Senator Babafemi Ojudu, Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, was in the storm’s eye earlier this week. Perhaps some disclosure is expedient here before we proceed. Ojudu is someone with whom I am acquainted. He was, in fact, the first editor I worked with in my career as a journalist. In other words, Ojudu is someone you can refer to as my former teacher and if you like, mentor. Having laid this to rest, I imagine that the events of the past few days may be nothing but a storm in a teacup for the accomplished journalist; nothing that could have ruffled his feathers and unworthy of the attention one is giving. But I think differently.
What is the issue in contention? Like Vice President Yemi Osibanjo and many other Nigerians from various walks of life, Ojudu has benefitted from Tinubu’s large-heartedness in the past.
With the lion of Bourdillion, as they call Tinubu, an act of benevolence could be anything from monetary gifts to facilitating appointments or aiding elections into offices. And as life is, one rare lift from a Tinubu or any other large-hearted person may become the pedestal for much more excellent opportunities to which the original benefactor may have no contributions. A friend’s appointment as minister was reportedly motivated by his previous performance as a commissioner in his state. He probably would never have come into the consciousness of the president, who appointed him minister, without the first appointment as commissioner. The man who gave him the first office knew nothing about the national assignment, so does this man owe the rest of his life to the person who made him commissioner? But I should not pre-empt myself.
Back to Ojudu: The senator has been an adviser to Osibanjo, a co-Tinubu loyalist and beneficiary, for the past six years. As expected, he has shown allegiance to the Vice President.
However, there are indications that his current principal is interested in the 2023 presidential race. It also happens that Tinubu, their mutual benefactor, aspires to leave his throne as a kingmaker to adorn the crown himself! Can either party be blamed for aspiring? I think not.
However, the situation presents a dilemma for every honest member of the Tinubu political family, but more for people like Ojudu, who now works for the VP, and may genuinely see Osinbajo as a better candidate. Unlike many of his colleagues, who may act duplicitous, Ojudu has publicly declared to stand with Osibanjo and has, as a result, incurred the wrath of many Nigerians, who see him as betraying his benefactor. In a post on Tuesday, Ojudu defended his position after claiming that he had received all sorts of threats from those who could not fathom his “betrayal.”
Now, that is scary, even though it is in the character of Nigerian politics. Why is this a frightening scenario?
The first reason is that these men belong to the same political family. So, there should be no malice at all. If politics were merely for the nation’s service, one would expect an attempt to reach a consensus. If they cannot achieve that, members of the political family should wish the two candidates well, go to the polls, vote for the candidate of their choice. When a winner emerges, everyone should rally around to support him in the family’s interest. That way, the family will not lose out.
But the stakes are too high in Nigerian politics, and unlike in places where the common good is a prime concern, politicians here are driven mainly by personal aggrandisement. It becomes more alarming when you imagine that the current heat is about winning a party’s ticket. Nobody’s candidacy is sure yet but enemies have been made and threats issued.
That is why I worry about how much democracy Nigerians have in their constitution. In Nigeria’s democracy without democrats, published in my book, The Danfo Driver in All of Us, I argue that “most of us grew up under very undemocratic conditions. Our fathers were the all-in-all at home, and the only time mother had a voice was when daddy was away. It goes to say that daddy’s absence was the only time the child could hope to whisper one or two things to mum. So, we grew up in homes where we could not express ourselves or choose the people we associated with… As this happens, we already would have missed out on the opportunity to cultivate some fundamental attributes of democracy-freedom of expression, freedom of association, and tolerance for the other view…”
This, to my mind, is the fulcrum of the issue. It is a trap into which everyone, including Ojudu, would have fallen at one time or another in their lives. If he thinks back, the senator would probably have labelled another person a traitor of the Tinubu cause at one time or another. Today, the chickens have come home to roost and he is the one being roasted for the same reason!
Yet, people like Ojudu, who speak their minds, are not the worst kind of trouble for a political family. As we speak, there are possibly hundreds of thousands of people, who still eat from the same plate as Tinubu, while their hearts are with Osibanjo and a possible plethora of other hopefuls. This latter group is the political sleight of hand of the worst sort, the very one for which Ojudu’s critics should be wary. There is a lot of hypocrisy; people pretend to love and follow politicians but they are only playing games. That is why people like the late Gani Fawehinmi did not become president. Isn’t the enemy you know better than a friend for whom you have no assurances?
Whatever it is, however, there are some things Nigerians must begin to understand about democracy. One is that democracy is about the freedom of people to make choices. If there was to be another name for democracy, it should be freedom or liberty. We must therefore begin to respect the rights of people to choose and associate freely without threatening their existence.
The second thing is that democracy and blind loyalty are diametrical opposites. Democracy is about interests, which are subject to change time and again. So, regardless of your affiliations with people, if they no longer serve your interests, you are free to make choices that satisfy those interests at the time. This is the reality of democracy to which Nigerians must begin to adapt.
The third thing, and a corollary to the foregoing, is that we must begin to divorce ourselves from the emotions that overtake us when we talk about politics in Nigeria. If the development of Nigeria were the goal of every politician and those who support them, we would understand that the more aspirants we have for offices, the better for the country. Competence, compassion and patriotism, rather than fraternal considerations, will dominate our considerations.
When voted into office, we must also realise that politicians do not own anything by themselves. While appointing someone into office may be counted as an act of the executive’s generosity, it is indeed a call to serve, which should ordinarily be sacrificial rather than beneficial.
A significant challenge with leadership in Nigeria is seeing it as a bazaar where the most loyal people must reap bountifully. While there is nothing wrong with rewarding loyalty, the priority should be on the capacity to effect change. The positions to which people are appointed belong to Nigeria, and while politicians may dispense in exchange for favours, the Nigerian people are the legitimate owners of public offices.
Most importantly, we should develop the capacity for tolerance and avoid the totalitarian tendencies towards which our inability to accept the choices of others pushes us. This country belongs to every Nigerian, and nothing, except the provisions of S. 131 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 as amended), should prevent anyone from aspiring to the presidency. This point is even more instructive for the Yoruba, which witnessed stories of rivalries and betrayals about half a century back and from which it is yet to recover.
Fortunately, Tinubu, whose foray into the ring has already energised the democratic process, appears to be a politician with a good understanding of this reality. A casual consideration of his political tragedy shows at least three associates, who left his fold for years, but are back and in good positions currently. There is Adesewe Ogunlewe, Musiliu Obanikoro, and Demola Seriki. That is how politics should be: an opportunity to live and let live. Every Nigerian should understand this!