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Are our politicians bridge builders or bridge breakers?

By Muyiwa Adetiba

I have Aremo Olusegun Osoba’s yet to be autographed and yet to be opened biography in my hands—I hope to rectify the first soon by requesting him to do me the honour of an autograph and the second next week now that Wimbledon, (British Open) which ended last weekend, and Africa Cup of Nations, which ended this weekend, have been cleared off my sporting table.

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I have in the meantime, read quite a few excerpts of the book online. I am convinced that it will be a rewarding read. Segun Osoba has had two exciting careers in journalism and politics. In fact, he rode the high crest of both career waves. The book is, judging from the title, about his adventures in the two of them. Its launch which coincided with his 80th birthday was also predictably successful in terms of attendance.

I attended the launch expecting to see journalists across different generations and to see faces of professional colleagues I had not seen in a while. I was not disappointed. Osoba is a veritable bridge builder that way. He has managed to keep tabs on notable personalities in the profession including those who were not even born when he started out in the Daily Times.

I expected to see past and present political gladiators and some pretenders to the throne. Again, I was not disappointed. This is his current turf and his phoenix like resuscitation in the politics of Ogun State where he matched Amosun intrigue for intrigue and power for power shows he is still a master of the political game. The quantity and quality of political attendees confirmed his current status. I expected the ghost of June 12, to hover around the hall in terms of the ‘dramatis personnel’ of the era. I didn’t see enough of the faces I expected to see.

It could be because of a falling apart over the years, or simply because they chose to sit in the quieter places in the crowded hall. I did see Dr Ore Falomo, Chief Abiola’s visible and loyal physician though. He was a row in front of me. I tapped him on the shoulder to greet him. He turned around, posted a smile as he recognised me and said: ‘I expected to find you here.’

Yes, I expected to find me here as well. I have known and interacted with Chief Segun Osoba pretty much all my professional life. He was a regular visitor to the Punch during the early days of its being. It is speculated that he played a role in the coming together of the principal partners if not of the birth of the paper. Just as it is speculated that he played a role in the birth of the Guardian.His closeness to Uncle Sam also made him a regular visitor to Vanguard during my time there.

But beyond that, he played a role in my evolution as a publisher. He facilitated my membership of NPAN (Newspaper Proprietors Association) when membership was necessary to have access to newsprint at Oku-Iboku. Later, he facilitated with subtle pressure from Uncle Sam, my purchase of a newspaper printing press when I wanted to move to the next level—no pun intended—in newspaper publishing. He was to cancel some appointments so he could chair the anniversary of one of my publications.

Of recent, we both belong to a virtual platform which is dedicated to music and the arts, but whose liberal political views are encouraged by Aremo himself. Although some of the views that are sometimes directed at his political friends and allies could be visceral, not once has Aremo cautioned any commentator. And just a few weeks ago, he played a major role in my brother’s 75th birthday reception which was hosted by the group. So it was always on the cards that I would attend his own 80th birthday celebration.

July 8, was Aremo’s day as much as it was a day for the political class. To see them—ministers and ex-ministers, governors and ex-governors, Vice President and ex-Head of State—strut about with pomp and gaiety, you would think you were in a different country. The mood in that room bore little reference to the reality outside.

Inside was ebullience; outside was insecurity. Inside was affluence; outside was grinding poverty. Inside was class unity; outside was class division. Inside was warm camaraderie; outside was cold indifference. The country is falling apart at the seams, but you would not think it from the mien of people in the hall. Yet, the stark realities of what we find outside; what has befallen the nation, are caused by the actions and inactions of many people in that hall. And when they spoke, many of them, as if on cue, extolled the bridge building capabilities of the celebrant. It means they know the importance of bridge building to nation building.

But many of them by their actions and words, are bridge breakers.They stay in their comfort zones and project hatred and division to their constituencies, often for selfish interests. It is this interest of self that has made no incumbent willing to change the status quo. A status quo that exploits the division between the rich and the poor. Instead, they prefer to trade blames and buck pass.  You get this feeling that politics in Nigeria is one of musical chairs where power is rotated without any thought for the nation or the people who populate it.

The problem of the growing insecurity in the country calls for coming together, for commitment, for sincerity, for genuine bridge building among our political leaders. Many of them were in that hall last Monday. The narration that led to the genocide in Rwanda seemed accursed and crazy to those of us who followed it from outside. But it seemed justified to hate filled Hutus and Tutsis at the time.

To suddenly call someone you grew up with a cockroach to be crushed made sense to a Hutu at the time. We are on that road to Rwanda because we are beginning to describe ourselves in despicable words. Our leaders have to eschew personal and class interests and come together quickly to save the country from the brink. Every death, every kidnap, every hate-filled propaganda inches the clock to zero hour. Make no mistake; a Rwanda in Nigeria would devastate the country as we know it, and could destabilise the continent.

P.S. Rwanda is prospering today because the leaders realise the folly that led to the genocide and have put their ethnic differences aside to lift the country. We should learn from them.

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