By Omotola Benjamin
THERE are few Nigerian politicians of the moment who are as controversial as Kashamu Buruji, the Senator representing Ogun East in the upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly, that is the Senate. He reminds one of another Senator of yore, Arthur Nzeribe, who was controversy personified. Practically everything about Buruji is controversial: His identity is controversial; his source of stupendous wealth is controversial; his politics is controversial; and, in fact, his very name is controversial. One thing is certain, though: Hate him or love him, there is no ignoring Buruji. Since he popped up on the country’s political landscape, Buruji has moved in the circles of the movers and shakers of the polity – friends today and adversaries tomorrow.
This hide-and-seek, cat-and-dog defined his relationship, first with one-time governor of his home-state of Ogun, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, and later with former President Olusegun Obasanjo. When the former president and PDP Board of Trustees chairman wrote a stinker of an open letter to estranged godson and then sitting president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, before proceeding to publicly renounce his membership of PDP, Kashamu’s issue writ large over Obasanjo’s decision. He could not, Obasanjo said, subsume himself under the political leadership of a man wanted in the United States of America on drug charges. Buruji pleads his innocence, though, and is in court battling to prevent his extradition to God’s own country.
One thing the political foes of Buruji cannot take away from him is that he is dexterous at waltzing his way into power. He makes very good use of the vast resources at his beck and call. If money is the lubricant that oils the wheels of the gospel, it is the blood that runs in the veins of politicians. Those who have it in ample supply and are ready to generously deploy it become automatic godfathers that politicians flock to like ants that crowd around sugar.
When such a heavily-loaded godfather has enough political savvy to pick and choose the right alliances, then, the sky is the limit. Money and political nimbleness apart, the courts have also been a very potent weapon in the hand of Buruji. Has it not been said that the law is an ass – and a choosy one at that, which spurns the poor but allows the rich joyful ride. Whatever Buruji fails to get through the ballot box, he has often cornered in the law court: There are many angles to the intricacies of political gerrymandering but which some call the beauty of democracy. The judiciary as the third estate of the realm is there to adjudicate and settle disputes. Taking good advantage of it is, therefore, one of the ropes political gladiators must not only learn but also master.
Win some; lose some, as they say. So a politician cannot be expected to win all the time. One such loss, after a string of successes, which hit Buruji and his political camp, was last month’s Supreme Court verdict that stripped former Borno State governor, Ali Modu Sheriff, of the chairmanship of the PDP. Buruji was an important leader in Sheriff’s camp. While Sheriff was in the saddle, Buruji was the de facto leader of PDP in the South-west. His abode was the beehive of activities as he called the shots, deciding who gets what, how, and when. It was to be short-lived, however.
No one apart from Sheriff has suffered the reverses at the Supreme Court more than Buruji. Will he eat the humble pie and defer to the Supreme Court-sanctioned Ahmed Markarfi leadership of his party or will he jump ship? If the latter, will he make for the ruling APC or pitch his tenth with one of the amorphous registered parties waiting in the wings? To be sure, there is no politician worth his salt that does not have a couple of registered but dormant political parties in his pockets – just in case!
Events since the misadventure of Sheriff hit the walls have shown, however, that Buruji, like Sheriff, is not likely to remain within the PDP’s fold; except on one condition: that his leadership of the party (at least the Ogun state wing of it) is not threatened. Having operated at the highest level for so long, there is no way Buruji would acquiesce to becoming an ordinary floor member. Unfortunately, the bad blood generated by the Sheriff/Markarfi tussle was so bitter and the wedge ran so deep that it leaves no room for accommodation between the winners and the losers. It is a winner-takes-all and the losers must not only lick their wounds but seek solace and succour elsewhere.
This fact was made unmistakeably clear at the recent Zonal Congress of the PDP in Ibadan when so-called “moles” – meaning supporters and sympathisers of the Sheriff/Buruji’s disbanded faction – were identified and sent out of the meeting. The die, then, is cast. Buruji has been a vociferous critic of Gov. Ayo Fayose of Ekiti. Only God knows what the problem is between both men. In advert after advert, speech after speech, statement after statement Buruji has not spared Fayose, who has been a very important leader and source of inspiration not only for the PDP but also for the long-suffering Nigerian masses whose mouth-piece he has become. In addition to this has been Buruji’s unabashed support for President Muhammadu Buhari; thus has Buruji elevated himself into a thorn in PDP’s flesh. To many PDP faithful, this is not just insolence but serious anti-party activities that must not go unpunished.
Self-serving reasons have been adduced for Buruji’s “reaching out” to the Presidency with his drummed-up support for Buhari but that need not detain us here. Our concern, however, is where Buruji goes from here. Experience shows that our politicians detest labouring to bake the bread; they often prefer the finished product. Former Gov. Olusegun Mimiko, who was an exception to this rule in Ondo State, unfortunately did not last the distance as he soon jumped the Labour Party’s ship to ensconce himself in the warm embrace of the then ruling party, PDP.
So, with PDP’s door seemingly firmly shut in Buruji’s face, and if baking the bread is not an attractive option, then, all roads must lead to APC. Had Buruji seen this coming even when Sheriff was still riding high? As the Yoruba would say, maybe this was why he kept pouring cold water ahead of him with his ceaseless drubbing of Fayose and incessant support for Buhari so that he could tread on soft ground now that the chips are down. Give it to Buruji: He is a smart politician. If PDP is too hot to handle, especially with Fayose and the other hot heads in the PDP not ready to give him an inch, then APC becomes the next most feasible option if the Ogun senator is to remain politically relevant and not go into oblivion.
Of course, Buruji will not be an onlooker or follower in APC; the party must be willing to accommodate him at the highest level. If Buruji’s antecedents are anything to go by, he must control or, at least for a start, have a foothold in the APC structure at the state level. This issue of party control caused the split between Gov. Ibikunle Amosun and Aremo Segun Osoba. How it will be handled if Buruji and his supporters defect into APC remains to be seen.
Benjamin is a public affairs analyst based in Lagos.