“Why?” demanded my argumentative friend, “ is it always you people? “ Why do you make so much trouble? Always Ogun, Ogun, Ogun! – are you the only state in the nation?” And he proceeded to reel off a number of names of notorious “trouble-makers”, dead and living, pin-pointing their birthplaces in Ogun State.” It was a teasing, rhetorical question, no answer expected. If one had been required, I would have volunteered, as a birthday present to Ogun: Ise ab’ojumu. Sometimes Iwa ab’ojumu. A pursuit (or character) of what is right. Just conduct. The people of Osun articulate something close – Omoluwabi.Both, and a number of allied formulations, hover around that basic foundation of all humane pursuits – Justice. Perhaps we are simply more vocal, more persistent about it.
The precedent body of this mixed birthday offering is contained in a lecture that I first delivered nearly a decade ago, in Abeokuta. I shall resort to that lecture once or twice for purposes of invoking a comparative ‘state of the state’ – then and now – but only in the context of governance characterization that enables us to grasp the essence ofab’ojumu, not to make any invidious assessments. Memory is a crucial function of existence. There is much to recall, much that justifies breast beating, but also much to lament, deplore, even repudiate! Individuals make up nations. National anniversaries are not that much different from the individual, being, for some, not merely calendar notations for jubilation, but also pauses for recollection, reflection, and hopefully a positive surge of renewal, and progressive energy. It was a very well attuned mind that fashioned out those words in the Ogun State Anthem: Eyin omo Ogun, Ise Ya! (The task is just beginning – let us move!). I like that. I urge it also on Ogun’s sister states who are co-celebrants of the day.
An even-handed assessment tempers uncritical euphoria, enabling us to place, on well calibrated scales, triumphs side by side with defeats, solidarity beside betrayals, dedication beside opportunism….and so on, and on. We must not be Killjoys, but we also should not be overly exultant. Ogun State has been very much put upon but, if only my colleague thought about this carefully, Ogun has also experienced the agony of putting a lot on herself, internally, as much as being put upon by others. For instance, between Olumo Rock and Aso Rock, the relationship is sometimes manifested as a tussle between Culture – that is, Democratic Culture – and Power, the centralized distortion of which remains dominant across the nation – sometimes at war within the same individuals who loved to play both ends of the axis. I would not like to estimate what, for the people of Ogun, would be an accurate tally of profit and loss.
In this brief, unabashedly partisan exercise, let me admit in advance that co-option of these two landmarks goes beyond, but is not unrelated to the obliging fact that, for better or worse, both – Aso and Olumo – are conjoined by some key Ogun state indigenes in a somewhat unusual fashion. I have focused on a triad that self-constructed gradually during a critical phase of the nation’s history. It was the wistful shadow of one of this threesome cast list – a now permanent absence at any celebrations, alas! – that flitted across my mind and provoked these reflections. All three are reference points for Ogun State on the pursuit, and the ironies of power, but one remains a spectre that haunts one’s memory. That spectre certainly loomed large as I watched Ogun State governor shepherd his Aso Rock guest – and eminent train – around ‘Olumo’ town.
The three figures defined a national crises in vastly different, but interwoven ways. One enjoyed the harvest of that tussle. Another earned his place by dint of hard work, and against overwhelming odds. He was elected across the nation by undisputed popular acclaim, including belated affirmation by those who callously thwarted his deserving at the time. Thus it is that, today, it is only voices in chronic denial that still qualify their references to that 1993 election with the phrase, “presumed winner of…” “generally presumed to have won”, and similar ignoble attempts at diluting an unassailable truth. The third of that triad was known as Fidi Hee (Half-arsed incumbency).
Power bestowed, power betrayed, and – power derided. This nationally unique trilogy framed the political portrait of Ogun across two decades, and struck me only some days ago as I recalled past images from that crisis, the faces and comportment of some surviving principal actors, contributors to an entity whose character has undergone remarkable contortions and distortions, internally and externally, over the past four decades. The events produced both Ogun’s finest hour and, yet again, her most demeaning. Again, just a reminder: one, now departed – retains his position as Nigeria’s president that was never permitted to rule. Another, a fellow indigene takes his place among the dubious handlers – some say undertakers – ending up as the eventual harvester, though not without his own dose of retributive fate – while the third governed at the behest of the most vicious and thieving dictator the nation has ever known. When that military dictator had had enough of his game of cat and mouse, he simply blew f’idi hee a kiss, which blew him away from the peaks of Aso back home to the foothills of Olumo.
Let me quickly emphasize this: I am aware that Abeokuta, where Olumo rock is situated, is not Ogun State, only a tumulus within the entire landscape. I invoke that rock only as a symbol. Also, my assignment of Culture to the Olumo end of the rock axis – Aso at the other end – may be regarded as somewhat arbitrary; it is however historically appropriate. Power attaches unarguably to one end – Aso. Culture – and especially democratic culture – however betrayed and degraded – should be the jealously guarded preserve of the states. Minna is the exception – over the archway of the entry to its military cantonment is a boastful rubric that Niger State has bequeathed to Nigeria more rulers than any other – and their names are proudly listed across that archway. At least, such was the display when I last visited. Outside that aberration however, the role of states, I consider, is to civilize power, bring it to civilian apprehension and finally, humanize it. Thus emerges an interest in the fortunes of both at the hands of each other, whenever they intersect. Did Olumo civilianize Aso, for instance? Or did Aso successfully corrupt and distort Olumo’s civilian existential mandate?
In co-opting the two rocks – Olumo and Aso – as symbolic representations of the provinces of Culture and Politics, I do not imply mutual exclusivity. There is no intention of implying the totality of culture by invoking Olumo Rock, any more than I restrict politics, or the power game, or indeed any particular activity of power to the latter, Aso Rock. It is all a question of relativity. So kindly indulge me and let Aso Rock stand for power and its politics, including their modes of human conduct, while Olumo Rock signifies Culture – Democratic culture, and Culture writ large. Our problem is that we have endured far too many protagonists of power who are simply devoid of culture of any kind, be that written with a small “c”, or in capital letters. They pursue power hammer and tongue, obsessively, untempered by the ameliorating virtue of Culture.
What then have we, in Ogun, generated? What exported? What contributed to the entirety of national character? At a time of commemoration, several past events run their reels across the memory template. Here is one enduring scene to set us ruminating:
It takes the shape of a state house of assembly, shuttered, barred and barricaded by armed police, in a time of peace. At the time of the decade-old lecture to which I earlier referred, the closure had yet to happen, but it was in the offing, and my lecture was a warning. One is reminded that such a travesty of democratic culture under Olumo was enabled by – indeed would have been unthinkable without – the collusion of “federal might” at the Aso end of the axial rocks. In other words, that the gates to treachery against Olumo’s democratic integrity were thrown open by the very custodians of the historic Rock. Worse still, thanks to such internal undermining, Ogun state has the set the ignoble record of creating a precedent for what – with variations – has dominated political culture around the nation. When thwarted in the arbitrary and questionable exercise of power, or merely democratically challenged, simply seal up the oversight structure of governance – the House of elected representatives of the people. The active complicity of Aso Rock is guaranteed in advance – especially at the approach of elections.
Memory is a turbulent taskmaster for some, and that handful must fulfill – if only on behalf of the future – the role of a memory prod. It was again under the aegis of Olumo – exported to Aso – that a sister state across was placed under siege and vandalized for three days – with the police on “emergency” duties of non-interference in their ringside seats! Anambra was on fire! Billions of naira worth of assets – including state owned – were pulverized, a rampage that involved the kidnap of an elected governor, and his confinement in a toilet. Among that incumbent’s crimes was a refusal to sign an open cheque on the state treasury for a ‘political godfather’. For further fleshing out of memory, we may like to recall that it was in protest against that act of Aso empowered brigandage, a conspiracy between the two Rocks fortuitously fused into one, that a Nigerian citizen, Chinua Achebe, later rejected the national honour that was offered him. Chinua could not condone The Rape of Anambra, and told Aso Rock to shove its medals up its fundaments.
The foregoing – and more, a lot more – are natural associative recalls in the midst of celebration, with the unavoidable succession of wrestling emotions – pride and shame – in whatever role one’s acknowledged or imposed protagonists have played under the incidental twinning of these symbolic rocks. Guilt by association is a burden we sometimes bear – ask my interlocutor with whom we began this piece. This includes the residual impact of such governance ‘ethos’ within the state itself. Power feeds on power, even far from where first exercised. A successful formula becomes a call to emulation. From Ogun, via Anambra, and more recently Ekiti, the tried and tested template held sway. Vile precedents can only give birth to monstrosities. Yet truth eventually comes out in the wash, and the mottled faces of erstwhile triumphalists are gradually or dramatically exposed for what they truly are – straw masks. Was it not within these same national borders that packs of rabid mongrels, snarling through the judas-holes of the gates of hell, spat venom at those who had not even gone beyond saying of the 2015 Ekiti governorship elections:
“There is a mystery about these results”.
Nothing more, just that. Simply expressing disbelief. Others tried to rationalize the ‘upset’, citing deficiencies in governance style of the incumbent etc. Pontifications galore to admonish the robbed and rub pepper in the wound, to rubbish the option of low-cost governance and unostentatious style of governance. A coinage – ‘stomach infrastructure’ – was minted to explain the inexplicable. A handful of ‘heretics’ however persisted in keeping the taunting puzzle alive. They warned:
“There is a mystery. Something is askew somewhere, only we haven’t quite laid a finger of certitude on it”.
And some went further and confidently predicted:
“It is a mystery that will be unraveled some day, and even sooner than expected.”
And now is the time to ask: why were we so sure? Why did Governor Fashola, for instance, pen a soberly argued article in that vein? Why did I – if I may also cite myself – declare at Governor Fayemi’s valedictory event that this puzzle would be solved, must be solved, for democracy to survive, predictably pulling down a rain of rancid spittle from the self-vaunting, but deep-down apprehensive ‘victors’?
The answer was simple. Ekiti had precedent. Ekiti was merely the bastardized child of Olumo, only the pupil had brought a thuggish refinement to the Olumo template – including the yet unaddressed physical assault upon, and public humiliation of the judiciary. It had happened before to us in Ogun State – plotted, cooked, and served up sizzling. Only with variations. We had also undergone a blitzkrieg right within Olumo domain – and of course there were other victim states – in 2003. The pattern was familiar – a centralized coordination, military style, of the most insolent electoral robbery in state history.
The internally inspired assault scored a grand success. The Ogun state incumbent, confident in the observation of the rule of law, basking in a mutual, loudly trumpeted accord of peaceful conduct and a level playing ground, went on a joy ride with his would-be electoral rapist, proclaiming to the nation that this bipartisan road show was a manifestation of democratic harmony between contending parties, a gift by example from the consummation of Aso and Olumo to the nation and the world. It proved a sham. The newly discovered fissure in the sides of Zuma Rock in Abuja was from the peripatetic Aso incumbent splitting his sides with laughter – ke, ke,ke!
That Olumo/Aso combine attempted a similar crushing strategy in Lagos, but failed to roll over that city. First was the ominous withdrawal of security detail of the sitting governor – on “orders from above” of course. By the time Aso’s goons went for him however, he had disappeared. Even his own supporters, rushing to secure his safety, could not find the highly prized but elusive bird. He had shifted his operations deep underground among one’s ultimate security – own people! Aso Rock, in desperation, decided to ‘go for broke’. It ordered the posting of false, victory results, confident that the public would swallow them supinely – ‘for the sake of peace’. I know for a fact that the generalissimo was quietly warned that Lagos would terminally explode if he persisted. He quietly beat a tactical retreat, transferred his supervisory energy to other designated “must-wins”, Edo at the forefront.
In Edo, it was indeed a case of – Aso/Olumo Strikes Again! The mastermind took over the functions of a supposedly neutral Electoral body and raised “Federal might” to its personalized apogee, dictating orders to the Edo State Electoral officer. Edo was one of our ‘special interest’ states and we followed that contest in real live time.
“I said, declare those results.” Aso Rock bellowed down the line “Announce them!”
That officer fled to Abuja rather than announce falsehood. Distraught that they had been unable to capture the main prize – Lagos – Edo at least would not elude them. But the opposition already had the authentic results. The folder was rushed to me by Oshiomole’s aides as I was seated in a plane, virtually as the gates were about to close. I was able to present the truthful picture at the Congressional Hearing in Washington D.C. where a position that endorsed a fictitious election was already holding sway. There I met Kenneth Nnamani, former Senate president, seemingly in an unvoiced, genteel quandary, I felt. No matter, I fulfilled my mission, silenced the misled lobbyists for democratic injustice with authentic facts – and figures! It was a totally unexpected intervention.
And so, today? The toes of the corpse that had been confidently buried have kept pushing up – a recording here, a confession there, threatened arrests, plots to silence witnesses and whistle-blowers. Where it will all end? Perhaps in nothing. But then, it only means that the corpses will remain restless. The undertakers of democracy – as they proudly, indeed contemptuously deemed themselves – are scampering for cover, but not without releasing toxic jets of distraction. But these protruding toes are only forerunners of more skeletons to be unearthed – or more accurately – tens of thousands of corpses – and millions of the displaced and traumatized, on account of those misapplied funds that were meant to keep society secure. For now, we shall spare the festivities stressful thoughts of abducted school pupils, trapped in an eternal nightmare.
Yes, the disciples are exposed. They are being arraigned before both public and formal tribunals. But their mentors? The originators? Those who facilitated their emergence in the first place, by the same dastardly, egotistically unprincipled means. The real concrete mixers for the foundation of the home of electoral fakery? Basking in the glow of impunity. ‘Gracing’ commemorations. Milking gerontocratic toleration atmilikis. The grimace that contorts our faces when we watch the architects of a nation’s democratic retrogression gleefully cavorting under the generosity of amnesia or forgiveness from an abused people, is neither wished for nor enjoyed. Few of us are willing masochists. It is simply the intrusiveness of that hard taskmaster – memory – essential for the protective – and survival armoury, even of peoples who already boast a historic tradition of resistance – such as Ogun, the people of ise ab’ojumu. Tolerating the intolerable is not tolerated by a culture that was formative of the growth of some of us. Upholding the principles of such formation or accidental acquisition through life experience enables any people to say, with pride – we have never succumbed to tyranny, not even when it wears the diversionary mask of buffoonery.