Nigeria's Intemperate Politicians


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Nigeria's Intemperate Politicians




Ben Lawrence


culled from VANGUARD, Thursday, December 23, 2004


Nigerian politicians must cultivate civility.


DR. Emmanuel Eweka would say in those hectic days of  his perennial  trials in the late 1950s that: “All these will come and pass away”.


Eweka, a Benin prince, a journalist who was already an editor of the Nigerian Broadcasting Service(NBS), precursor of the NBC and FRCN, took things as they came. He then had inter B.Sc and inter B.A. He later got a first-class honours in English from the University of London and thereafter in the mid-1960s taught under -13 English at a high brow English public school.

Well, whatever his problems, he earned three Ph.Ds. This writer learnt greatly at his feet when he was in the NBS, as Deputy Editor of the Nigerian Tribune in 1957 and 1958 and as the founding editor of the Midwest Echo in 1959 before he left to edit the Liberian New Age in 1960. If his philosophy rules the world, those in office will realise that power is transient. Little wonder that local saying which the Onitsha literature made popular and the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe borrowed in one of his newspaper battles in the 1970s: ‘No condition is permanent’.

Grassroot Politicians

Perhaps this is why politicians of pre-independence era and the first republic did not aspire to be a different caste from the people they governed because they knew that if they fell, it was upon the masses they would rest. Things have changed very awfully since the passing of the Ziks, Awos, Aminu Kanos, Ibrahim Waziris and other great men of that epoch. During the hearing of the Remi Fani-Kayode’s ingenious submissions on the twelve-two-third of 19 States case at the Justice Boonyamin Kazeem election tribunal one morning,  the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo arrived with his son, Chief Oluwole. Chief Richard Akinjide, the proscribed NPN lawyer was coming from the other direction and saw Awo. As a well-bred Ibadan man, grandson of the illustrious cocoa magnate, Chief Obisesan, he cheerfully paid the traditional greetings to his elder. As he performed that ritual, Wole was doing the same to him.

These were people who were supposed to be on opposite sides. Bola Ige defeated Akinjide in the governorship race, but at the wedding of one of the Akinjide’s, Ige was the chairman. At the peak of the 1964 electioneering crisis, Bola Ige and C.C. Mojekwu were inseparable. Once we saw them with Dr. Michael Okpara at the Eastern House, Ikoyi during that constitutional deadlock when Zik refused to call on Alhaji Tafawa Balewa to form a new government. Ige and Mojekwu greeted Okpara warmly and traditionally, the salutation being in Igbo because the Cicero of Esa - Oke was a polyglot. Awo always showed that traditional respect to Zik.

 There was the story of Chief Josiah Olawoyin, the jailed Zikist who later became one of Action Group’s leaders. Olawoyin because of his nationalist background, was very radical and he upset Alhaji Ahmadu Bello many times. So during one of the constitutional conferences at Lancaster House, the Sokoto aristocrat reported Olawoyin to Awo. Awo called Olawoyin in the presence of Ahmadu Bello and queried, “why don’t you respect the prince? Olawoyin immediately apologised and stooped to conform.

It was fun to see Zik, Awo, Dennis Osadebay, Tafawa Balewa, Samuel Ladoke Akintola and Aminu Kano interacting with members of the opposing camps. Zik or Awo would call J.S. Tarka, Maitama Sule, Waziri, Zana Bukar Dipcharima, Professor Kalu Ezenwa as if they were of the same parties.

Peter Enahoro, in the troubled times before Nigeria was changed by the young Turks, was asked to interview the four Nigerian premiers and some powerful ministers for the Daily Times. It was his encounter with Akintola that is worth recounting here. Enahoro’s eldest brother, Anthony, had become an opponent of Akintola and was serving term for treasonable felony. Peter confessed that he didn’t expect a good reception but was floored by the overflowing public relations and welcome of the older journalist, then premier and so he recorded the best interview of the series.

How did this bad blood of murders, assassinations and arson creep into our politics at the leadership level? Even in the days of “wetie”, leaders were still deferred to or else, Fani-Kayode would have been lynched at Mushin by UPGA thugs in December 1965. There were a few isolated cases of some young men like Chuba Okadigbo and Ebenezer Babatope committing verbal outrage politically. But their leadership quickly stopped them in their tracks and made them to conform to civilized politics.

Osoba's Arrest

That was why the arrest of Chief Olusegun Osoba, in the complaint of Governor Gbenga Daniel of Ogun rankled the minds of many people. Booing and pelting with tomatoes and whatever are common features of politics. In fact, a good leader guages public opinion from such incidents. When you please the people, they cheer you to high heavens. They reserve the right to show their disagreement when a leader steps out of line. Osoba was not immune to that in power. In 2002, I visited Osoba in his office to talk shop and I raised the challenge of Daniel. Osoba said, “Ben, why should I go on the hustings to exchange words with him. He could be my son because the age gap between us is wide.

It is a pity that young people no longer defer to their elders in their behaviours I wish him luck”. Osoba was still in power. He did not ask the police to go after Daniel nor did he enlist the help of the now very visible SSS people. That Daniel would resort to reporting Osoba to the Police as being the brain behind his booing by students does not befit the high office of a governor. What is booing? It is one of the features of political life. He is now being praised for building on the pillars of Osoba by people.
Lately, his officials have started to give credit to Osoba because of the undeniable progress he made in rural electrification, intra- state road construction and general rural integration.

• Mr. Lawrence writes from Lagos.



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