Swaga, Tinubu And Festus Adedayo’s Art of Political Necromancy

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By Seye Oladejo
Dr Festus Adedayo’s column in the Nigerian Tribune of Sunday, December 20, 2020, titled ‘Tinubu, Please Run, Run From The SWAGA Gang’ makes interesting and most times amusing reading. Although he admits that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State and one of the leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC), “has not told anyone he is interested in the presidency”, Dr Adedayo goes on to adumbrate at length not just on why Tinubu is unqualified to run for Nigeria’s presidency in 2023 but why the South West should not support his aspiration if he decides to run. The peg for his article is the unveiling of a group of former Senators and House of Representatives members under the aegis of South-West Agenda ’23 (SWAGA), who last week in Ibadan and Oyo, historic political entities in Yoruba land, publicly sought to mobilize support for Tinubu in the South-West should he decide to run for President in 2023.

Luckily, Adedayo does not suggest that this group does not have the right to mobilize support for any potential candidate of its choice just as the columnist has the liberty to fulminate against them no matter how pedestrian or ridiculous his logic. Anyone familiar with the social media will know that there are several groups that have been canvassing support for Tinubu’s anticipated presidential ambition from different parts of the country just as I believe others are doing for various potential presidential aspirants. Perhaps SWAGA caught Adedayo’s fancy because of the caliber of politicians involved. A doctorate degree holder in Political Science, Dr Adedayo engages in intellectual flights of fancy, which is the luxury of the theory class to quote the late Professor Billy Dudley.

For instance, the columnist quotes a brilliant political scientist who in a book on the politics of the South-West reportedly asserts that “Tinubu has a fancy for ideology but a fierce commitment to power”. On the basis of this debatable proposition, Adedayo submits that while the great sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, played ‘ideologically-driven politics’, Tinubu is actuated by ‘power driven politics’. But then what is the role of ideology in politics? It is to provide a philosophical framework and intellectual anchor for the fashioning out of specific policy and programmatic agenda that the politician who adheres to it believes is in the best interest of the majority of the people in any given political jurisdiction. But then, does any politician play ideological politics simply for the sake of it in what would be the equivalent of unproductive intellectual masturbation? Certainly no.

The fervent ideologue politician who is not just playing games but is intent on seeing that his ideas benefit society must also be determined to acquire political power in order to achieve his goals. That is why Chief Obafemi Awolowo, for instance, fervently and uninhibitedly, sought to lead Nigeria either as Prime Minister or President in order to utilize his brilliant ideas to accelerate the modernization and transformation of the country just as he had done for Western Nigeria during his tenure as Premier between 1952 and 1960. And the great Awo was not as politically and ideologically inflexible as Adedayo presumes in his lifelong earnest quest to lead Nigeria. Thus, in 1983, for instance, Awo’s UPN entered into a working agreement with a faction of the Northern political class who furnished him with his running mate, Alhaji Mohammed Kura, for the 1983 presidential election. This was unlike 1979 when Awo had unilaterally picked his running mate, Mr. Phillip Umeadi, from the East thus leaving out the entire North on the UPN’s presidential ticket.

It is indeed the PDP interests that Adedayo is serving now that play the politics of power for its own sake and even have their party slogan as ‘PDP! Power!’
Obviously with reference to Tinubu, Adedayo writes: “Politicians have started a race ahead of God to the year 2023; and they do not appear to mind stepping on the blood and the corpses of their brothers into that office they covet so badly…Being humans, can any sprinter be sure they will see self-same 2023?” How this applies to a man whom Adedayo admits has not told anyone he is interested in running for President is baffling. As I noted earlier, Awo actively sought to lead Nigeria either as Prime Minister or President in the first and second republics to utilize the office for the public good. In fact, he had entries in his diary affirming frequently that he would succeed in his mission of leading Nigeria. If everyone were to follow Adedayo’s strange admonition, no one, not even Adedayo, the skilled political necromancer, would aspire to anything because no one can wager that he will still be on this side of eternity either in 2023 or even tomorrow.

Although admitting that Tinubu has not declared any political aspiration towards 2023, Adedayo mischievously insinuates that “he has embarked on some gallivanting of recent to the North which some readers of Nigeria’s political barometer labeled political moves ahead of 2023”. It is unfortunate that a doctorate degree holder in Political Science here exhibits such pedestrian intellect. Tinubu was recently in Borno State to commiserate With Profesor Babagana Zulum, the governor of the state, and empathize with the people of the state on the murder by insurgents of 43 rice farmers at Zabarmari Village.

Does a purported and unstated political aspiration deny him the constitutional right of freedom of movement? As Mr. Tunde Rahman, Tinubu’s Media Aide, has asked, how many politicians even with 2023 on their minds will summon the courage to dare visit Borno State or anywhere else in the North-East at this time? If we are to stretch Adedayo’s warped logic further, can we not conjecture Agbekoya Parapo that Tinubu masterminded the murder of the rice farmers so that he could have an opportunity to visit Borno State in pursuit of a political agenda? Was it with 2023 in mind that Tinubu was honoured with the title of Jagaban Borgu almost 20 years ago?

For a scholar in the analytically rigorous field of Political Science, Adedayo has a penchant for telling diversionary tales that have little bearing on whatever subject he is interrogating. For instance, he tells the story of the Revolt of 1968-1969 and how Chief Awolowo was the only one able to pacify the peasant farmers where all others had failed and helped to restore peace. What has that got to do with Tinubu or the politics of 2023? Adedayo contends that Tinubu’s intervention could not put a halt to the #EndSARS protests at the Lekki Toll Plaza.

For a specialist in comparative politics, Adedayo embarrassingly takes two disparate events – Agbekoya riots of the late 1960s and #EndSARS protests of 2020 – and goes ahead to compare oranges and apples. One event took place under military rule, the other in a democratic dispensation. One event was confined to some parts of a single region, Western Nigeria, the other had national ramifications. Awo had presided over the Western Region that comprised the present South-West states including the old Mid-Western Region and thus had a deserved larger than life profile across the West. Tinubu was only a two –term governor of Lagos State and his profile in the South-West grew incrementally not only because of his accomplishments in Lagos but because even after leaving office in 2007, he was at the vanguard of winning back all South-West states lost to the PDP in 2003 to the progressive fold.

Indeed, so deep is Adedayo’s animus toward Tinubu that he gleefully and malevolently refers to similarities in targets of destruction of property by the Agbekoya peasants and the properties destroyed in Lagos by the #EndSARS protesters. Here is a PhD holder and lawyer to boot celebrating the destruction of public and private property – the intellectual as Agbero analyst? How tragic! It does not occur to Adedayo that the object of the anger of the #EndSARS protesters was the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) established and controlled by the Federal Government while the properties and facilities targeted for destruction in Lagos belonged either to the Lagos State government or to private individuals like Tinubu. Should that not arouse the curiosity of a genuine intellectual? The protests in Lagos were clearly hijacked and utilized for partisan political purposes through patently false propaganda by political elements whose interest Adedayo is serving under the veneer of superficial intellectualism. Or else how does one explain Adedayo’s mischievous insinuation that “Tinubu owns half of Lagos”?

Should a columnist of Adedayo’s caliber make assertions predicated on rumors and peddle cheap gossip as gospel truth? Is Adedayo aware that in the run-up to the 2015 election, AIT ran a documentary titled “Lion of Bourdillon” which disseminated this kind of falsehood against Tinubu? When charged to court, the AIT sought out of court settlement and tendered an apology. This time round, the lie was that Tinubu owns the Lekki Toll Plaza and had invited soldiers to shoot at protesters because he was losing money for as long as the road remained closed. Tinubu has since denied in a widely publicized statement any interest, involvement or ownership of the Toll Gate and asserted that his income is unaffected maybe one or 100, 000 vehicles pass through the gate. There has been no evidence-based rebuttal of Tinubu’s confident claim, not even by Adedayo – scholar, lawyer and journalist – who resorts to rumors rather than facts unearthed through diligent investigation.

Adedayo contends that the Senator Dayo Adeyeye – led pro-Tinubu group, SWAGA, cannot now credibly canvass for a South-West united front behind Tinubu for the 2023 presidential race when the Tinubu-led Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) thwarted the ambition of a Yoruba woman, Honourable Mulikat Akande-Adeola, to be Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2011. Rather, he argues, the ACN supported Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal from Sokoto State who emerged as Speaker. Surely, such political permutations and joggling is neither unusual nor uncommon given the ideologically fluid nature of our politics. The ACN emerged through painstaking backbreaking work after the PDP electoral blitzkrieg that swept away the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD) in five of the six South-West states except Lagos. Since it did not have the numbers to produce principal officers itself, one wonders how Adedayo can fault the ACN’s exploiting fractures and fault lines within the PDP to enhance its own interest and weaken the hegemonic faction within the PDP. That is not illegitimate in politics.

So strongly does Adedayo feel about this Mulikat Akande-Adeola affair that he vehemently asserts that, should Tinubu seek the presidency in 2023, it will be payback time as the Yoruba will avenge the fate that befell the woman even though she incidentally became Majority Leader of the House of Representatives. This is amusing. The Tinubu-led tendency has had the upper hand in most elections in the South-West in all elections between 2007 and 2019 even though the PDP remains a strong factor in the region. The issue of the Yoruba having long memories and seeking to pay Tinubu back in his own coin thus only exists in Adedayo’s fecund imagination. Even then, as a political analyst, did Adedayo bother to ask himself what concrete gains would have come to Yoruba land had Honourable Mulikat Akande-Adeola become Speaker of the House in 2011? Was Dimeji Bankole not Speaker for four years? What were the gains or benefits for the average Yoruba man or woman? In the same vein, nobody should canvass for the presidency in 2023 simply on the basis of where he or she comes from. Competence and proven track record of performance must be accorded priority.

Listen to Adedayo: “As we trudge towards 2023, Yoruba will remember those who had sacrificed the so-called Yoruba interest on the altar of self-ambition in the past. They amusingly watch how same people who sold them for ten shekels of silver now appropriating the moral right to call them to queue behind them in 2023 “for the sake of Yoruba race”. Here again, the political scientist in Adedayo disappoints – appallingly. He arbitrarily asserts rather than demonstrate his claims logically and empirically. In what ways were the Yoruba sold for ten shekels of silver? Is that insinuation not itself a brazen insult on the intelligence and character of the Yoruba who are well known for their political sophistication and astuteness?

A central thrust of Adedayo’s piece is that Tinubu’s politics is power-centered rather than ideologically focused. In his words, “Power here is euphemism for the end that justifies the means of that deadly French theorist, Niccolo Machiavelli”. Incidentally, Machiavelli was Italian, not French. But if Adedayo’s postulation is true, how come that as the lone governor standing in the South-West after the loss of the other five AD South-West states in 2003, Tinubu decided to stay in opposition and was at the vanguard of clawing back all the South-West PDP ‘captured’ states to the camp of the progressives? Would it not have been more in line with the extant political culture for Tinubu to simply cross over to the PDP, which controlled the gravy-laden centre? How come that much earlier during the IBB transition programme, Tinubu spurned the opportunity to contest for the Senate Presidency in order to enhance the chances of the South-West winning the SDP presidential ticket? Rather, he supported the emergence of Professor Iyorchia Ayu Benue State in the North Central as Senate President. How come that Tinubu was one of the more than 20 signatories from Lagos of a full page advert in the Nigerian Tribune denouncing Chief Dapo Sarumi as their leader following the latter’s acceptance to join the Chief Earnest Shonekan-led Interim National Government (ING)?

Hear Adedayo again: “Till today, Tinubu is held to be the one who single-handedly dissembled Afenifere and literally destroyed the Yoruba group”. What we have at work here is political necromancy or witchcraft, not disinterested and dispassionate political analysis. Adedayo surely has the intellectual skills to analyze objectively and incisively the immediate and remote causes for the rise and fall of Afenifere. If he had not indulged intellectual laziness, Adedayo would not have arrived at the simplistic conclusion that Tinubu singlehandedly ‘dissembled’ Afenifere. True, the crisis that led to the diminution of Afenifere had its origin in Lagos. The principal cause was the adamant and unrelenting opposition of Chief Ganiyu Dawodu, AD Chairman and Afenifere leader in Lagos State to Tinubu even after the latter had emerged as governor of the state and made ceaseless efforts to pacify Dawodu who had openly supported Funsho Williams in the AD party primaries.

In his riveting book, ‘Reflections of a Public Man’, Alhaji Olatunji Hamzat, Lagos State transportation commissioner in the Alhaji Lateef Jakande administration, founder of the influential group, Justice Forum, as well as prominent member of AD and Afenifere in Lagos State, writes as regards the Dawodu-Tinubu rift in Lagos: “Throughout all this, the leadership of Afenifere equally intervened in ceaseless, exhausting meetings desperate to cobble some kind of compromise and workable unity. Even at this time, the Afenifere leadership itself showed signs of partisan preference and identity with Ganiyu Dawodu. While Chief Abraham Adesanya clearly reposed in unimpeachable neutrality and progressive rallying, Chief Ayo Adebanjo and Chief Olanihun Ajayi were clearly supportive of the Dawodu group.

The imbroglio in Lagos State would eventually affect the already widening dispute at the national hierarchy, rivening the national front into the infamous balkanization of the year 2000 National Convention of the AD that witnessed two different conventions in Abuja”. There is no space here to go into the crises that resulted in the current moribund state of Afenifere but it is not as simplistic as portrayed by Adedayo.

Adedayo makes the specious argument that what the Yoruba need at this time is restructuring of Nigeria and not a President of Yoruba extraction come 2023. The truth of the matter is that there can be no restructuring without a President in office who believes in restructuring and is prepared to utilize the weight and authority of his office to push through fundamental amendments to the constitution to deepen federal practice in Nigeria, and this essentially is what restructuring is about.

It is astonishing that Adedayo assumes that a restructured Nigeria can simply leap through probably from Planet Mars without the requisite leadership that believes in the cause. Is Adedayo aware that even among the Yoruba political elite, there is no unanimity of views or ideas on what a restructured Nigeria should look like? For instance, while some advocate a return to the regional structure of the First Republic or a merger of ‘unviable’ states, the 2014 National Conference actually recommended the creation of additional states to bring the total number of states to over 50!

Chief Obafemi Awolowo sought to be President of Nigeria inthe Second Republic under the 1979 constitution. Referring to the 1979 constitution, the great sage had famously noted that most of its provisions had been articulated in his books particularly ‘Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution’. Awolowo would have been an excellent President and delivered on his electoral promises had he been elected President in 1979. The UPN governors performed exemplarily under this constitution in the Second Republic.

The extant 1999 constitution is a near total replica of the 1979 constitution. Nigeria can flourish under this constitution with a competent, committed and visionary leadership that can summon the will to push through necessary amendments that will remove the road blocks to genuine federal practice that exist in the constitution. As serious as current national challenges are, this is no excuse to jettison the extant constitution wholesale and embark on an ill-defined restructuring journey with an unpredictable outcome.

Adedayo speculates about Tinubu’s health in a reckless manner without proof. Here, he plays God. Who tells Adedayo that he himself is in perfect and robust health or does he know the terminal date of his own tenancy on earth?
*Oladejo is the Publicity Secretary of Lagos APC Caretaker Committee.