At Osoba’s birthday, Osinbajo harps on ethnicity as nation’s bane
• Abubakar, Tinubu, Maiden Alex-Ibru extol Ogun ex-gov’s virtues
It was meant to be a public presentation of a book. But the political razzmatazz made it seem like a mini-national convention of the All Progressives Congress (APC), notwithstanding the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari and the national chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole. But there was also a sprinkle of dignitaries outside the political class.
The size and quality of guests at former Ogun State Governor Olusegun Osoba’s presentation of his book Battlelines: Adventures in Journalism and Politics in Lagos yesterday reflected his quality as a bridge-builder and detribalised Nigerian. The two planks of the book–politics and media–were fairly represented.
Among those that graced the occasion were Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who was the keynote speaker; former Head of State and chairman of the event, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, and his wife, Justice Fati; Senate President, Ahmed Lawan; Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Ahmed Wase; Chairman Nigerian Governors Forum, Dr. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State; former national chairmen of APC, Chief Bisi Akande and Chief John Odigie-Oyegun as well as the National Leader of the party and former governor of Lagos State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Other eminent guests at the event include the Publisher of The Guardian, Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru and Governors Babajide Sanwo-Olu and his deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat (Lagos), Dapo Abiodun (Ogun), Henry Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa), Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo) and Abdullahi Umar Ganduje (Kano).
Also present were immediate past Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi; two former governors of Akwa Ibom State – Victor Attah and Godswill Akpabio; former governor of Cross Rivers State, Dr. Donald Duke; former governor of Oyo State, Alhaji Abiola Ajimobi; former governor of Ogun State, Gbenga Daniel; former governor of Ekiti State, Niyi Adebayo; Senator Gbenga Ashafa; Senator Antony Adefuye; members of the National Assembly; former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Ambassador Babagana Kingibe; members of the 1956 Old Boys Association of Methodist Boys High School led by the Alapini of Lagos, Chief Gbolahan Oderinde; Oba of Lagos, Rilwanu Akiolu; Senator Orji Uzor Kalu; and former Minister of External Affairs, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi.
The one major message at the book presentation, which was also planned to mark Osoba’s 80th birthday, was the need for Nigerians to reach out beyond artificial boundaries and be one indivisible entity that God created it to be.In his remarks, Abubakar congratulated Osoba on his new status as an author after a remarkable career in journalism and public office, just as he commended his wife, Derinsola and his family for the support given to the author.
Corroborating Osoba’s claim of long-time relationship with ex-military generals during the early part of their careers in the army, Abubakar said: “Chief Osoba and I have come a long way. Our relationship started in the 1960s when I was a young officer in the military and he was also a young but promising journalist. We have enjoyed an interesting relationship, which can provide useful lessons for many in present-day Nigeria.”
The former military leader, whom the celebrant later described as the “father of present democracy” in Nigeria buttressed the fact that the author is a detribalised Nigerian. “We have always regarded ourselves as brothers without focus on our differences. While he is a Christian, I am a Muslim. While he is from the Southwest, I am from what you call North central. While I retired as a general of the Nigerian Army, he left as journalism general. While providence gave me the opportunity to be head of state, he was an elected civilian governor of Ogun State. While he enjoyed the support of a dutiful wife who is also a successful educationist and school proprietor, I have been blessed with a wife who acquitted herself well in the judiciary.
“Notwithstanding what many may see as differences, we have other things that define us. Even as both of us are pensioners, we still busy ourselves thinking of Nigeria. Without being immodest, I think we both possess a deep interest in the affairs of our country. We both want the best for Nigeria. We want Nigeria to remain a great blessing to Nigerians, Africans and the world in general. We want Nigeria to work with clarity of purpose. We want Nigerians to walk tall all over the world. We want Nigerians to believe in their country, believe in themselves and work with elected and appointed officials of the state to make a qualitative improvement in the quality of life.”
In his keynote address entitled “We Need To Form Alliances Across Faiths And Ethnicities To Destroy The Evil Of Extremism That Confronts Us All”, Osinbajo said: “The most remarkable attribute of this illustrious Nigerian is his pan-Nigerianism; that effortless ability to build bridges and make friends from across various divides.
“He has that gift of connecting with people, earning their trust and confidence, of being able to get along with a diverse cast of Nigerians from all walks of life. This has evidently contributed greatly to the successes he has notched up in his twin careers of journalism and politics.”
According to the vice president, “the collapse of our national achievements and attainments at every stage of our history has been that Achilles heel, the tribal and religious suspicions, the inability at crucial moments to bridge the gaps of ethnic and religious prejudice. So, from the execution of the coup of 1966, the countercoup, later that year, and the Civil War, starting in 1967, it is clear that these tragedies occurred because the once united military wing of the Nigerian elite finally gave way to its basest instincts – ethnicity and tribal prejudices. Years later, the scars and fractures remain.”
On the book, he said: “Osoba’s story also tells us how the political elite also played the ethnic card to defeat what would have been a national struggle for democracy; the struggle to restore MKO Abiola’s mandate won by votes enthusiastically given by men and women of all tribes and faiths across the country, including the Kano home state of his opponent.
“But it wasn’t difficult to begin a process of delegitimising it. The tactic is the same and the consequences devastatingly effective: ethnicize it. And so, they did. Northern governors of the NRC, the party that lost the election, issued a statement saying that Abiola should be advised to give up his campaign for the restoration of the June 12th mandate, that any such restoration should begin with the restoration of the sacred mandate given to Shehu Shagari and forcefully taken from him in the wake of the 1983 military coup. The Eastern NRC governors had earlier issued a statement threatening a secession of the Eastern states from the rest of the country, if the annulment of the June 12 election was reversed.
“The military dictatorship took advantage of the ethnic divisions, to make it seem like a Southwest struggle for one of its own, rather than a struggle for democracy and justice, in the process imposing one of the most fearsome repressions of liberties anywhere in the world.“Our recent history is the same. The religious or ethnic card is pulled out regularly to win the argument or the votes. The problem is that the resort to our fault lines is a cover-up for the failure of a vision and a genuine programme to address the real concerns of the millions of our countrymen and women. It also breaks our ranks and prevents the pursuit of our real enemies, poverty and its causes and manifestation, poor education and healthcare, violent extremism, among others.”
According to Osinbajo, “Osoba’s life and times speak most eloquently to the power of building bridges, finding common ground, and resisting divisive narratives, especially in a country as diverse as Nigeria, a country where it is extremely easy to find reasons to languish in stereotypes and suspicions, where far too many of us by default, lapse into ethnic camps.”The Senate president said Osoba’s memoir was full of lessons for Nigerians. “This country is blessed and rich in diversity. This diversity is meant to be our strength. No country develops without trust. Those at the helms of affairs should show that clear sense of leadership, confidence, trust and good judgment to earn the people’s trust. We cannot afford to continue to think as if we are in different nations.”
Quoting from the former national anthem, Lawan said “though tribe and tongue may differ,” there is the need for unity as well as “faith in the country and ourselves.”Narrating his personal experience with Osoba when the author was on a sick bed recently, Tinubu said “Osoba is such an open person such that any story you don’t want to tell any other person, don’t relay it to Osoba.”Tinubu also said the author demonstrated uncommon commitment when he was with him for almost two hours on his sick bed. “He showed me all the details of his illness and also expressed concerns about the party on the same spot.”
While presenting a gift on behalf of The Guardian to the celebrant, Lady Alex-Ibru said when the idea of establishing the newspaper came to her late husband, it was Osoba and the likes of the late Dr. Stanley Macebuh and Mr. Yahaya Awosanya that he contacted for intellectual contributions, “and today The Guardian is successfully playing the role for which it was founded.” In his remarks, the author said it was not by accident that he picked Osinbajo as the keynote speaker and Abubakar as the chairman of the event.
“I deliberately picked Osinbajo because he was the direct prosecutor of Rogers and he knew the story of how Abacha tried to assassinate me. “For Abubakar, he is the father of democracy in Nigeria because the democracy he midwifed has survived for more than 20 years. He also registered Alliance for Democracy (AD), which gave Tinubu, Adebayo, myself and others opportunity to become governors in the Southwest.” The author admonished those calling for restructuring of Nigeria to modify their strategy, saying “our fathers who were shouting restructuring must realise that the National Assembly is crucial. If anybody thinks President Buhari can restructure by decree, it is not possible.”
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