Oh dear, oh dear, it is more matters for a May morning, as the clown in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night will facetiously observe. From time immemorial, the month of May is usually full of elemental surprises, not to talk of political mayhem and May Day signals from the sinking vessels of nautical notables. This current month of May is proving its mettle already. There is a political struggle unto death going on. One can smell the odour of chrysanthemum from a distance.
Last week a storm broke in MKO Abiola’s priceless platinum tea cup. At first glance, this may appear a wicked and indelicate choice of imagery. Given the storied circumstances of the great man’s stormy exit from this sinful world, putting Abiola and a tea cup in the same metaphorical bracket may appear a satanic joke from the pit of hell. But when it is discovered that a storm in a tea cup actually means mere piffle; a trite and inconsequential trifle, then all that is solid animus melts into thin air.
Readers of this column must bear it in mind that it rarely dwells on individual actors and their peccadilloes. On the few occasions that it does, it is to illuminate the larger political process. We have never written on Yahaya Bello before despite many temptations. Individual political actors are part of a wider spectrum on the historical canvass and whenever a political phenomenon is reduced to individual predilections, we can be sure that the explanation is faulty.
Hafsat Abiola-Costello, the adorable, gutsy and cerebral daughter of the late mogul and martyr, suddenly let it be known to whoever cared to listen that she has taken up the post of Director-General of the Yahaya Bello presidential campaign. All hell was let loose in the Yoruba political firmament. Many were those who took exception to what they consider an ill-judged and ill-considered gambit. Has it come to this, they chorused. If gold can rust, what will become of iron?
In the postcolonial coliseum that is contemporary Nigeria, the burden of expectations weighs heavily on the slender shoulders of the political survivors of the politically exceptional. They are expected to jealously guard and preserve the family name and reputation against all vicissitudes and against all odds. As Abiola himself would have put it, the bigger the head the bigger the headache.
In what many considered to be the unkindest cut of all, Hafsat is known to have declared that she could see many similarities between her illustrious father and the youthful and rambunctious Yahaya Bello. Some consider this an act of unpardonable filial betrayal and a terrible slap on the reputation and accomplishments of her great father.
Comparing Abiola who at the age of forty in 1977 was described as the most brilliant accountant in Africa with a fourth-rate political hustler and violence-prone charlatan is a great disservice to the family, the Yoruba race and the whole of humanity in general. What on earth could have happened to this young hitherto promising woman? There must be more to this than the lure of money and the promise of position.
Yet there are many who took umbrage who might have forgotten that Hafsat is a dead ringer for her late father in many respects: brilliance, guts and independent-mindedness. Abiola himself had a deep streak of iconoclasm, which is often a mark of the truly gifted.
Until he struck gold politically in a manner of speaking, Abiola was a political maverick and an off-message eccentric who could not be held down to any position. For a long time, this was a source of unease between him and quite a lot of his people who prefer their leaders to be as straight and straight shooting as a quivering arrow,
He was like a deep playing attacking midfielder until he became a star defender of democracy and prime symbol of the struggle against military autocracy having broken off from the NPN in 1982 and his military patrons and their feudal limpets exactly ten years after in a memorable tiff that has continued to shape the political contours of the nation three decades after.
Perhaps, then, part of the problem with Hafsat’s choice of political platform is the fact that it has to do with the Bello brand. The Kogi State governor has not always conducted himself with decorum and dignity in public. Neither has he ruled his Kogi fiefdom with vision, fairness and fiscal rectitude. If these are the golden virtues he is now transferring to the federal service, then God save everybody including Hafsat herself.
There may well be a deeper political subtext to the animus generated by Hafsat’s choice which speaks to the ethnic polarization of the nation at this moment. In many Yoruba political circles, Yahaya Bello is seen as a political interloper having been catapulted into office from the third position when it was legally, electorally and judicially obvious that a Yoruba-speaking candidate was on the verge of gubernatorial triumph.
But he was obviously a candidate from the wrong camp, the camp of the magic workers of the APC triumph of 2015 and the electoral benefactors of the current inquisitors. Yet rather than do something to ameliorate this dangerous and deliberate political malediction, Bello has been at his most aggravating and insolent best routinely subjecting the people of Kogi to a reign of electoral terror when not tormenting them with his brand of staccato fire democracy.
It is unfortunate but not entirely unexpected that Hafsat’s choice of political tutelage should cause a rumpus in a family already fraught with mutual misgiving and simmering discontent. In a viral spat, Tundun Abiola, public commentator cum lawyer daughter of the late tycoon, took serious exception to Hafsat’s unwarranted comparison of their late father to a run of the mill political jobber in the name of existential exigencies.
This is just as it should be. By standing up to defend the honour and memory of her martyred father, the young woman has shown herself to be a worthy inheritor of Abiola’s epochal legacy. As it is to be expected, public sentiments appear to be with her.
Yet there is also a substantial public opinion which fanatically believes that Hafsat, by her stirring and sterling rallies against her father’s tormentors and the nation’s persecutors during and after the NADECO years, remains the public face of the struggle against military despotism in Nigeria, a symbol of hope and affronted humanity at a trying period for the Yoruba people.
As far as this public is concerned, Hafsat has won her spurs and could do nothing wrong. Her current gaffe and ludicrous grandstanding can be accommodated as arising from a temporary lapse of judgement and struggle-fatigue which would be corrected in the fullness of time as she learns to master the rope of political skulduggery. After all in the postcolonial coliseum of countervailing contradictions, it is virtually impossible to be a hero all of the time.
If it however turns out that the postcolonial condition has claimed another worthy and heroic combatant, then let no one shed undue tears for the daughter of the martyred Kudirat Olayinka Abiola. It has been a lonely and traumatic odyssey.
To lose one parent to state execution at such an early age is traumatising enough. But to lose both parents to state-ordained elimination is too psychologically destabilising for words. Let the mourners direct their tears towards the blood-soaked plinth of the Nigerian postcolonial state and its surviving executioners. Thanks to the environment of liberalised evil, more and more of them are coming out of the woodworks, including the former Abacha honcho who has just found favour at the helm of affairs of the ruling party.
Snooper’s enduring image of Hafsat Abiola is from a memorable weekend spent together in Houston circa April, 1997 in company of a world famous musician of Nigerian extraction whom she introduced as her cousin. It was at the first World Congress of Free Nigerians presided over by the indefatigable avatar of Nigeria’s independence struggle, Anthony Eromosele Enahoro, the much adored and beloved Adolor of Uromi.
It was arguably Nigeria’s darkest moment under the tyrannical clutches of Abacha. But despite the pervading atmosphere of gloom and depression, and despite her own consuming loss, the young woman demonstrated such empathy and compassion, such forbidding calm and grace under pressure that one began to wonder what stuff she was made of. Twenty five years after, the Nigerian condition has turned the daughter of Abiola into an object of public obloquy.
Perhaps this is a good moment to direct the attention of the coroner to the real culprit which is the failure of leadership recruitment in post-military Yorubaland, particularly among the hegemonic faction. Our leaders have been so consumed by internal wrangling, by petty squabbling and jostling for position that they have failed to recruit the right cadre of leadership for the onerous task ahead.
When they do pretend to recruit, it is either they are looking for abject yes men or pliant nonentities as foot soldiers for their wars of hegemony and the compulsory superimposition of jaded worldviews. The result is there for all to see. You cannot plant cassava and expect to harvest yam tubers.
Those who recruit political mercenaries to fight their cause should not be surprised when the same mercenaries turn against them when they get better offers. A political system which allows a treasured gift like Abiola’s daughter to be picked up by political hyenas rather than protecting and nurturing her to the pinnacle of politics is not fit for purpose no matter the grand propaganda.
We are faced with an organic crisis of nationhood which requires those who can think out of the box. Let us once again remind ourselves of what Professor Bates, the master theorist of organic crisis, has to say about this.
“An organic crisis involves the totality of society as well as its superstructure. An organic crisis is manifested as a crisis of hegemony, in which the people cease to believe the words of the nation’s leaders, and begin to abandon the traditional parties. The precipitating factor in such a crisis is frequently the failure of the ruling class in some large undertaking, such as war, for which it demanded the consent and sacrifice of the people”.
Those who believe that the Nigerian crisis is amenable to quick fixes will discover at the end of the day that they have been deceiving themselves and the nation. The Hafsat Abiola interlude is a mere storm in a tea cup.