BY SEGUN AYOBOLU
STEVE OSUJI, PUBLIC DISCOURSE AND 2023
(First published in The Nation newspaper of Saturday, 17 September, 2022)
Given his oft-demonstrated intellectual and professional hollowness, Steve Osuji, does not see that he cannot credibly accuse his fellow journalists, who he perceives as writing in support of other presidential aspirants in the race for the 2023 presidency, as writing for monetary gratification while he wields his own pen with venom, hatred, intolerance and barely hidden ethnic jingoism on behalf of Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) for altruistic reasons. The latest offering from the pen of Osuji is titled ‘Femi Fani-Kayode and Tinubu’s hollow strategists”. While ostensibly reacting to a recent characteristically pungent and exhaustive widely publicized piece by Chief Femi Fani-Kayode in defence of the candidacy of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and why he stands far above his main contenders from other parties in terms of capacity to deliver as an elected President of Nigeria, Osuji descends to the gutter of cheap abuse and insults against those he describes as ‘Tinubu’s media strategists’.
It does not appear evident to Osuji that he cannot plausibly be offering advice to Tinubu’s assumed strategists on how to market the APC presidential candidate and thus, ironically, defeat his own principal, Peter Obi, in the forthcoming elections. The intense anger and undisguised hostility with which he writes, suggest that those handling Tinubu’s campaign must be doing something right to the detriment of the chances of Obi and Osuji feels a need to attack and pull down these ‘strategists’ at all costs and by all means. Let us put aside for now the fact that Osuji does not even have the slightest inkling of the dynamics of the workings of Tinubu’s inner circle and most of those who constitute the critical members of his think tank.
Osuji cannot even respond to Femi Fani-Kayode’s piece at the level of intellectualism, verifiable facts and logic. He thus resorts to hurling invectives at the writer, questioning his motives and impugning his style of politics. He does not refute even one of the many factors adduced by Fani-Kayode to justify and rationalize Tinubu’s capacity and competence for the job. Rather, he berates Fani-Kayode for moving from one party to the other perhaps forgetting that his principal, Peter Obi, in his checkered political career has moved at various times from the PDP to the late Ikemba’s All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) back to the PDP and has presently landed on the shores of the Labour Party (LP) all in pursuit of personal ambition rather than the common good.
Writers like Osuji who try in futility to adorn Obi in the robes of a revolutionary out to change ‘the system’ do not tell us what would have happened had their candidate’s party, the PDP, won the 2019 elections in which he ran as Vice-Presidential candidate to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. He would most likely have been in office today and planning for a second term tenure with his boss. Did Obi leave the PDP out of any differences in political philosophy or ideological convictions with members of that party? The answer is an emphatic no. He left the PDP when it dawned on him that his chances of winning at the presidential primaries were slim and there was even no assurance that he would be offered the Vice-Presidential slot this time around.
The media offers a forum and platform for vigorous contestation of ideas, views and opinions. But while opinions are free, the fidelity to facts must always be held sacred by media professionals. Osuji names Mr. Dele Alake and Mr. Bayo Onanuga as members of Tinubu’s ‘media strategists’. These are very senior and experienced journalists who head different media Directorates of the Tinubu-Shettima Campaign Organization. Across the world, that is the role that leading, competent and successful journalists play during campaigns particularly in liberal democracies. It is thus no crime. In their roles in the campaign organization, Messrs. Alake and Onanuga are expected to market the strong points of their candidate while also pointing out the weaknesses, failings and demerits of opposing candidates. The two gentlemen have performed credibly in this regard without resorting to Osuji’s tactics of heaping insults, abuse and invectives, which is a great disservice to the journalism profession.
Osuji names Mr. Sam Omatseye and I as other members of ‘Tinubu’s media strategists’. It is flattering but untrue. We do not hold any positions in the Asiwaju’s campaign structure and thus play no formal roles in the campaign. Similarly, he names Chief Dele Momodu as another of the ‘media strategists’ he is so obsessed with. The Publisher of the popular Ovation magazine has since debunked this falsehood. He was a presidential aspirant on the platform of the PDP and remains a member of that party till date. Osuji asserts that there was a strategic retreat organized by the Tinubu camp all with the aim of pulling down Obi and denigrating the Igbo. This is a figment of his fertile imagination. Osuji obviously overrates Obi’s political weight and relevance and thus fantasizes that the Tinubu campaign would devote time, energy and resources to the task of stopping Obi. The truth is that given the realities on ground, past experience of electioneering campaigns in Nigeria and the all too obvious structural deficiencies of the LP, Obi should be one of the least worries of the Tinubu camp even as the countdown to the formal commencement of campaigns begin.
In his write up, Osuji demonstrates all the venom, hate, verbal violence, ethnic jingoism and intolerance that the ‘Obidients’ are known for. I incurred his wrath because I insisted in my column ‘Peter Obi, The Igbo and 2023’ that the sheer extremism of his supporters and the perverse passion with which the Igbo have embraced his candidacy may box Obi into a sectional corner and make his narrow chances in next year’s polls even slimmer. A regional candidate cannot win a presidential election in a complex polity like Nigeria where you need to build a pan-Nigeria consensus to win elections. Incidentally, Peter Obi himself has had cause at least on two occasions to call his supporters to order, urging them to focus on issues and leave the task of responding to his political opponents to him. Osuji appears to be ignorant of his principal’s plea in this regard.
Even though he made a vigorous defence of the Igbo as regards a perceived tendency to clannishness on their part and insisted that the competiveness and independent outlook of this ethnic group, which are responsible for their successes, are factors that can be valuable to Nigeria in her quest for rapid modernization, the great novelist, Chinua Achebe, was not blind to some excesses in the Igbo persona in his slim but powerful book, ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’. Writing on ‘The Igbo Problem’ in the book, Achebe stresses that “But this kind of success can carry a deadly penalty: the danger of hubris, over-weening pride and thoughtlessness, which invites envy and hatred; or even worse, which can obsess the mind with material success and dispose it to all kinds of crude showiness”.
Achebe continued, “There is no doubt at all that there is a strand in contemporary Igbo behavior which can offend by its noisy exhibitionism and disregard for humility and quietness. If you walk into the crowded waiting-room at the Ikeja Airport on one of those days when all flights are delayed or cancelled ‘for operational reasons’ and you hear one man’s voice high over a subdued and despondent multitude the chances are he will be an Igbo man who ‘has made it’ and is desperate to be noticed and admired”.
These words written nearly four decades ago by a great Igbo intellectual are no less true today but even more; this perceived disposition may make it difficult for the emergence of an Igbo President in a Nigeria in which a sustained democratic culture is being systematically institutionalized. This disposition that also manifests in aggressive Igbo expansionism outside Igbo land is largely responsible for the problems that the Igbo often have with indigenous groups not only in Lagos but even in Abuja, Port Harcourt or Kano and outside the country in South Africa or Dubai.
Osuji avers that my ‘Agatu’ grandparents in Kogi State were still probably still going about clad in leaves in the 1920s and 1930s when the likes of Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu was investing in Apapa Wharf and old Ikoyi. I am unconcerned about the underlying insult. It is more a reflection of Osuji’s character and sense of decency. But I pity this senior journalist who does not know that the Agatu belong to the Igala ethnic extraction in Kogi State. I am of the ‘Okun’, Yoruba-speaking part of Kogi State. In my piece, which set Osuji’s blood boiling, I stressed that not even the Yoruba-Speaking non-indigenous, residents of Lagos make the claim that Lagos is a no-man’s land as members of his ethnic group routinely and insultingly do. Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu was able, like other notable Igbos, to invest massively in Lagos because they were warmly received, accommodated and given a receptive climate to invest by the indigenes. Can the Yoruba or even members of other ethnic groups be given the same opportunities across the South-East? The answer is all too obvious.
Let me here quote extensively from a lecture titled ‘The Igboman in the Political Economy of the Fourth Republic’ delivered to the Imo Forum in Abuja in May, 1999, by the renowned Professor of Finance, Professor Green Onyekaba Nwankwo. According to this reputable scholar, “As long as he continues to migrate, settle and invest massively to develop his resident state without bothering, seeking or asking for reciprocal deals from residents of other states, so long will the Igbo man’s home state remain denuded, undeveloped and unattractive for settlement and investment. Has the Igbo man, for instance, ever paused to ask and find out how many other Nigerians – non Igbos – reside in the Igbo states? Has he ever poised to wonder why the few who “manage” to reside perch as birds ready to flee at any time? Has he ever wondered why the few who reside scarcely invest in real estate and/or contribute to the development of Igbo land?”
Professor Green Nwankwo continues, “As long as the Igboman continues to sink money to reclaim swamps and clear forests, construct shopping malls, sky scrappers and posh houses in his resident states while gullies and erosion continue to sap and wash away roads and destroy the environment in his home states, so long will he continue to be marginalized as life chances elude him in his home state…As long as he does not really invest to develop his home state and as long as he fails really to attract federal presence in his home state, so long will foreigners shun investment in the home states; and so long will real development continue to elude the Igbo in his home state”.
Is it not even preposterous that Steve Osuji will dare to attempt to tutor a man like Mr. Dele Alake on the rudiments of political strategy? Does he know that Mr. Alake and Mr. Tunji Bello along with Mr. Segun Babatope were some of the key strategists around the late Chief MKO Abiola and were also veterans of the struggle to actualize the annulled June 12, 1993, mandate of Abiola? Is he aware that Mr. Alake is a veteran strategist of several successful elections since the commencement of this dispensation in 1999 in addition to his deft and expert management of the Information and Strategy portfolio in Lagos State for eight years between 1999 and 2007?
Osuji pays fraudulent and hypocritical lip service to MKO to score cheap debating points. But how many Igbo states voted for Abiola in the historic June 12 election? He wonders why Tinubu has not a set up a foundation to pursue worthy causes. How many of such foundations has Peter Obi established? In any case, is he aware of Senator (Mrs) Oluremi Tinubu’s New Era Foundation and how much good it has done for youth from across the country? Is he ignorant of Mrs Tinubu’s contributions to sickle cell research in Nigeria?
All over the country, diverse individuals and groups are setting up campaign organizations mostly at their own cost to help achieve electoral victory for Tinubu next year. Most of them are doing this in gratitude for how much impact he has made in their lives over time. How many lives have Obi touched over the years and how many people has he mentored to achieve success in life as leaders in their own right as Tinubu has done?