The war of the First Republic had reached a feverish height. Those it consumed were wheeled to the sepulchre by the day. Blood of political party faithful painted the sky crimson. According to Femi Kehinde, a former member of the house of representatives and biographer of the last premier of the Western Region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, in the book, ‘S.L. Akintola In The Eyes of History’, (2017), Akintola knew that his standing up to the octopodal political machine in the Action Group was akin to suicide. Death bestrode the firmament like an ominous cloud. The premier could see it. He however felt that he had long crossed the Rubicon to bother about death as a karmic comeuppance of his action.
In the words of the biographer, as the twilight of his life approached, with a fusillade of missiles from both parties spurting out scary, gold-coloured fire, Akintola’s hands became shaky, so much that he couldn’t append his signature to documents on a straight line. He was just 56 years old. When his driver, then Prince Adewale Kazeem, suggested to him that he should resign his post as premier, the polyglot and highly talented Yoruba language user, retorted to Kazeem that the die was cast as only death lay at the end of the tunnel for him. No one demonstrated such temerity by disrupting the status quo without recompense. Akintola expressed this soberly in Yoruba thus: “Adewale, o ti bo; iku lo ma gb’eyin eleyi!”
In the unguarded, broken cistern-like outpour of the leader of the All Progressives Congress, (APC) and the party’s presidential aspirant, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in Abeokuta, Ogun state, last week, all that I could see was Chief Akintola. Tinubu demonstrated all these in his bid to woo delegates to vote for him in the scheduled Monday presidential primary. It was held at the Presidential Lodge. The outpour naturally provoked questions which were: “Was Tinubu shot off this realm by some very potently delirious substances? Did he speak from the depth of acute frustration? Was he intentionally bellicose, combative? Was he naturally suicidal, nihilist, diffident or was he momentarily consumed by that selfsame anger that destroyed Alaafin Sango of the ancient Oyo Empire?”
Why I asked those questions, particularly the suicidal bent, was that, as he stood before that podium addressing Ogun state APC delegates, I saw a flash of him that patented the last days of Late S.L. Akintola in power as premier of the Western Region. What Tinubu wore at that Olumo Rock tirade session, unbeknown to all, wasn’t strictly a sash of arrogance, boastfulness or bellicosity, but a garment always worn by those who see an end time cloud and who are ready to diffidently slash into its fog with their bare hand.
It is why the fictive and feeble attempt by Tinubu’s Media Office to reconstruct and repair the massive damage done by their principal last week ended up doing far much more damage to him. To attempt to reconfigure a video that virtually all Nigerians watched with their senses intact, as opposed to the main cast of the opera, ended up worsening the messy purport of the Tinubu vituperations. A deft political calculator endowed with a mastery of how to weave events like a tapestry, Tinubu knew what he was about while spitting out the fire of a dragon on his adversaries in Abeokuta. He knew the implications as well; he just couldn’t care. Like Akintola, he was prepared to bite the bullet and he knew the consequences. The die was cast.
In the video of his engagement with the Ogun delegates which went viral, Tinubu appeared highly plussed, agitated and unstable. I will not go into even a farthing bet with anyone that the landlord of Lagos was unaided by any substance, imagined or mis-imagined, in this unconscionable outpour of venom.
Then, he went into a session of tirades which he seemed to have measured with the traditional Yoruba foodstuff measuring plastic called kongo, apportioning a deft ounce to each of the victims of his venom. He went into a short history of how the vice presidency was offered to him by Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) but didn’t volunteer why Buhari beat a retreat and got to the juncture of asking him for a VP nominee instead. Then he went into a binge of self-entitlement, about why it had to be him running for the 2023 presidency and no one else. At that juncture, he cut a very pitiable sight. It reminds me of Antjie Krogg, author of ‘Country of My Skull’ and her quip that, when a man is consumed (by ambition), he wakes up lost.
“It is my turn. When an axe was wielded on Atiku (in the PDP), he ran to me and I gave him the ticket; they wielded the same axe against Nuhu Ribadu and I shielded him by bringing him out (to contest). It has been over 25 years now that I began serving them,” he said.
Then Tinubu brought out the same axe of hate, and self-righteousness and wielded it against Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun state, his host who sat next to him on the high table before he headed for the podium. “Eleyi –This one – sitting behind me, Dapo, can he say he can on his own become governor without me? Weren’t we together at the MKO Abiola Stadium? All his posters were torn. Even the party’s flag was denied him. Go and watch the video. I was the one who handed it over to him. He will live long but if he wants to meet God at the right place, he must know that without God and me, he would not have become governor,” he said.
Sensing that he had crossed the Rubicon and landed at a point of no return, Tinubu then declared fearlessly that the die was cast (o to ge!). O to ge is a biblical Samson song that is sung by those who behold total destruction ahead of them and are ready to pull down the house with themselves in it. It is nihilism personified.
Tinubu then stomped beyond biting the bullet to actually pulling the gun’s trigger against himself and his Yoruba race. It revealed that he was not unaware of the ongoing narrative of Yoruba being the architect of their own dissembling. This is a narrative that is illustrated by the tiff between Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his erstwhile friend and disciple, Akintola. At this juncture in his speech, Tinubu waffled aimlessly like a junkie needing a fix. His words then came out disjointed and almost without synchrony: “The die is cast now!” he began. “This is not time for the narrative of (Hubert) Ogunde’s song… Yoruba has become a ball for the world, hitting right, left and centre”. Here, you would pity Tinubu. He was almost blabbering, with the words going off tangent.
While Awolowo and Akintola, as well as their supporters, engaged in a disruptive intra-party schism with its reverberations all over the country, virtually all institutions in the old Western Region took sides in the fight. Politicians and the media were factionalized along these fissures and art also got its share of the division. Ososa, Ijebu-Ode-born Ogunde, father of Nigerian theatre, a Nigerian folk opera pioneer who deployed drama in such a way that music and dancing played significant roles in this ensemble; a playwright, actor, theatre manager, and musician rolled into one, performed the famous play, ‘Yoruba Ronu’ – Yoruba, Think! – which Tinubu alluded to, in 1964. Incensed by the innuendos and satiric criticism of his government that were dominant motifs in the play, Akintola banned Ogunde’s theatre company.
This rash move by the Premier became the first post-independence Nigerian literary censorship undertaken by the government. The ban had to be lifted by the military in 1966, necessitating a sequel to the play Ogunde entitled, ‘Otito Koro’ – Truth is Bitter, also a satirization of the Western Region political events of 1963. As Ogunde sang in defence of Awolowo, Odolaye Aremu, Ilorin Dadakwada music exponent, sang panegyrics for Akintola and when the latter died, Odolaye did a grief-stricken elegy in his tribute and in the same vein, for Adelabu Adegoke, Awolowo’s political enemy, killed in a car crash in 1958.
That mis-rendition of Ogunde by Tinubu is a laughable farce. Rendered correctly, Ogunde sang, inter alia: “Mo wo ile aye o, aye sa malamala//Mo ma b’oju w’orun okunkun lo su bo’le//Mo ni eri eyi o, kini sele si Yoruba omo Alade? Kini sele si Yoruba omo Odua…Yoruba so’ra won di boolu f’araye gba//T’on ba gba won s’oke, won a tun gba’won s’isale o…” Translated, it means: “I look down upon the earth and it looks faded and jaded//I look up to the skies and see darkness descending//Oh! What a great pity!//What has become of the Yoruba?//What has befallen the children of Odua?//…The Yoruba have turned themselves into a football for the world to kick about//They are lobbed up into the sky and trapped down to the earth…”
His mis-rendering the song of no implication to him, Tinubu then thundered, “It is not about song! It is about right! It is time to snatch it. This power is not for the north alone. But for me standing at the front of the war and saying that Buhari should let us go on, Buhari would never have been president. He did the first, ‘o lu’le’; he did the second, ‘o lu’le’; he did the third, ‘o lu’le’. He even cried bitterly on the television and I went and met him and said, you will run again, this is not a matter of crying. I will stand by you and you will be president… and since he got there, I never asked him for minister, contract; I didn’t beg for soup, garri or fura nor did I borrow there but I said this time around, it is Yoruba’s turn and when we sieve out the Yoruba, it is me, it is my turn”.
As he waffled, Tinubu’s doggerel was hailed by his oraisas – cheerleaders – imported into the event.
It is on record that since 2015 when Buhari became president, this was the first time Tinubu would be fierce against the north. Before now, he helped to carry the region’s spittle can. The same Yoruba for whom he had just become its emergency advocate lost many of its children to the siege of Fulani herders in 2020, 2021 and mum was the word from Tinubu. Disasters struck Yorubaland aplenty within this period while their advocate was busy genuflecting before the cow so that he could eat from its hide. Now that the hide is about to be taken from him, he is rousing his herd for a fight.
When his Media Office, in its attempt to make their corpse walk, began to rewrite an event we watched with our korokoro eyes – apologies to that street lingo – by claiming that Tinubu had always reverenced Buhari and was not disparaging him in any way through the Olumo Rock vituperations, the office apparently assumed that cows and their dung make up our brains. Conduct a morphological dissection of Tinubu’s particular reference to Buhari while he addressed those delegates and you will see hatred, disdain and resentment lacing every of his spit.
First, ‘O lu’le’, the refrain which Tinubu relishingly appended to Buhari’s failure in his earlier bids for the presidency, isn’t equitable to ‘O subu’ or ‘ko yege,’ both of which are its synonyms. ‘O lu’le’ carries with it a sense of bile and gloat. Tinubu then carved out a pediatric minder’s role for himself after this ‘O lu’le’ fall of Buhari and he became the one to console the weeping child. In this equation, Buhari was the sulking, weeping egbere – a gnome – who he alone could console. In the same vein, his choice of fura as one of the significations of life-sustaining objects that he allegedly didn’t demand from Buhari was aimed at bringing the blow home, fura being Buhari’s native delicacy.
Tinubu’s rant at Governor Abiodun went beyond an attempt to play God. Its fitting synonym can, again, be found in the Yoruba traditional masquerade festival called Odun Egungun. It is a truism in traditional Africa that even if a child is decked in a masquerade costume, the moment this happens, that child transmutes his age into becoming an ancestor. At that stage, any impudent elder he flogs, he flogs without consequences, even if it was the costumier who wore the costume on him. Any attempt to hit back at the masquerade while he adorns the ago – masquerade costume – will boomerang and amounts to whipping your forefathers. This is not without consequences.
A constituted government is a masquerade invested with constitutional sacredness which must never be profaned by the arrogance of an entitled, title-seeking costumier. By denigrating Abiodun that impudently, Tinubu didn’t put down Abiodun in person but flogged his ancestors in office – Bisi Onabanjo, Segun Osoba, Ibikunle Amosun, Gbenga Daniel and the alale ile of Ogun state. Consequences must surely follow it. To underscore the fact that Tinubu knew the dangerous purport of what he did after his venomous spit hit its target, he standoffishly adjusted his fluffing agbada by its right and left flaps with a magisterial deliberacy that was full, yet silent of self-adulation.
Again, I remember the story of one of the greatest military generals in world antiquities, statesman and Carthaginian military tactician, Hannibal. He enfolded unto his military prowess a pedigree of war prosecution inherited from his father, Hamilcar Barca. Hamilcar was a leading Carthaginian general in the First Punic War. Hannibal’s brothers, Mago and Hasdrubal, commanders of the armies of Carthage, were also renowned for their historic prowess at the war front. As brilliant in the art of war as Hannibal was and the long chain of his familial mastery of the art of war, one day, Publius Africanus, also a Roman general and statesman, was notorious for having scripted and prosecuted the victory of Rome against Carthage in what came to be known as the Second Punic War, once asked Hannibal who the greatest general in the war was. Nonplussed, Hannibal had told him, “either Alexander or Pyrrhus”. The takeaway from that Hannibal’s response can be found in an aphorism of the Yoruba people which posits that greatness is only great when tucked in the scabbard. The moment it is unboweled and its nakedness bared for the world to see, greatness loses its prowess, and savour and becomes mere villainy.
No one can justify an apparent betrayal of Tinubu and the south that Buhari, like Judas Iscariot, is about to plunge into and the tribal calamity that all indications point to him foisting on Nigeria between Monday and Tuesday this week. Instead of lifting the shrouds from corpses of long-buried secrets as he did in Abeokuta and appending self-heroism on himself, Tinubu should have acted like Hannibal when General Africanus encountered him. Tinubu was a hero, the general of the war of Buhari’s presidential emergence, no doubt. However, the moment he self-appropriated and self-approximated it in Abeokuta, he became worse than a villain.
All said and done, Buhari should be reminded that nations that mushroomed into tinder and got consumed began their regress this harmlessly. This they did through the diffidence and the I-don’t-care attitudes of their rulers. The probability that Buhari will commit the hara-kiri of ensuring that the north takes over from the north and that he will be an accessory to the fact of a Fulani succeeding a Fulani, and indeed the architect of the Satanic ploy, in a country with about 250 ethnicities, is very rife. The die is indeed cast.