By Omotayo Suleiman
The need to hold leaders to rigorous account remains sacrosanct. The need to treat all residents with respect and dignity irrespective of ethnic origins remains sacrosanct. The need to respect the political preference of every resident, irrespective of tongue, tribe and faith remains sacrosanct. But none of these dearly held values justify strident advocacy for the Yorubas to abandon deeply etched sensibilities around intra ethnic cohesion for concerted political action.
Our national reality is a complex and bewildering maze of daunting dynamics and only the truly lion hearted of visionaries, leader-warriors who come mysteriously possessed of obsessive commitment and focus, succeed somehow to tenaciously retain clarity of purpose…
Unkind and uncouth name callers may daily earn their dubious celebrity at the expense of indefatigable leaders like Tinubu and Sanwo-Olu, but such leaders triumph again and again because they find the fortitude to stay the course…
An important achievement of Abimbola Adelakun’s essay “Yoruba Ronu, Yes, Ronu! published last week is that it managed to send hordes of the uninitiated scurrying to search for the meaning of the word irredentism.
But that opinion piece is important in two other principal ways. There was the sumptuous feast served to the bustling crowd of Tinubu traducers as this peculiarly sharp-tongued sister sought to make mincemeat of Nigeria’s president elect. Then, there was also the gallant attempt to conscientize Yorubas resident in Lagos State against the toxicity of tribalism as they cast their votes for governor this Saturday.
Indeed, this tense election cycle has witnessed a festering of schisms as much as it has witnessed a flowering of isms.
As a bewildering assortment of political mercenaries pour on the bile, mindlessly seeking to widen our subsisting fault lines for insidious gain, so has a faculty of pseudo intellectual cynics also sought to assert itself in our mostly foul national discourse, providing comic relief with all manners of esoteric jargons that leave the unwary mind more befuddled than enlightened.
In this season’s festival of oyibo gramatika, the star isms of the 2023 -2027 political dispensation are already emerging, each jostling for chart topper status in the lingual compendium of our national idiocy. Prebendalism! Primordalism! Irredentism!
The hoipolloi of Nigeria, were they to have had access to the rarified loft where Doctor Adelakun delivered her homily, might have asked “Irredent-wetin?” And their answer might have been found in the patented siren noise of a certain Mr. Portable. Akoi turenchi. Wahala. Wahala. Wahala.
But beyond its jaw breaking non-familiarity, irredentism, or more explicitly ethnic irredentism (a term that sort of describes a tendency for a group to lay claim to a certain identity or geographical space for an assertion of superiority or pre-eminence over another group) has been one of the most re-current ‘‘grammar’’ of the season as commentators have sought to interrogate the 2023 general election.
Adelakun’s celebrity goes beyond her having aided the mainstreaming of the word irredentism last week. Poignant and blessed with uncanny lucidity of expression, this sister’s kindly mien belies her fiery anger about Nigeria’s perennial development deficit and the succession of political actors across decades whose insincerity and duplicity have perpetuated such mindless disfunction. No true patriot can deny the sorry outcomes that our attempt at sustainable national development has produced in 63 trauma filled years. Nor can Adelakun’s fixation with the Nigerian project be denied.
The problem is a certain tendency to rush to cruel judgement, grandly pronouncing sweeping characterization of complex socio/political phenomena on a modicum of substantive interrogation. A valiant warrior of the written word whose ‘tongue’ wields a fearsome cache of lethal weapons, this lady is uniquely capable of delivering the most acerbic vitriol couched in the most elegant prose.
But we should leave Doctor Abimbola’s gift and wont alone for the moment. Of infinitely weightier importance is the grave national moment in which our nation is now caught and the dire inflection which seemingly inconsequential electoral choices may yet instigate within the highly combustible inter-ethnic context that has now, somehow, ever so stealthily, sneaked into the 2023 Lagos State governorship fray.
Ms Abimbola, whose scholarly credentials and erudite bibliography separates her from the pack, and whose essay provoked the writing of this piece, is one writer whose prolific pen leaves no one befuddled. Her clarion call is heard loud and clear in the quarters where she has influence. The force of her opinion shapes opinions one way or the other. Which is precisely why the strident non-equivocation of her advocacy for the Labor Party governorship candidate for Lagos, Rhodes-Vivour and her scathing condemnation of the incumbent, Babajide Sanwo-Olu and his political leader and President elect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, needs be vigorously interrogated in context.
The prevailing narrative that shapes Abimbola’s narrative is. A 60-year long succession of failing governments continues to aerate the universal view that political structures across Nigeria are primarily money-making contraptions in which institutional sleaze dominate. True.
Our nation’s subsisting political culture has been abysmal in terms of fidelity to social compact. True.
Nigeria’s political space is brimming with unabashedly self-serving fortune hunters whose mojo is only fired by the most primal of rapacious instincts. True.
Yet, for serious students of political economy, our analytical interrogation – our attempt at comprehension of Nigeria’s inscrutably complex empirical context – will perennially remain ineffectual and our distillations, conclusions and profiling of leaders like Tinubu and Sanwo-Olu can yield no actionable navigation, to the extent that we continue to major only in cliched and simplistic paradigms of valuation and characterization.
Glib, perfunctory and self-indulgent profiling of an otherwise eminent leader of our nation like Tinubu may serve to stoke the entertainment value of the sundry pundit across groups of undiscerning fans, such reveling in sterile cynicism yields zero illumination vis-à-vis a clarified grasp of Tinubu’s strategic import and his historical place in our tortured national journey.
ÄSIWAJU” may be a favorite epithet with which millions of admirers fondly call this grand master of politics, but any serious enquirer must empathize with Tinubu’s deep internalization of that lofty title and his gripping consciousness of the dire leadership imperatives intrinsic in it.
Only by our intuitive connection to higher historical purpose can we comprehend the wider, holistic capture of a transformer’s leadership remit. Only through such granular prism can we meaningfully discern Tinubu’s core intents, his inner motivations and the stubborn and deviant pragmatism that has driven his rugged embrace of the destiny that history has thrusted upon him.
It suffices here to simply restate that our national reality is a complex and bewildering maze of daunting dynamics and only the truly lion hearted of visionaries, leader-warriors who come mysteriously possessed of obsessive commitment and focus, succeed somehow to tenaciously retain clarity of purpose even as they are perennially engulfed in a toxic cloud of calumny.
I have often said that there are day dreamers and there are dreamers. In all history, dreamers are the disruptors who come, intent on paradigm shift. Imbued with a fire for new, sustainable value creation, such disruptors come our way once in a lifetime. Without at all ascribing infallibility to him beyond his human frame, Tinubu is one such disruptor. Driven by a deeper inner call, such enigmatic change makers commit heart and soul, relinquishing fragile ego, subduing essential human sensitivity to constant maligning, at the altar of national service.
Unkind and uncouth name callers may daily earn their dubious celebrity at the expense of indefatigable leaders like Tinubu and Sanwo-Olu, but such leaders triumph again and again because they find the fortitude to stay the course, daily contending with and finding pragmatic models of harnessing the peculiarly complicated landscape they are confronted with. It is then okay for arm chair diviners of our national destiny who are safely tucked away in the chilled ambience of their non participation, to continually revel in idle pontification far away from the fiery furnace and scorching heat of political leadership and governance in Nigeria. These daily gorge themselves on a surfeit of malevolence and boloney, fancying themselves as heroes of a people they in fact have zero connection with.
But speaking specifically about Governor Sanwo-Olu’s prospects at this election, it occurs to one that career naysayers can only cat-call in vain. While there are certainly clear areas for improvement and while cost efficiencies must continually answer to diligent scrutiny, Sanwo-Olu’s ubiquitous foot print in transformative infrastructure delivery will certainly answer for him as Lagos State residents troop out to vote.
Importantly, the factors that will shape the Lagos governorship election are markedly different from those that were at play on February 25. We do not gloat but following the result of the presidential election in Lagos, vast sections of the electorate which did not vote on February 25 are now galvanized and will deliver in impressive numbers for Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
Ms Abimbola’s spirited attempt to invalidate the place of ethno cultural cohesion for political action, pride of indigeneship and filial bonding around homeland loyalty and affinity, on the altar of cosmopolitan social harmony, altogether missed the point.
Despite the pressing imperative of national cohesion and inter-ethnic harmony, more nuanced contemplation is required regarding Ms Abimbola’s pitch, aimed at forcefully disrupting long ingrained and deeply etched nativity mindset as it may shape voter behavior among the Yorubas of Lagos State.
The need to hold leaders to rigorous account remains sacrosanct. The need to treat all residents with respect and dignity irrespective of ethnic origins remains sacrosanct. The need to respect the political preference of every resident, irrespective of tongue, tribe and faith remains sacrosanct.
But particularly in the context of the 2023 Lagos State Governorship election, none of these dearly held values justify strident advocacy for a people to abandon deeply etched sensibilities around intra ethnic cohesion for concerted political action. As it is for our Igbo brothers and sisters, so it is for their Yoruba hosts.
This viewpoint is not remotely akin to peddling spurious ethnicity either. Nigeria is a federation but while the federating units are defined as geographical constructs, an empathetic understanding of our heterogeneous make up should tell any attentive thought leader that ethno/cultural groupings are also, and in a very deep sense, key components of that collegial setting too.
Negotiation, collaboration, accommodation. These must define civil and political relations within state structures as within the larger federal commonwealth. Within that framework, and especially where politics within states is concerned, sacred sensibilities of host ethnicities and the respect accorded to it, remain foundational to continued harmonious co-existence between indigene groups and their guests.
Omotayo Suleiman, a policy analyst & public affairs commentator wrote from [email protected]
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