The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi, Email: olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

The verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi: Email: olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

“…I always told my boys in their younger days, ‘if you keep running a red light because you can, or no one is watching, or there are no cars in sight, after a while you will stop looking out, and one day there will be a car that you will not see coming’”.

There can be no better way to describe the current ordeal of Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State in the hands of the Directorate of State Security (DSS) than those memorable words that I lifted (with her kind permission of course) from the contribution recently made by Mrs Fatima Wali-Abdurrahman on a listserv–even though she was writing about another public official. Having gotten away with too many things, Governor Fayose apparently believes he is so invincible that he can afford to run the red light at any time without consequences. Well, he must know by now that there are sometimes consequences for bad behaviour.

In the weeks preceding the presidential election last year, Fayose threw caution to the wind. Not only did he assail, almost on a daily basis, the character of the then opposition presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, Fayose also played all manner of divisive cards, including religion and ethnicity. In January last year, for instance, he sponsored a front page advert in a national newspaper where he said leaders from a particular section of the country usually die in office; and so for that “reason”, Nigerians should not vote for Buhari who, by his warped reasoning, would soon die. While the advert caused national uproar, Fayose was unrelenting, apparently because of the misguided notion that an incumbent president could never be defeated in Nigeria.

Indeed, on 22 February 2015, a month to the presidential election, Fayose issued another of his numerous anti-Buhari statements where he declared categorically that “Buhari will never be Nigeria’s President.” Here he goes: “I wish they can see spiritually what I am talking about that Buhari, despite the hullabaloo, will never be president. I predicted my return as Ekiti State Governor and I am saying it again that Buhari will never rule Nigeria again…”
After raving about how he had become “Prophet Elijah” of Nigeria, Fayose, who was fixated on the health of Buhari, continued: “Without doubt, it is obvious that this cabal in the APC is trying so hard to deceive Nigerians on Buhari’s health status. That’s the reason they have been using photo-shopped pictures to defend their lies on Buhari’s UK trip…However, I want to disappoint this selfish cabal. Buhari is only raising their hope and that hope will be dashed.”

Despite my warning on this page a few weeks earlier (16 October, 2014) in a piece titled “A word for Ayo Fayose”, that the governor should exercise caution, Fayose remained reckless as he harassed Buhari ceaselessly. Unfortunately for him, when the chips were down, to borrow a famous cliché, it was his preferred candidate, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, whose hopes were dashed by the Nigerian electorate.

Ordinarily, you would expect any rational politician in Fayose’s position to be sober but then the governor apparently has no capacity for introspection and continued his personal attacks on the president. That is the genesis of the current problem in Ekiti State. However, while I have no sympathy for Fayose as he receives his comeuppance from the federal authorities, one should also be worried about a glaring misuse of power that could come back to haunt all of us.

On Friday, 3rd March, no fewer than ten DSS operatives reportedly invaded the Ekiti State House of Assembly complex, shooting sporadically and causing mayhem before eventually abducting four of the legislators. Up till today, no reason has been given for such brigandage. But following the allegation that one of the lawmakers, Hon. Afolabi Akanni, had died in custody, the DSS last week hastily arranged a press conference where the distraught lawmaker was presented in nightdress and bathroom slippers. The DSS also released a statement that spoke volumes:
“You may have been aware of the recent situation in Ekiti State in which the DSS was accused of abducting of the State’s Assembly Legislators. The fact is that one of the members of the Assembly, Hon. Akanni AFOLABI was duly invited by the Service over some serious breaches bordering on State security and for which he has some explanations to make. These breaches fall under the purview of the DSS to investigate.

“This Press Conference has become necessary in order to debunk a rumour which is being dangerously spread in Ekiti State by some mischief makers to the effect that Hon. AFOLABI has died in custody. Nigerians and Ekiti people in particular are convinced to see that AFOLABI is hale and hearty as he is being presented to the Press today.
“The DSS will therefore warn all those who have planned to make a meat out of this to desist from it and stir clear from trouble as the Service will not hesitate to bring the full weight of the law against any one or persons that may engage in violent actions of any kind. In a similar vein, all law abiding Ekiti residents should go about their normal businesses as the Service assures them of full protection by security agencies.”

I honestly fail to understand the meaning of such a badly-written statement but pertinent questions remain: Why would DSS invade a House of Assembly of a state in a democracy? Why subject Hon Afolabi to the indignity of “arraigning” him not before a competent court of law but rather before a battery of reporters? Are we now in a military regime such that DSS operatives can act above the law and Nigerians would be blackmailed into silence?
After 18 days in detention, Afolabi was released on Tuesday and he is now at an Abuja hospital receiving treatment. Since the lawmaker has said he was never told by the DSS the reason for his incarceration, it is safe to conclude that he may just have suffered a collateral damage for the sins of his governor. That precisely is why President Buhari and his handlers should be concerned, especially considering that it is now becoming very common to hear the phrase “we are back to 1984”.

While the question often left hanging is “which 1984?”, the fact also remains that whether it is Buhari’s first coming as Head of State (the only full calendar year he governed was 1984 with all the human rights abuses as you would expect in a military government) or it is a reference to the plot in the novel by the same title, 1984, written by George Orwell, this administration should be concerned that its credibility is being gradually eroded by some of its actions and inactions.

For those who still can remember, in the year 1984, things were really hard for many Nigerians after the madness of the Second Republic civilian era. Although Buhari inherited a mess, as he has also done now, his response to some of the challenges only compounded the situation. And his human rights record was abysmal, to put it mildly. Now, many people are drawing interesting parallels between the past and the present and the situation is not helped by the administration seeming pursuit of some policy choices that are almost akin to digging while already in a very deep hole.

There are also those who see in what is happening in Nigeria today in the fictional account, “Nineteen Eighty-Four” published in 1949 by Orwell, a few months before he died of tuberculosis. In a typical Orwellian fashion, the author had deployed allegories to warn on the dangers posed by a totalitarian regime which by its very nature serves only those at the top (Inner Party) while exploiting those at the bottom (Proles) by using its power and control (Outer Party) to strike fear into the people as a tool to divide and conquer.

With the DSS fast acquiring the notorious reputation of the “Big Brother” under the current dispensation, I believe President Buhari must intervene to restore a measure of sanity. At a time of grave national security, politicising the institution that should help in keeping all of us safe can only be counter-productive. And to the extent that the challenge before the nation is enormous, for the president to succeed, he will need to have the people by his side. Yet he cannot do that if Nigerians are made to believe that state power is being used to fight his enemies.
The real test of whether President Buhari has truly imbibed the values of democracy includes his ability to inhabit the same universe with those who do not necessarily agree with him. Clearly, Fayose is one of them and whatever one may say about the governor’s method, he has remained consistent in proffering views and perspectives that are divergent and even in outright opposition to the policies and positions held by this administration. In expressing those views, Fayose is merely exercising his legitimate rights within a democratic space.

Therefore, the onus is on the president and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) either to ignore Fayose or challenge his contentions with superior arguments and facts. To unleash the federal might on the Ekiti State Government is a disservice to democracy and a negative for this administration. Even if there were infractions, as claimed by the DSS, there is no evidence that the due processes of the law have been explored let alone exhausted. And in the absence of such a course of action, the public is left with the only conclusion that the security invasion of Ekiti State government are acts of political vendetta by agencies of government intent on misrepresenting or even embarrassing the president on matters of democratic rights and freedoms. This is a dangerous precedent.

All said, I also have a word for the Governor of Ekiti State. I hope he can quickly get a copy of Mario Puzo’s Magnus Opus, “The Godfather” to read about a certain notorious character called Luca Brasi. Perhaps this bit may help: “There are men in this world who go about demanding to be killed. They argue in gambling games; they jump out of their cars in a rage if someone as much as scratches their fender. These people wander through the streets calling out ‘kill me, kill me’. Luca Brasi was such a man…”
At the end, Luca Brasi got his wish. Fayose should learn to be wise!

A Cruise Holiday and the Shocking Drama
For me, the idea of being practically marooned at sea, enjoying sunshine and luxuriating in some beautiful beaches is nothing more than bourgeois indulgence. That then explains why, when some ladies kept calling me about an event in Abuja to which I was invited, I always shortened the conversation by asking them to resend the mail they kept saying they had already sent several times. To be honest, the only reason I even listened to them was because they prefaced each conversation with the fact that I was recommended to them by my pastor’s wife, Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Azodoh, Director of Health Planning, Research and Statistics at the Federal Ministry of Health.

Having resolved that the idea of cruise holiday is for the idle rich, I had no plan to attend the “Exclusive Invitation to the Royal Caribbean International’s Cruise Night” slated for Sheraton Hotel in Abuja last Friday evening. But late on Thursday night, I got a text message from Dr Azodoh, personalizing the invitation: “Please honour me with your presence as my guest at the TBI Cruise dinner event…”
At that point, I knew the equation had changed. I was later to learn that the promoter, Mrs Uloma Egbuna, is actually Dr Azodoh’s sister-in-law hence the interest. So I replied her SMS: “In this case, I no longer have a choice! I didn’t plan to attend, don’t know what it means (as I never had the patience to hear out the ladies that have been calling) but now, it is a command! What are we wearing? Babariga?” Dr Azodoh replied, thanking me for finally accepting the invitation and saying I could wear whatever I liked. That was how I ended up at Sheraton Hotel last Friday night with my wife.

Seated on a table that had some of my church members, it was actually an enjoyable evening and the food was not bad. After the dinner came a raffle draw to pick some winners. The first was for a seven-day cruise at the expense of Royal Caribbean International for a couple plus a return ticket to the United States from where the cruise would take off and return, courtesy of Delta Airlines. We had been given raffle tickets before the programme started and they were collected back before the lots were drawn.

In all the times I had participated in such draws before, even among people whose number was fewer than ten, I had never won anything so I was certain the story was not going to be different but I enjoyed the fun nonetheless. It was also in that spirit that I jokingly told the people on my table that I was going to win a cruise holiday. I added, for my wife, that I would use the “cruise holiday” to write a book. She reminded me of one character in a Nollywood movie she said she once watched titled “30 days in Atlanta” or something like that, as she poked fun at me.
Meanwhile, the MC, IK Osakioduwa, invited Mrs Virgy Anohu (mother of PenCom Director General, Mrs Chinelo Anohu-Amazu), to the podium to pick the first winner. At that point, I stood up, raised my two hands up to the sky dramatically in supplication and shouted: “The Lord is my shepherd…” The whole hall erupted in laughter. Then Anohu added more drama. Rather than just pick a ticket, she asked the MC: “Can I shake the pot?” The MC replied that she could and after doing so, she said: “May the best soul win”. The hall responded with an Amen and another round of laughter. Then, she picked the ticket and called out the number: 018!

I nearly froze where I was sitting as I whispered to my wife: “That’s Olusegun Adeniyi”. She just laughed at me, not understanding what I meant until the MC read out the name at the back of the ticket. A few people who knew me in the hall exclaimed in surprise. But when the winner was asked to stand up and it dawned on the audience that it was the same person who had earlier chanted “The Lord is my shepherd” that won, I instantly became another Olajumoke!
Given what some people were saying as they congratulated me after the event, I can easily make money by patenting the first five words in Psalm 23 and turning it into a formula for winning lotteries! However, while I look forward to the cruise holiday whenever I can create the time for it, the story of the night was that of Egbuna, the Managing Director of Tour Brokers International Nigeria (TBI), whose pioneering efforts in leisure travels have been rewarded with the recent partnership with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line that makes the company the first and only one to be so branded on the continent.

The story of TBI is an interesting one that says so much about our country and the strength of its diversity. Registered in 2002 by Mr. Femi Adefope, a past President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agents and a highly respected doyen in the industry, the company remained essentially a dream until 2005 when he (Adefope) met and partnered with Egbuna who immediately begun to run with the vision. A decade after, TBI, which started with three staff a decade ago, now boasts of a staff strength of about 50.

A former Vice President (West) of the Nigerian Association of Tour Operators (NATOP), Egbuna had her first experience in packaged tours in 1991 when she organized and took a school group to Brazil. That marked the beginning of a remarkable career that has earned her several local and international awards. “TBI is blessed with a robust pedigree in customer management and satisfaction”, said Egbuna who is leading a company that has been in the forefront of championing cruises as a holiday platform for Nigerians.

Interestingly, cruise holiday, as the MC said last Friday, is more fitting for Nigerians “who usually come back from holiday needing a holiday.” But a major highlight of the new deal is that Nigerians and expatriates, as well as other intending travelers within the West African sub-region, can now discuss their cruise requirements from TBI’s offices in Lagos, Abuja and within the next couple of weeks, Port Harcourt as against when all such arrangements could only be made in Europe and America.

Aside showing us a documentary where people shared their varied experiences of cruise holiday (including a young man who used the period so productively that there was evidence in his wife’s protruding stomach a few weeks after), we had smooth-talkers like the TBI Manager, Mrs Funmi Olusola-Sanni, who would want us to believe that such adventures are also good for our pockets! A cruise holiday, she rhapsodized, allows people to explore regions of the world in comfort and luxury at affordable prices with something for everyone.

With a first degree and Masters in Linguistics with specialisation in French language, Egbuna, who remains the driving force behind the success of TBI, spoke along the same line: From family-based vacations to wedding anniversaries to birthday ceremonies to business conferences and honeymoon for new couples, going on cruises offer exciting experiences and the best in luxury. “You can actually have a wedding onboard a cruise ship as many couples have had. You can also hold conferences and business meetings onboard a cruise ship. And for single people, a cruise ship offers a good opportunity of meeting new people. That is why we decided we should also bring this new adventure to the market for the benefit of our Nigerian travellers”, said Egbuna.

From representing GTA (Gulliver’s Travel Associates), an on-line hotel consolidator in Nigeria, to managing Emirates Holidays in the country as Emirates Preferred Selling Agent (PSA) and now to being the face of Royal Caribbean Cruises as their sole agent in the country, Egbuna has taken TBI beyond the expectations of the board chairman just a decade ago. And by her account, it took two years to get the “Ijebu man” in Adefope to subscribe to the idea. But now Egbuna envisions an African Cruise, with Nigeria as a key port of call just like other Cruises–Caribbean, Mediterranean, Arabian Gulf etc.

Although Mr. George Argyropoulos, the CEO of Cruises International, the largest marketing and sales representatives of nine luxury brands in Southern Africa, who fired Egbuna’s imagination more than a decade ago (and was at the dinner last Friday in Abuja) made no commitment to the suggestion of a Nigerian Cruise, it was also evident he would not bet against a woman like Mrs Uloma Egbuna who takes delight in defying the odds and coming out on top.

My personal web portal
Come April 7, I will be launching my personal web portal (website). However, it will not be to report news. Rather, it will be an online archive for all my past articles as well as the books I have written. The idea is to make the portal an online repository of my writings, public lectures and book reviews for easy access to interested readers and researchers alike. The web address and other details will be provided on this page on that day. In addition, I will give a progress report on my coming book, “Against The Run of Play: How an Incumbent President Was Defeated in Nigeria”.
Please watch out!