Who Speaks for the Yoruba?

DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN, Email: akin.osuntokun@thisdaylive.com


Without any shade of doubt, President Muhammadu Buhari is the most admired politician in Nigeria today and the admiration is unprecedented. He is admired by both friends and foes alike. His friends, followers and supporters love him to no ends for spoiling them rotten- abundantly more than they can ask or imagine. And his foes wish they can have leaders who can think and govern selfishly on their behalf-and to hell with Nigeria! More painful still is the realization that regardless of the full knowledge of Buhari-as completely sold to the politics of exclusion, discrimination and winner takes all, he was still duly or unduly elected twice with the support of the victims. If there is no penalty and censure for nepotism, parochialism and bigotry, why should other Nigerian leaders privileged to get to the topmost position not behave similarly? Why not gorge yourself on your cake if you can still have it? This is the logic of double jeopardy that those at the receiving end of Buhari’s apartheid style are coming to terms with. There is a great deal of buyer’s remorse bordering on self-loathing for being blinded to the Buhari heralded acceleration of Nigerian politics towards the extremes of winner takes all. Laments a typical Yoruba respondent

“A real leader of his people came to Ibadan and told Governor Lam Adesina of blessed memory that it was unacceptable that his (Lam’s) people were killing his (Buhari’s) people, even when his people were the initial aggressors, and there was no clear evidence that Baba Lam’s people were the ones killing his people . He won’t prevaricate and won’t slide into snide reductionism and political correctness. He made his points clearly, not minding Baba Lam’s feeling that there should be a limit to how a putative national figure should express such flagrant irredentism. He’s ever proven to be an effective leader of his people, as he canvasses their interests, including the diaspora ones, all the way in this geographical expression.”

These sentiments were made in reference to the exchange between then General Muhammadu Buhari and Governor Lam Adesina of Oyo State in year 2000. It was subsequently reported by Yusuf Ali of The Nation newspapers in a published interview he had with the press secretary to Adesina, Kehinde Olaosebikan as follows:

“But for the maturity and wisdom of the late former Governor of Oyo State, Alhaji Lam Adesina, Nigeria could have been plunged into a second civil war. He told our correspondent that a former Head of State, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, had led a combative delegation of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) to meet Adesina in 2000 in his office. Precisely on the 13th of October, 2000, former military Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari, in company with former Military administrator of Lagos State, General Buba Marwa, had led a heavy team of Arewa Consultative Forum in a combative mood to the office of the governor in protest against the alleged killings of over 69 Fulani cattle herders in Saki Area of the state. General Buhari whose arrival to the Secretariat complex was preceded by scores of lorry loads of Hausa men and boys said pointedly at the executive council chambers of Oyo State that his team came to meet the governor to seek reasons why the people of Saki should not be dealt with for killing Fulani herdsmen. He did not stop at that, Gen Buhari accused Governor Lam Adesina of complicity in the killings and using his position as governor to pervert justice. According to the General, they therefore wanted immediate stoppage of the killings, justice and compensation for the mass killings of the Fulanis or the Fulani would wreak vengeance across the nation.” You have to wonder if this explicit threat is not being actualised today.

Writing on the same theme, Femi Aribisala remarked in his column in the Vanguard newspaper a fortnight ago, titled “Who speaks for the Yoruba in the killing fields of Nigeria today? “President Muhammadu Buhari cares for his people. But although he is President of Nigeria, his people are not the people of Nigeria. His people are the Fulanis in particular, and Northern Nigerians in general. That is the token of a “good politician.” A good politician promotes the interests of his people. But what happens to members of the President’s party who are neither Fulani nor Northern Nigerians? Can they also care for their people as the President does for his, and at the same time be in alliance with Mr. President? They have “siddon looked” as the entire security architecture of Nigeria was placed virtually exclusively in the hands of Northerners. They said nothing when he removed illegally Nigeria’s Southern Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and replaced him with a Northerner. Tinubu led a collection of fake Yoruba leaders who call themselves Afenifere but are not to visit Buhari. We know who the real Afenifere are. They are led by Pa Reuben Fasoranti. Their spokesman is Yinka Odumakin. “Osinbajo is hanging on the Fulani to work against Yoruba interest. On his recent visit to the United States, Osinbajo downplayed the incidence of the marauding herdsmen, because he dared not admit the truth. He said: “With respect to general kidnapping which we have seen in parts of the country, again, this is not entirely new. In fact, some of the kidnapping stories you read or listen to are simply not true anyway, some are fuelled by politics.”

It will take the monumental tragedy of the killing of Mrs Funke Olakunri (daughter of Afenifere leader) “in the killing fields of Nigeria today” to emphatically put to bed speculations of who speaks for the Yoruba. Fasoranti is the epitome of genteel refinement and restrained charismatic disposition. He has a charming radiance that is so welcoming and arresting. With the compliment of a ready shy smile, they don’t come more personable, agreeable and inoffensive. Given his patriarchal background as a foremost educationist of post independent Nigeria particularly among the Yoruba and his long standing membership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s political caucus he must nonetheless be imbued with inner steel. When I think about or see him, uppermost in my mind is the constant wish that he may be spared of any happenstance that will violate his peaceful mien. It always makes me happy that he knows I adore him. On his last birthday I was full of exuberant goodwill and I gushed-I wish I could pump him full of steroids so he may remain with us for the next 50 years and Funke (our Funke) ensured he got the message.

The Yoruba are a contentious lot and predisposed towards fractiousness but I thought a leader of Fasoranti’s quiescent quality is a good antidote to this collective inclination and appropriate prescription for Yoruba leadership in this changing and profanely turbulent times. No one, whatever your reservations should have any problem getting along with Fasoranti. He was made to get along with people. Every organization has a potential for factional crisis but there is something crass and superfluous in the recent deliberate and contrived attempt to impute crisis of identity to Afenifere where there is none.

“A few weeks ago here, chides Pastor Tunde Bakare, I called the attention of the nation to the impostors who visited Aso Rock in the name of Afenifere leaders. Now you have killed the daughter of the real Afenifere leader, a 95-year-old man. And you think God will overlook these things. Someone who had gone to see her father and returning to her station! I tell you, now, the cup is full.”

Why do bad things happen to good people? The death of Funke is a wake-up call in many respects. Regardless of partisan preferences and narratives, it will be difficult to write it off as a random accident or armed robbery. I saw the vehicle in which she was killed and spoke to the surviving passengers (she was the only fatal victim). There were five people inside the vehicle and she was sitting at the back. It is curious that she seemed the only focus of the attack from the tell-tale signs of the concentration of gunshots on where she was sitting. Particularly unhelpful was that only hours after the incident, the Press Secretary to the President, Mr Femi Adesina was quoting a statement from the Ondo Sate Police command to the effect that it was an armed robbery attack, yet from the accounts of the other passengers, nothing was stolen from the car. What manner of robbery is it whose focus is pouring bullets in the direction of a particular occupant of the vehicle? Anywhere in the world, it will be deemed uniquely unfortunate and tragic coincidence for the daughter of a leading opposition figure to be shot to death in an armed robbery attack at the height of acute political division and volatility such as prevails in Nigeria today.

And in the unlikely event that it was an accident gone horribly wrong of whatever description, it still reflects conspicuously bad on the deplorable situation of a seeming national security meltdown. Whether it was an assassination or a coincidental random attack, it represents a dangerous escalation of a festering political crisis into the tipping point. The bad news is that the government has zero political capital to expend on securing public confidence; ask the public to take the tragedy in good faith and believe in its capacity to staunch the disastrous trend. The tragedy occurred (instructively) in a manner that clearly illustrates the propensity of leadership to exact enormous sacrifice of any incumbent leader especially in moments of transformative crisis and particularly among the Yoruba. It teaches the lesson that leadership should not be taken for granted. Among those who typify this lesson are the Ooni Adesoji Aderemi, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Ladoke Akintola (all lost children in the thick of the Western regional crisis of the ‘60s); Chief Moshood Abiola and President Olusegun Obasanjo (the two lost their wives and the former went on to lose his life). I cannot be certain on the inner ramifications of this tragedy but from now on, it will be difficult for any impostor to lay claim to Afenifere/Yoruba leadership other than the one to whom the honour belongs- Reuben Fasoranti. Fare thee well Olufunke.


Tribute to Nduka Obaigbena at 60

Garba Shehu

Today, I wish to pay homage to one of the greatest statesmen, visionary journalists and media leaders of the 21st century, Nduka Obaigbena.
“The Duke” as his contemporaries call him is today famous for introducing and sustaining the most influential newspaper in Nigeria, ThisDay. Before this time, he had introduced a number of innovations in the media space.

As the Head of Features in the mid eighties in The Triumph (Daily) in Kano, my then editor, Kabiru Yusuf, suggested that I and him go to Lagos for a meeting with a young, dynamic journalist who was coming up with a new publication. The idea was to explore new opportunities in our careers. Kabiru, who not long ago left his teaching job at the university for journalism and I, struggling to adapt to newspaper journalism after my initial start with TV attended, representing both of us.

He came back sounding a bit disconcerted. He met this team led by a seeming reckless upstart. After practicing journalism at home and a stint with Time Magazine, Nduka wants to lead this new team, in case we wanted to join to start TheWeek, fashioned after Time and Newsweek.

“I asked for a fall back position in case the paper crashed, and the guy (Nduka) said to me that ‘we are not worried about the future. None of us here is married.’ “

Kabiru and I agreed that we will not board the Nduka ship was building on his apparently “reckless “ voyage. How wrong we were.

Now, all that is history. Nduka today sits atop a successful media empire that includes a newspaper chain and a global TV network, Arise, the first of its type in Africa. He is the President of the influential Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria, NPAN and the Nigerian Press Organisation, an amalgam of the professional media associations in the country. He pioneered in the debut of the full colour newspaper.

Kabiru Yusuf serves as Nduka’s Deputy on both organizations and chairs the country’s widest circulating newspaper, Daily Trust, published from a skyscraper owned by the paper in Abuja, and printed via satellite in four other cities across Nigeria.

Leading this vast media empire under his sole ownership, Nduka has changed the course of Nigerian and indeed the African history, becoming an inspiration for all those resisting the tide of mercantile adventurism across the world. He is an epitome of fearlessness, ingenuity, resilience, endurance, and wisdom.

I would like to convey my deepest admiration and respect for “My Chairman”, Nduka Obaigbena as he marks his 60th birthday. His commitment to the unity and wellbeing of Nigeria will forever remain a golden chapter in the annals of our nation’s history.

• Shehu is a Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity