When talking about politicians, past or present, in todayNigeria, only few, indubitably, should deserve a place of honour in our political pantheon. However, this is not because the country has not had its fair share of this group of people since independence in 1960. But on the other hand, experience has shown that it seems easy for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle, like they say, than for one to find conscientious, nationalistic and probably heroic politicians as we have now come to realize. What this then translates into is that any subject that has to do with honouring this rare breed of Nigerians not only deserves to be treated with a high level of diligence but also should be seen to have been equitably discharged.
On the basis of the above therefore, the fact that the decision taken by the federal government to rename the prestigiousUniversityofLagosafter the late Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olabinwonu Abiola has provoked a high level of reactions shouldn’t come to anyone as a surprise since it is one big issue requiring big debates. However, what may seem a little bit paradoxical at the moment is the level of divisions that this has ignited - with the attendant tunes of discord and agreements occurring in equal measure.
Through the radar of a cursory assessment, one may suggest at first, that the tumultuous reactions that we have witnessed so far are something that is in congruent with the honouree’s stupendous personality – particularly when he was alive. In other words, those privileged of Abiola’s companionships should be brimming with anecdotes relating to the commotions that trailed him as people fell over each other either to benefit from his largess or just to catch a glimpse of him, whenever he visited any part of the country or even anywhere in the world. As a result of this, to state that the business mogul qualifies as one single Nigerian in history to have had spontaneous effect on all and sundry, irrespective of creed, tribe, and profession in modern times, is clearly stating the obvious.
However, Abiola’s journey to today’s ‘class of the revered’ was not something that happened without its own entanglements and convolutions. For example, his documented alignment with past successive governments – particularly those of the military dispensations – could be said to be one of his nadirs with the Nigerian public; and this also strips him of any thought of a pristine reputation especially as these were all governments forcefully thrust upon the country through military coups. Needless to say then that even his unparalleled philanthropies and public spirited works though highly acknowledged by all could not ingrain him in the hearts of his people as well. Importantly therefore, he only finally cemented his place amongst political immortals in the country with his selfless sacrifice that culminated in his demand for his mandate after the 1993 general elections which he won. Why this is now being celebrated and applauded is because he demonstrated an unusual bravado by persistently insisting on a course of action which he very well knew the end of, considering the satanic tendencies of his major adversary, the late General Sanni Abacha. There is no gainsaying the fact that it was this doggedness that subsequently led to the conception and birth of a new dawn – in the shape of the present democracy that has now givenNigeriaher right of place in the elitist group of democratic nations.
Based on the foregoing therefore, it is somehow ironic and at the same time sad that an attempt at immortalizing him is what has now degenerated into chaos that only befits a controversial idea. What makes this more nauseating, is the fact that the issue at stake at the moment is not if the late Bashorun deserves this recognition. To put it more plainly, Nigerians have never been this unanimous in recent years over a request to immortalize a public personality as it is the case with the late politician. As a matter of fact, there has been sustained clamour for this to be done since the very first second that the country returned to normalcy aftermath the general hullabaloo that greeted the June 12, 1993 general elections. The question now is if the bone of contention only revolves round the appropriateness of naming theUniversityofLagosafter him, should this then result in muscle-flexing by government rather than engaging those opposing the gesture in a constructive discourse over the matter?
Looking at the various arguments for or against this choice at present, there seem to be reasons to believe that they may be clearly modulated by pure sentiments - on one hand and maybe logic on the other. Where sentiments seemed to have guided the thinking of the people seem to be in the reactions of allies and families of the late politician. Considering that this was one honour long overdue – it is then understandable why they have easily applauded the said recognition of the late multi-millionaire without any qualms. However this shouldn’t detract from the point being made by the ‘opposition group’. For example a strand in their argument seems to revolve around the somehow regionalized nature of the honour – a point the incumbent Minister of Information Labaran Maku attempted defending by making reference to the renaming of the formerUniversityofIfeafter the late sage Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the late eighties. On a personal note, I think what he has done here amounted to understating the respective values and places of both men in Nigerian political history.
Let’s look at it this way, the success story of today sovereign state calledNigeriaderived from concerted efforts from all the then geographical regions that made up the country - pre-independence. In other words, what the Western region had in Chiefs Obafemi Awolowo and Samuel Ladoke Akintola, the Eastern, Mid-Western and Northern also had in Nnamdi Azikwe, Anthony Enahoro and both Tafawa Balewa and Ahmadu Bello respectively; and they all contributed their necessary quota to the realization of the Nigerian dream. Therefore, naming or renaming any higher institution in their names in their region of extraction does not only seem logical but also historically appropriate – particularly for the purpose of knowledge for posterity. In the context of how the late Abiola compares, the truth is there might be no basis for comparison because no disrespect to him, he might not qualify as a statesman like these other founding fathers going by the real meaning of statesmanship. However, his political heroism unified us in our struggle for democracy. So it is only appropriate that any honour in his respect should be central rather than regional. In other words, if Jonathan had renamed any University in other parts of the country after the late Abiola, probably the reactions would have been mellowed. I believe regionalizing what Abiola signifies may underlie the wave of dissents witnessed so far.
All the same, after all said and done, one cannot but sympathize with the presidency, as an action clearly signifying good intentions is what has now descended into discontents and controversies. There is no doubt that all the applause would have been going to President Jonathan for having the initiative and gumption to tackle headlong an important state issue of this magnitude, if the circumstances were different. This simply underpins the need for him and his cronies to consider a re-evaluation now that the decision is still very much inchoate. Though feelers from the presidency have completely dismissed the possibility of anything of such nature but the truth is insisting on a rigid course of action as it is now will not only be undemocratic but also be tantamount to trampling on the antagonists’ rights to also be heard.
On the other hand, the more reason why he should seek dialogue at this point may be underpinned by the demography of those who have been protesting loudest about the whole issue. Whatever anyone might say, the truth is if there is any section of the country that one would have expected to support the idea of an honour for the late MKO overwhelmingly, it is the students. With the benefit of hindsight now, this is the same group of Nigerians that used to form the nucleus of the late politician’s followers while he was alive. So rather than taking them out of the loop or kicking them out of their campus as we’ve heard, Jonathan should be seeking dialogue with their leaders or tutors, to negotiate a more democratic way out. In the first place, the fact that no form of discussion took place before renaming the institution is clearly a miscalculation on the part of government, to say the least.
Jonathan’s continued refusal for a dialogue will only go a long way in giving more room to the claims that the controversial tribute has been politically motivated in the first place. Those who make this accusation believe that this has only been a calculated - or is it now miscalculated - move to shore up his popularity which no doubt has been at its lowest ebb in recent time. It then follows that if this be the case, he should then try not to make more mess of an already sticky situation with this unnecessary stubbornness. Evidently, ours is a highly heated polity with matters relating to the inexorable increase in petroleum prices, unemployment, rise in general costs of living and to cap it all, the Boko Haram siege daily staring the populace in the eyes. Simply, the situation needs not get worse than it is now.
On a final note however, one thing that needs no reminding anyone is the fact that the late Moshood Kashimawo Abiola – the man at the centre of all these controversies - was a man of many parts without any doubt. In other words, aside being a successful politician, he also made his mark worldwide as a philanthropist which earned him the accolade pillar of sports inAfrica. If anything therefore, the country should be spoilt with choices of immortalizations that could or should be bestowed upon him. It was enough that we played politics with his life by allowing ourselves to be cowed into silence by Abacha’s brutality when we should have been joining him in his quest for justice. The question now is should we also be doing same now in his death?
Since the sad news of the untimely passing of the former Nigerian Super Eagles player, Rashidi Yekini, hit the airwaves some few weeks ago, a familiar pattern of reactions seemed to have emerged once again in the manner of tributes being paid to the late footballer. While some people have gushed at his wonderful personality; that is, how he was always full of smile and jovial at all times; others have on the other hand, simply chosen to extol his football qualities which unarguably made him the best striker the country has ever produced to date – a point simply undeniable considering the record number of international goals scored by the great man while on national duty. However, while it is incontrovertible that this may be the least of the honours that the late footballer deserves as a national hero, the reports that he spent his last days on earth a dejected and lonely man afflicted with an undisclosed mental illness seems to cast a cloud of sycophancies on this circus of eulogies and sad emotions that have so far assailed his death.
Without any shadow of doubt, the touching anecdotes depicting the sad end to Yekini’s life are bound to melt any heart of stone, anytime. His was simply the story of a man who sacrificed a lot to bring smiles on the faces of his kinsmen only to be abandoned at his direst time of needs. Without writing off the possibility that some of the narratives heard so far may have been embellished to heighten their emotional valence, but the nub of it all is that this was a man whose life might have been prolonged with just little help from his environment. Environment in this instance will entail his immediate communities – which may be represented by those who claimed to have had up close and personal encounters with him while ‘he was roaming the streets’ ‘crying for help’ as well as the larger society that simply confined his memory to oblivion immediately after he retired from the public view.
Interestingly though, the first major fallout of the reported circumstances preceding Yekini’s death is that it calls to question certain established beliefs surrounding conceptualizations of interrelationships in our societies. For instance, due to the structures and nature of the social relationships that inhere in African societies, sociologists and psychologists often classify the peoples as being collectivist. A corollary of this therefore is that, there is high level of dependence amongst the peoples on each other. This according to the protagonists of collectivism constitutes as one of the cultures that help them to navigate through their complex social lives successfully. The antithesis of the collectivist system is of course, the individualistic version inherent in the Western world where people totally keep to themselves and almost subsist as a single entity.
The foregoing therefore explains why certain practices considered abhorrent in the Western world easily find traction in Africa or some otherThird Worldcountries today. For example, in Nigeria, it is common practice for a ‘Mama Ngozi’ to unceremoniously knock on a ‘Mama Kayode’s’ door for a pinch of salt or a cube of sugar and vice versa; obviously this is something you’ll never find in the individualistic setting of the West.
An important knock-on effect of this symbiotic materialistic supports however, is that people also unwittingly act as their brothers’ keepers - as they monitor each others’ welfare in the process. This partly explains why a ghastly incident such as that of the British spy Gareth Williams who was found dead in his apartment in a holdall bag after seven days may possibly be a no-no situation in a place likeAfrica. Which then brings us to one salient, probably inevitable question, why was there no shoulder for the late footballer to lean on when he was falling apart?
The above happened to be my question to a fellow Nigerian; and I must say his riposte was interesting, to say the least. According to this gentleman, Yekini was just unlucky to be a footballer in throes at this time in Nigerian football history. Surely this call for further elucidation, isn’t it? His position is that Nigerian football doesn’t exist anymore in the psyche of Nigerians. The new dynamics competing with the love for our own football is the numerous foreign leagues inEurope– particularly the English Premier League. Every Nigerian today irrespective of their place of abode has undergone a mental naturalization whereby the club of their allegiance take precedence over any other loyalty. Do you think he was lying?
Today when Nigerians talk about these foreign teams, it is in the collective pronoun context of ‘we’, ‘our’ and so on and so forth. How then do you expect them to care about Rashidi Yekini when all they are preoccupied with is an undying obsession for Manchester United, Manchester City, Barcelona, Chelsea or Arsenal to mention but a few. When Stephen Keshi (the present coach of our national team) lamented sometime last year about the diminished image of the Super Eagles in the eyes of Nigerians, he was stating the obvious which is most Nigerians don’t give a toss about their national team anymore. We even now go as far as killing each other anytime our respective teams of allegiance lose to one another. Unfortunately, this constitute as a new form of neo-colonialism where we help to propagate the imperious relationships with the developed world and undermine our own interests. The truth is the only, truly ‘ours’ or ‘we’ in the world of football today is the Nigerian Super Eagles – whether they’re pathetic or not; as well as other teams bearing the national flag of the country.
On the other hand, to cut the Nigerian public a bit of slack, responsibilities for Yekini’s post-football years should without mincing words be that of his primary constituency which is all the bodies concerned with managing the game in the country. This is the practice in other places – particularly European nations which serve as models for our football management and organizations. This explains why today, the bulk of the panel of analysts for major competitions or the various seasonal sports leagues or tournaments on popular sports television stations such as Sky Sports and other British media today happen to be made up of retired sportsmen, ex-England internationals and former English Premier League players. Those who are not cut out for punditry also have a system in place which encourages them to go into management or other aspects of the game such as being top executives in their former clubs like in the case of Booby Charlton of Manchester United. This way, they not only remain relevant to the game but also get rehabilitated in their post-football years.
Unfortunately, the reverse tends to be the case on our own shore. Not only would the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) not be able to account for ex national players who in some cases may be having it rough but they even shirk their responsibilities to these players during their playing careers. For example, ask any member of the association today about the whereabouts of somebody like Humphrey Edobor who only featured for the national team in the 80s and you’ll surely be chasing shadows as all you’ll probably get will be a deathly silence. Also, just aftermath Yekini’s passing, the first thing Sunday Oliseh who played alongside him regretted is that the federal government never fulfilled their promise of 1994 to him after the national team’s triumph at the African Cup of Nations that was held in Tunisia. And to make matters worse, hope that this situation may ameliorate very soon quickly flitter away with statements such as the one below credited to the President of our so-called number one football body (NFF). In his reaction to the accusation of neglect of Yekini, Aminu Maigari was reported to have said and I quote ‘it is incorrect to say that the NFF abandoned the late football hero. We made several efforts to reach him, and even announced it in the media sometimes last year that we were looking for him. We went beyond that to send several persons to Yekini but he just didn’t want to have anything to do with anybody, apparently’ end quote. Who is this man? Is he really a Nigerian? Looking for Yekini, inNigeria!
It then follows that for those who have been looking for reasons behind the disparities in performances of the present crop of our foreign-based players when they don the country’s jerseys as compared to when they appear for their respective clubs, there may be no need here to look further. In all candidness, it remains to be seen how the extant nonchalant attitudes of these footballers can change for the better in the face of this conspicuous evidence of neglect and abandonment from a national body that should supposedly protect their interests and welfare. Put differently, seeing that the system in place doesn’t guarantee any form of support in their non-active years which in every sense of it hang precariously in the balance as this is a profession highly susceptible to sudden injuries, it is then unfathomable why any right thinking person should expect anything different from the shoddy and shabby level of commitment that we have frequently accused these players of.
What may intrigue any critical mind more at this juncture is why it always takes death to nudge us into reality as regard the abandonment of these men and women who have sacrificed their time and comfort for the collective glory of the country. Though this culture of neglect seems to permeate our social fabric or system in general but there seems to be enough evidence to show that it is something very rife with our sportsmen and sportswomen today. To say the truth, the idea of consigning these men and women into oblivion only to start shedding crocodile tears on the news of their demise is not only tantamount to hypocrisy of the highest order but also capable of discouraging or killing any spirit of nationalism and patriotism that we may expect from them.
As is the practice, Yekini’s death has once again precipitated another clamour for honours and immortalization by almost all and sundry. In the same vein, both Oyo and Kwara state governments have shelled out large amounts of money to his family - with more to come in the nearest future according to reports. While appreciating the spirit of generosity being displayed here it is however worth reaffirming that this is one act that would have been more useful or beneficial to the man while alive. It then follows that what we’re witnessing here at the moment may be a case of art imitating life as Yekini’s story resonates with an old movie revolving round a man who ‘lived and died wretched but was buried in a multi-million naira casket’. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Well it was the title of a Nollywood movie produced in the 90s. Maybe it’s time for a sequel. This time as a Biopic, it’s bound to be a classic!
Though the above rhetorical question somehow paints a ‘medicine after death’ picture at first glance, but it’s now become more imperative than ever to wonder if President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has the gumption, acumen and the dare-devilry to rule a somewhat complex nation state like Nigeria - going by recent events and happenings in the country. Gumption in this context will be the requisite ‘commonsense’ knowledge that somebody in his position is expected to possess. Acumen on the other hand, refers to his propensity to make good judgement - particularly the ability to think on his feet; while dare-devilry is his capacity and courage to take certain drastic decisions knowing fully well that toes will be stepped on but not caring whose ox is gored, as long as it is considered well-informed decisions taken for the collective glory and unity of the country.
Instructively, three important factors are deemed to be highly influential in any political dispensation in the world today. These are policy positions, debate performances and last but not the least - but somehow least sacrosanct in our clime – personal histories. Underpinning this assertion are some known leading models of democracy, such as that of theUnited States of America and theUnited Kingdom. For instance the historic achievement by Barack Obama as the first ever Black president ofAmericawas largely attributed to one of these factors – that is his oratorical prowess as well demonstrated in most of his pre-election addresses. Therefore, considering that policy positions do inevitably, constitute as an integral part of election debates, it is worth noting that personal histories on the other hand rarely play a dominant role except in situation where past scandal or an impropriety on the part of a candidate has been exhumed to undermine his/her chances.
On the basis of the foregoing therefore, it is somehow ironic that the overwhelming support given to President Goodluck Jonathan by Nigerians after the demise of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua and also in the follow-up elections in 2011 to renew his four year term came as result of his personal histories. This assertion may have foundation in Jonathan’s numerous allusions to poor background which undoubtedly convinced the voting public that his policies would be masses-friendly just because of ‘commonsense’ knowledge which dictates that ‘he who knows it feels it’; the conceptualization of ‘commonsense’ knowledge here derives from its deployment as the existential history of a given society – as rooted in the customs and cultures; and including economy, politics and web of social relationships that inheres in that society.
However, a cursory re-appraisal of the policies of this government so far seems to suggest that the overused poor background sub-theme adopted by Jonathan’s campaign camp was just a political gimmick employed for the mere purpose of wining that election. The underlying evidence that support this claim is the fact that the pains and struggles of the average poor man on the street, seem to have exacerbated tenfold in recent time. To be candid, considering what we’ve witnessed so far, the only way the present government is being led by a man who truly walked without shoes is if there is a special amnesia that inflicts ‘poor people’ once they ascend social ladder of riches and power. To put most plainly, Jonathan’s government looks more like it is only here to maintain the status quo. And if this be the case that means the stranglehold on petroleum is not expected to stop anytime sooner; and this much we’ve witnessed with the astronomical hike in fuel prices from N65 to N141.
Interestingly though, it is difficult not to imagine that before assuming leadership of the country, Jonathan – as a scholar - did not wonder silently why there is so much dependence on petroleum when the country is evidently blessed with many other natural resources that can be ably manned by equally bounteous human resources. For example, cocoa used to be in the West; rice and groundnuts in the North; and not to forget palm oil in the Mid Western region to mention but a few. The truth is some of these were agricultural produce that used to be characterized as exports for the country; unfortunately, not anymore. The last time I heard, we’ve even started importing rice!
It then follows that if I were Jonathan, since my presidency signposted a new dawn – first through the fortuitous manner of its happenstance; second, as the first Nigerian president from the South-south; third, as the most educated Nigerian to have led the country; and fourthly and most importantly, as the first leader from the minority ethnic group – I would personally consider this a rare privilege to make a case for all my primary constituencies and write down the name of this administration on a platter of gold.
As an advice therefore, the only plausible interest in the oil sector now should be in form of steps towards creating feasible frameworks for possible revitalization of the industry. And this to be candid should not be in the shape of the newly established body, with the nostalgic moniker of special task Force for Petroleum Revenue headed by Malam Nuhu Aliyu. Going through the terms of reference of this body it is easy to deduce that it does not possess the teeth to bite. This is particularly so with the structure, which makes it mandatory for it to report to the Minister of Petroleum Resources Diezani Alison-Madueke, who recently has been accused of having skeletons in her cupboard.
It then follows that a good way to commence a complete overhaul of the oil industry will be by commissioning a special audit of the wastrel that has characterized that industry since its creation. Anything short of this will only deepen the problems and encourage the despicable status quo of corruption. Take for example, while we lament over past financial improprieties, new information seeping into the public domain seems to make light of past malfeasances because of the enormous figures of new corrupt practices. A case in point here is the recent report from a reliable source that there is a yearly appropriation of the sum of N985million by the National Assembly for the purchase of what experts consider as an elusive training vessel for students in Petroleum Training Institute, Effurum, Warri inDeltaState. Considering this was a deal negotiated under the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua regime, which the incumbent leader of the country was an important part of, it then behoves us to wonder where the much sought-after departure from past corrupt practices will spirit from.
In the face of all these quagmires, should any right-thinking individual then be surprised at the angry reactions displayed by Nigerians when petroleum prices hit the sky? However, unbeknown to Jonathan, he seemed to again shoot himself in the foot with that singular action of the subsidy removal as that action provided the evidence that his presidency is completely out of touch with the feelings of the people. What further confirmed this was his address to the nation aftermath the ‘OccupyNigeria’ protests. Jonathan showed that he didn’t really get it with that kind of presentation that was obviously full of platitudes but very empty in substance. The point is heaping more burdens on the masses in the shape of paying more for a product whose proceeds have only helped to widen an economic and social gulf in the country is not only inhumane but also a social ticking bomb anytime, anywhere.
In all sincerity, it does break my heart to see that all hope and trust reposed in the present government at inception now seems to be gradually eroding away as a result of these visionless decisions and equally blatant inaction where there should have been one. The disappointment becomes more profound when one puts into consideration the idiosyncrasies of Mr. President, which prompted the questions of ‘gumption’, acumen and dare-devilry at the beginning of this write-up. Take for instance besides the economic woes that seemed to have befallen the country inexorably and in no small measure, there are also clear security issues that at the moment seems to have the propensity of degenerating into a complete state of anarchy. It is completely befuddling why Jonathan decided to ‘sit, and cross leg’ in the face of this Boko Haram religious insurgencies, when all efforts should have been long directed at nipping the problem in the bud.
Even to the uninitiated in Nigerian politics, there is no gainsaying the fact that the activities of this body have the backing of some disgruntled politicians; and there are grounds to think this is true. In the history of religious uprisings in the country, there’s never been a time that we’ve witnessed continuous and intense fanaticisms as this to the extent that the country is practically under siege from a particular religious sect. Agreed, it’s been variously reported in some Nigerian newspapers that certain people claiming to be members of the dreaded group have declared that they have no qualms with President Goodluck Jonathan, but the timing and frequency of their attacks seems to put a lie to this. It is believed that underneath the whole upheavals is the circumstances of the PDP man’s ascent to power which reports claimed infuriated certain self-appointed ‘kingmakers’ in the country – hence the clandestine decision to make the country ungovernable for him. And the truth is they seem to be wining at the moment. Therefore, without writing off the possibility of a campaign of calumny, Jonathan should not wave off some of the names making the rounds in the public domain at the moment as being the financial backers of these terrorists’ acts. To do this will be to unwittingly put his life and that of Nigerians in jeopardy.
Having said all this, it might be necessary to also remind his Excellency that though he came to power on the platform of the People Democratic Party (PDP), posterity will only remember this as his government. For example, when we talk today about the pogrom that sparked the Nigerian civil war, the Gowon administration is used to symbolize this. This also applies to other past governments in the country which are today used to define one inglorious moment or the other. Examples include, Dele Giwa’s death – Ibrahim Babangida’s regime; assassination of M.K.O. Abiola and Ken Saro Wiwa – Late Sanni Abacha regime. It then follows that, it’s time for Jonathan to choose how he wants to be remembered through his actions and inactions. Would he prefer for example the epithet ‘the sitting duck government, derailed by a religious sect known as Boko Haram’ or ‘one who claimed to be a poor man but led to make the poor poorer’? Sadly, 950 ‘innocent’ Nigerians blood is reported to have been shed according to the campaign group Amnesty and Human rights as at December, 2011 (Elombah.com, 26th December, 2011) - and still counting. The question then is how many more have to lose their lives before something drastic is done about this? The country is teetering on the brink of anarchy and the onus lies on President Goodluck Jonathan to put an end to this barbaric and senseless killings.
Personally, I believe the historical significance of Jonathan’s presidency should be enough to bolster him into action. His government still represents new hope, only yet to be seen if ‘it can follow that hope to the dark tunnel where it leads’. He may not know it, but Nigerians still look up to him for better life. Agreed, it is not going to be easy considering that the country is ridden with a rot than span many decades. But like they say uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. It is time for him to display good acumen and carry out some dare-devilry decisions based on the commonsense knowledge of what it means to be a ‘Nigerian, living like a Nigerian inNigeria’. A good place to start may be by ridding his government of some dodgy personalities who presently play key roles in his government. I think he knows them… if we know them.