By Morenike Taire
In the days when the legendary Lamidi Adedibu reigned over Oyo state with his Amala politics, his cunning as well as the culinary skills of those in his massive kitchen were the main sources of his political power.
His reach- which stretched as far as Abuja and even beyond the shores of Nigeria- was reinforced not by his ability to speak grammar but his genius at networking and bringing people together.
It is fabled that one of the candidates for the governorship in his home Oyo state whom the kingpin favoured had been mocked by political opponents and their sympathisers for the latter’s poor grasp of the English language. The poor fellow had approached Adedibu for inspiration, and the story goes that the kingpin had in comforting him, brought out two currency notes from his pocket in full view of other visitors.
Charging the candidate to ignore (his) detractors, he held up the 1000 and 200 naira notes and asked the latter to name the notes, which he duly did. “How then can they say you do not understand English?” he was said to have asked rhetorically.
Another insider gist was of the so called Oracle of Molete promising the now embattled Rasheed Ladoja the governorship of Oyo state in 2003 with the conveyed intention of unseating the incumbent, Lam Adesina, who incidentally also had strong ties to the old man. On a visit to the Molete compound of Adedibu where legend has it that at least a hundred people were fed daily in the precursor to ‘stomach infrastructure’, Ladoja had seen his arch rival Lam Adesina in a strategic position in the Molete complex, devouring a bowl of hot amala and gbegiri for which the venue was famous and appearing totally relaxed and at home.
In protest, Ladoja was said to have drawn the attention of Adedibu to the scene while registering his displeasure. In the conversation that ensued, the former governor was said to have asked in the native Ibadan dialect: “You said I would be governor; is that not Adesina eating amala in your compound?” Adedibu was said to have replied him in the words now written on marble:” Lam is eating amala and that is all he will eat. You will be the one to ‘eat’ the governorship”- playing on the word “eat”, which connotes a dual meaning of both mastication and ascendancy. Things turned out exactly as the godfather had predicted.
A fortnight or so before the 2019 presidential polls, female presidential candidate Oby Ezekwesili shocked her followers when she dropped her candidature of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria to do what some pundits had predicted she was planning to do all along. The pundits laugh last, freely casting aspersions on her integrity and claiming she led them astray.
The truth is, this is what politicians do everywhere in the world and the problem with our crop of new age presidential candidates is not that they do not know what is wrong with Nigeria or even that they cannot fix it, but that they do not understand politics enough. It is like a man who wants to go to London by foot and thinks he will get there before the man going by air. You cannot reach a destination without a vehicle and leave it or take it, politics is the only vehicle by which the destination of political office can be reached creditably, and technocracy or elitism cannot make up for that.
The reason Adedibu was a better politician in his era than the grammar speaking lot is that he understood the value of local influence. This influence is believed to have been acquired by the daily provision of steaming amala and gbegiri/ewedu to all who thronged in. Some swear that he fed the stuff to hundreds of devotees daily.
But while stomach infrastructure has its own value- and it is remarkable within certain economic climates- it takes a combination of psychology and networking skills to be able to wield the level of influence that he did, even on far more educated folks.
As the political class once more has influenced us with a view to electing them into various positions this 2019, it is only to be expected that every tactic imaginable under the sun has been deployed. Unfortunately, politicking is no more as fun-filled as it once had been.
The new age politicians are a tad too serious, though human rights activist and lawyer Femi Falana recently called into question the very continuity of their existence, referring to the expansion of the democratic space as exploitation by people of ill-motivated agenda who set up all kinds of political associations and proceeded to register them as political parties.
Their dismal performances while expected, might more accurately be a reflection of their weakness as the constituted opposition to the ruling APC and their very raison d’etre might well have been for the devastation and fractionalization of existing opposition.
In the next four years, the new age politicians have all the time in the world to learn how to build structures, begin conversations, explore networks and just play politics.