‘Against the Run of Play’ brings into sharp focus the centrifugal forces that took Nigeria to the brink in the 2015 election. Thoughtful, intelligent and rigorous, this book trains an unerring eye on recent history, and calls us to remember. In this story of politics marked by intrigue, ambition, tragedy and farce, shines through a nation’s miraculous ability to remake itself—Molara Wood, Writer & Journalist.
When I set out almost two years ago to interrogate how and why President Goodluck Jonathan lost the 2015 general election, I was more interested in the nuggets of insight that would be useful for the future of our democracy than just revisiting the past. My interactions with many of the principal political actors between 2010 and 2015 have proved to be very productive in that direction. But what makes the effort even more poignant is the timing, especially given the experience of the last two months, following the extended vacation in the United Kingdom of President Muhammadu Buhari, which ended as a medical expedition.
Incidentally, I missed the opportunity of an interaction with President Buhari because he left for London before my appointment with him. But I spoke to other people who matter within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), including Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and many of their governors from the North. On the other side, I also had extensive interview sessions with Presidents Jonathan and Obasanjo as well as several other political actors of recent years. As it would happen, I signed off on the copy last Saturday so it could go to press, 24 hours after President Buhari returned to Nigeria with hints that he would need further medicals abroad in the coming weeks.
Although each of the actors interviewed for the book, “Against The Run of Play: How an incumbent president was defeated in Nigeria” spoke from their own perspective, it is easy to glimpse from their narratives the political dynamics at play in the weeks and months before the 2015 general elections. In the final analysis, there are several lessons to draw, not only for the beneficiaries of Jonathan’s defeat who are now travelling on the same hard road, but also for those who seek to understand the pitfalls of power within the context of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious African country.
Meanwhile, the book will be unveiled in Lagos on 28th April by former Cross River State Governor, Mr Donald Duke at a public presentation that will be chaired by former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar. Copies will go on sale immediately after the event, including online. My hope is that the book will serve as a catalyst for the much-needed national conversation on the governing process in our country, the place of ideas in an environment such as ours and the role of political parties in offering the electorate real choices in the process preceding the emergence of leaders at all levels.
It must be said that President Buhari has been a model when it comes to fidelity to the Constitution and the rule of law in the way he has managed his office when he needed to travel out of the country. But now that he is back home and has resumed work, it is expected that there will be speculations in the coming weeks about whether or not he will seek re-election in 2019 and what his decision, one way or another, means for his party and the country.
Ordinarily, there should be no problem with that. Even while political science is not the same as astrology, there is always a pre-occupation with the future. That has always been the case even in the old societies of kings and priests in the history books. What is peculiar about Nigeria is that we have become a nation in perpetual transition such that what ordinarily should be a means has unwittingly become the end. In our own case, most of the discussions among the political elite often centre on where the next president should come from rather than on what such a candidate has to offer the people.
Yet, we are at a most critical period in the history of our country when we can no longer afford to play the same old politics that is devoid of ideas. Right now, millions of our children are out of school; there are reports of famine in a section of the country that has been ravaged by insurgency; the national currency has for months been on a freefall; many states cannot pay the salaries of their workers just as private companies are closing down with the few still in business laying off most of their workers. All these at a time of dwindling revenue due to increasing convulsions in the Niger Delta while many of our emigrant citizens are being deported back home to a situation of seeming hopelessness, leading to an upsurge in violent crimes across the country.
While these challenges may not be peculiar to Nigeria, because we have allowed individual ambitions to overpower the system, they are hardly the issues that preoccupy the minds of those who seek power and those who seek to replace them. Indeed, if Nigerians were in any doubt that what we have is pseudo-democracy–in which those in political offices as well as those who seek to replace them spend most of their time scheming for power rather than on how to better the lot of the ordinary people–former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida laid that to rest last Saturday. He regaled his audience of visiting Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leaders with tales of how a cabal of former retired generals became the “military wing” and the guardian angels of the party right from its formation in 1998, with the sole aim of being in power for 60 years.
By that logic, the raison d’etre of PDP was not to advance the interests of the Nigerian people but simply to stay in power, essentially so that its leaders could also retain their privileges. Unfortunately, we are well aware that this has been the story of Nigeria, even before Babangida’s Freudian slip. The sad bit is that the situation is not better in the ruling APC that came to power not only by exposing the ineptitude of the previous administration but also by selling to Nigerians their “cut and paste” promises that were easily disowned by President Buhari the moment he was elected. That explains why even to fill important vacancies has become a problem. But it is not their fault.
As I stated in my coming book, Jonathan started out as Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State before the misfortune of his then boss (late DSP Alamieyeseigha) catapulted him to the governorship seat. In similar fashion, he moved from being Vice President to Acting President and finally to becoming the President. So, his route to power, in the Nigerian folklore, has more to do with his first name, Goodluck, than by any conscious effort or preparation. In the same token, Buhari’s emergence can be traced to three principal factors. One, he was a major beneficiary of the geo-political consensus that defines the presidency of Nigeria. Two, he had a fanatical support base in a section of the North that needed no campaign to mobilise. Three, tired of the inability of the incumbent to meet popular expectations even in simple matters, many Nigerians were ready to try any alternative. What that suggests clearly is that Nigerian leaders most often arrive their duty posts more by accident (and luck) than by any vision nurtured by ideas or ideals.
However, we cannot continue to practice a democracy in which politicians get to power not on the basis of how they would solve the existential problems of the people but rather as a mere replacement for a failed incumbent, or an attempt to appease a presumably cheated region. That is why I hope that in the weeks and months to come, we will be able to move the conversation about the future of our country beyond the mundane to the serious issues of our national well-being. It is also my hope that the political parties will begin to take themselves more seriously.
In a recent online piece titled, “Nigeria: Who is thinking?” http://jimidisu.com/nigeria-who-is-thinking-by-ayodele-adio/, Mr Ayodele Alao raised salient issues about the inability of our leaders to take full responsibility for our challenges by beginning to think strategically. “The Asians, Europeans and even the Americans are rethinking their educational curricula, with a strong emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) because they realise that future jobs are dependent on people who hold strong skills in these areas”, argued Alao who could not but take a dig at elected public officers who spend most of their time arranging marriages for some jobless men!
I concede the fact that democracy thrives in an atmosphere in which politicians respond to the challenges of their society by offering practical policies and programmes, including on social issues like marriage. But that should come only after ensuring that such people are productively engaged, so that they can add value to themselves and the society. The challenge with Nigeria is that members of the political elite, still suffused with oil money to share every month, are yet to come to terms that our country is living on borrowed time and that this is the time to think outside the box for solutions to what ails us.
There is so much to do and we need all critical stakeholders to join this conversation. In a milieu where politics has been reduced to a drama of where aspirant comes from and what religion he professes and not necessarily what such aspirant can offer the people, the civil society and the media have a big role to play in moderating discussions so as to instill a measure of accountability in the process. To paraphrase a famous quote of Babangida, during his elastic transition to civil rule in the eighties and early nineties, it is time our leaders stopped serving Nigerians yesterday’s food in glistering new plates.
NOTE: Interested bookshops and sales outlets for “Against The Run of Play” should direct all their inquiries by email to email@example.com or call 08077364217. Meanwhile, I have also uploaded on my web portal, olusegunadeniyi.com, materials from the 2001 series of The Verdict, for the pleasure of my readers.
Between Tor Tiv and Awujale
Where the interest of the powerful is concerned in Nigeria, justice is usually swift and without mercy. That was what Stephen Nyitse, the young man who sat on the throne of the Tor Tiv shortly before the recent coronation in Gboko, Benue State, witnessed recently. Three days after his public misadventure, the 30-year-old man was jailed for four years after being convicted by a Chief Magistrate Court in Gboko presided over by Justice P. S Chaha. The court held that the convict was guilty of trespass and impersonating the new Tor Tiv, Professor Orchivirigh James Ayatse. According to the prosecution, the convict made confessional statement to the police during interrogation that he was under an evil spell to do what he did on that day. Justice Chaha described Nyitse’s action as a disgrace to the Tiv nation for which he deserved no mercy, and sentenced him to serve as deterrent to others.
To compound his woes, Nyitse has been banished from Tiv land. According to Ter Kwande, HRH Chief Ambrose Pinne Iyortyer, who announced the banishment on behalf of the Tiv Traditional Council (TTC), Nyitse shall under no circumstances step his foot on any part of Tiv land. The council also prohibited all Tiv sons and daughters from offering any form of assistance to Nyitse whose action was described as a taboo. It is an unfortunate end to a bizarre story.
Claiming to be directed by God to ‘cleanse’ the throne, Nyitse caused a stir at the JS Tarka Stadium, Gboko, Benue State on 4th March this year when he sat on the throne of the Tor Tiv, Prof James Ayatse on his coronation day. He was immediately apprehended and knowing how our policemen react to such impudence, Nyitse must have been subjected to some serious beating, perhaps in the bid to also “cleanse” him of the demon that pushed him into what he did. By the next working day of the week, Nyitse was hauled before an angry judge who, after a trial lasting minutes, sentenced the young man to four years imprisonment.
Without any doubt, Nyitse’s action was very reckless, even stupid; but then, we have to assume that he was in his right senses because I don’t think a normal person would try that sort of thing. However, having already sentenced him to spend four years in jail, I see no point in the idea of banishment, assuming that is even legal. In any case, with the new monarch being a professor of Bio-chemistry with intimidating academic credentials, I am sure he would also have his doubts about the efficacy of taboos and all those grounds upon which the action was taken. If he doesn’t, I will gladly recommend to him a rather interesting book, “Awujale: The autobiography of Alaiyeluwa Oba S. K. Adetona Ogbagba II”.
According to the Awujale, who as a young bachelor studying accounting in the United Kingdom in 1959, was brought home to assume the throne of his forefathers, there is nothing to these rituals of coronation. Besides, “custom or tradition should not be dominating the people but rather, people themselves should be creating the traditions and customs according to their needs” wrote the Awujale who added that he does “not see any value in continuing to cloak the rituals in a mystical veil.”
What that suggests is that Nyitse may have “trespassed and impersonated the Tor Tiv” for which he has already been tried in court and punished according to law, attempts to cloak his banishment in some traditional mores will not stand. Even at that, to the extent that Nyitse’s action was not in the process of the coronation rituals that are usually done in secrecy (and must have been concluded for the Tor Tiv) but at a public event in a stadium, it would be difficult to invent a crime, even within the domain of tradition, to prescribe the kind of punishment (banishment) meted to him.
Meanwhile, in unmasking the rites associated with the coronation of traditional rulers, Awujale wrote of his own which took place some 58 years ago: “…As part of the coronation process, the Odis (aafin attendants) embarked on the various rituals that would lead to my installation as the Awujale of Ijebuland. Personally, I can say here that there is nothing about these rituals that could not be made public. In fact, many of the Odis performing the rituals were themselves novices to the rituals and were actually trying out their roles for the first time. It must be remembered that my predecessor, Gbelegbuwa ascended the throne in 1933 and my ceremony was conducted 27 years afterwards. Many of the Odis were at sea as to what was to be done. So, for many of them, it was all experimental and mostly guesswork. All the secrecy that they maintained about the rituals was, therefore, as I saw it, simply a ploy to extort money from the public, just as their fathers did before them. They deliberately made the rituals look very mysterious.”
Yet, another one by the Awujale: “…at the Owa Stream, the Elese of Ilese carried me on his back across the stream as custom had it that my feet must not touch the water. After this, according to tradition, the Elese must never come to Ijebu-Ode again to visit me for the rest of his life. Also, at Odo Esa, I passed an Iroko tree which, again by tradition, I was told I must never see again. Indeed, I was forbidden to ever pass that very road again or, according to tradition, I would die. I did not believe any of this of course and I have since travelled that road and passed the Iroko tree on several occasions! Also at Ijebu-Imusin, there was again another tree at Oja Imusin which I passed and which I was never to set my eyes on again, yet I have also seen this one many times. So much for all these unnecessary taboos!”.
In banishing Nyitse from Tiv land, the Tiv Traditional Council cloaked the decision with the ‘crime’ of taboo. And that is where the Tor Tiv, a man from the academic world, who incidentally chose to speak English rather than Tiv on his coronation day, should come in. As an act of magnanimity, the traditional ruler should rescind the order and forgive the erring young man. Long may His Majesty reign! Aondoaver Tor!
Tope Shonubi @ 50
A simple man with an uncommon loyalty to friendship, Tope Shonubi of Sahara Energy was 50 yesterday; and quite like him, there was no ceremony beyond a brief thanksgiving service at Syrian Mosque in Ikoyi, Lagos. But to properly mark his new age, Tope is devoting his energy towards catering for children of the less privileged to which he is calling on the goodwill of friends, http://www.childrenoffortitude.com/topeat50wishlist. To Tope, Igba odun, ojo kan!