Tinubu and the Buhari ‘error’ by Olusegun Adeniyi

Whether you voted for former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or Mr Peter Obi of Labour Party (LP) in the recent presidential election. Or have spent your political life fighting Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. If you are Yoruba by ethnic affiliation, you are likely to be made to bear vicarious responsibility for any failings of government for as long as Tinubu remains president of Nigeria.


But you will of course not share in the success. Given how many Nigerians are wired, every wrong choice Tinubu makes will be attributed to “your brother”, no matter how much you try to distance yourself. It is therefore important for some of us to warn our ‘Baba’ in Aso Rock not to play ‘Amunibuni’. It is a warning that his predecessor refused to heed, to his eternal damnation.


On Monday, two statements emanated from the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr George Akume. Since the dissolution of the boards of federal government agencies has gone without much attention, we can choose to ignore that one.


The first is on the retirement of Service Chiefs and Comptroller General of Customs as well as the appointment of their replacements. Two new special advisers and two senior special assistants were also appointed. These appointments total thirteen. But the statement also added a list of ten military postings within the Villa as part of the appointments. Such announcement has no precedent. In another world, I worked at the Villa for three years and I never heard about officers (Lieutenant, Captain, Major etc.) holding junior command positions at the Villa because they are to work under the radar. From my findings, not only has the announcement of the officers compromised Villa security, but it has also created a problem for their career in the military. And in a nation where the first question people ask is where the appointee hails from, it is no surprise that some are already counting how many Yoruba persons were on the list of 23 names.


Of the several columns I wrote on the lack of sensitivity in critical appointments by President Muhammadu Buhari, one stands out. I used a Yoruba word, ‘Amunibuni’, to situate my intervention. “That making strategic concessions is beyond this administration is an embarrassment, even for many northerners. That is because they are also aware that the appointments being cornered by a tiny clique is not to promote any ‘Northern agenda’ (whatever that may mean) but rather in pursuit of the personal interest by those who nominate these individuals. This explains why they go for their in-laws, kinsmen, friends and the like. Yet nepotism in critical appointments engenders collective insults in the manner of ‘Abunibuni’”.


I then explained the real meaning of the word: “Yoruba loses its flavour when you translate into English, but ‘Amunibuni’ is better explained in the complete idiom: ‘Amunibuni ewure ibiye. Ibiye f’oju otun, ewure re fo t’osi’. Crudely interpreted, it means if a goat is blind on the left eye and its owner is blind on the right eye, any discussion about the goat would always bring into focus the condition of the owner. As one scholar expanded on the idiom, the real message is in the ambiguity that could come from describing the goat as ‘ẹran olójú kan’ which could be interpreted either as a ‘one-eyed goat’ or ‘the goat of a one-eyed person’. Both definitions are correct, but the latter brings the owner into the conversation. Today, any discussion about killings by ‘herdsmen’ brings attention to the inequity in the distribution of opportunities in Abuja by President Buhari. The result is that when you encounter cows on the highway, you look at the poor herder just trying to eke out a living and you blame him for all the problems of Nigeria!”


Even when he did nothing to improve the material condition of the average Fulani man, the damage President Buhari did to people of that ethnic stock in eight years was enormous. And as a Yoruba man, I wouldn’t want President Tinubu to do that to me. I am aware that there are thousands of appointments still to make and most of these things ultimately even out. But signalling is also important, especially by a new administration. That is why presidential handlers need to be circumspect lest they attract insults to Yoruba people who have always advocated for a peaceful and secure Nigeria that works for all citizens and where there is equity and justice in the distribution of opportunities.


Now to the appointments in the security sector. The Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Christopher Gwabin Musa is from Zangon Kataf, Kaduna State, though born in Sokoto (both in the Northwest). The Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Emmanuel Ikechukwu Ogalla is from Enugu State (Southeast). The Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Hassan Abubakar is from Kano (Northwest). The Chief of Defence Intelligence, Major General Emmanuel Parker Akomaye Undiandeye is from Cross River State (Southsouth). And the Chief of Army Staff, Major General Taoreed Abiodun Lagbaja is from the Southwest. After General Alani Ipoade Akinrinade who was Chief of Army Staff more than 43 years ago (and only for six months between October 1979 and April 1980), Lagbaja becomes the only other Yorubaman to head the army. And there have been 27 of them before him, with the longest serving being a certain Tukur Yusuf Buratai for whom Nigerians nearly carried placards before Buhari replaced him after five years and eight months!


For the first time in the history of our military, apart from the CDS who is of the 38th Regular Course, other service chiefs are members of the 39th Regular Course who were commissioned in 1992. That should bring comradery and help in information sharing, a problem in recent years. Their appointments also meet the criteria of ethno-religious balancing. In fact, appointing a Christian northerner as CDS and a Muslim southerner as CoAS shatters the myth of ‘Christian South and Muslim North’ with which Nigeria is usually described by the international media. The National Security Adviser (NSA), Mr Nuhu Ribadu, also comes to the office with law enforcement training as a retired police officer and experience as founding chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). He is from Adamawa State (Northeast).


I have heard from those who should know that the appointment of service chiefs ticks all the right boxes: Professional competence, ethno-religious balancing, and the right character. But there are also whispering campaigns in Abuja about growing lopsidedness in the distribution of other opportunities. The appointment of Mr Adewale Bashir Adeniyi as acting Comptroller General of Customs finally ends the regime of Hameed Alli who was so contemptuous of the institution on which he was imposed by President Buhari that he considered wearing its (Customs) uniform beneath him. I have heard eulogies about Mr Kayode Egbetokun, the acting Inspector General of Police. But whatever argument we may make about the merit of those appointments, there is no part of this country where we cannot find competent people.


I am delighted that Mr Hakeem Odumosu, a retired AIG, has quashed the rumour (already dignified by some media outlets) that he has been appointed the EFCC Chairman. With the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) Chairman, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, being a Yoruba man, such appointment would be difficult to justify.


Even the most implacable of critics agree that President Tinubu has started well. He has been bold and decisive in policy choices. But the tough decisions he has taken on the economic front are not cost-free. Removal of subsidy in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry has already tripled the pump price of gasoline with dire consequences for the poor. Even without a substantive Governor for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), there is already a convergence of exchange rates that might make many Nigerians think twice before sending their children to school abroad. With indications of more market reforms coming, the road ahead will not be easy. And for that reason, it will be unhelpful for the Tinubu administration to keep scoring own goals.


It all began with the platform given former Delta Niger militant, Asari Dokubo to speak at the villa after meeting the president. Someone dropped the ball by allowing Dokubo use of the media room where he sat under the coat of arms to disparage the army and spout controversial political declarations. As Reuben Abati pointed out in his column on Tuesday, there are ways to handle such visitors without attracting embarrassment for the president. But the challenge at hand goes beyond one man being allowed to run his mouth at the Villa. The worst thing the president can do to himself, or allow those around him do to him, is to be seen as an ethnic champion. In the appointments to come, President Tinubu will do well to make strategic concessions while giving comfort to people from other zones outside the Southwest.


As I argued in the past, one should not pretend that ethnicity is not a major factor in our socio-political development or that it is necessarily a negative factor. It is not. What we must distinguish between is ethnicity that promotes harmony in diversity and ethnocentrism which hinders growth and development. The late writer and environmentalist, Ken Saro Wiwa made a clear distinction between the two in his 1989 lecture, ‘Ethnicity and National Development’ at the University of Ibadan. “Ethnicity is the fact of the ethnic group. It poses no danger to the nation,” Saro Wiwa argued. “Ethnocentrism is the danger; it is the misuse of the ethnic group, of ethnic sentiments against other ethnic groups in a sterile competition.”


To the extent that this misuse can come in words as well as deeds, the commitment of President Tinubu to the pursuit of equity in a plural society such as ours must never be in doubt. Beyond giving emotional satisfaction and a sense of belonging, equity is good for social capital and national cohesion. Besides, Tinubu should learn from his predecessor. The main charge against President Buhari (who appeared disinterested in providing leadership throughout his stewardship) was that he chose to build a modern nation on the foundation of primordial tribal instincts. I do not believe that is what President Tinubu seeks to achieve. That is why his handlers should avoid creating a climate of ethnic suspicion in a toxic political season such as we are in Nigeria today.


In making critical appointments, I hope the president will be mindful of the ‘Amunibuni’ syndrome. His appointments must be inclusive and reflect all our diversities.


I shall be watching!


Mother’s Night in Mbutu Mbaise


With the tone already set by her son-in-law, Dr Paddy Njoku, who described the late Dame Dorothy Nsonma Ihedioha as a quintessential mother, it was no surprise that the former House of Representatives Deputy Speaker, Hon Austin Opara, would also use the occasion to pay tribute to resilient motherhood in a patriarchal society. At the end, what came out from most of the tributes is the sacrifice many of our mothers made in raising their children into successful men and women against all odds.


The burial last weekend of Emeka Ihedioha’s mother in Mbutu Mbaise, Imo State, attracted several important personalities. The church service was a collection of who-is-who in Nigeria: From former and current governors to National Assembly members and captains of industry. But it was the service of songs at Emeka’s country home last Thursday night that I found quite revealing. Having travelled on the flight that conveyed the corpse to Imo earlier that morning, I witnessed some of the cultural/traditional rites before the service of songs. Presided by the Primate of All Nigeria, Anglican Communion, Dr Henry Ndukuba, it was a solemn affair. Among the dignitaries in attendance were Alhaji Kashim Ibrahim-Imam, former Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Senator Uche Ekwunife, Mr Osita Chidoka, Chief Charles Ugwu, Mr Olisa Metuh, Hon. Emeka Nwajuiba and several others.


After eulogizing the late Dame Ihedioha whom he credited with always treating all Emeka’s friends like her children, Opara then drew a parallel between her and his own mother. “My mother was married for 13 years without a child. Within the family, there was a saying that if they had used the money expended on marrying my mother to buy a goat, there would have been many goats in the house. You can then imagine the trauma when she gave birth after 13 years and the child fell from the hands of the nurse and died” recounted Opara who added that he was the first surviving child of his mother who went on to have four others before dying at 96.


Earlier in his tribute, Njoku recalled that the late Dame Ihedioha “had 15 pregnancies, 13 births and raised 11 of them up to the graduate level.” But more significantly, “she was mocked for having five female children in succession”. That was before she had Emeka (and later, Obinna).


With Nollywood actor, Kanayo O. Kanayo combining the role of Master of Ceremony with that of Chief of Protocol (and both so brilliantly) and event planner, Ms Henrietta Okonma making sure everybody was well taken care of, the outing of the Ihedioha matriarch was a worthy celebration of life. But personally, the highlight of the day was the long conversation I had with the urbane and highly cerebral Igwe of Orlu, Dr Patrick Acholonu, son of the late retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Pat Achonolu. With Emeka (whom he came to honour) busy, former Cross River State Governor, Mr Liyel Imoke (who chaired the burial committee) and I played ‘host’ to the lively Igwe for most of the day.


Back to the service of songs. Imoke, Tambuwal, Opara and others testified to the peculiar nature of the late Dame Ihedioha who took all the friends of Emeka like her own children. It was a point I also testified to when conscripted by Emeka to give testimony. In the short tribute I wrote for her 90th birthday last August, I referenced an Ndigbo adage, “Nne bu nne. Ezi-nne bu Ezi-nne” (A mother is a mother. A good mother is a good mother).


For the late Dame Dorothy Nsonma Ihedioha, there cannot be a more fitting tribute! .



You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com.



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