By Muyiwa Adetiba
When Asiwaju Bola Tinubu made that famous ‘emilokan’ remark as part of a rambling, incoherent speech, it was to a small audience in Ogun State. But the import of that remark reverberated throughout the country within hours. It was in that speech that he referred to a sitting Governor as ‘eleyi’ meaning ‘this one’ literally in Yoruba.
That small audience in Ogun State was shocked into silence, not just at the insulting words, but at what was unfolding – the seeming melt-down of a man who saw his life ambition slipping away. He uttered in public, and in the full view of the media, what anybody seeking public office, least of all the highest public office in the land, should not voice beyond the privacy of his bedroom chambers and to the most private of his associates.
‘What was he smoking? (I mean that in a figurative sense) I asked myself in alarm when I heard those unfiltered words because they were uncharacteristic of a man who had spent the better part of three decades in public life. Yes, he had his gaffes over the years, but nothing close to this.
But what many thought was the speech that would nail his political and aspirational coffin, became perhaps the speech that turned his fortune around. Many assessed the speech as coming from a desperate, if a slightly un-hinged man. Others, and they were the ones that mattered at the time, heard the not so subtle threats of a man who could not be dismissed with a sleight of hand.
Asiwaju is rich enough, powerful enough, connected enough, and now desperate enough, to cause havoc within the polity. He knows the nuts and bolts of APC and could easily dismantle the party. When added to the earlier threat that he would fight dirty if needed, the powers-that- be knew enough to quickly remove the anointing bottle from the head of the Senate President or whomever they were preparing it for. The rest as they say is history. Tinubu won the round. Time would tell if it was a pyrrhic victory.
Asiwaju’s spin doctors have since then tried to spin the ‘emilokan’ message out of the context it was given in Ogun State to a more generic, more innocuous campaign slogan. A threat to the powers-that-be has become an appeal to the populace to do the rightful thing by rewarding Asiwaju’s labour of love and sacrifice over the years. It has even been adapted to ‘awalokan’ to make it more inclusive.
But no matter how you spin it, ‘emilokan’ which means ‘it is my turn’ is a self-serving word. It is a word that should be an anathema to democracy where people are supposed to elect their leaders by popular votes because it suggests entitlement. It is a phrase that also urges imposition in a way. An entitlement mentality – rife among the rank and file in the country – should not be encouraged in choosing leaders because of consequences down the road.
Unfortunately, Tinubu is not the only one guilty of the ‘emilokan’ mentality. Atiku Abubakar, the PDP Presidential Candidate, acted the ‘emilokan’ script by insisting on running for Presidency despite the tacit zoning arrangement his party has practiced since its inception.
He acted the ‘emilokan’ script again recently when he addressed some Northern elders where emphasized that he is the ‘son of the soil’. He thus made himself the political ‘arrowhead’ for the north and therefore entitled to the coveted post. Many of the supporters of Peter Obi – not him as a person to the best of my knowledge – have also anchored their support on the ‘emilokan’ syndrome. It is the turn of the Igbos they say.
And for this, they are prepared to turn a blind eye to the weaknesses of their candidate and instead lionize him. If you believed the social media, you would think he came from Mars to rescue the country. Many of the supporters of Tinubu and Obi were once loud advocates of Restructuring. ‘Emilokan’ mentality has muted that. It has also muted more extreme agitations. This shows how self-serving and opportunistic their cries for a restructured Nigeria really were.
There is nothing wrong with a turn by turn arrangement in my view. Done properly, it should promote justice, equity and inclusion. First, it should not be about individuals as in Atiku and Tinubu. Second, it should not be on the altar of competence and ability. Third, it should not be left to a cabal to decide who emerges. Four, the people should be given multiple choices from a desired zone and not a ‘messiah’ that is being propped up to represent a zone like ‘Saint Obi’.
The down side of ‘emilokan’ is that it kills accountability and makes the chosen person feel beholden to those who choose them. And if care is not taken, it will affect the unity of the country because the ‘chosen’ one feels more obliged to serve the interests of his ‘constituency’ than the larger interest while his people indulge his many shortcomings because he is their ‘son’.
In an ideal world, what we want is a contest of ideas where contestants from wherever in the country proffer solutions to the socio/economic problems besetting Nigeria. Then we can look at antecedents and track records to decide who can best respond to the current needs of the country out of the lot. Unfortunately, what we are likely to get going forward in this campaign are tribal war-lords who will play to primordial sentiments of religion, tribe and class interests.
This ugly picture is already being painted. Can a Bishop who for example, asks his congregation not to vote a Muslim/ Muslim ticket condemn an Imam who says his followers should not vote a Christian infidel into power? Can a candidate who expects a blanket northern vote because he is from the north – as if we didn’t know where he is from – now expect the south to vote for him? Yet poverty knows no religion. Hunger knows no tribe. And the problems of Nigeria transcend the sentiments currently on display by the frontline candidates and their supporters.