I am starting this piece on leadership with a hypothesis. And my hypothesis is founded not just on my perception of leadership over time, but specifically on how my understanding of Yoruba culture and philosophy has affected what I think about the nature, dynamics, and responsibility of leading a country like Nigeria. Leadership is a critical subject matter that brings political philosophers, political scientists and political theorists together, since it is the concept around which we try to understand how to facilitate human flourishing in a social and political space. And it is even more crucial for Nigerians since independence because that is the key to the transformation of the Nigerian state. And hence, this explains my ongoing curiosity, as a political theorist and public commentator, about how we can keep orienting and expanding our understanding of what leadership means. The 69th birthday celebration of the ubiquitous Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu provides me with yet another opportunity to test my ideas.
Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu has become a curiosity in the Nigerian political firmament before the commencement of the democratic experiment in 1999. He has become a significant gladiator in the agitation concerning the future of the Nigerian state. His views, opinions and even silences have been subjected to heated debates that explore the boundaries of personal, political and cultural understanding of an average Nigerian politician. But Asiwaju is not an ordinary Nigerian politician. However, beyond any analysis of who they are and what possible understanding we can have of their motives, politicians should be studied in ways that enlighten us about leadership and its dynamics. And this is even more so in the case of Tinubu. I doubt that there is any “popular” leader in the sense of someone who enjoys consensual support across the many spectrums of political opinions and interests. Leadership popularity is even all the scarcer in Nigeria because of the acute nature of what is demanded from anyone wishing to lead in such a politically inflammable context.
Yet, Tinubu keeps resurfacing in almost all the discussions about Nigeria’s present and future. And all the more also because he is Yoruba. Even more critical: he is the fourth in the line of critical Yoruba politicians that had defined the Nigerian state—Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief MKO Abiola. By some kind of an unfathomable good fortune for my political understanding, I have had more than casual encounters with the four, though with MKO to a limited extent and therefore will not be focused in this reflection. My encounters and engagements with them have been in the service of my ongoing attempt to facilitate an institutional reform philosophy that could backstop Nigeria’s inherent possibilities as a state. Thus, it began to dawn on me to reflect on how these Yoruba national leaders have engaged with the Nigerian state from the perspective of their ethnic nationality. In other words, what is it about being a Yoruba that instigate the kind of notoriety each one of them symbolizes? To varying degrees, each of these political gladiators represents similar achievements. My observation reveals (a) an abiding respect for intellectual capital and the authority of knowledge and meritocracy in governance; and (b) a commitment to Nigeria and her possibilities, within their individual understanding of their responsibilities to the commonwealth. However, each of them had been embroiled in a dilemma that pitted their political principles against a rampaging populism that often sieves these principles through the prism of what the people think and expect from their leaders. But part of their enigmatic character has been due to their resilience in holding on to their belief about Nigeria, even in the face of the most scurrilous public opinion and political shenanigans.
The name “Asiwaju”—Tinubu’s popular title—is a Yoruba appellation that carries the burden of Yoruba ethical principles. It means “the one who leads.” Fundamentally, leadership is a moral responsibility which the Yoruba attach to being an omolúwàbí. As a moral imperative, being an omolúwàbí is an ontological and ethical idea. Omolúwàbí denotes a mode of being that lies behind the Yoruba understanding of iwa (character) and ewa (beauty). To be an ordinary Yoruba person demands being an omolúwàbí, a moral exemplar. But being a leader demands more. The beauty that iwa confers on a person’s existence is expected to manifest in how one relates with others in the human society. A leader is commendable when her actions contribute to the well-being of the collective. A leader that has ewa or beauty further signals such a leaders’ capacity for relational and social goodness.
From Awolowo to Asiwaju, we have Yoruba leaders that we have attempted to cast in the mold of an omolúwàbí. Awolowo was represented as the reincarnation of Oduduwa, the eponymous leader of the Yoruba. One of the most significant achievements of Awolowo is the unification of the Yoruba as one solid ethnonational group within Nigeria. That unification became significant within the context of the positioning for significance within the Nigerian national space. Awolowo became almost mythic in terms of his sociocultural force and political vision. He needed to unite the disparate Yoruba tribes as a critical issue in Nigeria’s national integration challenge. Awolowo’s deep philosophical intuition recognized that the Yoruba had to achieve self-respect as a precondition for a strategic place in the unity of Nigeria. Unfortunately, Awolowo failed to prevent the Yoruba factor which consumes its own force of being. Alaafin Aole was alleged, by Samuel Johnson’s reading of history, to not only have suffered the fate of being betrayed by his lieutenants, but he also allegedly left a curse that subjects the Yoruba race to persistent self-inflicted treachery. And it would seem that, in retrospect, the Yoruba nation has been left rudderless in its attempt at remaining a strong force for unity in Nigeria.
With Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, there was no antecedent mythic relationship with Oduduwa that Awolowo enjoyed. Indeed, his Yorubaness was questioned within the intrigues of politicking that characterized the Nigerian political class, as well as the political calculation that brought Obasanjo to power. There is no doubt that Obasanjo has a deep sense of Yoruba history and culture, yet he struggled with the imperative of a cultural capital that could have been a strong base for his governance performance. However, it had not been easy to balance a sense of national unity and an imperative of ethnic loyalty. This has always been the challenge of nation-building in any plural state. But Wale Adebanwi has argued before that the Yoruba vision of egalitarianism and social justice, especially within an ethnically divided Nigeria, is adoptable by other ethnic groups because of the humanistic basis of that vision. The problem is now that of first selling the vision to the Yoruba elite who have not necessarily bought into the selfless philosophy of unity and national integration. In other words, the general populace sometimes reacts to the whirls of what elite actions throw up, which are not often all that clear. A politician therefore has to face the often vicious recriminations of those who perceive their political principles differently.
Obasanjo has definitely regained his acerbic directness after he got out of the chokehold of Nigerian power politics. On the contrary, Asiwaju Tinubu is still caught in the grip of that excruciating context of power tussle and national dynamics of building a united Nigeria. And he is struggling so hard to live up to the responsibilities of his appellation as one who leads. But one must understand the demand of leadership as often an attempt to mediate between often contradictory principles and demands. Asiwaju has often been caught in between the demand to stand with his Yoruba credentials which requires that he pushes an agenda that he might be reading differently; and the need to attend to the imperatives of nation-building which has a civic prism through which all ethnic visions must be filtered. Well, we must also not forget the realm of personal ambition, and the aspiration to become anything anyone wants to become. If Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu wants to be the president of Nigeria, that should be seen as a legitimate aspiration for one who has invested so much into the Nigerian project. But all ethnic, national and personal agendas are constrained by the urgency of transiting to a pan-Nigerian political unity that everyone can accept and work with.
Every leader with an aspiration must tread what we can call the landmines of leadership. But then what character is required to traverse the landmines of politics in a place like Nigeria? The Yoruba culture demands relentlessly that such a leader must be an omolúwàbí, and the goodness generated by the beauty of that character must form the basis of governance. Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher, has a curious leadership advice: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” There is an element of enigmatic quietness in this advice that seems to speak to Asiwaju’s reticence sometimes when there are issues demanding his voice. But there is equally in Lao Tzu’s advice the expectation of governance performance that must satisfy the yearning to unravel the enigmatic leader and his political prowess.
Democracy is such a beautiful thing. It enables the citizens to vote in a potential leader based on the mechanics of possibilities that such a candidate portends. Whatever the political aspiration of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, he is an embodiment of democratic possibilities, like every other person with similar aspirations. And in his travails as a political leader, we already learn how difficult it is to be a leader in a context where leadership is sorely needed.
Prof. Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary
& Professor of Public Administration/Policy,
For Policy and Strategic Studies
(NIPSS), Kuru, Jos
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Dear Chief Gani Fawehinmi
By Omoh Giwa
Since your departure and subsequent transition to AlJannah Firdaus, you seem to have shirked your responsibility and might be taking Rest in Peace literally. One would think you were “unAfrican” which might account for the neglect and escape from your ancestral duties of stability and balance among the living.
Do not bother about the legalities of offering libations as that is the duty of the living. Can you even ask for the benefits of your current placement when you have never performed the duties required? Do our people not say that the neck of a child will not be bent for long in the presence of adults? How unfortunate that our necks might snap from the hangman’s noose and the celestial elders seem to look on without interference. Ironically, you played Senior Advocate of the Masses during your lifetime yet have chosen silence in your ascension.
At what point did you decide to become a thorn in the flesh of our oppressors? When did it become your mission to criticise the government and their draconian laws? The almighty Gani, who stared tyranny and cruelty in the face despite the dangers (as a certain client of yours paid with his life) and challenged military dictators and trigger-happy uniformed men.
I will not bore you with my incessant, uncontrollable ramblings and will dive into the crux of my resurrecting feat (since you have chosen to ignore us, we will not allow you rest).
How can an oil-producing nation like ours experience fuel scarcity for this long? I will not even inundate you with tales of our economic woes (you’re not the military dictator that occasionally sends funds from the other divide) as this is just a drop in the large ocean of troubles. I knew we were contesting with forces beyond our control when boko haram rebranded from religious terrorism to an economic pressure group. They even had a spokesman who negotiated ransom and was visibly upset (on national TV) that we insisted on identifying them as kidnappers (what do you call someone that takes another forcefully, holds them hostage until a huge sum is paid for their release?)
Does a tailor’s child wear rags? Or the child of a butcher lack meat? How do we explain this fuel scarcity of over 10 months? As though to spite us even further, we are currently experiencing a shortage (scarcity is apt) of legal tender. Yes sir, you read that correctly. A few years back, there was a shortage of yams (we were buying miserly, sickly looking yams for as high as N3,000) thereby elevating the cheaper, less desired sweet potatoes (talk about the rejected stone) or when onions became gold.
This money scarcity began when a certain official decided to revamp the Naira notes and insisted that such an innovation had not occurred in over 19 years plunging us further into the abyss. People have spent hours queuing at banking halls and ATMs looking for the elusive dye-coloured legal tender. As though it was not enough to be overtaxed, we have to suffer to withdraw our own money. I found it ridiculous when a governor accused the authorities of printing money indiscriminately (they thought it was the solution to inflation) last year and now, we seem not to have enough (I shudder at what this recall is actually covering). Then he said some mischievous elements were hoarding money (if 63% of Nigerians are living in poverty, how have they convinced us that this hardship was to punish the hoarders) yet these redesigned notes have found their way back to the coffers of the rich. The scarce commodity is not so scarce at Nigerian parties and dance-floors. Did one rich wife not flaunt the packets of monies her husband gifted her?
Look at the chaos this redesign has birthed and so close to our general elections (if there is already tension before elections, what happens during and after?). What does this spell for the average man? We should have suspected the antics of this administration when they reduced cash withdrawal to N100,000 per day. When we complain they ask us to use alternative means as if I can ask a pepper seller if she would settle for transfer. Can you imagine entering danfo, the conductor stretches his POS at you and in their usual brash and uncouth manner asks: savings or current (one chance?).
Do you remember when he seized the accounts of cryptocurrency traders with the claim that they were responsible for the devaluation of the naira? My absolute favourite was his rampage against abokiFX on influencing the downfall of the naira at a parallel market. This is the same man that bought his party’s presidential form for one hundred million naira (I know you have never heard of an openly partisan money governor. This is also our first).
These clowns touted themselves as having the solutions to our problems yet they have taken us on journeys we thought impossible. Do you remember when there was a hike in bread prices with bakers threatening us with strike action every other day? (Bread too decided to hide from us and nobody is doing anything about it).
Some years ago, Venezuela went through an extremely rough economic patch that a dozen eggs was sold for $200 while Americans bought same for $1.38 of the same year and the Venezuelan bolivars was 1000 to $1. Nigerians are buying eggs for N100 when we used to pay N30 for it. I especially love the defense that Americans pay much more than we do for fuel so we should thank our jailers for their benevolence. To think that we are still being threatened with fuel subsidy removal when we are already buying N330 per litre.
Can you blame us? A fellow resident of your current abode once said: we often stand in the compound of a coward to point at the ruins where a brave man used to live. But if we remain cowards, who will bell the cat?
Hence my desire to quicken your spirit into speaking for the voiceless and downtrodden as you are known for. Or did you not promise to rise from the grave to fight for the poor?
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My Thoughts On Prince Harry’s Autobiographical Spare
By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
Spare, Prince Harry’s explosive tell-it-all narrative about his royal life and the reasons why he quit monarchical bondage hit the streets weeks ago and became an instant bestseller, earning him enemies, earning him some loyalists, and testing the patience and maturity of his king-father. To be sure, the peccadilloes of royal life will make great news any day, especially on social media and the tabloids. There had been intense speculations about how hard the book was going to be on the monarchy and how that arcane institution would take a vitriolic attack on it.
The media sensationalized everything about Prince Harry and made a monster of Meghan, painting her as the devil woman who was pulling the charming White Prince with her well, black charm, from the luxury, pomp, and pageantry of royal life. Both as a Black woman and as an American who does not understand the niceties and courtesies of royal life, Meghan was a fitting demon and enchantress to blame for Harry’s rebellion against his kith and kin! Lynching will remain with us for a long time! And the foul-mouthed Piers Morgan is a lynch master par excellence who has not forgiven Meghan for choosing Harry over him! The insane Jeremy Clarkson published an essay in the Sun tabloid ‘imagining Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, stripped naked and publicly humiliated before jeering crowds! Are we still surprised that Harry had to flee racist Britain?
Autobiographies are often designed to polish, to present a viewpoint and to record aspects of history which the reading audience may not have been privy to. When royals tell personal stories, if they elect to do so, they tend to be reticent, leaving out stories that could discredit that arcane institution. The late Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth’s only sister authorized a biography which detailed her escapades but not in the way Harry’s recently released autobiography Spare has enthralled the world and rattled the British monarchy!
Spare! What a title! Though titled Spare, the raging prince did not spare some characters in the narrative. Somewhat ominous, loaded with innuendoes as spare as the word is for the title of a prince’s autobiography, the narrative did not spare the prince himself in documenting his somewhat wayward behaviour. By the way, the book is a good read. The ghost writer did an excellent job with the narrative both in terms of style and use of language. Spare is easy to read and comprehend. Its subject matter is intriguing. What are these royals made of? This accounts for its mass appeal. Harry spared nobody that deserved some bashing in this tell-it-all book. Camilla? The husband snatcher who now sits as Queen Consort whose disruptive presence in the Prince Charles and Lady Diana marriage caused the split in the royal marriage ultimately leading to her death, is one of the targets of Spare’s ballistic missile!
I am more interested in what has made Harry what he is. A rebellious, deeply traumatized prince who is willing to throw everything overboard no matter whose proverbial ox is gored! He has fled America well ensconced in the arms of his American sweetheart whom doomsayers have predicted would ultimately drop him and move on. I don’t have any reason to believe this. Which is not to say that a divorce cannot come into the picture someday. In the Western world, people marry and divorce at will. They add no taboo to it as we do here in Nigeria and the rest of Africa. So, if at some point, the marriage is no longer worth keeping, the lovers are going to part ways and move on.
But Harry is a wounded soul. Almost broken. He seems to be arrested in time psychologically from when the reality of the brutal circumstances of his beloved mother’s death dawned on him. He is angry with the media for hounding his mother to death. Angry with the media for coming after his wife. Angry with the racists in the monarchy who saw and see nothing good in his choice of a spouse. Angry with Camilla. Angry with his brother William. Angry with everyone. What is the root of this stream of bitterness that has blighted his soul? How did the ‘spares’ before him manage their lives without quitting royal duties in the time? Will Harry ever heal? Has he made eternal enemies that could also hound him into a tunnel of sorts in the years ahead?
Parents must pay attention to their wards and kids. Some kids are vulnerable to uncomplimentary words and actions. Some may say Harry overreacted. If a child has been cast as a worthless person, it could result in such crisis. Some adults are damaged kids arising from the actions of their parents. Too many damaged adults walk the streets these days. Kids who were abused sexually or verbally. In her days, Princess Margaret did not hide from the media. She defied the press men who wrote lurid reports about her. We are told that ‘the carefree royal dismissed press reports and was defiant about her extravagant lifestyle’.
Now, I don’t know whether Harry will ever attain happiness traveling this route. There is sweetness in vendetta. But only for a while. Trust, brotherhood, and friendship are forever broken. If Harry returns to England for his father’s coronation, he will be kept as an outsider. No serious conversations can take place wherever he is present. Initiating dialogue with him could also be difficult. His next book or interview could explode in the face of the initiator. But the child in Harry needs a succour, needs a father, needs a mother. Who will be that father? Who will be that mother? So, in my view, any reconciliation must include the love of Harry’s life, the supposed Pretty Black Enchantress and Mother from the rebel colony of America, a nation which rejected the monarchy and dictatorial ways of Great Britain in 1776. Any attempt to persecute Meghan would only bring back haunting memories of his mother’s tragic ‘disappearance!
READ ALSO: Where Are The New Notes?
In my short foray into mental health counselling, I have encountered many broken adults who are not able to deal with contemporary issues because of psychological baggage from their childhood. Some are wife beaters and abusers of children. Broken mothers do not have enough compassion in them to bring up rounded children. These kids may not be royalty or spares; but the psychological reaction of some of them are like Harry’s. True healing for Harry must come from King Charles 111, by opening his heart through back channels and embracing his son from the depth of his heart, and save the monarchy from further embarrassment!
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Professor Ayo Olukotun, My Eyuze
By Tony Afejuku
My bosom friend, Professor Ayo Olukotun, a man and personage for whom I placed considerable respect, who died recently, was committed to mother earth last Friday. The ever-delightful Professor Kayode Soremekun, the immediate past Vice Chancellor of Federal University Oye-Ekiti pointed my attention to this in his tribute to Professor Ayo Olukotun symbolically captured in The Punch newspaper of Friday, 27 January, 2023. After reading his tribute on the very day Ayo Olukotun normally appeared on the back page of The Punch as a five-star columnist, I nodded my head in painful pain. Kayode Soremekun’s tribute essentially captured aspects of our friend’s public life, and I gave some long thought to our departed humanist of humanists’ hurried committal to the brown earth of Ibadan which was not near his homestead, geographically speaking, in Egbe Yoruba of Kogi State. Was an injustice done to him in his prompt burial in Ibadan of cultural and poetic seven hills? Perhaps circumstances of his demise compelled his remains to be committed to mother earth in Ibadan of JP Clark’s “broken china in the sun.” (How my memory is failing me as a result of my emotional state!) The one who was supposed to get back to me for accurate information on and about the event did not when I was putting my words together. Another common friend and my friend’s course-mate at Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly University of Ife, Ile-Ife), did not divulge this information in his similarly public picture of my friend in his The Guardian’s roaring tribute of Tuesday, 31 January, 2023. I am of course referring to Barrister Alade Rotimi-John who was one of the early bringers of our gone hero’s demise to my poor attention. The other person was Suyi Ayodele, Tribune’s Tuesday ace columnist.
Before Soremekun’s and Rotimi-John’s well-crafted tributes found me, Professor Olu Obafemi’s great elegiac poem of immortal diamond had galloped and gasped to me. The poem by our National Laureate, a Nigerian National Order of Merit winner, clearly made its mark on my mind. The privately circulated poem to a select audience was one in which Professor Olu Obafemi tried successfully to crowd Olukotun’s career with conquest in Olukotun’s years and years of eventful events. I never knew that Obafemi knew Olukotun until I read his afore-said poem entitled “Ayo, Omo Olukotun, Odabo!”
Professor Olukotun’s “Yagba homestead” and ancestry and scholastic biography right from “Titcombe College, Egbe in Kogi State” up to the “forest of Knowledge” in Ile-Ife and beyond as “hero of the Globe” were/are movingly and movingly rendered in the poem. But why was the dazzling adventurer “Okun, Son of Jege” committed to the red soil of Ibadan when his eyes finally and eternally closed? I tried in vain to reach Professor Obafemi, another worthy friend, and my friend’s close kinsman, for an answer. All I got was prophetically rendered in the poem as follows: ”It is doubtful that this adventurer into/the forest of knowledge/Shall return to these shores again.” Another common friend, Professor Ademola Da Sylva, who knew Ayo in their Ife days, was similarly moved by Obafemi’s elegy.
Professor Ayo Olukotun was no Professor Ayo Olukotun to me. He was simply to me – until he breathed his last breath Eyuze as I was to him Tone Baba. We first met in 1977 in Zaria now in Kaduna State. We were lecturing colleagues (Graduate Assistants – later Assistant Lecturers) at Ahmadu University. He was my tightest pal. Our other tight friend was the sociologist/criminologist Basil Owomero (a fellow Graduate Assistant) from Ozoro town in Isoko-land in Delta State. Basil died a pretty long time ago after earning a doctorate in Criminology. Of the three of us I am the only living one now. As I am reflecting on this confusion of thought, emotion, and vision of our then years a void stares at me pitilessly. The vastness of the then years of youthful youthfulness up to when we left Zaria at different times blurs and time becomes hollow. I am in the moment of writing remembering only one or two or three things of the happy and unhappy events we shared.
I remember that Eyuze Baba brought Adebayo Williams and me together. Adebayo Williams is now a Professor of Literature and a novelist and columnist of no mean repute. He and Eyuze were together as under-graduates in those years of tempestuous student unionism of patriotic patriotism when Eyuze made hay and held sway in Ife as President of the Students’ Union. But it is not this I am recalling and remembering. I am recalling and remembering… I am recalling and remembering Bayo Williams’ visits in his ever-faithful Passat to Eyuze (and then eventually to us) from Kaduna (where he was teaching at Federal Government College and at the same time working on his Master’s degree in Ife as we were doing in Zaria) when we dreamed dreams of Nigeria and our tempestuous love affair with your country my country our country. We dreamed the dreams of writing and of how to help this country to constitute ethical or moral or whatever science and knowledge of growth to shape it and humankind. Each of us endeavoured to adopt the method which would make him the peerless master of positive criticism of our country. Then we really had and held lofty dreams of enlightened patriots as young as we were with the whole world before us. Until he died Eyuze did not betray the dream and did not deviate from its anatomy. Our man was a stammerer and stutterer in private conversations but in his public speeches and lectures he was a brilliant and very brilliant orator and analyst of acute dialectical proportions who always was an orator’s orator. He always reminded me of the late famous socialist novelist Professor Festus Iyayi of the University of Benin (who famously led the Academic Staff Union of Universities in the military era that in hindsight is hundred percent better than this civilian democratic regime of rotten rottenness). And in Professor Olukotun’s shining and shiny writings you would not notice any stammering and stuttering. Let me refrain from citing numerous examples. Eyuze was simply and more than simply audaciously brilliant and courageously courageous. He stood on a very high moral ground which his elegant writings are evidence of.
What else am I remembering? When I was leaving Zaria finally, with my all-what-not, Eyuze accompanied me to the Mid-West. This attests to the measure of our tight friendship. We spent three days together in Sapele and Warri before we travelled back together in order for me to tidy up my disengagement from Ahmadu Bello University. I can write a treatise on the pure geometry of our healthy relationship. But it is immaterial now. Yet let me say this. In later years, in much later years, after we were fully committed to marital duties – with the vagaries of our politics and economy not helping matters – the cruel wind and breeze of boisterous Nigeria roped, wrestled, beat bare our friendship but we never ignored the generosity of our closeness through ample calls. In one of those calls I related the gloriously memorable one night I spent with him in the Lagos Daily Times estate/quarters he was staying in then as an editorial staff member of that once famous global newspaper before he was a faculty member of University of Lagos. He enjoyed it all then. I can imagine how he and our elderly GG Darah, who is also now a Professor, cordially and graciously – and very warmly, welcomed me to the editorial office when I visited Kakawa! Or is memory failing me again? No, no, no.
Is there anything further I want to recall about Eyuze? Of course, there are many more things to say about my kind and joyfully-minded Eyuze. But I must hold my breath here. In despair, of course. And my despair is not the vigorous pleasure of despairing. Our gone revolutionary humanist was every revolutionary’s humanist. He should not have left us now. But his time was surely up. I say this as a revolutionary mystic and peace activist – if you permit me to say so.
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.
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