By Festus Adedayo
The story of football dribbling wizard, Godwin Odiye, is told almost like a legend in Nigerian football. A former Nigerian international defender, Odiye’s football career began to luster when he signed on to play with the third division league side, Nestle and thereafter, National Bank of Lagos. While he featured in the Nigerian national football team that played FIFA World Cup qualifying matches and the 1976 and 1980 African Cup of Nations finals, Odiye’s football achievements paled into insignificance when put beside a 1977 calamity that his foot wrought on the field of play. Gradually, all his remarkable footballing sensations, beginning with playing left-half back for St Finbar’rs College and Academicals in 1975, took flight, to be replaced in national memory by the unpalatable optics of how he scored an own goal against Nigeria in a 1978 World Cup qualifying match against Tunisia.
On the field of play this day, November 12, 1977, was national exhilaration. Though the fans were cross with the football federation over a hike in ticket fees, hope of a Nigerian win was infectious on the field of play. Having played 0-0 in the first leg in Tunisia and requiring just a 1-0 win in Lagos, Nigerians had begun to fantasize seeing Nigeria in the World Cup in Argentina as all hope was stacked in favour of the Eagles. Venue was the National Stadium, Lagos.
However, in real sense, Nigeria’s fate hung on the precipice. Nigerians were glued to their television sets. Fans ecstatically sang praises of the Green Eagles. National Coach, Father Tiko, was on edge. All of a sudden, as a Tunisian forward lobbed the ball from the right hand flank of the Nigerian goal mouth and goalkeeper, Emmanuel Okala waited to dive for it, Odiye headed the ball off rhythm into the Nigerian national side’s net, away from the reach of Okala. A ghoulish silence reverberated round the whole of Nigeria. It was as if a lethal bomb had been shot into national space. It was an Odiye infamy.
As national fate hung dangerously on the field of play in November 1977, between now and next weekend, the fate of Nigeria hangs precipitously in Abuja as Nigerians wait in a limbo for the two leading political parties – APC and PDP’s party primaries. At the venue of those primaries, those who would take charge of the affairs of Nigeria in the next four years would be decided, from House of Assembly, House of Representatives, Senate, governors to the President of Nigeria.
As Odiye and his ten other playmates held Nigeria’s social fate in their hands, Nigerian politicians hold the Nigerian national fate today. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, derogatively nicknamed Maradona, for the sleek, fickle hold he had on governmental policies and the dispensable way he disposed with what was sacrosanct, also dribbled Nigeria’s national fate like Odiye’s football. Following Babangida, Nigerian politicians of today have dribbled themselves and dribbled Nigeria so well that, faced with their own goalkeeper, they may likely score an own goal.
Having seen through the veil of the failure of military rule and the lies inherent in its salvationism in close to 30 years of hijack of power, it is fast dawning on Nigerians that party politics will make or mar the country. Unfortunately, politicians seem to have elected to do the latter.
In clear terms and without mincing words, Nigeria has been a huge democratic letdown in the last 23 years of the Fourth Republic. In 23 years, we should have a visible path of development that politics has burrowed for Nigeria. Alas, no. As the years go by, politicians mutate from the bad, ugly to the worse in terms of quality representation. Vices of governance and quality of representation dip daily like the fog-light of a faulty car.
Like Odiye, the man in whose hand is placed the make-or-mar ball is Muhammadu Buhari. Unlike Odiye, who had a sparkling football career until the devil loaned his foot for a fee, however, Buhari has elicited no governmental sparkle, In the words of Salman Rushdie in his Satanic Verses, even the serial visions and expectations that Nigerians had of a Buhari presidency immediately became shifting realities in no long time. Since he entered the field of play and was handed the ball in 2015, Buhari’s governmental character has left much to be desired. As he dribbles the ball with little perspiration, Buhari still has the opportunity of playing a redemptive shot that could reposition, rewrite and reconfigure his years in office. As a cleric once preached at a handing over of pulpit ceremony, it is more glorious to inherit the office of a total failure, an oloriburuku than for an oloriburiku to inherit one’s office. What can compare with the latter is the fatality of a madman given free rein on the handling of his mother’s remains. In his maddening frenzy, he could even decide to make barbecue of it.
Red pointers indicate that, in his magisterial arrogance and self-righteous audacity, Buhari may act like the proverbial madman above in the choice of who succeeds him. He may just as well barbecue the time-worn power sharing equilibrium that has acted as the glue that twines Nigeria together.
Since the 1966 hijack of power by the military, the concept of power sharing has engaged students of Nigerian government and politics, as well as Nigerians as a whole. With soldiers’ oligarchic hold on power through the veil of military rule, the tension between Northern and Southern Nigeria on power holding was immense. From General Yakubu Gowon, to Murtala Mohammed, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha to Abdulsalami Abubakar, a tokenistic offering only came the way of southern Nigeria through Olusegun Obasanjo in 1976. With the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election won by MKO Abiola, it became apparent that the oligarchic military regimes had no space for an equitable power sharing with the rest of Nigeria. The resultant southern rebellion and sabotage of the Abacha regime, which came by the name of NADECO, thus became a fait accompli. The harangue of the northern military hegemony masqueraded as military rule was so intense that, when Abubakar inherited government at Abacha’s demise, an odd but equitable power-sharing equation was forged which ensured that only the south contested against the south in the 1999 presidential election.
What is power sharing? According to Adigun Agbaje’s ‘The ideology of power sharing’ in Federalism and Political Restructuring in Nigeria, (Kunle Amuwo et al, eds) power sharing is a system of power rotation among disparate ethnic and regional blocs, with the aim of producing a symmetrical relationship in deeply divided societies. It is a weapon to combat existing structure of power inequalities.
Since 1999, an adherence to this power sharing calculus has been followed by government after government. When Obasanjo was leaving office in 2007, he handed over power to a northerner in the person of Umaru Yar’Adua. He had very strong suasion to anoint Peter Odili of the South as his successor. When death cut short Yar’Adua’s stay in office, the constitutional requirement of his succession was followed, necessitating a southerner, Goodluck Jonathan, being in office till 2015. At the departure of Jonathan, a welter of support, spearheaded by southerners who believed in the chastity of his unwritten covenant, ushered in a Buhari who, with the benefit of hindsight, was Nigeria’s greatest error of the Fourth Republic, and who, by May 2023, would have spent eight years in office. Equity, morality, justice, fidelity to and adherence to the power sharing module and seamless geopolitical blocs’ relationship dictate that Buhari should follow through this principle and ensure that the south takes over power from him.
But, no. Those who claimed to have had one on one discussions with the weirdly taciturn Buhari have said that up until now, he has stuck to the unwritten testament of his covenant with southern APC bigwigs, pre-2015, that he would ensure power shift to the south. Even as the disturbing cacophony from the chorus of Babelian presidential sprinters to Aso Rock began to emerge, said to have been stage-managed by Buhari power apparatchik, it was said that Buhari still utters that terse, barely audible abidance by the code of his covenant. However, this week, the devil of northern politicians’ arrogance of power, fueled by that indecipherable Northern monolith, will likely take hold of Buhari’s heart. And before we know it, like Odiye, Buhari would score an own goal against the Nigerian democratic future.
There are very strong conversations in Aso Rock and invariably, in the north, against Buhari abiding by his sworn covenant. One, I have once disemboweled in an earlier offering (2023 conspiracy theory of how Dino Melaye’s god may be our God), to the effect that ceding power to the south could expose the nakedness of a north that is ravaged on all fronts – poverty, insecurity, hopelessness and all sorts – and for which power is the only thriving industry. Second, and which is being canvassed by northern APC zealots, who mask their northern hegemonic drive in the cloak of party ascendancy, is that APC stands the risk of losing power to PDP if it fields a southern candidate. This, they say, looms if PDP picks the seasonal presidential contestant, Atiku Abubakar, as its flag-bearer.
If Buhari and his power canvassers then carry the day, in 2023, Nigeria may yet again have a northerner in Aso Rock, after an eight years rancid rule. On the surface, this may be a catapult slingshot slung by a small child hunter on the proverbial Iroko Oluwere tree. Iroko, the Chlorophora excelsa, is a tree that Yoruba mythology submits, stomachs within its bowels a spirit called Oluwere. Nothing on the superficial speaks to any blowback coming the child’s way for this impudent sling at the great tree god. In any case, the north can logically explain why its child had pelted the Iroko tree with a catapult slingshot. One, as I have explained overleaf, is the concern for the fate of the north and party, the APC. Second is a belief that the monolithic north is a behemoth which cannot be upstaged. Thus, even if the south replies with any offensive riposte by way of votes apathy at the polls in the 2023 election, this can be contained by the humongous votes that always come from the almajiri of the north. However, like the child who stoned the Iroko and runs away, he should be reminded that the Oluwere’s anger is slow, measured and most times, does not come timeously.
Buhari’s drab eight years have made the logic of another northerner in Aso Rock in 2023 gross injustice and a slap on the face of the rest of Nigeria. It can never be seen as another northerner coming to government to repair the wound and the scar of the Buhari years’ misrule. It will come across as symptomizing the continuation of nepotism, northern hegemony and the standoffish disposition of Buhari to the rest of Nigeria. While the manifestations of this audacity, like the anger of the Oluwere, may not come in one fell swoop, they will surely come. As French philosopher, Voltaire, said, those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities. Southern Nigeria didn’t come to the juncture of NADECO in one day. It was the culmination of several injustices.
I want to end this sermon by citing Baba Adebayo Faleti’s song in Saworoide. a 1999 political drama film which was produced and directed by respected cinematographer, Tunde Kelani. Faleti, now deceased, was a Yoruba translator, broadcaster, TV exponent and pioneer of the first television station in Africa, Western Nigeria Television (WNTV). Just as Buhari and travelers in his boat are on the verge of doing, a tripodal ancient pact between Jogbo town, its citizens and their kings, which was reified with the aid of a brass bell in a ritual process, is under serious threat. A newly installed king, King Lapite, seeks to cheat and circumvent the process, with the connivance of some chiefs but eventually meets his waterloo. As this bedlam is about to take place, Baba Adebayo Faleti bursts into a warning song whose purport is evergreen for those who believe that they can cheat processes without a blowback. He sang: “Yio ma l’eyin, oro yi o ma l’eyin, ajantiele…” translated to mean, there will be repercussion, this act will beget repercussions.
I hope those who are arrogantly trying to cheat the process of power sharing are listening?