Going by logic and antecedents, it will be difficult for Tinubu to properly restore the scales of justice in Nigeria. His IOUs will predictably tilt towards those same principalities and powers for whom injustice is a core condiment in their broth. I pray however that he pleasantly shocks cynics like me. If he does, hope will begin to build in the Nigerian people, as Maya Angelou wrote in her poem, “Still I Rise”… “With the certainty of tides,/Just like hopes springing high.”
Forget their pretensions and volte-faces, when outgoing Nigerian public officials wake up tomorrow, 29 May, they will wake up into emptiness. That void cannot be filled by the wealth they have acquired in office. Nor can it be eliminated by Muhammadu Buhari’s reported haste to flee Aso Villa tomorrow. At the launch of a book on his administration at the Presidential Villa on Friday, the outgoing president had said: “I assure you, I have been counting the days; I am looking forward to Monday very desperately. I will use the weekend to sign some of the papers so that from Eagles Square, I will fly to Kaduna and eventually go to Daura.”
Buhari’s wife, Aisha, was to later temper his attitude with regard to Aso Rock. In its stead, was her desire for a continuation of the flow of the free money and power of government. At the launch of a book entitled, The Journey of a Military Wife on Friday, she asked for First Ladies, whose roles the constitution does not recognise, to be given the parity of office privileges with their spouses. Under Nigerian law, presidents and allied officials are given their salaries for life, while their medical treatment and those of their family members are paid for by the state, with the yearly procurement of vehicles for them, alongside other benefits, among many others.
“They should consider us as former First Ladies. They should incorporate the First Ladies, give us some privileges that we deserve as First Ladies,” she demanded. Aisha also further gave the issue a feminist interpretation, against the grain of the African patriarchal orientation, which has ensured centuries of uneven access to power. The system should not give these privileges “just to the former presidents,” she advised.
Of all life’s existential acquisitions – wealth, fame, power and the lot, the most transient, most fleeting and ephemeral of all is power. It is the most un-enduring. Former presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, put it in its crudest form when he said, eight years ago, that his phone stopped ringing immediately he stepped out of power. Power is the fair-weather friend that will not be there for you in your time of loneliness. It perhaps was what the holy writ meant when it ascribed to life the fleetingness of vapour.
While all their acquisitions in office in the last four or eight years may still be there – cars, houses, money and the lubricants of power (forgive my sexism), by now power must be carrying away its last portmanteau from the apartment of the public office holder of yesterday. The Yoruba put this existential emptiness starkly when they refer to ex-power wielders as eni ana – yesterday’s men. It was from late Governor Abiola Ajimobi – God rests his soul – that I first encountered the Yoruba proverbial capture of the evanescent nature of life. The Yoruba say that no one rushes to make way for he who once rode a horse – a kii yago f’elesin ana.
One of the reasons for the emptiness that these public officials will begin to encounter from tomorrow stems from the monarchical nature of Nigeria’s presidential democracy. Officials of Western democracies, from where our system of government was adopted, would find it easier to confront the emptiness after power and office. This is because, with them, public office carries the less indiscriminate wielding of power. Here in Nigeria, we are driven by the Kabiyesi syndrome in our perception and utilisation of power. For us, the public official is the unquestionable, titular, second-in-command only to the gods. This is why, for these Nigerian office holders, the transition from power to the streets tomorrow is capable of making them highly miserable. It can be likened to the deposition of a king, who was once the Kabiyesi; the unquestionable.
Tomorrow, the baton of power will change hands. History has been unusually kind to Buhari. Like Olusegun Obasanjo, he has had the opportunity of being the Nigerian head of state twice, both as a military and civilian leader. He could have been killed in 1983, the same way his fellow coup plotter, Ibrahim Ahmed Bako, had life snuffed out of him in the process of staging the coup. In their bid to dispossess Shehu Shagari of presidential power, Bako had been detailed to Shagari’s presidential residence. While wearing civilian attire, he had gone to the president’s residence in the company of a detachment of soldiers. However, as fire raged between his troops and the Brigade of Guards commanded by Captain Augustine Anyogo, Bako got shot dead, as he sat in the passenger side of a Unimog Utility truck. Buhari survived to rule Nigeria.
Again, through what many called the uncanny but misplaced generosity of Providence, Buhari administered Nigeria for yet another eight years. Although he has recently engaged in a last-minute attempt to re-write his own history, the general impression is that he has been a failure. The BBC said Buhari, “the last of a generation of British-trained military men who went on to govern the country” would be “leaving Nigerians less secure, poorer and more in debt than when he came to office in 2015.”
I think that the greatest task we must put to Tinubu is that of restoring Nigeria to a country in which the guilty, no matter how highly placed, will get their deserved comeuppance, while the just get their appropriate rewards. He must return Nigeria to the situation described in that critical stanza of the National Anthem, which states that the goal is “to build a nation where peace and justice shall reign.” Those two elements – peace and justice – are not mutually exclusive.
Last Friday, Buhari took the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, round the presidential palace on a familiarisation tour. This is the place that will be Tinubu’s abode of power in the next four years, all things being equal. His wife, Remi, also did her own tour, under the guidance of Mrs Aisha Buhari, the president’s spouse. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had earlier conducted Kashim Shettima round the Vice President’s wing of the State House.
Thereafter, Tinubu made many promises to Nigerians, praying to God for good health to be able to deliver on his presidential mandate. He also vowed to fight corruption. However, I think that the greatest task we must put to Tinubu is that of restoring Nigeria to a country in which the guilty, no matter how highly placed, will get their deserved comeuppance, while the just get their appropriate rewards. He must return Nigeria to the situation described in that critical stanza of the National Anthem, which states that the goal is “to build a nation where peace and justice shall reign.” Those two elements – peace and justice – are not mutually exclusive. They are co-joined like a Siamese twin. To seek peace where there is no justice is to have inequity. Both go simultaneously. Jamaican reggae icon, Peter Tosh, put it succinctly when he sang, in his Jamaican patois, that “everyone is crying now for peace, none is crying now for justice; I don’t want no peace, I need equal rights and justice.” Once Nigeria arrives at that critical juncture where there are equal rights and justice, all other social indices will begin to fall in place. Nigeria fell on the social ladder because injustice had been growing unhindered in the land like ferns in a fecund plantation.
Before now, the system offered the right measures to both the high and the lowly. The scale of judgment in our judiciary did not discriminate between the high and mighty and lowly peasants. I will cite four instances in history – two pre-colonial and two post-colonial, which indicate that Nigeria was once a country where justice reigned.
Two depositions of highly rated Yoruba Obas during the colonial era come first. These are followed by the execution of another Yoruba Oba, and the fourth pertains to a top-rate elite in the Nigerian society, who was hung for murder. Obas constituted the highest echelon of the Yoruba society of the colonial period. These depositions, rarely talked about in history, were those of Ijebu Obas – Akarigbo Oyebajo (1891-1915) and Awujale Adenuga (1925-1929). Oyebajo became an Oba in his mid-20s in 1891, and apparently basked in the belief in the permanence of his position and the power of his cordial relationship with Governor Gilbert Thomas Carter and his successor, Sir Henry Edward.
Akarigbo Oyebajo was appointed in February 1902 as a member of the Central Native Council, and subsequently became high-handed, especially in his relationship with his chiefs. The result was widespread dissension from them. He began to monopolise the stipends accruing to him from the colonial government and refused to share these with the chiefs, as required of him by custom. In 1911, the chiefs then got him tried in court for extortion and larceny. His situation was worsened by the fact that the District Commissioner, H. F. Duncombe, could not stand him. Despite Horatio Jackson, the editor and publisher of the tabloid Lagos Weekly Record’s plea on his behalf to the colonial office, the Akarigbo was subsequently deported to Calabar, where he died on 11 July, 1932.
From the get go, Adenuga, who was 33 years old when he was appointed, showed immense immaturity in superintending over the enormous judicial, executive and legislative powers he wielded as Oba. And, he began the abuse of these powers from the first day of his kingship. A few months into being in office, the colonial government reprimanded the Awujale for extorting forestry fees from his subjects, and in 1928 he received two more reprimands for grafts, one of which was for collecting a bribe in February of that year to favour an ascension to the Onipe of Ibu stool. While he was implicated for attempting to cover up a case of homicide in March of the same 1928, by October of the same year, he was alleged to have attempted to rid the town of Joseph Igu, also widely known as Frugality, an anti-corruption crusader, who was a pain in the neck of traditional maladministration.
Inundated with complaints of the Akarigbo’s excesses, the colonial government instituted a judicial commission of enquiry with a charge to assess the Ijebu Native Administration, in relation to the Akarigbo’s style of governance. In the report submitted on 18 January, 1929, Adenuga was found guilty of corruption and deposed to Ilorin. In 1934, he was tried alongside one Yesufu Idimota and ten others, for the attempted assassination of his successor to the Akarigbo throne. Adenuga was then imprisoned in Abeokuta and went through the indignity of being manacled and publicly seen carrying latrine buckets from his cell corridor to the main latrine. He was however acquitted by the West African Court of Appeal on 27 May, 1935, and at the age of 58, he died miserably.
The third case had to do with the first Yoruba Oba to face public execution. It occurred in the current Ekiti State in 1949. That was the 43rd Alaaye of Efon-Alaaye, Oba Samuel Adeniran, the Asusumasa Atewogboye II. He, his herbalist, a servant, and another named Gabriel Olabirinjo, after the end of their trial for murder, were all hung by the colonial state, having been found guilty of killing a 15-month-old baby girl named Adediwura. On 10 January, 1949, the baby, who had been hitherto seen playing in her father’s compound, suddenly disappeared. Oba Adediran was promptly informed about this and he publicly pretended to have joined in the search for the baby. The prosecution later found out that after young Adediwura’s kidnap by Oba Adeniran’s herbalist, she was brought to the Alaaye’s palace, where she was butchered, right in the Oba’s presence. He then swore all the dramatis personae who witnessed and partook the abduction and killing to an oath of secrecy. That same police from whose body wriggles out maggots today, swung into action upon the matter being incidented in 1949. Three suspects, Enoch Falayi – the herbalist, Gabriel Olabirinjo and Daniel Ojo, were promptly arrested. One of them eventually spilled the beans, incriminating Oba Adeniran.
Gradually, justice began to die in Nigeria. Today, the Nigerian landscape is littered with the blood of the righteous and the gloating of the powerful. With it came the death of shame and the ascendancy of shamelessness. Not long ago, the children of Ejigbadero remembered their executed father in a lavish ceremony that spoke to this new level of societal shamelessness.
The trial judge, Justice NS Pollard later delivered his judgment thus: “With acceptance of that statement as evidence of tacit admission of the facts therein, there is not only ample corroboration of the evidence…it goes further and is evidence of admission of facts from which no other conclusion is possible than that the appellant counseled and procured the murder of this child and was rightly found guilty thereof.” With this final pronouncement, Oba Adeniran, Asusumasa, the palace herbalist, one of Kabiyesi’s servants and a Gabriel Olabirinjo, were eventually hung by the neck till they died.
The last case is the notorious and infamous case of the Ibadan-born land baron, Jimoh Ishola, a.k.a. Ejigbadero, who was a supposed mascot in the Papa Ajao, Mushin, Agege and Alimosho areas of Lagos during his notorious reign. Ejigbadero was also the chief executive of Jimsol Nigeria Limited, a company that specialised in nail manufacturing on Matori Road, Mushin in the 1970s. More importantly, as a land baron of note, he was dreaded for his shrewd disposition towards the ownership of land. He had sold land to a man simply known as Raji Oba in Alimosho but thereafter wanted the land back.
Thus, on 22 August, 1975, which was incidentally the day of naming of his newly born child, Ejigbadero, an illiterate, perfected the plan to dispossess Raji Oba of the land he had sold to him earlier. He had a bandstand in front of his house and a huge crowd, which had come to celebrate with him. He came out resplendently dressed and sprayed a huge wad of naira notes on the musician, in a manner enough to arrest the attention of the crowd to the deed. And, amid the praises accorded to him, Ejigbadero quitely retreated into his house, changed into a French safari suit, a gun tucked in his pocket and hopped inside his Peugeot 504 saloon car. Through the back exit, he and six of his thugs sped to Alimosho, where he confronted Oba and shot him in the head point blank.
Ejigbadero came back home, changed into his resplendent dress and sprayed more noticeable cash again. Unfortunately for him, however, the deceased’s wife, Sabitiu had recognised him from where she was hiding when he committed the murder. He was subsequently arrested by the police and slammed with a two-count charge of murder. Ejigbadero’s alibi was that he never left the party, which dragged on from 6.30 p.m. till the wee hours of the morning of 23 August, 1975. From the High Court judgment of guilt and hanging by the neck, which was pronounced on him by Justice Ishola Oluwa, his appeal was presided over by Justices Mamman Nasir, Adetunji Ogunkeye and Ijeoma Aseme, down to the Supreme Court, where Justices Darnley Alexander, Atanda Fatayi-Williams, Ayo Irikefe, Mohammed Bello and Chukwunweike Idigbe held fort. On 22 October, 1978, Ejigbadero was found guilty and sentenced to death. A funny drama at the Supreme Court was that, as Justice Idigbe pronounced the lead judgment, being illiterate, Ejigbadero kept asking his lawyer, in conk Ibadan dialect, “Sowemimo, emi ni won so?” (“Sowemimo, what did the judge say?”).
Ejigbadero was connected in the social and political circuits of Nigeria at the time, even being friends with high military epaulettes at the time, including the high and mighty in the decision-making cadre of Nigeria. Musicians struggled to sing his praises. One of them sang that as inscrutable as it was to find out the source of water inside the pod of coconut, so was it unfathomable to locate Ejigbadero’s wealth. Yet, the system gave him his right comeuppance. In fact, the Obasanjo government quickly ensured that he was executed before the 1 October, 1979 handover to civilians, nursing the fear that with Ejigbadero’s links, he might secure an undeserved pardon from the incoming administration.
Gradually, justice began to die in Nigeria. Today, the Nigerian landscape is littered with the blood of the righteous and the gloating of the powerful. With it came the death of shame and the ascendancy of shamelessness. Not long ago, the children of Ejigbadero remembered their executed father in a lavish ceremony that spoke to this new level of societal shamelessness. Soon, the children of one of the most notorious and infamous armed robbers in Nigeria, Ishola Oyenusi might troupe out to celebrate his passing too. It is a reflection of the societal loss of shame. Oyenusi, popularly known as Dr Ishola, hailed from Araromi in the Okitipupa area of Ondo State. Renowned for carjacking, bank holdups and heists, Oyenusi, on 8 September, 1971, with six other members of his gang, was executed.
Going by logic and antecedents, it will be difficult for Tinubu to properly restore the scale of justice in Nigeria. His IOUs will predictably tilt towards those same principalities and powers for whom injustice is a core condiment in their broth. I pray however that he pleasantly shocks cynics like me. If he does, hope will begin to build in the Nigerian people, as Maya Angelou wrote in her poem, “Still I Rise”… “With the certainty of tides,/Just like hopes springing high.”
The Lion of Ojiagu at 63
My ex-boss, former Governor of Enugu State and Senator representing Enugu East, Chimaroke Ogbonnia Nnamani will be 63 years on Tuesday. At different fora in the last 16 years, since I left Enugu State, many people have demanded that I avail them information on the chemistry that ensured I succeeded in working in the Coal City state. My submission is always that Nnamani protected me from the sharks of government, who you would find in every polity across the regions of Nigeria.
Nnamani helped cut my teeth in public service. Before Enugu, I was a mere theoretician who didn’t know that life existed outside the confines of theoretical postulations. He is a detribalised and ethnic-blind person to the core. I left my Imalefalafia, Oke-Ado, Ibadan office in 2003, contemplative of stereotypes about the Igbo man. One by one, those stereotypes collapsed, like the walls of Jericho. If I had been to the South-East before then, it was only a few times. My sojourn however afforded me a peep into the purity of the mind of an Igbo man and knowledge of virtually everywhere in Enugu State. With Nnamani, where I hailed from did not matter; it was my contributions that defined me.
At meetings when my colleagues naturally veered into discussing issues in their mother tongue, Nnamani would caution them: “Do you want Adedayo to think we want to sell him?” he would query and in his characteristic jocular manner, turn to me to ask when I would be marrying an Igbo lady, so that I could break the language barrier!
The height of it all was sometime in 2005, when he asked Osita Ugwuoti, of blessed memory, to hand over to me as head of the governor’s media team and his Special Adviser on Media. With Nnamani, your output, not your ethnicity, mattered. When we left office in 2007, he insisted that I must also go to the Senate with him, where he entrusted his finances in my care, without knowing, as the Yoruba say, the bird that laid my egg. When the world expressed shock that he queued behind Bola Tinubu in his quest for the presidency, rather than his kinsman, I saw a recreation of my Enugu experience in that equation. The Yoruba were in the core of his personal relationships as governor.
Nnamani is not your run-of-the-mill man. He requires hyper activity from anyone working with him. He’s is a tireless, boundless energy, whose type is rare among leaders.
Here is wishing the Lion of Ojiagu, Agbani, a very happy 63rd birthday.
Festus Adedayo is an Ibadan-based journalist.
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