By Tunde Odesola
(Published in The PUNCH of Monday, January 29, 2018)
Have you ever seen a governor jump on a table, roar and spit fire? I saw Governor Ayodele Fayose do these during the public hearing on constitution review in February 2006. The venue was the Osun State House of Assembly, Osogbo, where delegates from South-West states converged to discuss the modalities for a review of the country’s constitution.
Before the hearing chaired by the then Deputy Senate President, Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu, took place, an ominous cloud of suspicion hung over the country. The cloud was thick and sinister. Members of the Mantu-led senate committee on the proposed review had been accused of receiving N50m each from the President Olusegun Obasanjo-led executive. Clairvoyants who saw beyond the evil cloud disclosed that they saw an old; black, wily hand writing on a wall. What did the hand write? ‘Third term’, they said. The cacophony generated by the invisible handwriting greeted the government’s decision to hold the public hearing nationwide, thereby, setting the Osogbo venue for a war between pro and anti-third term interests.
Expectedly, Fayose led the Ekiti State delegation to the venue just as the host governor, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, and all other South-West governors, except Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of Lagos State, were present at the event. Delegate after delegate spoke. Some submitted memoranda. Everything was going as scheduled until the late Bamidele Aturu turned up.
Flashback: Aturu came to national limelight in 1988 when he, as a National Youth Service Corps member, refused to shake hands with the then Military Governor of Niger State, Col. Lawan Gwadabe, during a ceremony in which he was honoured as one of the best-serving corps member in the state. The young law graduate cited human right abuses by the military as the reason behind his action.
Back to Osogbo: There was a grand design to bar anti-third term activists who had travelled from far and near from gaining access into the hallowed chamber. Aturu fooled the sentries at the gate and door with his dove-like mien as he produced for scrutiny his lawyer ID card and memoranda for the hearing.
The parliamentary chamber was filled beyond capacity. Many of those who stood in the gallery and hallways were, literally speaking, in straitjackets; they couldn’t see their feet if they decided to look down. Those who thought the anti-third term forces in the chamber had brought a knife to a gunfight soon discovered they were wrong. They brought plenty AK-47. Aturu gave it raw to the Mantu-led committee, which had the late Senator Uche Chukwumerije, among other eminent senators, in attendance. In unmistakable terms, Aturu described the hearing as a kangaroo contraption designed to fetch Obasanjo a third term, warning that Nigerians would resist the plan with their blood. The hall erupted. Some people tried to shout Aturu down, but no, he wouldn’t budge. Other activists rose in support of Aturu. Bedlam overtook reason; confusion break bone: uproar, chaos, madhouse!
To Fayose, loyalty is 100%, not 99.9%. Legend has it that Fayose’s word is his bond. Was it his promise to support the constitutional review hearing that he remembered? Or was it a realization and fear that the third term agenda was under threat? Something in Fayose snapped! He must take a decision in the ultimate protection of an unseen political interest? Like an angry tiger, the Oshokomale, in the majesty of his height, agilely climbed a table and lambasted Aturu and his cohorts, ordering the Ogbagi-Akoko-born lawyer to be thrown out. Who is this irritant? What nonsense! Enemies of progress! Mmttcheeeew!
Call it comeuppance or ingratitude, Fayose was impeached eight months later over allegations of corruption and a state of emergency was declared in Ekiti. Obasanjo appointed his kinsman, a one-star army general, Olutunji Olurin, to take over as the sole administrator of the state. However, the Supreme Court, in April 2015, eventually set aside Fayose’s impeachment, saying it lacked due process. Since Obasanjo left power in 2007, Fayose has told the world that the Owu farmer truly schemed to get a third term in office. The governor had never missed an opportunity to attack Obasanjo just as he had asked for a refund of the N10m he donated to the presidential library built by Obasanjo in Abeokuta – with interest. In December 2010, Fayose, publicly and physically, insulted Obasanjo in Okuku, Osun State, when both of them were guests to Oyinlola during a thanksgiving service, calling Baba Iyabo the father of bastards. But not a few see Fayose in the same mold with Obasanjo; like father, like son, they say.
When the news of Obasanjo’s letter got out earlier in the week, I looked forward to Fayose’s reaction and, was I disappointed in the response from the Ifaki-Ekiti-born governor? Characteristically, Fayose attacked Obasanjo over the admonition letter written to President Muhammadu Buhari, saying it was belated and self-serving. Fayose said that Nigerians were already poised to boot Buhari out of office, maintaining that Obasanjo’s letter amounted to playing to the gallery after ‘deceiving’ Nigerians to vote for Buhari in 2015.
A careful look at a recent video clip of Obasanjo dancing with his wife seems to buttress a general belief and Fayose’s description of Obasanjo as perpetually labouring to attract attention to himself at all times. In the video, Obasanjo, in blue ‘buba’ and ‘soro’, is seen dancing with his wife while some acquaintances – in tow – watched in expected admiration. Visibly in a good mood, Obasanjo, holding in his left hand something that looks like a bean cake (akara), digs into the food with his right hand and eats while he gyrates to the instrumental music. Enjoying every bit of the moment, Obasanjo enthusiastically moves about, boogieing and leaving his wife behind to do some catch up. She eventually catches up with Baba Gbenga, only for him to shuffle away towards the buffet while the beautiful wife trails in the distance. Obasanjo ate all through one minute, thirty-eight second video.
In contrast, a video clip of a former US President, Barack Obama, in his very inaugural dance with his wife, Michelle, shows a man who doesn’t want his better half to live in his shadow. The video shows a couple in love and apparently happy in the presence of each other. As the couple swayed in warm embrace to the song by Beyonce, they both enjoyed and savoured the great occasion together. In another video showing Barack and Michelle dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the former president did not attempt to ‘outdance’ his wife or draw attention to himself. At every opportunity when both appeared in public, Barack treated Michelle with utmost respect and affection.
Despite being controversial, incumbent US President, Donald Trump, in his inaugural dance, described his wife, Melanie, as his number one supporter, adding that it was ‘a wonderful honour to have the dance with Melanie’. All through the dance, Donald did not abandon Melanie to engage in any other thing.
The timing of Obasanjo’s letter to Buhari and the previous ones he had written to other Nigerians depicts a man who knows when to strike. His timeliness brings to mind the tale of Okolo in the Old Oyo Kingdom. Okolo was a slave, who was derided and overlaboured with work. His entreaties to be treated fairly fell on deaf ears and he vowed to strike at the appropriate time. “Talo mo Okolo e l’Oyo? (Who knows you, Okolo, in Oyo?),” the young and old taunted him. He complained no further but bid his time. One night, Okolo torched all the houses and farms belonging to his master, and fled into the darkness. “Eeehh! Calamity! Who torched the houses and farms?” “It is Okolo o!” Thus Okolo became known throughout the old Oyo Kingdom and beyond.
The Balogun of Owu is no slave; he won’t flee from battles. And may he write more letters in good health. While I pray for more ink to the quill of the Ekerin Balogun of Egba, I wish the Humpty-Dumpty Buhari administration would see the sense in the weighty letter and wake up to truly serve Nigerians for the remainder of the tenure.
Fayose and his colleague from Rivers, Nyesom Wike, are not the biggest challenges militating against Buhari’s second term bid, kinsman Atiku Abubakar and a formidable number of northern elements would hold the Sword of Damocles on the threshold of 2019. Sai Baba, remember also that the South-West are going to vote their minds. Nigerians won’t forget the naked corruption within your government, your clannish appointments and the enthronement of herdsmen.
• Odesola wrote in from the U.S. via [email protected]