A Peep Into History -2

By Bolanle Bolawole

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Tunde Obadina (where is he?) was one of the columnists of yore that I relished reading, both for his flair and bluntness. I think he was of the National Concord stable. Others were the likes of Lewis Obi and Sina Adedipe (both also of the Concord); Sonala Olumhense of The Guardian, Muyiwa Adetiba of The PUNCH (published here last week) and, of course, Kayode Samuel of the Vanguard.

I have not stopped wondering why Kay stopped maintaining a column – and I have told him so. The riposte he fires regularly on Facebook does not, in my view, compensate for the great loss his absence from serious opinion writing has meant to many. Today, I bring readers one of Obadina’s writings that I ferreted out of my library last week. Titled “Reaping what you sow”, it speaks to our situation today as it did decades ago when it was first written. Enjoy it: “No wonder the Vice-President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, burst into a dance at the NPN rally in Mapo Hall, Ibadan, Oyo State last week. This uncharacteristic public display by the nation’s number two was brought on by the declaration of Chief Sunday Afolabi and Alhaji (Busari) Adelakun for the NPN.

The party’s National Chairman, Chief Adisa Akinloye, whom Chief Obafemi Awolowo two years ago had dared to show his face in Mapo Hall, was also there dancing in jubilation.

“Let Akinloye go to Ibadan”, said Awo in November 1980, “convene a meeting at Mapo and tell everybody to come and hear him talk of rig the election; he wouldn’t be able to speak at the meeting”.

Akinloye, Akinjide and a host of top NPN members were in Mapo Hall not to accuse the UPN of election rigging but to lay claim to Oyo State for this year’s election.

When the UPN leader mocked Akinloye and Akinjide for losing their deposits in the 1979 elections in Ibadan, he was not to know that a couple of years later that these men and the NPN would be embracing two of his top party stalwarts in front of a sea of supporters in Mapo Hall. At least one member of the NPN has been so affected by the success of his party in poaching within the UPN top hierarchy that he suggested that even Chief Awolowo should think seriously and join the NPN. “The NPN”, said Chief Lekan Salami, an NPN leader in Oyo State, “is the only party where Awolowo could achieve his life-long ambition of being president of Nigeria” Salami is confident that given the NPN’s structure, a Yoruba candidate will be president in 1987. “All we need to do at our end is to announce an ideal candidate and I personally would support Chief Awolowo as the person but for his political approach… if Awo joined hands with his fellow Yoruba in the NPN and signifies his intention to run the race, there is just nobody among all the Yoruba politicians who could challenge him; all of us would be naturally bound to rally around his success and leadership” said Chief Salami.

With the apparent failure of the PPA (Progressive Parties Alliance) to shape a common front, it is not impossible that Awolowo might consider the option offered by Salami! The idea seems absurd but the wonders of Nigerian politics cease to amaze me. Chief Akin Omoboriowo, the former Deputy Governor of Ondo State who recently joined the NPN, predicted nine months ago that if the 1983 elections are free and fair and the Progressives win, Nigeria would experience rapid social and economic development.

“If Nigerians voted in favour of the Progressives, Nigeria would have crossed the watershed from decadence and stagnation to progress and virility”, said the erstwhile UPN leading member. Are we now reading NPN for progressives? What has happened within the space of the past eight months to warrant a redefinition of “progressive”, that is, apart from Omoboriowo’s failure to get the UPN gubernatorial nomination for Ondo State?

Chief Ornoboriowo said in Bendel in March, 1981 “while the UPN is working hard to improve the lots of the common man, other political parties are busy playing the politics of money” The question is; has the former deputy governor lately realised that the Unity Party has stopped elevating the common man or has he by his decision to embrace the NPN joined “the politics of money?”

Chief Sunday Afolabi’s explanation for his disaffection with the UPN probably holds true for his fellow decampees:”What happened can be likened to the story of a group of farmers who cultivated a vegetable farm”, Afolabi told supporters in Mapo Hall. “They laboured and invested their resources individually and severally to ensure that the farm flourished and excelled (over and above) other competing farms. Some of the farmers put all the manure they had, diverted all the water they had to the farm to provide food for the vegetables with little bother about the fate of the fruits of the farm. The vegetables grew, blossomed and brought forth an abundance of harvest. A disagreement arose when the harvest was ripe but those men who had been put in charge of the farm, wanting to exclude other farmers from the harvest, used all their weapons to ensure a monopoly of the harvests to the utter amazement of onlookers”.

This is Afolabi’s story of the Oyo State branch of the UPN and the primary elections in which he and Adelakun failed to clinch their party’s gubernatorial nomination. Afolabi’s parable raises a fundamental question. Were the vegetables for the consumption of the farmers who had invested their resources towards the harvest; or were they for the hungry masses whom the farmers had promised to provide food? One should be forgiven for thinking that it is the former! This conforms with the general trend of Nigerian politics. People enter politics and make contributions to the development of the party as a private investment, the yields of which are for private consumption. The lofty aim of improving the lot of the common man is merely cosmetic, beneath which is a cynical ugly face of self-aggrandisement.

Politics, ill understood, has been defined, wrote Isaac D’lsraeli, as “the art of governing mankind by deceiving them” How else should politics be understood? Certainly in Nigeria, since political independence, politics has not so much been the art – since art presupposes a measure of imagination and finesse – rather, politics has been the crude practice of governing the people by deceiving them. Is it not, for instance, within the context of the privatization of politics that the recent statement by the Chief Whip in the Kaduna State House (of Assembly) that people who did not contribute anything to the NPN during the 1979 elections are those now enjoying the fruits of the party should be understood?The concern seems to be that if a man contributes to the electoral fortunes of his party, almost always by giving money, he should automatically be entitled to some of the fruits of victory, which means government posts and inflated contracts. Like a businessman whose rationale for investing money in a particular economic activity is the monetary profits accruing from his initial input, the politician invests time and money into gaining constitutional power for the supreme purpose of the material or and social psychological benefits which come with power. In other words, politics is viewed as a vehicle to either multiply your wealth or to be uplifted one step nearer God as the all powerful!It is this conception of politics that makes our political system ineffectual in dealing with the economic and social problems confronting society. Issues and programmes are in reality irrelevancies, part of the facade that politicians must indulge in to portray a semblance of democracy in action. It is this individualization of power that has contributed to putting the PPA in coma, perhaps, to be revived after the elections! What primarily binds its component parts is the imperative to defeat the NPN but the individual quest for power presents an insurmountable obstacle to unity. If there was a strong commitment to social change, the issues of who will be presidential candidate or trust within the alliance would not pose such a problem.It is equally this individual conception of power that makes the NPN potentially a formidable party. Power breeds power, not only because the incumbent party has control of the machinery of elections but also because they have power in hand, they exist as a magnet drawing in politicians whose prime concern is to back a winner. Perhaps, President (Shehu) Shagari understood the dynamics of the sinews of the NPN when he told opponents, “if you can’t beat us, join us”!

It should not surprise us that if the NPN wins the elections this year, subsequent years will witness a flood of decampees to the party.Perhaps, here lies the real basis for the fear that we are heading for a constitutional form of dictatorship.

”Tell me, has anything changed in the politics of Nigeria or in the composition, comportment, and understanding of our politicians? Obadina’s piece must have been written before the election of 1983, during the Second Republic and here we are in the Fourth Republic 40 years after! What has changed? What have we learnt? Absolutely nothing! Where, then, do we go from here?

When leaders disrespect the people…

We have been told, with glee, that our outgoing President, retired Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, will be spending an extra week in London to see his dentists. I am sure they expect us to clap for them or praise them for that! Be sure they will list that disclosure as one of Buhari’s achievements in office!

Thank God for His mercies! I am sure you still remember there was a time they never told us anything about the president’s medical tourism, which the presidential spin doctors kept as State secret! It was treason and felony rolled into one for anyone to demand to know what aileth the president, how much of State money he has gulped treating himself at our expense abroad and why he has failed to provide quality hospitals here at home. Buhari is junketing everywhere in his last few days remaining, mopping up this and lapping up that. No problems!

Everything that has a beginning surely must have an end. And an end is surely coming for Buhari’s clueless and incompetent administration. Can you imagine that he is still borrowing money right, left and centre? He is also awarding contracts and making a rash of appointments when his administration is already lame duck! It is like he is intentionally trying to provoke us, shoving it down our throat and throwing it right in our face! Is it that there are no dentists in Nigeria or that there are no dental clinics? They ruin medicare here, fly abroad to enjoy the best of medical facilities and then flaunt it for us to see! Such insensitivity and callousness! I feel ashamed of those we call leaders!

Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.

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