When Henry Dele Alake showed up the other day at a book launch at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island, Lagos, the audience hardly expected remarks concerning his plan for the future, far or near. He spoke profusely about Jackson Akpasubi, the author of the two books presented, who was also Alake’s professional protégé back in their Concord Newspaper days.
Alake revealed in characteristic humility that resourceful reporters were always the flame of success of celebrated editors, linking his own flourishing era to the enterprise of field men like Akpasubi in his time as Sunday Editor, Concord. At that time Alake’s editorship came close to lifting the paper to rival the achievement of Gbolabo Ogunsanwo’s Sunday Times in a much earlier epoch in the 70s. The great Ogunsanwo took Sunday Times to a height never reached thereafter by any weekly paper in Nigeria.
Later Dele Alake was to reinvent the wheel when he served in the administration of Governor Bola Tinubu in Lagos State in 1999. Coming in as a member of Tinubu’s cabinet following a hard fought battle to dislodge the military for democratic governance, Alake promptly sought the renaming of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Sports. He saw it as an unwieldy and elephantine contraption ill-suited to deliver the efficiency required for the challenges of the liberal democracy just birthed. Alake is said to have secured Tinubu’s nod to rename the department as the Ministry of Information and Strategy. He became the first in Nigeria to be addressed as information and strategy commissioner.
The title was not a bombastic appellation: it gave its owner and those identified with the department an urgent obligation to sync information and the dynamics of reporting government services as one indivisible activity. You were no longer bogged down by needless procedures or bureaucracy to communicate government business to the people. In addition you were to disseminate information with the objective of striking long term partnership with those who elected you. That amounted to the erection of a strategy of relationship between government and the governed.
Now Alake happens to be one of the figures who used part of this political ground plan to first displace the military in 1999 and, secondly, to form the broad coalition that midwifed the current All Progressives Congress at the centre.
At the book launch, Alake spoke copiously about the role he played during the momentous days that the events threw up in the country. He excited the crowd as he recalled how he and late MKO Abiola, the winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, crisscrossed the length and breadth of Nigeria to campaign. He titillated the imagination of the public. The charismatic Abiola has become a folk hero Nigeria never had as their president. Nigerians insist that the current national challenges persist because we have not had a just and acceptable closure in the June 12 matter.
Alake may have perceived the electrifying animation in the hall when he mentioned MKO Abiola and what he (Alake) did as his media adviser that led to the man’s election as the president-elect. Alake appeared to have grasped the attention of the audience when he promised that soon he would write a book on those heady days.
And that was my takeout that day. A book capturing or relating the events that have dramatically shaped the politics and history of Nigeria is badly needed to redirect us, especially if it comes from the mind of a key player. American writer Clarence Day says: “The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man; nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall; nations perish; civilisations grow old and die out but in the world of books are volumes that live on still as young and fresh as the day they are written; still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead.”
Too often, in our society, notable citizens have been known to be helpless victims of the falsification of their noble achievements. This illusory portrayal is then passed on as real to posterity in the absence of a pre-empting counterpoise and incalculable harm alas is done to the polity!
I believe that Nigeria’s recurring social economic and political challenges are, in a way, the direct consequences of the dearth of books on compatriots who have been influential in our history to relate their story for succeeding generations to study, analyse, understand and learn from.
For instance, I recall how Abiola used the imagery of a transformer to drive home the pivotal role of leadership during the June 12 campaign. This was how his campaign team put it: All Nigeria needs is one Transformer. In the billboard that ran the advert, the body copy contained the message: “This country has the resources to ensure stable power supply. All it takes is one Achiever who can transform what seems impossible to be possible. MKO Abiola has the courage and honesty of purpose to unite us in a bold new move to solve our problems.” Thus Abiola’s image makers projected him as the man who could deal with the flawed and failed leadership Nigeria had been cursed with over the years.
Nigerians are waiting for Dele Alake’s book to retell the story of an age, which promised us a transformer and, indeed, delivered one. At the moment we are back to a challenging period when we need a genuine game changer.
––Ojewale is a journalist and writer at Ota, Ogun State.