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Between Obasanjo and Afe Babalola

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I have deliberately elected not to comment frontally on former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s New Year letter to Nigerian youth – of all segments of Nigeria’s population – because the writer behaves like Satan preaching Christ to unbelievers! I think that is why many have chosen to allude to the dichotomy between the message and the messenger or the baby and the bathwater. And it reminds me of William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice”. While negotiating with the irredeemably cruel and wicked Shylock for Bassanio’s loan, Antonio had warned:

Mark you this, Bassanio

The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose

An evil soul producing holy witness

Is like a villain with a smiling cheek

A goodly apple rotten at the heart

O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!

Obasanjo’s letter to Nigeria’s youths reminds me of the Ali-Must-Go student epic battle of  April 1978 to stop the commercialisation of education and its gradual decimation by the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo, as he then was.

I was in the Sixth Form at Ilesa Grammar School. One fateful morning some student union leaders from the then University of Ife, led by one Aibinuori or Aibinuomo (I cannot now recollect which one but I still have his picture engraved in my mind’s eyes), came into our school to sensitise us to the struggle of Nigerian students to prevent the Obasanjo military junta from pricing education beyond the reach of most Nigerians. The authorities quickly shut the gates. Those were the days when soldiers armed with horsewhips were posted to secondary schools to maintain so-called discipline. Many of us still managed to scale the wall and followed the mobilisers to other schools in Ilesa. A few months after, I, too, was admitted to Ife and the first stark reality of Obasanjo’s and his Federal Commissioner for Education (as they were then called), Col. Ahmadu Ali’s atrocious, anti-education, and anti-Nigerian youth education policy was that feeding, which was N50 per day (N10 for breakfast, N20 for lunch, and N20 for dinner) became a flat rate of N50 each, making a total of N150 per day. Thus started, for most students, the feeding rationalisation option of 0-1-0, 0-0-1 of skipping meals to make ends meet!

The statistics of woes, disasters and misfortunes heaped upon Nigerian youths during and after Ali-Must-Go alone confirms Obasanjo as an inveterate enemy of Nigerian youth. He also laid the foundation for the destruction of Nigeria’s university system. Akintunde Ojo, an Architecture student at the University of Lagos, was shot in the leg and was denied treatment at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital and the National Orthopedic Hospital, Igbobi on the orders of the military junta. He bled to death. Eight unarmed students were killed in cold blood by soldiers at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; many other students were injured. The National Union of Nigerian Students was banned and its leader, Segun Okeowo, and many other student leaders rusticated. An uncountable number of student activists suffered rustication under Obasanjo’s and other military juntas, including Nojeem Jimoh, Banji Adegboro, Isa Aremu, Sola Olorunyomi. What of lecturers/university workers who got harassed/sacked: some of the brightest brains like Comrade Ola Oni, Bade Onimode, Laoye Sanda, the Madunagus, Eskor Toyo, Ebenezer Babatope, Festus Iyayi, etc!

I do not want to comment on the contents of Obasanjo’s letter because I have friends and treasured colleagues in all the camps – Tinubu’s, Atiku’s, and Obi’s. Besides, I am not on the payroll of any of them as a media consultant, so I am a free agent! But because history is no longer taught in our schools, possibly for the purpose of hoodwinking our youth, I have chosen to go on this short historical excursion. In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Antony described Brutus’ stab of Caesar as the “most unkindest cut of all”, though Brutus claimed to love Caesar the most, just as Obasanjo now posits to love Nigerian youth! Caveat emptor! Nigerian youth, beware! To paraphrase the inimitable MKO Abiola: With a friend like Obasanjo, Nigerian youths do not need an enemy!

Today, I yield this space to a friend and brother, Tosin Akande, journalist, lawyer and pastor, as he compares the different approaches of two elders to the same topic. Enjoy it:

“Afe Babalola, easily the oldest lawyer in the nation and the most experienced, is a delight to meet. I met him in his sprawling and ever-busy chambers in Ibadan 13 years ago through a visit arranged by my friend, Dare Babarinsa. I had wished to meet him because of the accounts of him I had read concerning his deeds as the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos, my Alma mater, which encouraged me that there are still many good and conscientious Nigerians living. In less than two hours, we were face-to-face with this wonderful philanthropist who, at 80, began to conceive and build a university! The old man requested I visit his university at Ado Ekiti. I will do that some day!

“This story is not really about Afe Babalola as a person but about the latest statement he made to journalists at Ado Ekiti. It appears as his response to the latest letter of his friend, Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo and Afe Babalola shared many things in common (but) while Obasanjo endorsed Peter Obi in his letter, Afe Babalola did not think Obi can win the 2023 elections as the president of Nigeria. This is not for lack of sterling qualities but because of the present structure of Nigeria and because of the present Constitution which, he says, must be jettisoned for any successful and meaningful election that will change Nigeria to take place. Afe Babalola as the biggest taxpayer in his Ekiti State and also as someone that has contributed – and is still contributing – to the development of  Nigeria, believes that if he were to contest election in Ekiti, he would not win! He would not win because of how the nation is structured and because of its current Constitution which many say is a forgery. The political, structural, and religious arrangements of the nation must be reworked first and foremost.

“Says Afe Babalola: ‘The election might not produce the expected leader with character, age, strong health, and strong patriotism. The 1999 Constitution has made it possible for some individuals to be rich and to compromise the system, making it difficult for men of ideas and plans to change things for better to be in a position of authority’. He says quite emphatically that the endorsement of Obi, the candidate of the Labour Party, with his huge popularity on social media, will not translate into victory for him because of the nature of the nation’s democracy, which makes it impossible for elections to be won by people of capacity and integrity.

“How can a nation neck-deep in foreign debts go into an election? Apart from a constitutional re-engineering of the nation, Afe Babalola thinks the repayment of the nation’s huge foreign debts is top priority. He recommends to the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, who brought the debt overhang over the nation, style of Obasanjo who, in his presidency, approached the creditors to either forgive or reduce the nation’s debt… Another option of paying off the debt recommended by Afe Babalola is that all billionaires and trillionaires in the nation should be encouraged to donate to the government so that this can be achieved. The erudite lawyer promised he would be ready to be part of that.

“If Afe Babalola can vouch for the clean health of the source of his own wealth, not many people think he can make the same claim for many other billionaires and trillionaires he is beckoning on whose wealth is stolen from the same government, through it or made through drug dealings or internet fraud. Who will take charge of the donations in a nation where the nation’s banker, the Central Bank of Nigeria is accused of stashing away in different private accounts N79 trillion, enough to pay back the debt, and over which the president has done nothing so far! Afe Babalola will, however, not relent on his recommendation. He asked for a special committee to be set up to include Bishop Matthew Kukah, the fiery preacher and social critic from the Catholic Church; the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye; and Bishop David Oyedepo of the Living Faith Church. Though the revered lawyer did not include any Muslim cleric on his list, it does not mean that the list is closed. Not a few think that Afe Babalola himself must make the list.

“Whereas he did not say it directly but it is very apparent that the two septuagenarians that Obasanjo asked to go and take their rest d– eservedly or not – are the ones Afe Babalola thinks may be swindled into office by the current flawed Constitution and Nigeria’s system of greed and corruption that has put so much money in the hands of a few to manipulate the electoral system at will”.

Where, then, do we go from here?

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