Journalism of Courage

Hero-Worshipping Senator Ajibola Basiru’s Agbada Caught in a Barbwire

The fact is people like Senator Basiru will do their job, no matter how unpalatable it is. Yes, we will always have men like him who would, with a straight face, call a dog a monkey supposedly for our education.

This is a rejoinder to Senator Ajibola Basiru’s piece titled “Osinbajo: Senator Adeyeye and his dishonest thesis” published in The Guardian of Saturday, May 14, 2022.

Basiru is my successor in the Red Chamber as the Senator representing Osun Central. So, he is my Senator, but he’s in a bit of a pickle at the moment. His cry for help has come in the form of his tendentious attack against me in the media. I hear him.

Before I deal with the substantive issues in his piece, let me deal with the attitude he exhibited. Somehow, the attitude is tied to the substantive issues, but I want to deal with aspects of it that have to do with presentation and character.

It should be a given that when you are the spokesperson of the Senate, which Bashiru in his piece, lavishly reminded us that he is, being the mouthpiece of a presidential aspirant in the public space would be a walk in the park for you, Sadly, Bashiru falls short of this miniscule expectation.

The first rule of public engagement is to respect your interlocutors and understand the issue. You just don’t jump into an ongoing public discussion with an idea in your head without understanding or, at least, acknowledging the context of an ongoing debate. The title and the first paragraph of my piece clearly says it is a rejoinder to Reno Omokri’s piece published in his column (‘THE ALTERNATIVE’) on the backpage of ThisDay newspaper of Tuesday, the 3rd of May, 2022. The least one would expect from anyone publicly joining the discussion is to acknowledge this. But Basiru dove headlong into it to grab my throat because he wasn’t happy I didn’t have mushy things to say about his preferred aspirant. I apologize on behalf of Basiru to Reno Omokri, the young man who did a brilliant job in the piece I responded to, even though my rejoinder disagreed with his view. A man who does not respect intellect has none.

Now, about character, when a man chooses the public space to declare you “dishonest” over something you had said in the public space, you owe it to yourself and to posterity to either reject or accept that tag. You can reject it by responding or you can accept it by admitting that indeed you are dishonest, or you can just keep mute. In the last case, any reasonable person would take your silence as consent.

I do not accept the popular wisdom that you should ignore people who mischievously lie against you or misrepresent what you’ve said in the public space. No, you should respond. If they are in the gutter and they think you won’t come in there to roll with them, because you are Mary Poppins, or a shrinking violet, oh, please, disappoint them. Jump in, feed them with the slime they’re used to and leave them there to marinate in their natural abode. It befits them. That’s me.

Okay, why this attitude and why over the issue in question? Senator Basiru and I are at this moment on two different sides of the political divide within our party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Ordinarily, as my successor in the Senate, I should have no reason to engage with him in an adversarial manner in public space. However, where it concerns Nigeria and our patriotism, where it concerns nothing personal, there are no sacred spaces to speak the truth.

Senator Basiru accuses me of dishonesty. That is heavy. He should not be allowed to emblazon a supposed response to me in national newspapers with a tag of dishonesty without proving it to Nigerians. Perhaps he should look up the meaning of dishonest and then come back and point out to me where I was dishonest in my piece. Of course, I say this because nothing, absolutely nothing in his piece suggests that I am dishonest. Everything he said in response to me only indicates that we have a difference of opinion. You don’t differ with someone else’s opinion and then tag him dishonest, except, of course, if he is and you can prove it or as an adult, you’re still grappling with that basic elementary school English Language curriculum called “Words and Meaning.” Whatever the case, I will give Senator Basiru the opportunity to prove it, while I respond to the substantive issues he attempted to discuss in his piece in supposed response to me.

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But, before I delve into that, let me say something about my politics and what I am about at the moment without fear of contradiction. Apart from being a scientist and an academic, I have been a Local Government Chairman, a member of the House of Representatives and a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In all these emanations, I have carried myself with dignity and a strong sense of purpose with full respect to Nigerians who I humbly served and still serve. My biggest asset throughout the decades of being active in academia and politics and now is my integrity. To the ironic embarrassment of some around me, I carry it like an egg. That is why there is no one in Nigeria or anywhere in the world I cannot tell my mind. Of course, I should add that I have been that way right from my days as a young secondary school lad through my political and party activism with the Action Group (AG) and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and throughout the time of the highly political military of the seventies, eighties and nineties.

Now, as a strong supporter of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in this forthcoming election, I made a conscious choice to follow my idealism. I know the way of politicians, but even though I’m one, I do not stain myself in pursuit of power for myself or on behalf of another person, no matter who they are. Osinbajo did not give me money and cannot give me money. He has given me what I want and it is exactly what I want for my children and for all Nigerians. Let me elaborate.

I read Chidi Amuta’s column in the Sunday ThisDay of the 15th of May, 2022. He had an article there titled “Overcrowding the Presidential Doorway.” Like most informed commentators, he is scandalized by the number of unserious people clogging the space in supposed contest for the presidency on the platforms of the political parties. He took the liberty to mention that only “seven from the multitude of presidential aspirants have any business aspiring to lead anything beyond a local government or town union” and he went further to describe them.

Here is how he put it:

“In the minor parties, my friend Kingsley Moghalu stands out for knowledge about Nigeria and informed options on how to rescue the nation from the present prison house of tragic misgovernance. From the PDP queue, I can see Pius Anyim, Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar. Each comes with options outside the box and undeniable experience in getting good things done.

“In the APC, there is Bola Tinubu who set Lagos on the path to a modern mega city status and introduced a tradition of enlightened governance. Rotimi Amaechi stands tall in the APC pack as one man with an unusual courage and boldness to fix frightening problems. He has fixed things we can see and feel in his Rivers state and all around Nigeria. There is Yemi Osinbajo, exemplary Vice President, an unusual combination of morality, ideas and practical solutions. I hardly know about the rest of the crowded choir.”

I mean, read that again and pay close attention to how he described each person. Is there any description or testimonial that is better than what he said about Osinbajo? Is there anyone better for Nigeria now than a person with “an unusual combination of morality, ideas and practical solutions”? Amuta gave each their due, but he found in Osinbajo an encapsulation of what he found in others and more.

This is a man who has been Vice President for seven years. If in seven years, power did not make him lose his idealism, ethics and can-do spirit, what will the next four years be with Nigeria under his watch? Yes, this Nigeria drugged up in political miasma needs a man like him and I am proud to stand with him! The possibilities his candidacy portends are exactly the tonic my creaking bones need to get on the road for him. I didn’t need to be preached to or converted. I know him. If helping deliver Osinbajo as the leader of our country is the last thing I do here on earth, I will die a very fulfilled man. In politics and in my private life, I don’t do duplicity. In Osinbajo, I find a leader I can identify with, a leader I can trust.

Senator Basiru claims that the central thesis of my piece “is that Professor Yemi Osinbajo is the preferred aspirant of President Muhammadu Buhari.” He read what I wrote and heard what he wanted to hear. But what he heard is not what I wrote. I made a case for why the Vice President should be Buhari’s preference, not that he is. If a person with a doctorate degree is unable to make this elementary distinction, the best I can do is to adapt the words of Jesus on the cross- “Father, forgive him, for he knows not what he is saying.”

None of us, at least not me, knows Buhari’s preference, even though he has indicated he has one. I’m sure Senator Basiru wishes his principal is Buhari’s preferred choice. So what is wrong with my being forthright about my own wishes in that regard?

He also has a problem with the following comment I made, which he interpreted as pursuant to my thesis:

“In his piece, Reno missed two fundamental truths about Nigerian politics. The first is that if the establishment does not want you, you can never win the presidency. The second is religion as a factor in Nigerian political outcomes is overrated, especially at the national level. Yes, the establishment uses it when convenient, but, when it matters, realpolitik always trumps religion.

“Nigeria is not a land of political revolution. We have been caught in the web of the ‘Class of 1966’ like since forever and they are still in charge. They determine who is president, irrespective of parties. Buhari, for good or ill, has reshaped the establishment platform to be more pro-North. He may have done it deliberately or it may just be something that has developed naturally under his watch. Whichever is the case, it is today our reality.

“Of course, the popular wisdom is that religious sentiments determine the outcomes of national political contests, especially for the presidency – at the party and general election levels. But the historical facts do not support this. What history tells us is that any candidate of any religious background can be sold successfully nationally by the establishment once they determine he or she is the one they want there.”

He says he is “at a loss to see the factual and empirical basis” for what he termed my Theory of Establishment “in view of the recent political history of Nigeria that saw the presidency of President Buhari dislodging an incumbent President and a political party that has controlled the Presidency for about 16 years before the 2015 electoral loss.” He contended that no establishment wanted President Buhari and the APC in 2015 and then said he sees my comment as “a clear attempt to use a banal assertion to becloud the spirited efforts of the coalition that ripened to the APC and the struggle of our leaders like President Buhari, Chief Bisi Akande, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Chief Ogbonnaya Onu among others that ensure the presidency for the APC against all odds.”

Obviously, he is avoiding the basic truth of my thesis and attempting to replace it with his own invented “recent political history” despite hearing me talk clearly about the ‘Class of 1966’. Or, is it that he does not know that all the presidents we’ve had since the advent of the Fourth Republic are fully sanctioned by the ‘Class of 1966’ before the vote that brought them formally to Aso Rock? In 1999, did they not determine, after their bungling of June 12, that Olusegun Obasanjo, one of their own, should get it? When Muhammadu Buhari looked to succeed Obasanjo, did they not freeze him out because they believed at the time that he still had resentments over the Ibrahim Babangida coup that toppled him? Okay, we might say Umaru Yar’Adua was an Obasanjo project, but he was also the establishment’s project to reward one of their own, the late Shehu Yar’Adua. The original coming of Goodluck Jonathan was fortuitous, but he was adopted because he was still part of the Obasanjo project. When they fell out with him, did they not bring back the now contrite Buhari to replace him?

So, why go on a wild goose chase with his “recent political history” when the facts support my basic thesis that if the establishment does not want you, you can never win the presidency? Or why does he think there are pilgrimages to the Hilltop Mansion in Minna or Obasanjo’s abode in Abeokuta by all manner of people seeking the presidency? When his principal went to see Babangida in Minna in January this year, did he just go there to secure Babangida’s sole vote in his quest for the presidency? Of course, the political parties will naturally organize and make their choices and partake in elections, but our history tells us that the powers that be make these choices for the topmost national political position before the ordinary voter. It is what it is and we need not lie to Nigerians because they know.

Senator Basiru claims I said that “religion has almost lost relevance ultimately in the Nigeria context.” From my verbatim quote above, anyone can see I never said that. He used his choice word “banal” to describe my assertion on religion and claimed he was “yet to see the empirical study that support (sic) the assertion.” He said my talk about realpolitik trumping religion leaves the gaping question “when realpolitik matter?” (sic) and “who determines when realpolitik matters?” Isn’t this tiring? The man thinks realpolitik is an event that is conducted formally by some potentate on a date decided by the fellow and his or her court. Perhaps, he thinks it will come with an official parade.

But the most softheaded assertion he made supposedly based on my comment on religion is this:

“I see in the assertion an overly dangerous assumption that mass of the people and their opinions can be easily discounted in a democratic polity. To dismiss with a stroke of pen the possible effects of religion in a largely traditional society like ours in democratic choices is far from being profound. Is the Senator oblivious of the fact that Professor Yemi Osinbajo became Vice President in 2015 largely due to the orchestrated campaign against a Muslim/Muslim ticket because President Buhari was perceived to be an Islamic extremist and hence the party needed a Pastor from the Southwest to ensure the candidacy is sellable to the southerners?”

This one had me in a bit of a shock at first, but I caught on quickly. Some politicians employ religion as their weapons of mass destruction, so they would defend its sanctity as a political tool, even as we proclaim Nigeria a secular state. The truth is that I never said or inferred that “religion has almost lost relevance ultimately in the Nigeria political context,” whatever that means. In Nigeria, outside our traditional belief system, religion is a social construct. You may say Islam is the product of Arab cultural imperialism or Christianity is a product of British and European colonialism, the point is people have come to accept them as their belief systems. As a social construct, a democratic society will naturally value religion as an organising tool for cultural moralization. Saying religion has almost lost relevance in the Nigerian political context is to declare we live in the Stone Age. Religion is a civilizational tool that helps to govern conduct. It cannot lose relevance in a progressive society. I mean, I am not saying there are no largely atheistic societies, but atheism has its moral codes, just like any religion.

Senator Basiru knew that I wasn’t talking about society and religion; he knew that I was talking about the idea that the Nigerian political establishment at the highest level does not choose or reject presidential candidates based on specific religion, as Reno Omokri wanted us to believe when he dismissed the chances of the Vice President becoming president because, according to him, even Buhari, “with his real or imaginary Northern-cult following, can’t persuade the core North to vote for a Christian pastor.” Of course, he forgot that Obasanjo, our first president in the Fourth Republic was a born-again Christian who openly professed his faith, who was rejected by his home base, but was largely installed by Northern political power. He forgot that Goodluck Jonathan was a Christian when they mobilized to install him in 2011, despite the openly desperate attempt to use religious sentiments to swing the election Buhari’s way. The establishment knows that religion works in elections only if they let loose its reins, but they are confident that they and their clerical clients are always holding the reins and working in tandem for their common political interest. That is what we mean by realpolitik.

Basiru, the spokesperson for Project Bourdillon, was miffed by this comment of mine:

“When Reno says that Buhari’s political foot soldiers in the core North are united behind Tinubu, we simply tick that off as an error of assessment. The reality is that those he refers to as Buhari’s political foot soldiers are showing Tinubu everyday with action that they are not with him. Let him name one Buhari foot soldier in Tinubu’s camp and I will name a hundred that are not there. When Buhari candidly said that the presidency is not for sale to the highest bidder, wise citizens paid attention.”

He wryly declared that I must have conducted a census of the president’s foot soldiers “against Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.” Well, to his relief, let me confess that I’ve done no such thing. The reality is that those they are referring to as Buhari’s political foot soldiers are showing Tinubu everyday with action that they are not with him. Does he think Mai Mala Buni and others who were pining for Goodluck Jonathan are now with Tinubu? Why does he think Ahmed Lawan and Badaru Abubakar are declaring for the presidency? Why does he think Senator Kabiru Gaya confidently picked up the form for Osinbajo? If anyone wants to know Tinubu’s fate up North, they need look no further than the charade that went on in Kaduna when Tinubu visited the delegates and Governor Nasir el-Rufai and when Rotimi Amaechi came calling after. That’s the code. It was funny watching some clueless claque belching out drunken guffaws in precipitate celebration of the victory of their aspirant on the strength of the Kaduna abracadabra. Hope they all have a drawing board to stagger back to.

And talking of foot soldiers properly-so-called, party primaries are not for foot soldiers. They’re for a select group of people called delegates who look up to their leaders for direction. In the case of the APC, Buhari is that one leader, the leader of leaders. He has put people in place in the party executive and in the relevant party organs to ensure that his choice as party presidential flag-bearer will carry the day. Reno is looking at the matter within the APC as a straight fight between Tinubu and Osinbajo and he is using the old party delegates and religious parameters to judge, which is why he gives it to Tinubu, a Muslim with the money and supposedly the men everywhere. But in truth, this is a fight between Tinubu and the establishment that has indulged him, propped him up and used him to serve their political ends up till now. Obviously, Reno and Basiru have not been reading the body language of the new executive of the APC. They have not seen the signals being sent by the aspirants from the North declaring for the presidency under the banner of the APC.

Basiru spent an inordinate amount of time in his piece complaining about what he described as my “deprecatory and defamatory assertion” and my supposed “desperate move to disparage the character and reputation of Asiwaju Tinubu” and so on. But he couldn’t exactly indicate what I have said that is defamatory, yet he conjured up a reason. He said I am saying these things to “market the aspiration of Professor Osinbajo” to “the establishment.” In other words, I am defaming and disparaging other aspirants, particularly Tinubu, to gain the favour of “the establishment” for my candidate.

The Senator knows this is a cop-out. He knows the establishment knows our candidates very well because it is their job to know these things. Whatever I have said about Tinubu cannot be defamatory, which is why Basiru himself couldn’t pinpoint any of my comment against Tinubu that is. But, yes, some of my comments against his candidate are not complimentary, but that is par the course. My job as the surrogate for my candidate is to seek the weakness of other candidates competing with my candidate and expose these to Nigerians. The only thing I owe myself and Nigerians is to speak the truth about whoever I am talking about. So, yes, I am not trying to market my candidate to the establishment; I am trying to market my candidate to Nigerians in the face of the attempt by the Tinubu side to destroy my candidate with lies in public space.

Basiru overextended himself when, in furtherance of his claim that I am defaming and disparaging other aspirants to market my candidate to the establishment, he declared that I have also made “defamatory assertions against Godwin Emefiele, the Central Bank Governor.” Apparently, it is defamatory to observe that the idea of a sitting Central Bank Governor picking up the APC Expression of Interest and Nomination form “is quite troubling because the corruption writ-large in his candidacy is brazen.” Basiru, who is a lawyer and a former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of Osun State, must have heard the strong opinions of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), Femi Falana (SAN) and some other senior lawyers who publicly spoke on this matter. Yet, he took to public space to put his name in the infamous column of those who’d support such infamy. Well, I recommend to him two things. I recommend he goes to read the inimitable Tatalo Alamu of The Nation newspaper who has discovered and diagnosed the “Emefiele Disease” and I recommend he gets together with his tribe of the aggrieved to sue me for defamation. That will cure my boredom.

Senator Basiru claims I am hiding behind the unidentifiable “many” who I said see Tinubu as a blackmailer. For the record, it is what it is. I am a top partyman with an ear to the ground. I meet and talk with all manner of people who are members of our great party, the APC. I reported what I hear regularly in discussions with top members of the party and yes, even though I didn’t call the man a blackmailer, I understand why those who do see him in that light. For instance, we are all witnesses to the orchestrated campaign of calumny initiated and being propagated in public space by those who call themselves Tinubu supporters. We have heard them routinely say, for instance, that Tinubu and Buhari have an agreement that the latter will hand over to Tinubu at the end of his tenure because of the role Tinubu played in his emergence as the party flag-bearer in 2015, even though we all know no such agreement is possible within a political party where many contributed to the emergence of the candidate and the success and the continuing success of his administration. I mean, how do you even contemplate such an agreement in a democracy? Sure, the president can have his preference for a successor, but he will still have to play the politics within to see him or her emerge as the party flag-bearer. While Buhari has always given Tinubu his respect as a party elder, he will not compromise himself and the office of the presidency to any man or woman.

So, when the Tinubu minions keep hammering on this agreement and even use that as a point of attack against Vice President Osinbajo who, in their narrative, is interjecting himself in the agreement and therefore must be tagged a traitor, reasonable people express their indignation. They know the person beating the drum that his misguided supporters are dancing to and when these influential people sit to discuss the future of the party and the kind of leader they want after Buhari this counts against Tinubu.

Of course, amongst these influential people are the ‘Class of 1966.’ They are not about to commit class suicide by giving Aso Rock to Tinubu because, as I said, they know that he has the capacity to create an entirely different political patronage structure that can alienate them. These people are not fools. They are stakeholders in Nigeria and they did not fight to keep power and influence only to give all that to someone who can undermine them and Nigeria. Yes, the ‘Class of 1966’ see themselves as patriots, no matter what the rest of us think. They love Nigeria because of the opportunities the country has afforded them and their families and friends. They are interested in national progress, but only as they understand and interpret it. Their main interest is to continue to retain control of national power through anyone they install in Aso Rock through any of the two main parties. Tinubu is not the type of person they can trust with the ultimate power of the presidency. So, all I have done is report these sentiments. Senator Basiru may not like it, but it’s the truth. I note that he says he has “so much respect” for me; but we must all first respect the truth.

The fact is people like Senator Basiru will do their job, no matter how unpalatable it is. Yes, we will always have men like him who would, with a straight face, call a dog a monkey supposedly for our education. But Nigerians are not fools.  I’m making bold to say anyone still looking at Tinubu as the candidate to beat isn’t reading the tea leaves properly. Tinubu is already unravelling publicly and even a lot of those who ordinarily would have loved to support him are right now having a rethink the more of him they see. He has proved to be gaffe-prone and certainly unhealthy. The Southern electorate is very sophisticated and none more so than the section of the electorate in the South-West. There is a reason he’s been christened “Baba Alagbado” and it is not for political sagacity!

Time catches up with everybody and it’s caught up with Tinubu. It takes those who truly love him, not sycophants, to tell him that it’s time to go stretch out on some lush lawns and play with his grandchildren. The Presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is not for his type.

*Professor Olusola Adeyeye* was a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and a strong supporter of the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo.

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