The Bolaji Akinyemis and identity burden
Imam Baobeid, a communications assistant at the Equity and Inclusion Office of the University of British Columbia (UBC) in an article titled: “On The Importance Of Names,” stated in his introductory remarks: “Our names are an incredibly important part of our identity. They carry deep personal, cultural, familial, and historical connections. They also give us a sense of who we are, the communities in which we belong, and our place in the world.”
He added: “This is why mispronunciations, misuse of our preferred/common names, or misgendering can negatively affect and possibly hurt and impact a sense of belonging…”
There have also been situations where cases of mistaken identity have subjected persons with similar names to pleasant and unpleasant conditions, which they tend to regret, or delight in as the cases may be.
A former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, recently found himself in an unpleasant condition, which forced him to promptly issue a disclaimer. Specifically, the former minister was forced to react to comments made by one Dr. Bolaji Akinyemi, after some media outlets erroneously used Prof. Akinyemi’s photographs to illustrate the story. Professor Akinyemi is also a past Director General (DG) of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA)
Dr. Akinyemi in a petition to President Muhammadu Buhari, over the 2023 general elections spotlighted crises that were witnessed in Lagos State, just as he demanded the arrest of the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, over attacks on Igbo residents in Lagos State.
Dr. Akinyemi also drew the president’s attention to views expressed by individuals, groups, and foreign media regarding the general elections, as well as the person of the president-elect.
But surprisingly, a section of the media, apart from using Prof. Akinyemi’s photographs, also attributed the write-up to him.
Due to the controversial nature of the petition, it generated a lot of reactions from far and near.
“I write this petition with the full realization that with the recent general elections like ours that allegedly became a tribal war against a particular tribe, there is a need to conduct a post-mortem investigation and put on trial, those directly responsible and those who incited and sponsored such verbal and physical attacks, especially in Lagos State to discourage this pattern in future elections,” Dr. Akinyemi said in the petition.
He continued: “The Presidential election of February 25, 2023, generously described by The Economist as chaotic, has further increased the negative perception of the world about our dear country to which belong our loyalty.
“The world is not pleased with our ways, and we could read it clearly in how the global press described what we did with ourselves last week.
“The Economist said a ‘chaotically organized vote and messy count’ gave Nigeria a new president.
“The Financial Times said in an editorial comment that our presidential election was ‘deeply flawed’ and the winner “a wealthy political fixer.”
“The Guardian of U.K. described the winner as “an immensely wealthy veteran powerbroker trailed by corruption allegations which he denies.”
“The New York Times described him as “a divisive figure in Nigerian politics.”
Robert Rotberg; founding Director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Programme on intrastate conflict, wrote an opinion for Canada’s influential Globe and Mail; its headline: “Bola Tinubu’s election is another triumph for Nigeria’s corrupt old guard.”
“The Times of London was the most disrespectful. It used this very bad phrase: ‘a wealthy kleptocratic ‘godfather’ of politics’ to describe the person who will replace our very clean Buhari on May 29, 2023.
“As bad as those characterizations are, they are not as damaging as the Financial Times’ revelation that it personally “witnessed armed men remove a presidential ballot box in Surulere, Lagos” on Election Day.
“CNN last Friday played back a part of Bola Tinubu’s acceptance speech where he described what he got as “a serious mandate.”
“A CNN anchor then asked if it ‘was really a mandate’ with less than 10 percent of the registered voters behind it.
“He must be wondering what kind of people these are. The CNN and that anchor were not the only ones bemused by our electoral culture, our elections, and their outcomes. One of Germany’s largest newspapers, Sueddeutsche Zietung, had unflattering words for the winner; it also queried the legitimacy of a mandate that was spurned by 90 per cent of the voting population.
“Aljazeera ran a Special Report on how the election was disrupted in Lagos last Saturday. The headline is: ‘How violence robs Nigerians of their votes.’
“The Washington Post quoted Matthew Page, Associate Fellow with Chatham House’s Africa Program, as accusing INEC of making both deliberate and unintentional mistakes: ‘They raised the hopes about the election and its transparency, and then they dashed them.’
After raising these and many more issues, Dr. Akinyemi added: “A rerun of the election will save your integrity as our president, and help repair our badly damaged image as a nation.
“If 25th of February was chaotic, the 18th of March election was living in hell across Lagos for the terror unleashed on citizens.
“Please, be reminded that the New York Times described Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as “a divisive figure in Nigeria politics.
“Are they privy to intelligence that your office is not? I doubt it! Sir, I do understand that your hands are tied, but you must lose them for posterity’s sake and do what is right. Bola Ahmed Tinubu has never hidden his hatred for the Igbos.”
In dissociating himself from the widely publicized material via a piece titled, “I Did Not The Seditious Letter,” Prof. Akinyemi said: “My attention has been drawn to the seditious and spurious letter to the President, General Mohammadu Buhari, calling for the arrest of the President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
“My name has been attached to this letter. I am stating most emphatically that I did not write, or authorise this letter. I sign my letters as Professor A. Bolaji Akinyemi, and not in any format. I have sought legal advice on this matter, and have been advised that since my parents did not patent my name when I was named, anyone can call himself Bolaji Akinyemi.”
Both Prof Akinyemi, and Dr. Akinyemi described as “mischievous,” those behind the identity crisis, with Prof. Akinyemi stressing that Dr. Bolaji Oluwayanmife Akinyemi has never claimed, or wrote that he was Professor Bolaji Akinyemi.
Interestingly, this is not the first time that Dr. Akinyemi’s comments on national issues would be erroneously attributed to the former external affairs minister, who is a professor of political science.
According to Dr. Akinyemi, any time a mix-up surfaces, he usually feels embarrassed because Prof. Akinyemi is a former minister.
“It is quite embarrassing. Professor Akinyemi has been known over the years. It was when I was in secondary school that he was the minister of external affairs. He is more like an idol to some of us; my age mates and peers. But mixing my write-up with his could be quite embarrassing, knowing that he is a man that has dedicated most of his life to a diplomatic career and my writings are not as diplomatic as Prof. Akinyemi’s writings should be.
“I believe that reading through my lines, people should know that Prof. Akinyemi could not take such a position. So, I get embarrassed that I have to drag him out all the time. That is just the truth, but that does not affect my conviction on the state of the nation any time I have to write.
“I believe that some persons are just being mischievous, because when I write my articles most times, I signed them off as Bolaji O. Akinyemi, while the former minister’s name is Akinwande Bolaji Akinyemi. Sometimes, I put my phone number and I expect that if anybody feels confused, he would call me to confirm. So, I believe that some mischievous persons are just doing whatever they want to do.”
On steps taken to check or correct the mix-up, Dr. Akinyemi said: “We have done that quite several times. I just feel that some people just chose to be mischievous and keep troubling the old man unnecessarily.
“Some time ago, I was sent a text message by someone who claims to be Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and he was talking about an appointment as the special assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and I said you cannot be talking to me because I am not into diplomacy line at all.
“So, we have had to engage people several times. I do not know why some Nigerians are just lazy. By simply going online, they would be able to differentiate between the two of us, but some of our people just keep being mischievous.”
He revealed that he had only spoken to Prof. Akinyemi once and that it was as a result of a mix up in attribution.
“I spoke with Professor Akinyemi once and that was when I wrote a series about Pastor Tunde Bakare, after which someone organised a meeting between me and Pastor Bakare. While I was with Pastor Bakare, he put a call to Professor Akinyemi, telling him that the Bolaji Akinyemi that has been “causing you trouble is here, and we spoke on phone. That was all.”
Like Dr Akinyemi, the former DG of NIIA, also agrees that those who mix-up the two identities are just being mischievous.
“They are mischievous. I am Professor A. Bolaji Akinyemi, and the gentleman always signs his papers as Dr. Bolaji O. Akinyemi. Why can’t journalists call him for clarification when they notice that Bolaji O. Akinyemi signed the document to know if he was a professor? So, it is the journalists who are not doing their job; they want to sell their papers by deliberately mixing the two names.”
On how he feels about the identity crisis, Professor Akinyemi said: “I am not comfortable, especially during this toxic time. I do not feel comfortable; nobody will feel comfortable being at the centre of a mix-up over very toxic issues. But there is nothing I can do, and when I feel strongly enough, it is to issue a press release. Apart from that, there is nothing I can do.”