TUESDAY WITH REUBEN ABATI
I believe we all have that one family member who thinks that he or she has the right to intrude into your schedule and order you around. When they call you, they won’t give up until you pick their calls. And these people, they can call you liked a hundred times. Send text messages. Whatsapp. Report you to the entire neighbourhood. They can be so ferocious, your phone will keep ringing non-stop, you would think the fire service is at your door. This is exactly that happened to me, for at least two hours, as I sat down to write this piece. I stubbornly refused to take the calls. Wetin? Some people can use the phone to harass and intimidate. Ki lo de? I could neither think nor write.
I had other things in mind: the defiance of the Sudanese Professionals Association, for example. The people of Sudan want a new post-Omar al-Bashir order, a complete break from the past, by all means. They have refused to accept whatever has been offered by the military council that took over after Omar al-Bashir’s ouster. They want an immediate transition to civilian rule that is led by the people themselves not by soldiers. I am fully in support of the people of Sudan. Omar al Bashir is a shameless dictator. He deserves the place that he has now been given in the Kober Maximum Prison, the same place where he used to keep his critics and victims.
He also deserves a day before the court of justice: to answer for his crimes against humanity and the hardship he imposed on his own people. African dictators, like Percy Shelley’s Ozymandias, believe that they are invincible but we have seen them falling one after the other and there are more that should fall: Paul Biya in Cameroon, Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo in Equitorial Guinea and Idris Deby Itno in Chad. Between 1993 and 1999, our own professionals used to be like present-day Sudanese Professionals. We had the Concerned Professionals, who stood up and insisted on an immediate end to military rule in Nigeria. But that was then. Our professionals have all since taken to pepper soup and goat head, and to inanities garbed in the cloak of acquiescence and indifference. Many of them have developed pot-bellies. They have eaten their own part of the forbidden Nigerian fruit, their mouths smeared with oyel, I mean oil. And hence: Professor Pat Utomi who was one of the original minds behind the revolt of the Nigerian middle class in the mid to late 90s Nigeria is now writing a trilogy on the complicity of the Middle Class and how that Middle Class has failed Nigeria. There are lessons for the Nigerian Middle Class in what is happening in Sudan.
I also had in mind the Easter Day killings in Sri Lanka, over 290 dead and over 500 injured in what looked like a pre-meditated, organized attack on churches, guest houses, hotels and other buildings. Coming shortly after the tragedy of Notre Dame de Paris, those who argue that Christianity seems to be under assault and that our humanity is under siege may not be too far from the truth. Sri Lanka is a country with serious ethnic and religious fractures, a little trigger could throw that country back into civil war and protracted humanitarian crisis. The response of the enlightened world is in order; the blatant act of terror has been condemned from the Vatican to Nigeria’s Aso Rock.
I wondered though, how our own Aso Rock picked up the tragedy in Colombo with such emotional clarity and promptly issued a statement. On Good Friday, there were reports of Christians being killed in Katsina-Ala Local Government of Benue State as they returned from church. The Nigerian Presidency apparently missed that, but of course Sri Lanka was in the international news networks, and our leaders in Nigeria hardly watch Nigerian news channels. But let someone fire a shot in the West Bank, or release a report in Washington DC, or a bullet in Yemen, there will be a buzz around Nigeria. It is amazing how the yet unaddressed imbalance in the global information order leaves Nigeria constantly showing up at the lower end of the moral, governance and policy spectrum.
I was also thinking of the Sharia Council telling President Muhammadu Buhari to take national security seriously and protect Nigerian Muslims, and I thought the best message would be to insist that all Nigerian lives matter- Muslim, Christian or animist. I also read a story about the Minister of Finance saying Nigeria is mindful of its borrowings from the Chinese, Eurobond loans, the World Bank and the Africa Development Bank and how we have not even borrowed enough because we have not yet reached the threshold of borrowings within our peer group, and I felt like lamenting how poorly digested textbook knowledge sabotages Nigeria. By now, Nigeria should be tired of all these half-baked ideas about debt-to-GDP ratio, and all these power point intellectuals who get to high office after a weekend course in Harvard where they learn nothing other than the ability to do power-point magic. Their village-type, poorly exposed bosses look at the power point and they think it is magic. Pat Utomi may need to investigate the abuse of technology as an instrument of deception and theft in policy corridors, facilitated by the complicit middle class that he is disturbed about.
My head was trying to sort out these issues, even as my phones kept ringing, buzzing and tingling. The calls would not stop. The urgency was intimidating. The persistence was offensive. I picked.
“I have been calling you since. If somebody is calling you, you should pick your calls.” You know that kind of tone, sounds like the guy at the other end is holding a horse-whip and would apply it on your back, to beat the devil out of you, if you were available.
I smiled, knowing that the call will soon go off and you will be told later that the caller’s credit is finished. In Nigeria, callers don’t ever have credit on their phones, particularly if they are calling from hometowns. You ‘d have to call them back and send them phone credit later.
“Yes? Ki lo sele. I hope there is no problem. A ku odun oh. Compliments of the season. How are my children?” It always helps to be polite.
“Amosun ti tun bere oh. Amosun has started again. Jemila ori e ti jeun yo o. He is on rampage”.
“What’s the problem?” Ibikunle Amosun, also known as Senator Ibikunle Amosun (SIA) is the Governor of Ogun State, Nigeria, (2011-2019). Amosun ran for the Senate from Ogun Central, his Senatorial district in the 2019 general elections, and the people of that constituency decided to send him to the National Assembly which sadly has become a retirement home for former Governors who need a resting place and for all kinds of malcontents without measurable ability- the reason Nigeria’s National Assembly is progressively incompetent. Amosun also wanted to impose one of his boys as Governor of Ogun State; he even chose candidates for all the seats in the election, but the people rebuffed him. They rejected his Gubernatorial candidate and voted majorly for the All Progressives Congress, the party that brought him, Amosun to power, and which he rejected to go and form a rival party, a platform he deployed to treacherous use in one of the most classical cases of anti-party politics. But Amosun is not giving up. He lost the election. He was humiliated, but since the elections, he appears set on a revenge mission.
“Amosun has sent caterpillars to Kuto market. He wants to demolish all the shops including Mama’s shop. Call your sister quickly, so that they don’t destroy the shop.”
Mama means my mother. She died in 2013. In her lifetime, she rose to be an Iyalode of one of the key groups in that market and the state. The caller was so hysterical that her shop will be demolished. But wait a moment, if Amosun wants to demolish the entire market, it would be wrong to worry about personal spaces.
“Caterpillars are already in Kuto. They say Amosun has asked them to demolish anything in sight”, I was told.
It is barely four weeks to Governor Ibikunle Amosun’s end of tenure, but he seems to find it difficult to withdraw as Governor of the state. His minion having lost the Gubernatorial election, he has since embarked on a desperate mission to tie the hands of the Governor-elect, Prince Dapo Abiodun. He is creating booby traps for him. He is laying land mines. If what we know is so bad, how about other acts of mischief that are not yet in the public domain? Since the Gubernatorial election of March 9 in Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun has refused to conduct himself after the fashion of a gentleman. He and his chosen candidate have refused to congratulate Dapo Abiodun, the declared winner of the election. Instead, Amosun, using the power of incumbency has been busy appointing permanent secretaries, general managers, and board members. These new appointees are not going to work with him. They will work with a new Governor that will be sworn in next month. Is it morally right, intelligent or correct to act so mischievously? Amosun has also embarked on the demolition of houses and structures while announcing new projects by the state government. In Abeokuta his hometown where the people voted for him to go to the Senate because they believe he used the office of Governor to help his own Egba people, Amosun has been busy demolishing houses and shops in Adatan towards Moore junction, Adigbe, Lafenwa market and now Kuto. The people’s interpretation is that Amosun is targeting political opponents and their areas of influence.
But his main target is Dapo Abiodun, the Governor-elect. There are uncompleted projects across the state. Amosun is not focusing on those uncompleted projects in the twilight of his administration. He is busy destroying things and creating new problems. It may take Dapo Abiodun a whole four years to correct the damage that Amosun has created since the election of March 9. Whose interest is being served? Even President Muhammadu Buhari who may not need handover notes is asking for handover notes. In Ogun State, Amosun has refused to set up a transition committee. The Governor-elect has a Transition Committee and 10 working groups. But there is nobody to talk to on the other side because the Governor has refused to recognize the people’s will. Amosun can beat his chest in his wife’s presence in “the other room” and remind her that he is still the man in Ogun State – good for him- but each time he does that he should keep an eye on the clock and the timelines of history.
It is sad that our democracy in Nigeria continues to create little tyrants. Amosun is definitely not alone and this is not in any way, a partisan comment. In Oyo state, there was once upon a time a man who called himself “the constituted authority”. He too demolished buildings and punished anyone whose face he didn’t like. His name is Abiola Ajimobi. He was also once a Senator, and he became Governor. As Governor of Oyo state, he was a male version of the legendary Efunsetan Aniwura, the bad woman of Ibadan politics. Not even the Olubadan could talk to Ajimobi. He trampled on the traditional institution and surprised even his own most ardent admirers. Why and how do good men end up as villains in Nigerian politics? I have no clue yet. It is sad that in Oyo state as in Ogun state, we have been hearing stories about the outgoing Governor behaving badly. Ajimobi also wanted to go to the retirement house in the National Assembly. The people have rejected him and also rejected the candidate he wanted as his successor. Ajimobi has not been smiling since then. He too has been behaving like a China in the bull shop.
Ajimobi is just probably slightly better than the out-going Governor in Imo State, Rochas Okorocha who also wants to go to the National Assembly. INEC won’t give him a Return Certificate because INEC insists he forced the state Resident Electoral Commissioner to declare him winner under duress. Okorocha wanted his son-in-law as his successor, but the people of Imo state refused. They voted instead for Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In Imo state, the people have rejected Okorocha’s “Iberiberism”, whatever that means. Ihedioha should humour Okorocha after May 29, by erecting his statue at the market place so the people of Imo State will for long remember the “Iberiberism” known as Rochas Okorocha.
These are only three examples of the end-time Governors in Nigeria. Their two-term tenures have ended but they want to retain control and remain in charge. This is not the first time we would see this withdrawal syndrome on display. Power is like opium. It is addictive. Once you take it, you get hooked. End-time Governors probably deserve some kind of rehab treatment. They must learn to let go. There must be legislation banning all departing Governors from making last minute bank withdrawals, contract approvals, demolition of houses and shops, and new appointments. The rule that a serving Governor is in power till the last minute is made for decent people, not for the types we have seen in Nigeria. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) should be more concerned about these rogue, end-time Governors than the politics of the 9thNational Assembly.