By Festus Adedayo
Barbara Perry, in her book entitled Silent Victims, drew the diagram of non-natives’ dilemma in the hands of those who seek power. In their hands, she said, non-natives are endangered species and are often stigmatized by those whose ultimate aim is to set them against indigenous people, recreate the hegemony of “the perpetrators” with the intention of terrorizing them.
Tunde Ayeleru, Professor of French and African Literature, University of Ibadan’s piece entitled Deconstructing a stranger’s tale of governance history in Oyo (Nigerian Tribune, May 21 and Guardian, May 23, 2004), from all intent and purposes, is in this mould. Reeking of fallacies of ad hominem to invalidate earlier arguments I made about the validity and desirability of Governor Abiola Ajimobi getting re-elected in Oyo State, Ayeleru cruelly used my non-nativity of Oyo State, the usual cudgel that power-seeker perpetrators use to terrorize their victims, as his weapon. He turned upside down so glibly the commendable story told all over the world about the New Oyo State carved out by Ajimobi from the rot he inherited that the only succor that one can readily find is the word of Immortal Albert Einstein who stated that we cannot wrest from our enemies’ hands the venomous weapon of the lie, but we can only cry out to the whole world that they bear false witness against us.
Before going into the details of Ayeleru’s arguments, it would be interesting to note this so-called Professor’s infamous public sphere pedigree. In a Nigeria where academics scramble over one another to lend their voices to dissect the myriad developmental problems of the country, especially the Boko Haram insurgency, Ayeleru has commented in newspapers only twice and on each occasion, his brief was to viscerally attack Ajimobi while canonizing Senator Rashidi Ladoja. Not for once did he advise Nigeria on the menace of Nigeria’s French neighbours offering safe haven to insurgents. His first intervention was in a piece he entitled Re – Parable of the Cowpeas, where he launched his maiden attack against the governor; this being the second. Deductive logic thus permits the conclusion that Ayeleru is one of the Rottweiler dogs of the Accord Party leader seasonally unleashed to do the twin of lap-up and barking. When the Ivory Tower becomes home to murky, pedestrian thoughts dished out in service of political principals, then Armageddon can be said to be clearly afoot.
And when a supposed academic is the one being used by a former governor to criminalize non-nativity, in this age where the world frowns at the dichotomy of settlers/natives, then we are in trouble. But Ayeleru does not seem to mind this apparent blemish on his academic gown once he succeeds in forcibly escorting Ladoja to the sacristy of saints.
In other words, the piece under reference, except for its cants, sophistries and ad hominem, was a bad attempt to make a corpse walk, dress Ladoja’s uninspiring and dispiriting years in office in the garb of development and odourize an Ajimobi whom the world applauds for being a refreshing difference in the pantheon of post-military leadership in Oyo State. It lacked the usual rigour associated with academics but parades a high dosage of unsubstantiated falsehood, almost tempting one to believe that, but for the name and prefix, it could jolly well have been written by Ayodele Adigun, Dotun Oyelade or any of Ladoja’s array of Rottweiler whose pieces often advertise lack of depth and logic.
Ayeleru, it would seem, in relishing to castigate me as a non-native, or what he called a “stranger” is giving me an opportunity to advertise immodesty. In spite of me, for once, I think I should accept his open invitation. Exactly 21 years ago, in search of the proverbial golden-fleece, I crossed several rivers from my Ilu-Abo village in Akure, Ondo State, over to Ibadan for my Masters degree at the University of Ibadan, the same great school where he incubates this polluted intellectualism. Since then, I have contributed to the socio-economic development of Oyo state. As a journalist at the Tribune, while the Ayelerus were probably preparing the faggots of political infamy and deceit, I harvested wide-ranged renown as speaking truth to power. Indeed, in 1997, when I moved over toOmega Weekly newspaper with kindred spirits like Prof. Wale Adebanwi now of the University of California, Dr. Adeolu Akande, Bode Opeseitan, now Director at Globacom and Dr. Segun Olatunji, Tribune Consultant, we all put our lives on the line in attacking the government of General Sanni Abacha. No food to eat but determined to end military orthodoxy, we trudged on, in spite of threats to our lives. Ex-Thisday Editor, Simon Kolawole and I were Assistant Editors. One night, we parked our computers and other equipment when reports got to us that Sgt. Rogers needed us dead and alive. My flat at Akinyemi, Ring Road, Ibadan became the emergency office of the authority-detested newspaper ably abetted by Chief Bola Ige and other pro-democracy leaders of Yorubaland. Yet Ayeleru says I am not worthy of running commentary on leaders whom I risked my life to fight for their emergence.
Permit this other streak of immodesty: While plying my trade at the Tribune, many of the leaders of Oyo State whose names Ayeleru took delight in recounting, held me in utmost regards for holding them accountable. Chief Ige, Dr. Omololu Olunloyo, Alhaji Lam Adesina, Adebayo Alao-Akala and the military rulers in the state never discountenanced my voice. Ladoja escaped my tooth-comb review of his government because a governor like him, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, a detribalized Nigerian, who can be said to have in his brain substances akin to a reviewer’s estimation of French philosopher, Voltaire, as one of the greatest brains ever housed in a human skull, took me across several rivers, in spite of my non-nativity, to contribute to the development of his state, Enugu. His Imperial Majesty, the Alaafin of Oyo, whenever I stumble on him, while recounting by rote the headlines of some of my pieces he considered exceptional, often quips, “Festus, do people still remember your contributions to the democracy we enjoy today?” Yet Ayeleru says I am not qualified to run commentary on a state where the umbilical cords of my children were buried; where I have paid my taxes for about 20 years now, the only home my children know.
Ayeleru’s hate-driven attempt to criminalize my non-nativity is fascinating for its inherent oxymoron. In 2003, Dr. Nnamani invited me to Enugu to be his Special Assistant, in a state where I couldn’t even understand the language of my host. He was later to upgrade me as his Special Adviser on Media and member of the State Executive Council. In my four years of stay in Enugu, while our administration traded tackles with Chiefs Jim Nwobodo, C. C. Onoh, Ken Nnamani and other great leaders of the state, many of these tackles not without my imprimatur, never did the great people of Enugu underscore my non-nativity. They were happy to have an ofe manu as their governor’s publicist and saw me as contributing to the development of their state. Yemisi Fadairo, from Ogun State, was about same time Saminu Turaki’s media aide in Dutse and Akabueze has been a commissioner in Lagos since almost the beginning of creation.Governor Ajimobi, another detribalized, cerebral and urbane leader, chose me, according to him, on account of my competence, rather than my nativity. The world applauds these lessons in inter-ethnic pollination and craves more of it. But not Ayeleru. One would have expected my Ondo State to be the one lamenting my “loss” and not a so-called Professor who claims to hail from a state where I burn midnight candles for its development. This is a state where Ayeleru can seldom unbuckle my sandals in contributions to its development, where what he has ahead of me is probably only the locale of the burial of his umbilical cord, and yet, he sees me as an inferior partner.
In the narrative of development of Oyo State that he made and the contributions of its past leaders, Ayeleru subjects self to mockery, openly advertising his shameless bias. The same government Ladoja ran, renowned for its arrogance and ineptitude, where one of the wives in his harem was reputed to sign state government files on his behalf, Ayeleru beatified and clandestinely canvasses its return. Ladoja’s failure is most apparent in his inability to manage the petrel of Ibadan politics, Lamidi Adedibu, whom Akala he derogated managed brilliantly and the subsequent chaos and violence that he turned the state into, with the resultant loss of hundreds of lives. You would not believe it is the same ex-governor who is yet in court for allegedly stealing billions of money belonging to the people of Oyo State whom the man who is supposed to profess knowledge canonizes that shamelessly.
Only an analyst who momentarily sets aside the demands of objectivity will fail to see the revolution that the Ajimobi government is bringing to a state that was before now seen majorly as a civil servant state, whose total monthly earning is slightly above N5billion but pays over N4billion on salaries. Indigenes of the state, home and abroad, are excited at the reversal into a metropole of their state’s erstwhile unpleasant image as a dirty backyard. But to Ayeleru, this is inconsequential. Indeed – hear the warped thinking of a Professor – the massive road constructions of the Ajimobi government must have been done with the mindset of getting ‘thank you’ from contractors! When you hear a supposed academic making excuses for failed governments like that of Ladoja, juxtaposing the dross called road construction of the administration with what obtains under Ajimobi, you would agree with Christians that the end time has indeed come.
You only need your pair of eyes to see the changes that have been made in Oyo State. When a supposed professor says the reversal of the frightening fortunes of a state from a land where violence broke out every second, where Auxiliary and Tokyo were kings, where hundreds of people were killed in droves due to the intransigence and stubbornness of Ladoja, was mere tokenism, then you should lament the fate of the people in the hands of their intellectuals. When he rehashed the boring lie often peddled by the Ladoja camp that Ajimobi is elitist because he sent hawkers from roadsides, you would feel like vomiting. You do not need to go to school to know that nowhere in the world can you stop decades of filth passed over by the Ladoja government, have Oyo’s current aesthetic transfiguration, without a little sacrifice from the people. In any case, where was Ayeleru when Ladoja drove traders away from and demolished shops at Orita Aperin, Ogunpa and a church on Ring Road, Ibadan? How come Ayeleru did not, if he was not an enemy observer or a tainted witness, acknowledge that, in spite of his massive demolitions, Ladoja never built a single stall for traders in the state, yet he claims to love Oyo masses? At the moment, no government in the history of the state has constructed as much markets and stalls for traders as Ajimobi has done. Indeed, the Scout Camp Market which has thousands of stalls, was handed out to traders free of charge.
It is the intellectual anarchy of pseudo academics like Ayeleru that is the cause of many of the evils of our contemporary society. When our Rome burns, moments when the Ayelerus’ expertise is needed, they play the ostrich, only to lend purchasable voices to issues of pure politics. If Ladoja, who is aspiring again to the office of the governor, could cause to be written a piece preaching hatred against non-natives, it speaks volume of what he would do to us all if he eventually becomes governor (God forbid!), in a state whose renown for accommodating “strangers” is legendary. The moment academics become mercenaries in the hands of politicians, they incinerate objectivity and truth. Society wakes up from this slumber, lost.