The Kogi (role) Interpreter

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

I borrowed the title above from ‘The Interpreters’, a novel written by Professor Wole Soyinka and published in 1965. The novel comprises five main characters grappling with individual role interpretation in the post independent evolution of Nigeria’s professional class. They are the foreign ministry clerk Egbo, the university professor Bandele, the journalist Sagoe, the engineer turned sculptor Sekoni, and the artist Kola. To this array of interpreters, I now add a sixth character (for which I crave the indulgence of the Nobel laureate) namely Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State. In taking this liberty I need to quickly iterate the obvious caveat that the Governor is differentiated by the fact that his own inclusion (as role interpreter) is no fiction-it is as real as the Kogi election murder anthem ta ta ta ta-to the tragedy of Kogi State and Nigeria. Defined by successive outrageous misconduct, he has stayed true to the bizarre manner of his emergence, garbage in, garbage out.

Ever since the entry of the term ‘wasted generation’ into Nigeria’s political lexicon, public imagination seemed riveted by the potentials of generation themed prescription for Nigerian leadership regeneration. “I coined the term ‘wasted generation’ because of the scale of our ambition as young people; we were the renaissance people”, agonized Soyinka. For the obvious reason of the failure of Nigeria’s successive generations, the prospects of the contemporary youth generation for leadership turn around, has become a recurring theme. The exception to the rule (of leadership failure) logic here is that their presumed relative innocence may render them amenable to being deliberately mentored and socialized for leadership role employing the present leadership failure as departure point. Compelled by the urgency of the Nigerian situation, two towering iconic national figures have taken up this mission.

It is striking how, despite their conflict-ridden relationship, Professor Wole Soyinka and President Olusegun Obasanjo, second guess one another on political development strategy for Nigeria, going forward. It is the opportunity spotted in grooming the younger generation to become potential agents of national renewal. In the case of Obasanjo, work on this notion has advanced to the point of scheduling a tentative date for a proposed Nigerian youth conference. The aspiration received fillip when Yemi Adamolekun and her team visited with the former President some months back. The projected cut-off point for the proposed youth delegates conference was pegged at below 50 years of age. I had not seen the Professor of Professors for a while. The avoidance was part deliberate. Until a few months back, the intensity of hostility been telegraphed from one to the other was of a dimension that precluded any mutuality-wherewithal I was centrally implicated. I got entangled in the bad blood on account of a self-appointed role of interlocutor between the two. To this effect, there was a video clip recently paraded in the social media depicting me as being caught in the crosshairs of the two overachievers who are thereby entitled to the character trait of egotism. Yet they share almost the same network of friends and peers.

At the onset of the Fourth republic, they both took keen interest in the formation of a generational themed pressure group founded by me and a group of friends including my junior brother, Makin Soyinka (adjunct to the role enactment of political leadership recruitment and reproduction). It was christened Progressive Action Movement, PAM and was ‘conceptualised as a response to the failure of the political system to fulfil the role of continuous and regular leadership reproduction and recruitment into the civilian political class to assume political succession from one generation to another. There was an emergent generational gap and vacuum to whose remedy we programmatically addressed ourselves. We intended ourselves as a kind of political nursery for preparing and producing a successor class at the shortest possible time. As it were, the major indication of this systemic failure was the recycling of political leaders rather than a renewal with successor generations. Conventionally and specifically, the role of leadership recruitment into the political system is that of the political parties. Understood as such, the poverty of the performance of this role is self-explanatory in the non-existence of political parties for the better part of the period spanning 1960 to 1999’.

So far as we could identify anyone as Patron, Professor Soyinka it was. He had the ambition for us to attain to a political status that was adequate to filling the gap and vacuum wrought by the death of his soul mate, the political titan and mentor par excellence, Chief Ajibola Ige. In a parley with him in 2001, Obasanjo specifically inquired and displayed a keen paternalistic interest in the group. Ditto President Ibrahim Babangida who equally and publicly declared similar interest. We were flattered and taken aback by all this attention. Seemed we really weren’t conscious of the potentials of what we started. Unfortunately, it ended up a wasted potential.

On his return to Nigeria, months back, I utilised a thaw in the frigid relationship between the sparring partners (signified by Soyinka’s endorsement of Obasanjo’s searing open letter to President Mohammadu Buhari) to reconnect with Prof. As usual and picking up from where we left, the encounter resolved in a compressed seminar type critique of the political status quo and the prognosis of Nigeria sliding, all over, into the Abacha syndrome, given the analogous propensities of the present dispensation. What to do? He too would only commit to any political response (to the contemporary Nigerian degeneration) if it was centred and built around a group of Nigerians answering to the identity of Nigeria’s youth demographic. He would provide a comprehensive support inclusive of wait for it! spiritual cover!

Regardless of our aspirations for tomorrow, efforts of this nature are more of hope than expectation. However, since we are not going to import youths from Europe and in view of the cyclical certainty of Nigerian youths of today resuming Nigerian leadership tomorrow, we have got to make do with what we have. If only we can ignore the evidence of our eyes and wish away the rude awakening by the emergence of the likes of Yahaya Bello as role model. Sadly, Bello is the rule not the exception and represents the futility of predicating the salvation of Nigeria on the contemporary political class of the younger generation. In general, whilst it is still possible to isolate a few decent ones, their understanding of Nigeria’s political history and associated problematics is uniformly shallow and superficial. Nigerian youths are learning, quite alright, but the lesson is of a kind that is devoid of any pretence to the irreducible minimum of idealism. If you were Yahaya Bello, for instance, what lessons would you learn from the provision of N10billion right on the eve of your election by a supposed anti- corruption avenger to boot?

My friend, Garba Shehu could not have meant to be taken seriously when he affected exasperation to the effect that “we really must stop this habit of blaming President Buhari for everything, including issues that are not his business”. How do we presume the innocence and exoneration of the President against the background of how he inserted himself into the Kogi State election in the following manner “Mixed reactions have continued to trail President Muhammadu Buhari’s request to the National Assembly to refund N10.069bn to Kogi State government being money spent for the construction of federal roads in the state. Daily Trust reports that the President’s request is coming a month to the governorship election in the state… An indigene of the state, Mary Idoko, on her part said such money instead of being released at a time like this where there are high chances of being misused, should rather be put on hold and after the election, ploughed into other critical infrastructure that will have direct bearing on the generality of the people.” The question ofcourse remains that if the President can publicly and blatantly insert himself in the Kogi State election in this manner, to what extent and magnitude would he commit himself behind the public scene.

The fast learner he is, this Yahaya guy knew right from the word go that the root to second term lies not in Kogi State but the plush recesses of Aso Rock Villa. Recall that his first newsworthy outing was the romantic siege he laid to the President’s household, grovelling for the hand of dainty Zahra. Never mind that the fair lady has her Romeo and Juliet sight set elsewhere. At any rate, it was a win win situation for the love rat. Were his love advances to go unrequited, there would remain a residual sympathy for the disappointed lovesick Malvolio in the Presidential court. More so as he sits atop inexhaustible piles upon piles of Kogi dollars and naira readily deployable in the cause of whatever catches the fancy of Aso Rock royals- ranging from Gucci shoes and bags to fancy racing power bikes to permanent charter of private jets.

Having so dutifully learn how to wash his hands, correct table manners inclusive; and wetted the grounds with dollar downpours; Who cares whether any Governor is owing public service salary arrears of three years? Who cares if the impeachment of his deputy, Simon Achuba is a rape of the constitution, a slap in the face of the rule of law? Who cares if a state Governorship election degenerates into a bloodlust in which women get roasted alive?

Tentative Note on Jonathan and the Bayelsa Election

For the first time in a long while I’m truly disappointed with President Goodluck Jonathan. Whichever way we choose to look at the loss of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the governorship election in Bayelsa state, the former President is diminished. First is the admonition that you don’t cut your nose to spite your face. Whatever personal issues he has with his protege, Governor Seriake Dickson is not worthy of working for the defeat of his political party. Some issues are bigger than personal vindication. In the current Nigerian political configuration and identity politics, how does the control of Bayelsa State by the All Progressives Party, APC, serve his cause and that of Niger Delta? In the current context of balance of terror of Nigerian politics, folding up even before your antagonist holler Jonaaa! is a terrible signal to send.