May 28, 2023
Forget their pretensions and volte-faces, when outgoing Nigerian public officials wake up tomorrow, May 29, they will wake up into emptiness. That void cannot be filled by the wealth they acquired in office. Nor can it be impeached by Muhammadu Buhari’s reported haste to flee Aso Villa tomorrow. At the launch of a book on his administration at the presidential villa on Friday, the outgoing president had said: “I assure you, I have been counting the days; I am looking forward to Monday very desperately. I will use the weekend to sign some of the papers so that from Eagle Square, I will fly to Kaduna and eventually go to Daura”.
Buhari’s wife, Aisha, was to later rubbish his de-masculinity of Aso Rock. In its stead, she replaced it with a desire for the continuation of the flow of free money and power of government. At the launch of a book entitled ‘The Journey of a Military Wife’ on Friday, she asked for first ladies whose roles the constitution does not recognise to be given parity of office privileges with their spouses. Under Nigerian law, presidents and allied officials are given their salaries for life, their medical treatments, and that of their family members paid for by the state, with yearly procurement of vehicles and other benefits, among many others.
“They should consider us as former first ladies. They should incorporate the first ladies, give us some privileges that we deserve as first ladies,” she demanded. Aisha also further gave the issue a feminist re-reading, against the grain of the African masculinist cultural background which has ensured centuries of uneven devolution of powers. The system should not give these privileges “just to the former presidents,” she advised.
Of all life’s existential acquisitions – wealth, fame, women, money, power, and the lot – the most transient, most fleeting, and ephemeral of all is power. Power is the most un-enduring. Former presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, put it in its crudest, street lingo form when he said, eight years ago, that his phone stopped ringing immediately after he stepped out of power. Power is the fair-weather friend that will not be there for you in your time of loneliness. It perhaps was what the holy writ had in mind when it ascribed to life the fleetingness of vapour.
While all their acquisitions in office in the last four or eight years may still be there – cars, houses, money, and the lubricants of power, (forgive my sexism) – by now, power must be carrying away its last portmanteau from the apartment of the yesterday public office holder. Yoruba put this existential emptiness starkly when they refer to ex-power wielders as “eni ana” – yesterday’s men. It was from late governor Abiola Ajimobi – God rests his soul – that I first encountered the Yoruba proverbial capture of the evanescence nature of life. Yoruba capture it in their wise saying when they say that no one rushes to make way for he who once rode a horse – “a kii yago f’elesin ana.”
One of the reasons for the emptiness that these public officials will begin to encounter from tomorrow stems from the monarchical nature of Nigeria’s presidential democracy. Officials of western democracies from where our system of government was inherited would find it easier to confront this emptiness of power and office. This is because, with them, the office carries less indiscriminate wielding of power.
Here in Nigeria, we are driven by the Kabiyesi syndrome perception of power. The public official is the unquestionable titular, second-in-command only to the gods. This is why, for these Nigerian officeholders, the transition tomorrow from power to the streets is capable of making one miserable. It can be likened to the deposition of a king, a man who was once the Kabiyesi – the unquestionable.
Tomorrow, the baton of power will change. History has been unusually kind to Buhari. Like Olusegun Obasanjo, he has had the opportunity of being the Nigerian head of state twice, both as a military and civilian leader. He could have been killed in 1983 the same way his fellow coup plotter, Ibrahim Ahmed Bako, had his life snuffed out of him in the process of staging the coup. In their bid to dispossess Shehu Shagari of presidential power, Bako had been detailed to Shagari’s presidential residence. Wearing civilian attire, Bako had come to Shagari’s residence in the company of an armed detachment. As the fire raged between his troops and the Brigade of Guards soldiers commanded by Captain Augustine Anyogo, Bako got shot dead as he sat in the passenger side of a Unimob utility truck. Buhari survived to rule Nigeria.
Again, through what many called the uncanny but misplaced generosity of providence, Buhari administered Nigeria for yet another eight years. Though he had recently engaged in a last-minute attempt to rewrite his own history, the general impression is that he was a failure. The BBC said Buhari, “the last of a generation of British-trained military men who went on to govern the country” would be “leaving Nigerians less secure, poorer, and more in debt than when he came to office in 2015″.
That same last Friday, Buhari took the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, around the presidential palace on a familiarisation tour. This is the place that will be Tinubu’s abode of power in the next four years, all things being equal. His wife, Remi, also went her own round, cosseted by Aisha. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had earlier conducted Kashim Shettima around the VP wing of the State House.
Thereafter, Tinubu made many promises to Nigerians, praying to God for good health to be able to deliver. He also promised to fight corruption. However, I think that the greatest task we must put on Tinubu’s shoulders is the task of restoring Nigeria to a country where the guilty get their deserved comeuppance, no matter how highly placed, while the just get their deserved dividends. He must return Nigeria to that critical stanza of the Nigerian national anthem which says that Nigeria’s goal is “to build a nation where peace and justice shall reign”.
Those two variables – peace and justice – are not mutually exclusive. They are co-joined like a Siamese. To seek peace where there is no justice is inequity. Both go simultaneously. Jamaican reggae icon, Peter Tosh, put it succinctly when he sang, in his Jamaican patois, that “everyone is crying now for peace, none is crying now for justice; I don’t want no peace, I need equal rights and justice”. Once Nigeria arrives at that critical juncture where there is equal rights and justice, all other social indices will begin to fall in place. Nigeria fell on the social ladder because injustice grows lusciously daily in the land like ferns in a plantation.
Before now, the system gave the right measurement to both the high and the lowly. The judicial scale of judgment did not discriminate between the high, mighty, and the peasant, the lowly. I will cite four instances in history, two pre-colonial and two post-colonial, which indicated that Nigeria was once a country where justice reigned.
Two depositions of highly rated Yoruba Obas during the pre-colonial era come first. They are followed by the execution of a Yoruba Oba and the fourth, a top-rate elite in the Nigerian society who was hanged for murder. Obas constituted the highest echelon of the Yoruba society of the time. These depositions rarely talked about in history were that of Ijebu Obas, Akarigbo Oyebajo (1891-1915) and Awujale Adenuga (1925-1929). Oyebajo had become Oba in his mid-20s in 1891. Akarigbo Oyebajo apparently basked in his belief in the permanence of his position as an Oba and the power of his cordial relationship with Governor Gilbert Thomas Carter and his successor, McCallum, Sir Henry Edward.
This apparently led to the Akarigbo being appointed in February 1902 as a member of the central native council. Oyebajo was thus prompted to become high-handed, especially in his relationship with his chiefs. The result was widespread dissension from them. He began to monopolise the accruing stipends that came to him from the colonial government and refused to share them with these chiefs which custom required him to so do. The chiefs, in 1911, then got him tried in court for extortion and larceny. His situation was worsened by the fact that the district commissioner, H. F. Duncombe, could not stand him and in spite of Horatio Jackson, editor and publisher of the tabloid Lagos Weekly Record’s plea on his behalf to the colonial office, the Akarigbo was subsequently deported to Calabar and died on July 11, 1932.
Adenuga, 33 years old when he was appointed Awujale, from the word go, showed immense immaturity in superintending over the enormous judicial, executive, and legislative powers he wielded as Oba. He began to abuse them from day one of his kingship. A few months into his being in office, the colonial government reprimanded him for extorting forestry fees from his subjects, and in 1928, he got two other reprimands for grafts, one of which was collecting bribes in February of the year to favour ascension to the Onipe of Ibu stool. In March of same 1928, he was implicated in attempting to cover up a case of homicide. In the October of the same year, he was alleged to have attempted to rid the town of Joseph Igu, also widely known as Frugality, an anti-corruption crusader who was a pain in the neck of maladministration.
Inundated with complaints of the Akarigbo’s excesses, the colonial government instituted a judicial commission of enquiry with a charge to assess the Ijebu native administration, vis a vis the Akarigbo’s style of governance. In the report submitted on January 18, 1929, Adenuga was found guilty of corruption and deposed to Ilorin. In 1934, he was tried alongside a Yesufu Idimota and ten others, for the attempted assassination of his successor Akarigbo. Adenuga was then imprisoned in Abeokuta and went through the indignity of being manacled in public and publicly carrying latrine buckets from his cell corridor to the main latrine. He was however acquitted by the West African Court of Appeal on May 27, 1935, and at the age of 58, he died miserably.
The third case had to do with the first Yoruba Oba to face public execution. It occurred in the current Ekiti state in 1949. This was the 43rd Alaaye of Efon-Alaaye, Kabiyesi Oba Samuel Adeniran, the Asusumasa Atewogboye II. He, his herbalist, a servant, and another named Gabriel Olabirinjo, after the end of their trial for murder, were all hanged by the colonial state, having been found to have murdered a 15-month-old baby girl by the name Adediwura. On January 10, 1949, the baby, who was hitherto seen playing in her father’s compound, suddenly disappeared. Oba Adediran was promptly informed and he publicly pretended to have joined in the baby’s search. The prosecution later found out that after young Adediwura’s kidnap by Oba Adeniran’s herbalist, she was brought to the Alaaye’s palace where she was butchered, right in the Oba’s presence. He then swore all the dramatis personae in this killing to an oath of secrecy. That same police from whose body wriggles out maggots today, in 1949, swung into action upon the matter being incidented. Three suspects, Enoch Falayi – the herbalist, Gabriel Olabirinjo, and Daniel Ojo, were promptly arrested. One of them eventually spilled the beans, incriminating Oba Adeniran.
The trial judge, Justice NS Pollard, then delivered his judgment: “With the acceptance of that statement as evidence of tacit admission of the facts therein, there is not only ample corroboration of the evidence…it goes further and is evidence of admission of facts from which no other conclusion is possible than that the appellant counseled and procured the murder of this child and was rightly found guilty thereof.” With this final pronouncement, Oba Adeniran, Asusumasa, the palace herbalist, one of Kabiyesi’s servants and a Gabriel Olabirinjo, were eventually hanged by the neck “until you be dead”.
The last case is the notorious and infamous case of Ibadan-born land baron, Jimoh Ishola, a.k.a. Ejigbadero. Ejigbadero was a mascot in the Papa Ajao, Mushin, Agege, and Alimosho areas of Lagos during his notorious reign. Ejigbadero was also the chief executive of Jimsol Nigeria Limited, a company that specialized in nail manufacturing on Matori Road, Mushin in the 70s. More importantly, he was a land baron of note who was dreaded for his shrewd disposition towards lands. He had sold land to a man simply known as Raji Oba in Alimosho and wanted to retrieve it from him.
Thus, on August 22, 1975, which incidentally was his child’s naming day, Ejigbadero, an illiterate, perfected the plan to dispossess Oba of the land. He had a bandstand readied at the front of his house and a huge crowd, which had come to celebrate with him. He came out resplendently dressed and sprayed a huge wad of naira notes on the face of the musician, enough to arrest the crowd. Amid hails, Ejigbadero retreated into his house, changed into a French Safari suit, a gun tucked in his pocket, and hopped inside his Peugeot 504 saloon car. Through the back entrance, he and six of his thugs sped to Alimosho where he confronted Oba and shot him point blank in the head.
Ejigbadero came back home, changed into his resplendent dress, and sprayed noticeable cash again. Unfortunately for him, however, the deceased’s wife, Sabitiu recognised him from where she was hiding. He was subsequently arrested by the police and slammed with a two-count charge of murder.
Ejigbadero’s alibi was that he never left the party which dragged on from 6.30 pm till the wee hours of the morning of August 23, 1975. From the high court judgment of guilt and hanging by the neck which was pronounced on him by Justice Ishola Oluwa, his appeal, presided over by Justices Mamman Nasir, Adetunji Ogunkeye, and Ijeoma Aseme, down to the Supreme Court where Justices Darnley Alexander, Atanda Fatayi-Williams, Ayo Irikefe, Mohammed Bello and Chukwunweike Idigbe held fort, on October 22, 1978, Ejigbadero was found guilty and sentenced to death. One funny drama at the Supreme Court was that, as Justice Idigbe pronounced the lead judgment, being illiterate, Ejigbadero kept asking his lawyer, in conk Ibadan dialect, “Sowemimo, emi ni won so?” (Sowemimo, what did the judge say?)
Ejigbadero was connected in the social and political circuit of Nigeria at the time, even being friends with the high and mighty in the decision-making cadre of Nigeria. Musicians struggled to sing his praises. One of them sang that as inscrutable as it was to find out the source of water inside the pod of coconut, so was it unfathomable to locate Ejigbadero’s wealth. Yet, the system gave him his right comeuppance. In fact, the Obasanjo government quickly ensured that he was executed before the October 1, 1979 handover to civilians, nursing the fear that with Ejigbadero’s links, he might secure an undeserved pardon.
Gradually, justice began to die in Nigeria. Today, the Nigerian landscape is littered with the blood of the righteous and the gloat of the powerful. With it came the death of shame and the ascendancy of shamelessness. Not long ago, the children of Ejigbadero remembered their executed father in a lavish ceremony that spoke to this level of societal shamelessness. Soon, the children of one of the most notorious and infamous armed robbers in Nigeria, Ishola Oyenusi will troupe out to celebrate his own passing too. It is a reflection of the societal loss of shame. Oyenusi, popularly known as Dr. Ishola, hailed from Araromi in the Okitipupa area of Ondo state. Renowned for carjacking, bank holdups, and heists, Oyenusi, on September 8, 1971, with six other members of his gang, were executed.
Going by logic and antecedents, it will be difficult for Tinubu to properly situate the scale of justice in Nigeria. His IOUs will predictably tilt towards those same principalities and powers for whom injustice is a core condiment in their broth. I pray however that he pleasantly shocks cynics like me. If he does, hope will begin to build in the Nigerian people, as Maya Angelou wrote in her poem, Still I Rise, “With the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high”.