I was inspired to start this essay when I read the following after the death of Pa Abraham Adesanya, and his Ijebu-Igbo residence had become the place to see and be seen as has become the practice, pardon me – the in-thing these last few years. It’s from Hardball, that little piece of teaser which often contains heavy messages on the back page of the week-day edition of The NATION: “… politicians of diverse colours have also been mourning, some seeking to reinvent themselves politically, others plain unwilling to be left out of the mourning crowd.”
Now, please do not get me wrong. I’m sure Africans gave the world the idea of ‘the global village’ and Nigeria is its epicenter. Generally, we care about others, perhaps more than any other race. Even in the villages where people do not posture because a dearly-departed was a so-called money bag, homes that have suffered the losses of members are always filled with mourners. With the Nigerian way – Yoruba, especially – that nothing succeeds like excess, we’ve taken this African way to the extreme. In the village, there are always mourners willing to throw themselves on the ground while family members of the deceased rush to prevent such “mourners” from hurting themselves; the condoled become the condoler.
Our Big Men and even Bigger Women – if you know what I mean – have more on their minds when they visit the homes of dead politicians than commiserating with those left behind. Among other possibilities, they go there to “reinvent themselves”, to get noticed – “should in case”, to borrow that Nigerian-ese – to pass CVs around, to seek new realignments borne of non-altruism. In short, when politicians gather to “mourn”, you can bet the furthermost thought in their minds is Late Pa Adesanya or any other truly-deserving men and women gone to glory.
At these gatherings where respected and disgraced politicians try to outdo each other, the condolence register may be important but the press reporters and photographers who have learnt to stake such places are the most important.
Before we look at the implications of these political outings disguised as ‘condolence visits’ because that’s exactly what they’ve become, I must name two “politicians of diverse colours” that have turned what should be solemn occasions into political gatherings where everybody least expected to see them. They had nothing to do with the deceased in his lifetime. Newspapers were awash with pictures and names of these people of “diverse colours” many of whom did not belong there but none surprised me more than two. In my jottings, I noted “Even Ibori was there” and not because I thought he can ever be under any lockdown by the EFCC.
I just could not figure out any tie that could have bound Pa Adesanya to this former governor who seems never too far removed from “detractors”’ allegations: he was wrongly identified – by face and details – as having been once sentenced for a crime just to prevent him from the money-minting oil-rich gubernatorial seat in Delta for which the EFCC is wasting its time trying to get justice. After all, this man – along with Bukola Saraki, he, of the failed family’s bank that took Nigerian depositors to the cleaners – are reportedly members of a so-called kitchen cabinet of Gen. Obasanjo’s “worthy successor”, Alhaji Yar Adua. By the way, I believe the “7-point-Agenda” president’s REAL inner core merely humors them; Saraki may be “catchment area” tag-along while Ibori is only important for his reported cash contributions to the electoral heist of April 2007 that saw Yar Adua to the presidency.
The idea of a so-called “kitchen cabinet” outside the core North is preposterous. Is it not true that when the Alhaji is away, the vice president (a Bayelsan) does not act? A recent letter to the editor from Bayelsa is telling: any Bayelsan who aspires to any position even locally as a commissioner must first go to “emirs, generals …” He calls it enslavement of his people; I call it a new awakening.
The second “condoler”, of course, was Babangida who seems to be very busy these days traversing the country for God-knows-what. Allow me to correct that because his public travels, at least, in the southwest since The Gang of Three – he, Generals Buhari and Abdusalami – decided to (sort of) publicly play Nigeria’s version of poker’s “dead man’s hand”, seem to have diminished. Nigeria’s anything-goes these days is as “frontier” as Deadwood, South Dakota of American frontier days where the killing of Wild Bill Hickok gave birth to that gambling term but let’s go back at the press-seeking outing of Gen. Babangida at Pa Adesanya’s house.
Awo is long dead and the deceased whose family was being “consoled” by these assorted politicians. Naturally, “press-boys” last trusted Babangida, perhaps, in the first few months of his military administration and many of these “boys” and more than a few “press-girls” found it difficult to believe his claim to have met Adesanya at Awo’s house in 1977 and reportedly kept in “very good contact” till the man died. To put a spin on Senator Lloyd Bentsen’s “… I knew President Kennedy; you are no Jack Kennedy” to Dan Quayle in their 1980s vice presidential debate, General, WE ALL knew Chief Adesanya; you were never one of his associates NOR friends and could not have been in “good contact” with him!
While the points raised so far are not unimportant, they do pale when compared to the far-reaching and precedent-setting effects of this phenomenon that has now gripped the country.
When the over-pampered and self-important men who have held this nation hostage these last four decades but especially these last nine years go a-mourning, the common man can see nothing but oppressors gathering for another jamboree. I cannot remember the name of the Nigerian poet who wrote that beautiful poem about Building A Nation in which driver reminisces at the end of a day that driving his boss, a permanent secretary to a party – n’ibi ije muke ati ayeye – is a way of serving his country. Unfortunately, as the Big Man eats all those rich Nigerian fares, the least of which is fried everything, the driver is starving to death in the car. At least the Big Man, if I remember the poem well, does ask his driver if he has eaten although he offers nothing to ail the driver’s rumbling stomach!
Imagine the thousands of government drivers who would be paid overtime; the thousands of vehicles that had to be fueled, etcetera during the journeys to Ijebu-Igbo to “condole” with Pa Adesanya’s family AND the retinue of southwest governors – and PDP high command who took time from “governance” – to “condole” with Alhaji Adedibu’s family.
We claim to copy the American presidential system but ours has rendered this country rudderless with stolen billions being reported daily but that’s hardly the point I’m trying to get at. America’s President Bush recently gave away one of his two kids in marriage but instead of having what would have been a “state wedding” at which everybody would be invited, the young lady opted for a wedding at their family ranch in Texas. No self-respecting southwest (Nigeria) governor – rigged in or not – or the local government representative, the chairman, would have a couple of hundred people at his daughter’s wedding. In fact, every resource of the state, including forced levies on local governments, would be deployed in the self-glorification project while the masses look on helplessly as their wealth is brazenly misappropriated. Probably the same all over.
A new precedence is being set in Yorubaland: using state resources to bury people held in high political regard even though they held no official positions in their lifetimes. While honoring heroes is a worthwhile thing, it is really taking the masses for rides when millions in state resources are expended on burying an ever-widening political class.
I was pleasantly surprised at a report that Governor Akala of Oyo State recently prohibited government agencies from spending state funds to publish obituaries for the dead godfather of gangster politics, Alhaji Adedibu. I was aware, though, that zillions of government vehicles must have attended because the take-off point for the motorcade to Molete was not far from my area to drown out the noise at the government house. It did occur to me that the state governor could decide to write his name in gold by radically departing from the old ways of violence as a means to an end even if he was a beneficiary of that PDP system of infamy.
I’ve often wondered: under what “Sub Head” millions spent to bury prominent politicians are classified. Where is accountability?
Several years ago, I settled down to a weekly reading of THE NEWS magazine after trying out two other weeklies. Early last month, it carried a cover story on a supposed struggle for Yoruba leadership naming names of who has anointed whom. I wrote last week’s essay as comments on the extensive story and e-mailed it to the magazine. When it was not used, I communicated with THE NEWS’ Onanuga, introducing myself. He suggested that I re-send it to him directly and told me he reads me. Two more issues went without the essay being used and I communicated with Mr. Onanuga that I would have to withdraw it and use it in my column because of its relevance and because it was fairly dated material.
Some readers called me during the week and told me of a bizarre advertorial from the office of Ogun’s Governor Daniel in THE TRIBUNE, a supposed response to last week’s essay. I thanked them but informed them I do not, as a rule, reply opinions on my essays and would not break that rule because of what was, perhaps, not even commentary related to what I wrote. Any comments on this column would always be welcome but they must be sent to my editor who will decide on whether to use them or not.
The Nation on Sunday, June 29, 2008.