Ondo: Tunji Abayomi and the Unintended Consequences of a Letter, By Femi Odere
Dr. Tunji Abayomi’s epistles to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in exercising his right to endorse Olusegun Abraham may have come and gone. But it’s noteworthy that not a few of the everyday people (considering their reactions to Abayomi’s letter on the social media), observers of politics and its pundits found the missives in bad taste, if not misguided. Abayomi’s letters (especially the first one) attempted to redefine and refashion political endorsement – that age-old, time-tested and internationally acceptable political tool that the National Leader rightly exercised to support the aspiration of Olusegun Abraham for reasons best known to him, since there’s no disputing the fact that he knows virtually all the major aspirants in many ways than one in their contestation for the APC ticket.
It was not the first time that Asiwaju had exercised his right to endorse. And his endorsement of Olusegun Abraham will neither be the last. In 2015, Asiwaju endorsed the aspiration of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari in the wake of the presidential primary that had been adjudged to be the most free, fair and transparent primary election in Nigeria in recent memory. But Abayomi would rather that Asiwaju, a national political colossus and a huge stakeholder in South-West politics, sits back and allows an aspirant, who may be fronting for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or who has no interest of the party that gave him the ticket at heart, to trash it at the poll. Because Asiwaju has always operated with uncommon resolve in areas where other political titans fear to even contemplate, let alone tread, what others see as his somewhat unconventional approach to politics and his well-calculated endorsements have almost always produced, and continues to produce high-achieving governors, among other public officials.
As much as one is wont to see Abayomi’s open letters to Asiwaju as mere politics that no one should lose any sleep over, its negative effects have not only begun to manifest on that all-important cohesiveness of the party, and it may yet be used as a basis to float another political party after the primaries to which some of the aspirants who never wished the party well in the first place would defect. Although in the face of the lack of credible and verifiable evidence, one may not be too far from the truth to infer that Abayomi’s letters were the ‘tonic’ that emboldened some miscreants, probably with the backing of some chieftains who are fifth columnists in the party, when they reportedly passed “a vote of no confidence” and subsequently announced the sack of a duly elected state chairman Isaac Kekemeke. A mere endorsement doesn’t get any more amazing than that. And you never know the unpredictable surprise and its level of intensity, if not its treachery, that politics will throw up just when you least expected.
With Abayomi’s missives, one can also infer that the stage is already set to substitute an endorsement for imposition by the fifth columnists within the party after the Ondo gubernatorial primary regardless of its authenticity and credibility. Asiwaju’s legitimate right to endorse a person (which in this case falls on Olusegun Abraham in this particular gubernatorial race in Ondo state) will be negatively played up to the maximum in the public space by some of the losers and moles within the party. They will cast aspersions on Abraham even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the primary election was free, fair, transparent and thus credible. What is more, it should also be expected that the state’s “chief mischief maker”, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko will not only play up this nefarious “imposition” trump card in all the airwaves under his control, but will also recruit foot-soldiers to engage in scare-mongering that Tinubu “the bogeyman” is once again coming to invade Ondo State with several bullion vans from Bourdillon Road with Abraham as his partner in crime before the electorate. But one hopes that the people have now known those who have carted away their collective patrimony not to allow the lies the second time. This is the more reason why it’s extremely important that one must not relent in shouting from the rooftop even if the voice cracks and becomes hoarse in the process that members of this progressive party must subscribe to the highest level of discipline. They should channel their legitimate grievances to the appropriate official channels rather than resort to self-help. It’s against this background that the pathetic incident at the state secretariat of the party must be investigated and sanctions applied to anyone found culpable in that madness, no matter how highly placed in the party.
Perhaps Abayomi’s letters have brought to the fore the contending issue of the rights and privileges of the leadership of the party vis-à-vis those of its members that need to be interrogated and settled once and for all. While Abayomi’s letters have proven once again that the enemy within can be more dangerous and lethal than the adversaries outside, it has also revealed the chronic lack of understanding of who should be on the driver’s seat between a political party in a representative democracy and its actors. Although it may not have been explicitly stated, Abayomi’s disgruntled disposition may not be unconnected to what may have been his belief that the leadership of the party may have inadvertently subsumed its rights within that of its major stakeholders in its state chapters, most especially when it comes to who becomes the party’s flag-bearer when aspirants go into the field in their individual capacities to expend their energies and financial resources on delegates to increase their chances of winning at the polls. This mindset may be fundamentally responsible for most of the intractable frictions that had always existed between political parties and their resource-endowed members in the country.
While it may be understandable (in case Abayomi is from this school of thought) that members who have not only been individually responsible, over time, for the financial up-keep and the general sustenance of the party in their localities, but were also encouraged by the leadership to seek the party’s ticket for their political ambitions to feel that the party should be beholden to them, Abayomi, as a lawyer who knows his onion, should be reminded that recognition is fundamentally vested by the nation’s constitution on the party rather than the individual regardless of the extent of his investments in the party. The court verdict in the death of the governorship candidate Abubakar Audu in Kogi State should have given political actors with this mindset reason for caution until this is finally adjudicated by the Supreme Court of the land. It is therefore reasonable to infer presently that delegates are ‘employees’ and their votes the ‘property’ of the party regardless of the financial inducements by the contestants that may have influenced their votes. Thus the leadership reserves the prerogative to endorse any of its members without distractions and acrimony, so long as a level playing field is provided all contestants under the free, fair and transparent mechanisms.
The other unfortunate component of Dr. Abayomi’s letters is this insidious political machinations in which those who had always disdained Asiwaju for whatever reason have capitalised on Abayomi’s misguided salvo – which may have also been pre-meditatively orchestrated – to whittle down Asiwaju’s political influence and rising stock in the South-West geo-political region, and by extension the nation. It therefore may not be inconceivable to opine that Dr. Abayomi is the main scribe of the literary wing of the anti-Asiwaju movement within the fold of the progressive party in the South-West while Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu is the arrowhead of its verbal attacks. Any discerning mind may have no choice than to come to this conclusion considering the spate of attacks on Asiwaju on the airwaves in Ondo State – almost immediately the first letter appeared in the public space – in which the Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who should know that words have meanings and that they carry consequences, deployed the most egregious expletives on the National Leader (although he said Asiwaju had ceased to be his National Leader in one of the radio interviews) of his own party. Having displayed such unfortunate outbursts just because one man decided to endorse an aspirant, which has now being wickedly changed into “imposition” not by the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), but by major political actors within the party, one should be extremely worried about the prospects of Akeredolu becoming the APC flag-bearer in the state’s governorship election slated for November 26. Akeredolu had displayed such a bizarre behaviour in the aftermath of a harmless endorsement that one cannot help but wonder if this Senior Lawyer is perpetually an angry man, if not emotionally unstable. Someone seeking a public office must be able to manage his/her anger. Being senselessly cantankerous is never one of the attributes of courage. The portents are not good.
Femi Odere is a media practitioner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.