The tortoise – In Touch, Culled from The Nation newspaper.
Baba Akande, as those close to him call him with near adoration, took the public by surprise. Yours truly did not know of the book until a week to the presentation when Dare Babarinsa, the publisher and writer with a historical temperament, intimated me of the coming storm and eventually gifted me with a copy.
As a slow and earnest reader, I ploughed into the volume, a writing of spare, unvarnished prose but abundant content, surfing with history and tumbling with names of high and low profiles, and overflowing with incidents. But the real review will come soon on this page, but this essayist was as happy to attend the coming-out party of the glorious story of one of the most consequential figures of Nigeria’s contemporary political history.
At Eko Hotel, the visages and agbadas and babaringas materialised. The caps, too, the smiles, some faces bearing daggers, others supine and worshipful. Hugs and handshakes could hardly disguise the wily and the bold. Enter governors and ministers from north and south. Enter President Buhari with his train. Enter Asiwaju Tinubu bedecked with his familiar cap and glasses. Enter, of course, Bisi Akande, the day’s top shot, unveiling his lips with a vintage supernova smile, unveiling his lips to a galaxy of white teeth.
As the day wore on, there was a man who was both tortoise and elephant. He was a tortoise because he was there but he was not there. A tortoise is never absent in any African folktale and so was this man. Tortoise, sly, manipulative, fell and ferocious, animates all African tales just as the fellow has been in our country’s modern history. He was, in consequence, the elephant in the room. He is the Owu chief, the man from Ota, a former president, Olusegun Obasanjo. I wonder if he was invited and decided to remain ensconced in the secure Bastille of his Ota home, the same way a tortoise hides its head in the rampart of its shell.
But there whether from the lips of President Buhari, from gangling Kashim Imam, from Bisi Akande himself and the Jagaban, and even the perspicacious reviewer Segun Ayobolu, this newspaper’s editor at large, Obasanjo was in the dock.
He was prosecuted. He was cross examined, heckled and damned. He walked to Golgotha and descended to Hades. He was jailed and convicted. He was the sufferer of an inquisition and guillotine. His head was lopped off there in spirit and in Ota in the flesh. In either place, he felt the severity of the judgement. It was justice without a defence attorney, without a plea of guilt. There was no tear for him, no acclamation. He went from the dock to the place of the damned.
Kashim Imam reported that he was with OBj when the former president decided to sweep out progressives in an electoral gale across the southwest. He said Obj thought Akande was such a good man, but he removed him anyway. Only Lagos was spared, or shall we say only Lagos was impregnable, a thing that earned the candidate and governor, Bola Tinubu, the praise of “the last man standing.” Imam warned Obj not to come near Lagos, because the man would resist and burn everywhere. A coward does not fight when he knows disaster beckons.
The president’s speech was so heartfelt and rippled with humour and it humanised him in ways few ever see him. He called what happened “an electoral massacre,” a clear innuendo at those who fished for the word to justify a fiction. He said a “steadfast Tinubu” escaped it. This was the sentiment of the day. But if he was steadfast, how could he escape? To escape is to flee, to be weak and vulnerable. Obviously, it was OBJ himself who escaped a disgrace on the streets of Lagos. A steadfast person would triumph, not escape. The writing missed the philosophical nuance of that episode of Nigerian history.
There was another miss. When Reviewer Ayobolu adverted to Baba Akande’s suffering in Jail at the collapse of the Second Republic, there was an elephant in the room. He did not say, out of courtesy, that the man who jailed Akande was in our midst: President Buhari himself. There were hushed murmurs in parts of the hall. It was a paradox of the day, but it also shows how a mistake at one time can be a mea culpa at another. Akande was in the gulag for about three years, and went through unprintable hardship, at one time sleeping in a “pond of dirt” at the jail house in Ibadan. But the review is coming.
The paradox remains that the same Buhari nods to a quote from the book in which Baba Akande says he never asked nor took bribe from anyone in his life. Yet, that was the reason he did not see daylight in three years. It is a personage like Akande, who exposes the brutish chicaneries of that age of guns and sleight, of decrees and deceit.
Many are reading the book now, and already the tremors are shaking the political earth. Ayo Adebanjo, who I berated in this column as a phony progressive and who enlisted some columnists to come after me, a Teflon penman that I am, came up for quite some beating in the book. Ditto Olaniwun Ajayi and a line of political never-do-wells. Adebanjo says he wants to read the book first. I await his rebuttal of the C of O gratis and free home Tinubu built for him, a man he has made a career of assailing. Tom Ikimi has also said he is writing his own book. We await the prose and his reasons for denying.
Also some have started revisionism of history that happened before our eyes, especially what Baba Akande wrote about how Prof. Yemi Osinbajo emerged. Some are fighting hard to make the vice president look like a familiar figure and national heavyweight before he was nominated. Did he not emerge out of Tinubu’s shadow at Asiwaju’s initiative? How could Buhari just pick him when he knew next to nothing about the law professor and former attorney general under Tinubu as Lagos governor? Some journalists should be careful about turning apocrypha into facts and parroting the drivel from the mischief tongues of unfledged politicians, especially tendentious play with facts. Even he, Osinbajo, confessed that Tinubu nominated him. The mongers of this fiction are privileging that narrative to detract from the more obvious one: The breach of faith of candidate Buhari as Akande narrated. Having emerged, he could not stand his ground as a man of faith to a pact he himself had anointed with his lips and witnesses. It was a lapse of integrity.
More issues will emerge, and the book, titled: My Participations, is instructive by his title. He implies he took part and was a part of the maelstrom of events. it hinted at his passivity in the concourse of Nigerian history. It underlines a humble man, who had been a deputy governor, confronted the military, was a governor, became a party chairman of four political parties. His humility, his lack of guile as Ayobolu called him, makes his revelations and bird’s-eye view of the train of history very credible. Anyone who would defy or debunk had better come with facts, or chew their cud in ignominious silence and shame. When the chips are down, Participations may be not only a redoubt of modern history, but perhaps one of the best works of his generation.