became manifest in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the twilight of Goodluck Jonathan’s stay in office.
Egbokhare had likened the contest in the APC to one between the lion, cobra and hyena. This analogy caught my interest. One of the television channels that catch my interest the most is the animal channels. There are so many issues that would get fitting and ample resolutions if we watch the mannerisms, body languages, hunting methodologies and associational characters of our cousins in the pre-historic time – the animals. The lion is undoubtedly the king of the forest. Its appearance alone is scary, only second to the hippopotamus’. Zoologists tell us of the awesome strength of the lion, the humongous energy Providence packed into its jaws and claws. It is very alert for intruders, is slow to pounce on its prey and when it does, tears them into unrecognizable pieces in a jiffy.
The lion shares so many traits with the restless hyena. Their jaws are not dissimilar, even though the lion’s is stronger. Their relationship, zoologists call commensalism. This is that, when lion goes hunting for preys, the hyenas gather to watch the king tear the prey. When the king gobbles what it could, it leaves the painstakingly waiting hyenas to scavenge the let-over. Though they both constitute a string in the ecosystem chain and share similar geographic range, the two animals are very defensive and mindful of their territorial areas of operations and exhibit extremely aggressive tendencies toward one another. On occasions when they veered into their territories, lions shred hyenas into pieces and also vice versa, especially when a lone lion unguardedly strays into the hyena enclave. Female lions especially, due to their weaker disposition than their male counterpart, pose easy prey to the more aggressive hyenas and their cubs and are subject of easy intimidation for these restless wild cats.
Cobra on the other side, though dissimilar to the cat family above, is also known to be one of the most venomous snakes ever. While its own hunting methodology differs from the wild cat’s, it first stings its prey to death with its very deadly venom, incapacitates it and when it had been demobilized, the cobra wraps itself round the animal and then begins to swallow it bit by bit. In duels in the forest, venomous cobra species have been known to kill even a male lion. A National Geographic channel video that went viral not too long ago depicted how a venomous cobra spat into the eyes of a lion cub, blinding it.
So how does the Egbokhare analogy apply to the APC dirty internal power struggle, brought to the fore mainly by its erstwhile chairman, Adams Oshiomhole’s punitive and despotic attempt to copy Ahmed Bola Tinubu’s successful model of eliminating a godson in Lagos, for cloning in his native state, Edo? By the way, those politicians who attempt to shut analytical forays into what they consider internal party matters, must have by now known that analysts and Nigerians as a whole won’t succumb to such barren escapism. This is because, what they call internal matters affect the generality of Nigerians, set the polity on edge and have very definitive impacts on our social, economic and national lives. It will be suicidal to allow politicians escape with the impunities they call family matters which in real sense are urgent matters of national concerns.
Now, according to Egbokhare, the old Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) rump that coalesced into the APC and headed by Tinubu, who is incidentally named the Lion of Bourdillon, is the lion in this analogy. The CPC, headed by Buhari, which had been going on barren forays into presidential contests before 2015 but which clinched it only when it shared the prey with the ACN, is the hyena and the cobra is the Bukola Saraki’s New-PDP which had the likes of Rotimi Amaechi, the Transportation Minister, as its venomous commissars.
So what is the role of this trio of lion, hyena and cobra in the Nigerian political ecosystem that makes their relationship tick? The Tinubu ACN was already controlling a sizeable chunk of the venison of the South West forest, with prospect of apprehending some other meaty conquests in a larger Nigerian forest, especially in the South East. The Buhari CPC hyena, unable to successfully hunt its own venison, allowed the lion celebrate its hunting prowess but asked it to share the chunky meat. The lion then uncritically let go of the venison mid-way but unbeknown to it, it had been stampeded by the hyena to leave the gourmand process midstream, thus forfeiting very chunky meats hidden in the crevices of the bony-looking remnants, to the restless hyena. While the cobra has no role to play in this feasting process, it however has a key role to play in the forest which they all inhabit. Except in rare cases, the cobra, lion and hyena go about their specific hunting expeditions without interfacing. Each of them has their nature-endowed abilities and capabilities that rank them champions of their individual turfs. Take for instance the amount of poisonous neurotoxin resident in the mouth of a king cobra which it can emit in one bite, said to be enough to kill 20 human beings or one elephant.
While the APC executive dissembler, Victor Giadom, held sway, until the dissolution of the NWC by Buhari last week, he was said to be a strong ambassador of the Cobra family, an Amaechi ally. After the Lion’s mane, Oshiomhole was unprecedentedly stung by the cobra, Bukola Saraki, another strong New-PDP cobra family, laughed cynically at the deadly venom the cobra spat at the representative of the Lion of Bourdillon. Dino Melaye, an infantile member of that family, even cynically mocked the fall of the lion in a video he circulated.
Egbokhare made it known that a lot happens in the covens of political actors than are volunteered by their legmen in public discourses. Of a truth too, many a times, our analyses miss the point when we try to psychoanalyze the unorthodox political maneuverings of Nigerian politicians. However, Nigerians seeking explanation into the sacking of Oshiomhole by the Appeal Court, the drama enacted about 48 hours to the dissolution of the APC NWC, the judicial acting chairman recognition ding-dongs and the ultimate dissolution of the NWC were at a loss on what to affix as happenings in the party. While loyalists of Tinubu claim he hasn’t lost out in the party, manifest in his cousin, the Osun State governor, Gboyega Oyetola, being appointed as a member of the Caretaker Committee and some others close to him still there, the truth is that the Lion of Bourdillon has been fatally wounded by the deadly pellets of gunfire the cabal trying to neutralize his hold on the APC fired last week. You cannot claim that having a Man Friday like Oshiomhole, who gladly carried Tinubu’s poo-pan about, was synonymous with his cousin being appointed into the NWC, whose hold on the NWC would be at best tepid. To claim that this isn’t a political castration of a man who was erecting building blocks of 2023 in every political action undertaken by the flippant Oshiomhole would sound very awkward.
Like the lion in this analogy, even as I forewarned in an earlier piece entitled A o m’erin j’oba at Tinubu’s colloquium, Tinubu the lion may have been defrauded by more calculative, more sophisticated political chess-gamers who though didn’t have his political brawns but possessed more stratagems aimed at colonizing the venison he hunted for dinner. The restless and wily CPC hyenas merely stampeded him out of the chunk of his South West control meat. But, like the Egbokhare lion, the Lion of Bourdillon has remained silent in this equation since his Man Friday was flung off the dais. I remember the story of the self-acclaimed prophet who was devoured in the University of Ibadan zoo some decades ago. Reports claimed that when the man leapt into the lion’s den, the animals first scampered off in seeming fright at the very unusual intrusion. Immediately they apprehended the equation however, the lions went for providence’s whole meat sent to them and tore the divine venison into shreds.
So, is the Lion of Bourdillon also studying the equation? Is it fazed by the Buhari hyenas’ impudence and insolence of arresting its meat by stealth last week? Will the King of the Forest merely forfeit its blithely stolen meat and hunt for another chunky one in the forest or will it fight back? Where in this scampering by the lion, hyena and cobra is the interest of the forest, the people of Nigeria? Or, is the clan of analysts seeing a mere tempest when in fact there is calm? Or, put more succinctly, are we mistaken to think that there is a dissonance in the gourmand quest of the lion, hyena and the cobra?
As I wrote the last words of this piece, Tinubu’s belated reaction, presidency’s Tinubu friendship-baiting riposte through its virulent and combative publicist, Garba Shehu, and Oshiomhole’s chewing-the-humble-pie reaction were published. They were at best syndicated acknowledgement and blind attempts to avoid an obvious sinking boat with the tendency to sweep all of them away. While Shehu attributed snide comments on Buhari’s unilateral abatement of Tinubu’s Oshiomhole NWC’s roller-coaster ride to the handiworks of “political vulturism” – whatever that meant – he couldn’t explain why Buhari had to pull the rug off the feet of “his friend” like the head of a coup-plotting junta. My reading of Tinubu’s needless epistle, dwelling majorly on cants and sophism, was a man who had entered a one-chance bus, something in the mould of what Ibadan people would call Suara Sobo truck and is praying hard to his chi to let him alight in peace. While in one breath, he blamed Oshiomhole for “his fence-mending attempts (that) were perhaps too little too late.,” in another, he thanked him for the decisions he took. Where was Tinubu when “the litigious” members of the party were getting disagreeable? If he hadn’t acted like a headmaster cross with his errant pupil when Godwin Obaseki and other APC governors came to him to prevail on his hireling to stop the drift into anarchy in the party, the “fusillades of lawsuits” probably wouldn’t come. The Oshiomhole who now ate the humble pie, in concert with his clique, had threatened to take Buhari and the Caretaker Committee to court immediately it was constituted.
In all, you cannot impeach the analogy of the lion, hyena and cobra in the APC. When the conflict reaches its full maturation, it will no doubt tingle Nigerians’ ears and the lion which had entered the Suara Sobo truck will confess that it had all along been a captive of its ambition.
Ajimobi: Last supper with a Sanmonri, constituted into authority
Unlike my wont, words failed me repeatedly this morning. Ever imagine billows of smoke failing to sprout out of the blacksmith’s forge? Or the canary suddenly failing to spit its melodious rhythm? But that has been my abiding forte in the last one hour or so. Writing, cancelling, rewriting, erasing, rewording and cancelling outright were my back-and-forth lot as I tried to pen an elegy to Abiola Ajimobi, a man who, for four years, was my boss. I had had to substitute “is” for “was” while diffidently refusing to append “late” as prefix to the name of a man I ate dinner with about seven weeks ago. Similar to Ayinla Omowura, Yoruba Apala musician’s query of the dead body of Yusuff Olatunji, another Sakara music great, Ibo ni’ku ba e to fi ri e pa? (why or how did you let down your guard and allow Death pierce you with its cowardly dagger?) I cannot but ask Ajimobi how and when he consented to the effeminate aggression of death? As the soil opens its irreverent mouth and swallows Ajimobi today, I ask, why would Constituted Authority consent to that show of might by Death?
Right from the gate of his house at the Oluyole Estate area of Ibadan, you had a whiff that you were in the home of a typical Nigerian sanmonri (elite) and their usual dread of death. Or, in the words of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s corrupted English-written Souza boy, an elite afraiding to die. The gateman pretended to be blind to any acquaintance with anyone, except you thoroughly washed your hands in the trough of water placed by the gate. He then apologized profusely after you had acquiesced to the wishes of the owner of the house, pleading that he didn’t want to lose his job. Guests’ faces donned in masks which a few months earlier would have looked outlandish, the gateman nevertheless looked us up like a virologist looks through the microscope for a hidden virus, just to be certain we had not flouted the Supreme Law of the home.
Then we walked into Ajimobi’s modest compound where you find sanmonri mixing with afinju (aesthetic) in equal blend. Mrs. Ajimobi sat with a couple of her aides a few meters away, squeezing her face to identify the three gentlemen masqueraded from recognition by their COVID-19-imposed masks. “Oh, it’s AG!” she suddenly said, upon identifying Adebayo Mutalubi Ojo, her husband’s Attorney General in his first term as governor. And then me; and another friend of ours, Yisau Ganiyu, on the visit.
We then sat in the Ajimobis’ well-laid out living room. Splendid in aesthetics, certainly product of someone who had an eye for beauty, Ajimobi himself walked in. With brisk gaits like that of a 21-year old, he would rather you shot him than gag him from lending his opinion on an issue. “Do you know that scientists have revealed that even those masks you wore can do you some harm?” he began as we exchanged pleasantries. We then went into debates on the effectiveness of the face mask. As we sat, he asked that we social-distanced by spreading on each of the elegant couches that decorated his living room. His two other guests being Muslims, since it was the month of the Islamic Ramadan fast, he sidestepped them and offered me assorted fruits. He said he never counted the days of the fasting already expended but when told that the day marked the tenth, he merely nodded.
Though we couldn’t honestly discern any premonition that Ajimobi’s departure was near, he showed unusual reconciliatory attitude this day, like someone in a hurry to make amends, lest time caught up with him. For instance, Ajimobi accepted overtures by Ibadan elders to reconcile with a senior legal practitioner whom he concretely laid his infractions against. He spent most part of that evening receiving phone calls in that regard. He quoted a psychoanalytical study which captured the mind structure of serial and impulsive liars.
Then came the time to break the day’s fast. Before we left that section of the house that also doubled as his office, I handed him two autographed copies of the book I had just written. You taught us that nothing else but excellence suffices, I wrote. Ajimobi found it very enchanting and expressed how excited he was that we were doing him proud out of office.
He implored us to join him at the breaking of fast table, which, with the benefit of hindsight now, was a replica of the biblical last supper. Madam had had the table decorated with all kinds of foods. That night, as if he knew that it was the last time he and I would be seeing, he seemed too pleased to please my friends and me. Was a wrap of amala enough for me? he asked about twice. There were more chunks of meat in the bowl, he again prompted, just for us to have our fill. He explained why, for him, he didn’t value swallow as cuisine, even as he ate very small portion of rice.
The 7pm curfew was long past, I said, reminding him of the need for me to take my leave. Ajimobi walked us to our cars, even as we chatted like school boys. He wore that flowing caftan which I had known him with for years. His wife made it for him, he told us. As we got to the outside of the gate, he asked one of his security aides why he hadn’t gone home. He told him his house was far and once he didn’t leave on time, he couldn’t again for that day. There and then, Ajimobi granted him the grace to always leave early so that he could be with his family.
As I leapt into my car, Ajimobi waved us bye. Instinctively, I looked at him walking away. He seemed to be in a hurry to depart, even as he walked into the darkness.
I first met Ajimobi a few months after he left the National Oil as Managing Director, in 2003. He had expressed the desire to go into politics. His friend and broadcasting giant, Yanju Adegbite, had requested I interviewed him in this same Oluyole house of his, for the Tribune. I saw in the handsome man a very self-assured, knowledgeable man with fascinating mental depth. I was however afraid for him that in a society that was mindful of personal hoisting of self mental worth, he would be an easy prey for profiling as arrogant. No question hit him by surprise. He had responses. Adegbite tells anyone that I rejected Ajimobi’s traditional handshake that afternoon.
Fate was to bring us together again around 2009. He had constituted a strategy team preparatory to the 2011 election contest and someone had sourced me out. We sweated to situate his candidature and when he won and opposition against my nomination as his media aide mounted, Ajimobi fought through his preference for me, almost combating Late Alhaji Lam Adesina, the party leader.
For four years with Ajimobi in government, I worked under an intensely demanding boss. I almost threw in the towel in the first two years as I couldn’t cope with his amazing strides. A nocturnal being of the Nigerian political class’ hue, he slept most times in the very early hours of the day, holding meetings and deciding governmental policies. For me, that was a Capital No. While he gave me free hand to manage his media portfolio, he couldn’t withstand mediocrity or shallowness. You had to make power point presentations to him on how you hoped to plot his media management graph.
The first bout I had to fight was how to strip him of his fancies of necklace, agbada and an unsparing tongue. Agbada and necklace signposted elitism and as such, dis-advertisement for leadership of an agrarian, civil service state like Oyo. His besotting inseparability with his wife also boomeranged in a patriarchal state as Oyo where the perceived thought of a woman co-handling the wheels of state sounded absurd. So, all sorts of damaging euphemistic clichés were manufactured to denigrate him as a sissy. I devised my own way of managing this typecast. They however seemed to get at him. One night at his house, going through a document with Toye Arulogun, Gbolagade Busari and me and I stepped aside to receive my wife’s call, he had jokingly asked if that was not me abandoning a governor on seat and answering my wife’s call. “And yet they would say Ajimobi is too besotting to his wife!” We all reeled with laughter.
My first challenge in the management of Ajimobi – the necklace – was removed by Dotun Oyelade in a piece he did for the Tribune about a week into the administration. A seemingly innocuous last statement in the piece – a ‘by the way’ statement, demanded whether the 18-karat gold necklace he noticed on Ajimobi’s neck was procured from Dubai. That weekend, necklace leapt out of Ajimobi’s neck and I never saw it ever since. The other two, after I psychoanalyzed him, I let them be, seeking instead to dig my way round them. In my psychoanalysis, I found out that the agbada and unsparing tongue that got Ajimobi a horde of enemies, were projections of a childhood shield that Ajimobi deployed to defend his austere stature from bullies while growing up. “If you say I over-talk, I have been doing that for over sixty years of my life, so don’t expect that I’d change overnight,” he once said. What many people didn’t know was that Ajimobi deplored his tongue as a mamba does when it faces attacks. Deep within him, he couldn’t hurt a fly and would recoil when faced with a superior adversary. He could also barely stand by and watch a man suffer.
Aside unleashing an infrastructural revolution unknown to Oyo State in his years in office, thousands individually benefited from him and his government. I watched him transit from a very frugal spender pre-office to a very generous man while in and out of office.
Ajimobi revered intellect. Doubling as his speech-writer in his first four years in office, passing those scripts through his line-by-line scrutiny became a major everyday challenge. One day, preparatory to a state broadcast, the Chief of Staff, Dr. Adeolu Akande and me, had our doctoral degrees thoroughly defoliated when he painted our draft speeches with his traditional red biro. I kept some of those red-pen soiled drafts. We faced same challenge while co-writing his first inaugural speech in May, 2011. At exactly 3a.m on May 29, 2015, I left this same Oluyole house of his, after the last draft of his inaugural speech passed his eye-of-the-needle final assessment. We had been doing back-and-forth of corrections from about 10pm, May 28, when I brought the first draft.
Ajimobi had his foibles like every other human being. He was nevertheless a great man who wanted to re-situate Oyo State as a modern, clean state devoid of its acquired renown as capital of political brigandage and dirt. There were equivocations and complexities in this bid of his. He must be regretting while he was stuck in those machines of the Lagos hospital that he didn’t make Oyo a health tourism destination as he did for road infrastructure. He made impacts in the lives of so many people and it would have been nice if he overcame the deadly COVID-19 ailment to behold the horde of people who raised prayers for his recovery. Someday, we all – those who excoriated him and those who lauded him – would come to the convergence that he meant well for Oyo State. Right now, you cannot decipher from the mix: a horde of sympathizers trying to outdo one another in shedding crocodile tears at the departure of a man who they only yesterday demonized and those who genuinely feel his absence. Yoruba, in their tempered anger at the third group – those who may be exhibiting sycophancy at Ajimobi’s departure – say, eeyan o sunwon laaye; ijo a ba ku laa d’ere. Translated, they wonder why a man who awhile ago was a recipient of aspersions would, at death, turn into a beautiful carved effigy.
Rest well, boss.