DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN
Like many sensitive Africans I acquired the habit of waiting on the American Presidential election with bated breath eight years ago. I was monitoring the polls (the authoritative projection of the probable outcome of the contest between the Presidential nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties) on hourly basis. Four years later in 2012, this seasonal anxiety was reinforced by the overlapping Ondo state governorship election. I am emotionally attached to the two candidates individually running for the office of the President and Governor on the platforms of the Democratic Party and Labour party respectively, Barack Obama and Olusegun Mimiko.
The Duo is serving out their two terms tenure within the year but my anxiety has not abated regardless. In a manner of speaking, they will feature in this year’s succession elections on the 8th and 26th November as the mentor and promoter in chief for the candidates of their parties vying to succeed them. Both elections would go down in their personal history as the greatest proxy war of their political life. It is the only way they can secure their legacy and finish strong. Said Obama to the congressional black caucus “If I hear anybody saying their vote does not matter, that it doesn’t matter who we elect — read up on your history. It matters. We’ve got to get people to vote…I will consider it a personal insult — an insult to my legacy — if this community lets down its guard and fails to activate itself in this election. You want to give me a good send off? Go vote”
Beyond my personal identification with Obama and Mimiko, I have also a vested interest in the victory of their protégés, Hilary Clinton and Eyitayo Jegede-a personal friend and classmate. The enormity of the challenge of the forthcoming American Presidential election lies, potentially, in the lapse of the possibility of Donald Trump, Clinton’s opponent, winning the American Presidency. The Yoruba have a qualification for the rise of Trump in American politics-Oro pesi je! Meaning-we are dumb founded.
From the high platform of the exemplary nobility and idealism of Obama’s election, America has swung to the contrarian race- to-the-bottom-negativity of confounding the World with the elevation of Trump to the status of a competitive aspirant for the most powerful office on Planet Earth. The Atlantic magazine uniquely captured the moment in an editorial masterpiece I feel duty bound to share with readers. The editorial is no less distinguished by the observation that this is only the third time since the foundation of the magazine in 1857 that it will endorse a candidate for the office of the American President. It reads as follows:
“One of the animating causes of this magazine at its founding, in 1857, was the abolition of slavery, and Lowell (the editor of the magazine) argued that the Republican Party, and the man who was its standard-bearer in 1860, represented the only reasonable pathway out of the existential crisis then facing the country. In his endorsement of Abraham Lincoln for president, Lowell wrote, on behalf of the magazine, “It is in a moral aversion to slavery as a great wrong that the chief strength of the Republican Party lies.” He went on to declare that Abraham Lincoln “had experience enough in public affairs to make him a statesman, and not enough to make him a politician.”
“Perhaps because no subsequent candidate for the Presidency was seen as Lincoln’s match, or perhaps because the stakes in ensuing elections were judged to be not quite so high as they were in 1860, it would be 104 years before The Atlantic would again make a presidential endorsement. In October of 1964, Edward Weeks, writing on behalf of the magazine, cited Lowell’s words before making an argument for the election of Lyndon B. Johnson”
“But The Atlantic’s endorsement of Johnson was focused less on his positive attributes than on the flaws of his opponent, Barry Goldwater, the junior senator from Arizona. Of Goldwater, Weeks wrote, “His proposal to let field commanders have their choice of the smaller nuclear weapons would rupture a fundamental belief that has existed from Abraham Lincoln to today: the belief that in times of crisis the civilian authority must have control over the military.” Goldwater’s limited capacity for prudence and reasonableness was what particularly worried The Atlantic”.
“Today, our position is similar to the one in which The Atlantic’s editors found themselves in 1964. We are impressed by many of the qualities of the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, even as we are exasperated by others, but we are mainly concerned with the Republican Party’s nominee, Donald J. Trump, who might be the most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency”.
“These concerns compel us, for the third time since the magazine’s founding, to endorse a candidate for President. Hillary Rodham Clinton has more than earned, through her service to the country as first lady, as a senator from New York, and as secretary of state, the right to be taken seriously as a White House contender. She has flaws (some legitimately troubling, some exaggerated by her opponents), but she is among the most prepared candidates ever to seek the presidency. We are confident that she understands the role of the United States in the world; we have no doubt that she will apply herself assiduously to the problems confronting this country; and she has demonstrated an aptitude for analysis and hard work”.
“Donald Trump, on the other hand, has no record of public service and no qualifications for public office. His affect is that of an infomercial huckster; he traffics in conspiracy theories and racist invective; he is appallingly sexist; he is erratic, secretive, and xenophobic; he expresses admiration for authoritarian rulers, and evinces authoritarian tendencies himself. He is easily goaded, a poor quality for someone seeking control of America’s nuclear arsenal. He is an enemy of fact-based discourse; he is ignorant of, and indifferent to, the Constitution; he appears not to read”.
“In one of the more sordid episodes in modern American politics, Trump made himself the face of the so-called birther movement, which had as its immediate goal the demonization of the country’s first African American president. Trump’s larger goal, it seemed, was to stoke fear among white Americans of dark-skinned foreigners. He succeeded wildly in this; the fear he has aroused has brought him one step away from the Presidency”.
“In its founding statement, The Atlantic promised that it would be “the organ of no party or clique,” and our interest here is not to advance the prospects of the Democratic Party, nor to damage those of the Republican Party. If Hillary Clinton were facing Mitt Romney, or John McCain, or George W. Bush, or, for that matter, any of the leading candidates Trump vanquished in the Republican primaries, we would not have contemplated making this endorsement. We believe in American democracy, in which individuals from various parties of different ideological stripes can advance their ideas and compete for the affection of voters. But Trump is not a man of ideas. He is a demagogue, a xenophobe, a sexist, a know-nothing, and a liar. He is spectacularly unfit for office, and voters—the statesmen and thinkers of the ballot box—should act in defense of American democracy and elect his opponent”.
Concerning the forthcoming governorship election, Ondo state has been simmering in unending controversies. Of broader dimension, it has ignited a latent supremacist struggle among contending power blocs within the All Progressive Congress, APC. The theatre was the governorship primaries leading to the election of the Party’s standard bearer in the November 26th governorship election. The more consequential import is the manner in which it has played to the persecution complex of the national leader of the Party, Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu; and generally lending itself to the pre Nigeria historical stereotype of feuding Yoruba warlords getting blindsided into the trap and political scheme of putative Hausa-Fulani imperialists.
The meaning of this immediate background to the Ondo state governorship election is that the APC is going into the impending contest as a house divided against itself. This is good news for the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, Governor Mimiko and his crown Prince, Tayo Jegede, the PDP governorship candidate. Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, and Attorney General of Ondo state for eight years, the distinction of Jegede lies in the fact that he is so cool, serene and largely apolitical that it is difficult to imagine him surviving in the rough and tumble of Nigeria’s political forest of a thousand demons.
If any contender is deserving of an emasculated, enfeebled and less challenging field of opponents, God knows that none is more deserving than gentleman Jegede. In a non-partisan and less conflictual context, Jegede is the contestant whom all sides of the divide will find no difficulty in electing by acclamation. If you do not know him, just think of the commendation of the prose poem ‘desiderata’ and you would have gone far in knowing the kind of person Jegede is. More than most people I know, he approximates the embodiment of the noble poem:
“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass……”