New assignment for an old witness
Chief Olusegun Osoba, the two-time former Governor of Ogun State, is a significant presence on the Nigerian media space. His engaging memoir, Battlelines, is devoted more to his media experience as expected. The presentation of the book on Monday July 8, attracted members of the Nigerian ruling class including Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and the shakers and movers of the Nigerian press, especially those giants from the ancient regime when the old Daily Times ruled its empire. The empire is lost, but the allure remains and the princes of old times are still moving with the assured bounce that shakes the ground.
For more than half-a-Century, Osoba has been a witness to history and he has transformed to become a significant player on history’s centre stage. Now he is an elder statesman who is still involved in partisan politics as a chieftain of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC. It is significant that many top politicians from across the political divides especially from Ogun State, were among those at the Eko Hotel venue of the celebration last Monday in Lagos. Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, who is the chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, led the team of governors. Governor Seriake Dickson, chairman of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Governors Forum, was also there. Otunba Gbenga Daniel, who took over from Osoba in 2003, was there. Rear Admiral Dehinde Joseph, who handed over power to Osoba in 1992, was also in attendance. Such was the universal appeal of the Osoba brand that it attracts people from different political persuasion and experience.
“Reporting is my life,” Osoba declared in the Prologue of his 341-page book. “For me to be called a reporter is the greatest accolade.”
Osoba first became governor in 1992 under the General Ibrahim Babangida experimental democracy. Journalism had prepared him for that office. He had been chief executive of the Nigerian Herald, the Sketch and the Daily Times. He was a man of the world who had little patience for the foot-dragging punctiliousness of the average civil servant. Once, he was caught in traffic in Abeokuta, he abandoned the state car and jumped on a motorcycle so that he would not be late for his appointment. Those were the days. If any governor tries that today, he may end up in the kidnapper’s den and the state treasury would be the worse for it!
Then he lost his job when General Sani Abacha seized power from Chief Ernest Adegunle Shonekan, the Head of the Interim National Government, ING, in November 1993. For Osoba, it was a rough introduction to politics but he never looked back. Out of power, Osoba moved back to Lagos. I visited him at his Dolphin Estate home, Ikoyi, where I enjoyed the hospitality of Beere Aderinsola, his wife, a formidable politician in her own right and the ultimate editor’s wife. Her knowledge of politics and world affair is catholic. The magnificent Aderinsola, is an excellent cook.
Osoba was one of the few former governors who became parts of the June 12 struggle. He was detained for some months. After his release, he stayed in his house for some time until it became apparent that the new regime of General Sani Abacha was no longer interested in detaining him. The order was out that he should be killed. Osoba went fully underground. One night, the Abacha goons invaded the house and would not allow anyone to go out. One of Osoba’s sons who was sitting for his final secondary school examination, escaped into the compound of their neighbour by climbing the high fence.
One day I needed to see him at the height of the struggle. I finally met him in one of his safe houses in Ebute-Metta. It was not surprising that he emerged the governor of Ogun State for the second time in 1999, on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy, AD. Throughout the military era, Osoba remained close to his political structure. He never abandoned them. His steadfastness and loyalty paid off. Three governors later, Osoba remains a factor in Ogun State politics and very relevant on the national stage.
Now he is eighty and he has to choose his battles more carefully. The body that propelled Osoba the second time was Afenifere, the mainstream Yoruba political and cultural movement under the leadership of the redoubtable Senator Abraham Aderibigbe Adesanya. Of course now, many of the old veterans are dead: Adesanya, Chief Bola Ige, Dr Nathaniel Falaye Aina, Otunba Solanke Onasanya, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi, Archbishop Emmanuel Alayande, Chief G.O.K Ajayi and many others.
It is significant that many of the old comrades who participated in the struggle under the auspices of Afenifere; Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Chief Olu Falae, Chief Reuben Fasoranti and many others were not present to rejoice with Osoba on Monday. They knew he survived several attempts on his life by the Abacha killer squad and lived to celebrate 80. It was a delight that many of them were there including Chief Ayo Opadokun, lawyer, journalist, who grew a bushy beard in order to escape Abacha’s goons. He was eventually betrayed.
If the truth must be told, the Yorubas don’t know how to compartmentalise their political differences. For them, politics means war that must be fought to the bitter end. In 2006 when I launched my campaign for the governorship ticket of the Alliance for Democracy, AD, for Ekiti State, I invited all the other aspirants. We were almost 20 then. Only three of them honoured my invitation. Later some members of my campaign team criticised me bitterly for inviting enemies to our function!
Twenty-four hours after his celebration, Osoba joined a fire-fighting team of top APC top leaders led by Chief Ahmed Bola Tinubu, which had been despatched to Akure, to quench the fire of discord raging in the Ondo State branch. Since he was elected Governor, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu has been unable to unite his party for the task of governance. During last year election, President Muhammadu Buhari lost to the opposition candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, in Ondo State.
A deeper study needs to be done to find out why the Yorubas are always turning every political disagreement into a bitter war. It may be that the Yorubas are spoilt by circumstances even when common peril appears imminent. Yorubaland has never been occupied by foreigners except those invited by the Yorubas themselves. It was the Yoruba who diligently invited the British in 1886 to put an end to the 16 years Civil War which had stalemated at the Igbajo and Imesi-Ile fronts. That invitation gave birth to the almost a century of British rule.
Few years ago, I was invited to deliver a public lecture in Ilorin, capital of Kwara State. A prominent person who was in the audience spoke about the Fulani conquest of Ilorin. I explained to the audience however that the Fulani did not conquer Ilorin. It was the Yoruba themselves who conquered Ilorin and handed it over to the Fulani. Since then, Ilorin has developed into a peculiar Yoruba city with its own mores and Oyo dialect.
Osoba and members of his generation have witnessed the conflicts and intractable struggles starting from the Action Group crisis of 1962. Some members of the younger generations, armed with the foulest of language, are proud to inherit the bitterness of that old conflicts. Some of the old war horses, even now, are not ready for any kind of reconciliation or even least understanding. For them, politics is war and this is a war that must be fought to the bitter end.
Now that Osoba has taken the giant step into his eighties, it is time for him to reflect on this state of affairs, reach out and help to heal old wounds. There are urgent tasks that can only be accomplished through elite consensus. The most urgent is the call for the restructuring of the Federation which had been on the Yoruba Agenda since the military seized power in 1966. With the inheritance of 36 puny states against a central Leviathan according to the 1999 Constitution, the call becomes more urgent. No President or any other person can achieve the restructuring of the Federation or the rebuilding of Yorubaland without an elite consensus.
On September 11, 1966, Yoruba leaders met at Mapo Hall, Ibadan. The meeting was called by Colonel Adeyinka Adebayo, the new military governor of the West who wanted the Yoruba to take a position on the Nigerian crisis. Chief Richard Akinjide, a Minister in the ousted regime of Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, moved an historic motion on that day, nominating Chief Obafemi Awolowo, former Leader of the Opposition, as the Asiwaju of the Yoruba. The nomination was approved by an uproarious applause.
Since then, the Yoruba seems not to have agreed on anything else. We need to start from there. This is why the wisdom, perspicacity, perseverance and the capacity to build consensus that an old editor has learnt in a lifetime on the beat would prove so useful. Congratulations Aremo Olusegun Osoba! You have accomplished a lot, but your assignments are not completed yet!