Mighty men – In Touch, The Nation newspaper, 29/10/2018
He walks like a teen. Short, eyes alert, his feet and arms crackle as though the fellow is about to leap in and out of his labour attire. Unlike his days as governor, he has no beauty, no svelte figure beside him, to chasten his speed. Sometimes he rails, sometimes he cajoles, but often with a visceral brutality. Some party members hold their breaths until they are about to lose them. Welcome Adams, goodbye wheeler dealer. Oyegun now sulks in silence.
When he stepped in as APC chair, no one expected him to carry on the mercantile drollery of his septuagenarian ancestor. No under-the-carpet, shadowy politics. Adams Oshiomhole could not have promised anything else. His labour past, a soldierly profile in the trenches of aluta, presents him as a sort of contradiction in politics. The activist meets the cunning. But such contradictions are good when put to good use.
“Do I contradict myself,” asks the American poet of democracy, Walt Whitman. “I am large. I contain multitudes.” Adams is an example of a strong man in democracy. The view often is that a strong man is bad for democracy. Since it is an ideology that privileges the collegial over hubris, it is wrong to think of a big man in a system of popular persuasion.
But history has given us many. Churchill. Washington. De Gaulle. Lincoln. Ghandi. Mandela. Awolowo. They are not big because they bully. They do not wield guns or rally mobs with blood in their eyes. They fall into what Max Weber describes as charismatic figures. They draw their strengths from moral example, intellectual power and courage. They are not like Franco, Mobutu, Hitler, or Mussolini, the sawdust Caesar. They exploit what Rousseau called the collective will.
The good big men give the ideology role models. They are a sort of contradiction of royalty in the society of equals. They are big because they are like us. They ride on us. They do not ride us. The rise from us, not in spite of us. They are the sort of man Lord Jim aspired to be in Joseph Conrad’s novel.
So, Adams is playing that sort of game in the APC. He is bringing sanity to the decay that Oyegun left. His ancestor brought the party to the brink. It did not help that the real leader of the party, President Muhammadu Buhari, looked on as elements like Bukola Eleyinmi Saraki, became a fifth columnist until he was naturally cauterised. Or a man like Dogara, who became speaker because of the northern guilty conscience about northern Christians being marginalised. Dogara cannot win a senatorial race in Bauchi State, yet he tries to challenge Governor Abdullahi Abubakar in a duel in which just one punch will fell him.
He is not always elegant. He does not have to be. His diction is sometimes uneven for the purpose. But it is not a game for accurate shots. Some misses are acceptable as long as the main goal is within sight. On his watch, a new idea has shaken the Nigerian political history: the open primaries. It has scared many, especially some governors who cannot stand the popular test. And we have seen that even when it was not open primaries, it rattled some who lay regal claims to political offices. The concept has opened the eyes of the party to a new way of politics. They have seen the forbidden fruit, lush primaries that provide the people’s wish. If not exactly the people’s wish, something close to it. A hint of progress.
When such men emerge, we confront obstacles. Hence the stories in some states, like Ogun, Zamfara and Imo. In Kaduna State, Shehu Sani has failed to make his way, because the dwarf governor, Nasir El-Rufai has turned himself into a monarch. But it is not only the story of a hectoring chief executive, but also about Sani’s sometimes juvenile outbursts in the course of his brief senatorial stewardship. He may not return as senator. He started a fight with a man when he had not sized up the foe to understand how much firepower he had to duel him down.
Well, Sani the activist overpowered Sani the politician, and he may be sharpening his tool to return to his old trade. His naivety has given us some nuggets, though. Through him we know the pay and moral payload of our lawmakers. It was an extraordinary moment in our democracy. He blew the wind to a hen’s behind and we saw all the muck and bumps. No one denied, and he did it without shame or shamefacedness, and without drawing alienation. He kept taking the pay. He was like a man who carted away the loot after confessing to his iniquity. But we shall remain indebted to his tainted honesty.
The story of Zamfara, Imo and Ogun are examples of how not to be a big man in a democracy. Ibikunle Amosun has been crying like a three-year-old, just the age of the party in power. Amosun, who has carried on like a little Pol Pot in Ogun politics is amazed how suddenly he has become an underdog in his party. The father thinks he is roaring. The children are asking why he is crying. He does not know that there is a difference between a Kabiyesi and elected governor. He sees himself as his excellency kabiyesi Amosun. He saw the grandiose emptiness of Daniel’s reign. He brought his own and he could not even own it.
Right before his eyes, he looked at a primary that upended his candidate. Out of illusory confidence, he had accompanied Akinlade to the mosque and proclaimed, in vacuous prophecy, that he would accompany him in the next Sallah as a friend to the governor. How soon he became a false prophet.
He also took a real kabiyesi to see Mr. President without telling him the purpose. Well, he did not know that Buhari is not one to fight for anyone who is not Buhari. This is Buhari that Amosun always wanted to stand beside for photo ops. The story is told that when other governors were with the president, Amosun would jostle his way through his colleagues, brushing them away to create a path for himself to stand beside the big man. Where is the camera man!
Okorocha’s story has been well documented in this column. It is not that his in-law cannot be governor. He should let the people agree with him. But he wants to be the wrong big man in politics. The same with Yari. Yoruba will say Oti yari o. (He has turned desperate). INEC has disavowed any APC candidacy. The big men are seeing, for the first time in eight years, that they are just human. Shakespeare describes such a person as “proud man, dressed in a little brief authority.”
They are trying to act in the philosophy of Plato that “might makes right.” In the slavery era, Abraham Lincoln declared that “right makes might.” It is that right that Adams is clutching and the Amosuns are crying over.