When ex-governors gather
It is when the burden of state matters eases and work no longer presses. That is when they are themselves, drawing from their armoury of humour and laugh heartily and loud.
It is the time they dismount from their high horse, and they are themselves, fierce-looking policemen in battle gear already kept at bay, leaving only cold faced undercover men and women to mix with an unsuspecting crowd. It is when they come down to the level of the man on the street.
The gathering of former governors is even more hilarious. Old boy, long time no see! It is an atmosphere of camaraderie.
For them, the celebration of a birthday or the launch of a book often provides the best setting for reminiscences.
The other day, Segun Osoba took full advantage of the launch of a book in celebration of Obong Victor Attah’s 80th birthday in Abuja to reminisce about the years of his own class in the saddle. The first stint was in 1992 and the second phase was 1999.
In the latter years and thenceforth was the period governors worked together as a united body, indeed as a power block that drew up a strict dividing line between the Presidency and the state governors. They did not allow party affiliation or differences to stand in their way.
“One good thing during our time”, Osoba said, “was that we did not know the parties the governors belonged to. The then President, Obasanjo dared not play with any of us governors.
“Obong Attah was of the PDP while I was of the AD and the AD group comprising such governors as Adefarati, Akande, and Lam Adesina were old and when we spoke on issues, to our surprise, Obong who was of the PDP would pick it from there and make intellectual contribution to our stand.”
He recalled a stand-off the governors had with Obasanjo on fiscal responsibility when he said he would not implement Section 8 which stipulated that all revenues were to go into an account from where they would be distributed in line with the constitutional provisions.
When Obasanjo would not shift ground, the governors went to court, with Attah at the forefront, leading them and they won.
He said unlike then, currently in charge of governance in the states are mostly political neophytes and politicians without character.
“I want to appeal to all of us to go back to the characters that formed the body of governors in 1992 and 1999. I say this seriously because those of us that were governors 26 years ago had exposure.’’
John Oyegun for example had been permanent secretary, indeed the youngest during his time, Chukwuemeka Ezeife had also been permanent secretary and he, Osoba had been managing director of the Daily Times.
“We need to go back to that, especially these days of any kind of governor should stop. As governors we did not discriminate against one another along party lines.”
Adams Oshiomhole went on to add colour to the occasion. He said: “For people that do not know the secret, the wife deserves commendation because we all know that governors are not good husbands. When they finish their late caucus meeting which starts at 10pm and finish by 2am and then branch to other places, madam will be fast asleep by the time you get home.”
Turning to Attah, he said: “Thank God you have a patient woman that tolerated you and may all other governors’ wives tolerate them!”
It was all encomiums galore for Obong Attah. Responding, the celebrant said some of the speeches drew tears from his eyes and “I used to ask myself, did I say all those things and where did I get the courage to say them… As I have said, in all honesty, I believe that our founding fathers who agreed on a federal system for this country, the system where the regions have and control what they have and contribute to the running of the country at the centre remains the best and will continue to be the best for Nigeria. I tell people that I enjoy being governor because of the kind of fantastic comradeship, working together with people you could reason and argue with and at the end come to a solution that all of agree will be the best for us and the country.”
He said the climax was when his colleagues in the governors’ class plotted a coup to make him chairman of the Governors Forum and were calling him headmaster.
Those in attendance were Okwesirieze Nwodo, John Odigie-Oyegun, IBM Haruna, Tanko Yakassai, Chris Ngige, Achike Udenwa, Ahmed Makarfi, Governor Emmanuel Udom, Solomon Ehuga, Ali Modu-Sherrif, Godwill Akpabio, Stella Omu, Farida Waziri, Imen Okon, Buka Abba Ibrahim and Ubong Bassey.
What I often find enthralling in this kind of gathering is the opportunity it affords governors to unwind and former governors to tell stories.
It is an opportunity for love and understanding. The political temperature is lowered and friendship is cultivated and sealed. I recall a similar gathering in 1991 on which I wrote.
It was on the occasion of the launch of Biola Babatope’s book, Detainee’s Wife. Before getting on to this, let me quickly refer to some other gathering in 1974 at which Dr. Taslim Elias, the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, was chairman and General Gowon, the Head of State, was special guest of honour.
When General Gowon arrived, he said he could not afford to be late or absent from the occasion so he would not be charged with contempt of Court, that is, Elias court.
The hall was thrown into an uproarious laughter. The statement set the tone for the occasion. On the launch of Biola Babatope’s book, I did write as follows, going memory lane— in part:
“I am eagerly looking forward to 1992, Nigeria’s magic year of new breed, new government and new style by politicians. It is not necessarily going to transform into a year of miracles, signaling light at the end of the tunnel.
No, not at all. But politicians will return with their banter, wisdom, fun, fury and sometimes folly. Politicians fascinate me a great deal. I am not one and I don’t want to be, because for me leaders are born not made, the successes of elected leaders over the ages in other lands and in parts of this country notwithstanding.
Their successes were not on account of having been elected, but on the quality of the inner worth and the volition of the people concerned to serve selflessly, even of those who elected them.
The elected cannot rise beyond their level, the electorate. Leaders are sent and they come equipped for their tasks.
As the quality of the people of the world drops so will their ability to elect good leaders. The military is not an acceptable alternative either, I must make it plain.
Leaders come in all fields. They could be gardeners, horticulturists, teachers or councilors. Or industrialists.
In all of these as they mature their sterling qualities shine forth. Evidence, to anyone who cares to perceive it, abounds, pointing to the future.
“However, let us go back to politicians. As I was saying, they fascinate me a great deal. The other day I was in their midst, and I did not regret a single minute of my presence amidst them.
It was at the launch of Biola Babatope’s book, Detainee’s Wife, brilliantly reviewed by Doyin Abiola. And hear what Cicero Bola Ige had to say as Mrs. Abiola headed for her seat with a loud applause:
“Dr. Doyin Abiola may not have been a detainee’s wife, but she is a wife of a public figure whose house was invaded. May such dogs never be let loose again…” Bola Ige regaled the audience with anecdotes, and refreshed memories.
“There is hierarchy in prison,” he began. “At Ikoyi Prison, Senior Governor Bisi Onabanjo was there. Solomon Lar was there. Bola Ige was there, all in Cell 7.” “But Vice-President Alex Ekwueme had a cell to himself.”
In their own cell Bisi Onabanjo was the prefect. And he explained that they called Chief Onabanjo senior governor because he was sworn in as governor in 1979 before any other person in the country- by 30 minutes.
Before people were called out to launch the book, Solomon Lar, the chief launcher, narrated the experiences of politicians in prison. He said Kirikiri was “the main campus.”
It was from there politicians were distributed to other prisons in the land. Ebenezer Babatope, for example, went from there to Jos, as his first port of call.
Solomon Lar spoke of the day condemned men seized control at Kirikiri. They directed affairs and locked everybody up.
At Kirikiri there was Ministry of Finance and there was Ministry of Mines and Power. He said Ministry of Finance was where businessmen were detained and the Ministry of Mines and Power was where politicians were.
He spoke of understanding that existed among them their political differences having been put away—far from Kirikiri gates.
He then admonished Nigerians: “A country that permitted freedom of the people to be trampled upon by transient manipulators is destined to die.
Politicians are no angels. But we appeal to those who dissect us to be fair. Decree 2 must therefore go. Decree 2 represents jungle justice.
“After Mr. Lar had launched the book, Chief Bola Ige started calling out guests to do their own launch.
He called LKJ (Lateef Jakande) who protested vehemently the breach of his fundamental human rights. He accused Bola Ige of assuming the power of Chief of General Staff.
Cornelius Adebayo whom Bola Ige described as LKJ’s brother, whose town was just 14 miles away from Jakande’s—the Igbominas—was by the microphone to launch the book.
Said he: ‘I have not come to make a speech; I am more of a senator than a governor.”
“When it was Chief Onabanjo’s turn, Bola Ige warned him that he did not want counterfeit money, and if the amount was not big enough he would return it to him.
Chief Onabanjo replied, saying he already had a copy of the book free. By his training he cannot read two books at a time. He said if Bola Ige returned his money he would take it.
However, he would buy a copy for his ‘wife who is not a detainee’s wife but a prisoner’s wife.’
“Politicians, old breed politicians all, colourful and charming, although Bola Ige said he was not quite an old breed nor was he a new breed. It was a jolly day, and the challenge it posed to new breed politicians is unmistakable.”
Everyone can see why I love politicians when the pressure of matters of state eases and they are their natural selves!
Next week: The prodigy phenomenon