By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, this is one of those weeks when what you never planned decides to jam what you already planned. I had planned to write on my encounter with one of the youngest Presidential aspirants, Fela Durotoye, who visited me at home recently with his very creative wife, Tara. We spent some quality time together and I’m sure we were all able to gain better insight about the Nigerian political vista from that encounter. I had cause to speak to Fela again after I got wind of some situations affecting his campaign. I was able to give him some more tips on how to forge ahead with his campaign and not get disillusioned. We’ve come a long way together as Ife boys, though much younger than me, but he’s always felt totally at home with me on anything concerning him and his wife. He calls his wife my baby and she’s playing a very pivotal role in this campaign. It is through her that I’m able to track and measure Fela’s progress.
Anyway, as I sat down to write yesterday in the tranquil city of Accra, Ghana, I received an incredible “breaking news” from a friend. “Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola have been named as prominent members of the Buhari Presidential campaign team”, he shouted. WHAT, I exclaimed. This drama is getting too much and too hot to handle, I mused. Nigeria’s ruling party, APC, released a comprehensive list of its political campaign team and the news was designed to send shivers down the spines of opposition parties. I was not very surprised at their idea of muscle-flexing. This is the season when every political party needs to show its influence and advertise its powerful supporters as a way of intimidating its opponents. My shock came from the mention of two of Nigeria’s biggest brands and very popular entrepreneurs. There is nothing new about businessmen going into politics. But I’m not sure if Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola are members of APC, and at what point they joined the party. Indeed, I seriously doubt it.
What was more, I was worried about the possibility of these two men with immense exposure to international commerce becoming politically exposed and endangered men instantly. It has not been possible, as at the time of writing this, to ascertain that they were contacted prior to the announcement and if they actually accepted to serve in whatever capacity as Buhari’s campaigners. My personal opinion is that APC should have spared these men the agony and anguish of being dragged into Nigeria’s political brouhaha with attendant risks of a heavy backlash and collateral damages. If they both are friends and financial supporters of President Buhari, their privacy should have been protected and preserved, unless of course they volunteered their services. What the APC did yesterday was to play its biggest card so early and too soon. My opinion is that it is absolutely unnecessary and that even if these men accepted the offer under veiled threats or real coercion, it still won’t wish away or wash off the concomitant embarrassment and public odium. No government should treat its precious assets in this manner. There is no doubt that businessmen can be mentioned as donors and contributors to political campaigns. This happens all over the world and indeed, these businessmen also sometimes write in support of those parties. What shouldn’t happen, if they are not members of a political party, is to coral or railroad them into that party’s campaign team simply because that party is the ruling party!
These are not normal times. The political situation in Nigeria has been too tense. I was still ruminating over how to respond to this Aliko/Otedola controversy when I received another bombshell, that Nigeria’s President in the Second Republic, Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari has just passed on to the great beyond. Once confirmed, I quickly tweeted a condolence message to his family. I was 19 years old when he became President on the platform of the National Party of Nigeria. I was an undergraduate student at the University of Ife in 1979 and was old enough to follow the chaotic fallout from that election which turned out to be a major contest between Shagari and the famous political sage and erudite lawyer, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. I will never forget the court case that ensued about the legal interpretation of the mathematical calculation of what constitutes the two thirds of all the States of the Federation at the time. According to the results of that monumental election released by the Federal Electoral Commission, popularly known then as FEDECO, Shagari had garnered 5,688,857 votes nationally while Awolowo scored 4,916,651 votes. The argument ensued that Shagari had not met the technically complicated Constitutional requirement of needing to have 25% of the votes cast in at least two-thirds of all the 19 States. Although he did not contest the total figures, but rather relied on technicality, Awolowo vehemently rejected the victory purportedly recorded by Shagari and prayed the courts to jettison the decision of the Election Tribunal that had given victory to Shagari.
The case which went all the way to the Supreme Court would go down as one of the most tempestuous cases in the entire legal history of Nigeria. The biggest mathematical problem arose when Chief Awolowo insisted that a State was single entity which could not be factionalised and as such, Shagari needed to have won the mandatory 25% in 13 States and not in the fabricated twelve and two-third States as rigorously argued by Shagari’s lawyer, Chief Richard Osuolale Akinjide (SAN) who eventually won the case on September 26, 1979. At the Supreme Court, the case was presided over by Justice Atanda Fatai-Williams who was flanked by Justices Irikefe, Bello, Idigbe, Obaseki, Uwais and Esho.
Days later, Shagari was promptly sworn in, but the controversy raged on, almost endlessly and still does amongst academics to this day. Shagari thus became Nigeria’s first Executive President. Four years on, Shagari’s government was already enmeshed in reckless profligacy and humongous resources were frittered away. The climax came for that government in 1983 when Shagari and his magicians, supported by the then Inspector General of Police, Sunday Adewusi, won elections in even impossible places in what was termed “land slide” and “moon slide.” All complaints were ignored, and it seemed the politicians could really not be bothered. The consequences of their folly in believing they were invincible manifested itself about three months later when the military struck in a coup d’etat on December 31, 1983, and Muhammadu Buhari was soon announced as the new Head of State.
Buhari’s government wasted no time in ordering the arrests of virtually all key actors in politics. His detractors claimed that he was more benevolent to the Northern politicians, in the punishments meted to these politicians and that those from the southern parts of the country suffered the most. Whatever, the truth and motives may be, Buhari and his able lieutenant, Tunde Idiagbon, declared a massive war against corruption and indiscipline. Shagari was kept under house arrest while his deputy, Vice President Alex Ekwueme, who died earlier this year was hauled into Kirikiri Maximum Prison without any cogent justification. A very audacious attempt was made to cargo Umaru Dikko, one of the most powerful Shagari Ministers back to Nigeria from London in a coffin but Dikko was lucky as an alarm went out before he could be air-lifted.
It is a strange coincidence that Shagari was toppled at the tail end of December 1983 and he died yesterday towards the tail end of December 2018. Interestingly, President Buhari flagged off his re-election campaign in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, yesterday. It would be interesting to read what Buhari would have to say about a man he once overthrew in a military coup.
There was other news that broke yesterday. A picture came from the Presidential villa, in Abuja, that President Buhari has finally endorsed his Party’s Governorship candidate. I watched as the President and former Governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba, raised up the hands of oil baron, Dapo Abiodun, the candidate officially recognised by APC in a show of recognition of this noble, illustrious and industrious candidate. For the records, the incumbent Governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, had strongly asserted that he would not recognise Dapo Abiodun as he won through a kangaroo arrangement with highly placed party apparatchik. Indeed, prior to this event, Amosun had tried hard to sell his anointed candidate, Abiodun Akinlade, who is now running on the platform of another party. As if this was not bizarre enough, another photograph flew in from the direction of Akwa Ibom where the President started his campaign and sat next to Governor Amosun on the Presidential jet back to Abuja. It appeared like a power show between the various camps of Amosun, Adams Oshiomhole, Tinubu and Abiodun, the quartet that are embroiled in this war of attrition between old friends. It is not known how substantial Chief Osoba’s role has been in this dizzying saga. But Ogun State seems to be setting new records in political conundrum.
Just as I was about reaching the end of this week’s article, another news flew in on Dangote. Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser issued what is obviously a disclaimer on the appearance of Aliko Dangote on the Presidential Campaign Council. According to Adesina:
“It has become imperative to further clarify the status of Alhaji Aliko Dangote, named under the sub-head ADVISORY MEMBERS in the All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Council announced on Friday, December 28, 2018.
Africa’s richest man, not being a card-carrying member of APC, cannot, and is not member of the PCC. He is also a member of the Peace Committee, and thus cannot be in a partisan campaign council.”
Adesina was silent on the fate of Aliko’s friend, Femi Otedola. The APC government needs to do more homework before publishing names anyhow. This type of expensive joke could have been avoided if they were not in a hurry to name-drop those names that were published yesterday. This was a massive own goal which could have reverberations and repercussions not just on the political scene, but in local and international business circles. There were reports that many of those names included in the list heard about their roles on social media. I think it is grossly unfair and totally unfortunate to drag people’s hard-earned reputation in the mud in order to score political points.
I do not envy some of the people mentioned. But at least, most of them are politicians and it may be being on the campaign team will help resurrect some dying and dead political careers! What this team will do to the fortunes of the APC is another matter.
As always, time will tell!