By Dele Momodu
My dear Asiwaju, I pray my letter meets you and yours in fantastic spirit. It has almost become a tradition for me to write, or openly express my views, to you periodically on political issues, since about 2007. Before I go into the meat of my epistle, kindly permit me to establish some protocol, or preamble. I always choose to write to you in this manner, in moments of great concern and uncertainty such as this, because these words must be kept for posterity. It is not easy to advise someone much older than oneself in our clime. An elderly person can do no wrong, according to our tradition, particularly, if such an elder is respected and revered as you are. It is even much tougher to offer advice to someone as powerful as God has made you to be. You are a man of destiny, and miracles. Yours is a fairy-tale. A real grass to grace story that many applaud and seek to emulate. But at the end of the day, Sir, you are very human. You are a very kind and generous man. You are exceptionally brilliant and smart and everyone, including your foes, admit and acknowledge that fact.
I have known and seen you at your lowest ebb, when we were in exile in England. You rose stoutly to the occasion then like a true generalissimo. We didn’t see the type of crowd that currently mill around you now. You were focussed on dismantling the military junta under the command of General Sani Abacha. I remember with nostalgia how Tokunbo Afikuyomi and I used to stroll into your apartment around Cavendish near Regent’s Park, as if we were the owners of the beautiful flat that you still own till this day. I could go into your kitchen and cook whatever food I wanted and later do damage to your wine collection. I recollect the NADECO meetings at the Quadrangle, God bless Lt. General Alani Ipoola Akinrinade, for his inspirational leadership. Some of the faces I used to see are staring at me as I type this letter to you, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, Chief John Odigie Oyegun, Reverend Peter Obadan, Hon. Wale Oshun, Dr Amos Akingba, Commodore Dan Suleiman, Chief Ralph Uweche, just to mention a few. I remember you as a good dancer at our occasional discos at Mill Hill. I also recognise two good names, Mr Ibukun Fakeye and Mr Bola Opaleye. We were under pressure, but you made things easier for most of us because of your natural gift of giving. Mama Calabar restaurant at Hendon Central was a good place to rendezvous then for good home food.
From your home, you coordinated many things, linking up with Papa Anthony Enahoro, Professor Wole Soyinka, the Afenifere Group at home, Dr Kayode Fayemi, the main man at Radio Freedom (later Radio Kudirat) and several other distinguished refugees. We had young but active journalists like Richie Dayo Johnson, George Noah, Greg Odo and Ike Okonta. I will readily attest to your uncommon courage and unassailable commitment to the struggle for democracy in our dear beloved country Nigeria. Nothing would ever scare or rattle me like the day you and I sat alone, in a coded location, with some German mercenary, who told us his organisation could rescue Chief M.K.O Abiola from detention. Many more personalities who are now sojourners in your various homes, who have made fame and fortune through you, were not part of the beginning no matter how much they now try to demonstrate that they were. Some of those who planned and plotted at that time joined you in your political forays, especially, a perfect gentleman like LT. General Alani Akinrinade who chose to observe from the back seat and make occasional contributions as the exigencies of our political situation dictated. I have gone through this tale to soften the ground a bit for what I’m about to tell you.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since those London days. Please, Sir, cast your mind back to the day you boarded the British Airways flight back to Nigeria a free man, about 20 years ago to the minute, in October 1998. God has been extremely kind, in all ramifications. If anyone had predicted you would ever be this big, you would have dismissed the person pronto as insane. You never prepared to be the Governor of Lagos then. Perhaps, you thought of returning to the Senate. The name on everyone’s lips was Dr Wahab Dosunmu. But the ways of God are permanently mysterious. All in a jiffy, things turned around for you and you became first the Candidate and later the most powerful Governor in Nigeria. You know those who helped you achieve that status and assisted in ensuring that you ultimately became the most powerful man in Nigeria after the President of Nigeria, even after you finished your term of office. It wasn’t all rosy-rosy as you had a running battle with President Olusegun Obasanjo who, for whatever reason, chose to starve Lagos of its statutory funds. You assembled a fantastic team of technocrats and, with them, you set out on a beautiful voyage to create a new roadmap and gargantuan masterplan for modern Lagos. You survived every challenge or attack on your person, including plots to impeach you. After a turbulent first term, you coasted home to victory during your second term. By then your eminent position in the pantheon of Nigerian icons was assured.
You were not yet done. Out of the blues, you gave Lagos a superlative retirement gift in Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, a gentle colossus, who took Lagos to a new height of excellence. Many people never knew Fashola had such incredible talent. But towards the end of his first term, tragedy almost struck, when news broke out that you were not going to endorse him for a second term in office. I remember writing you a letter, in this same Pendulum column, asking you to perish the thought. I remember saying emphatically then that the marriage between you and Fashola was consummated in heaven and any attempt to seek a divorce by either of you would end up in monumental disaster for both of you and your great party, ACN. I have no idea how many important personalities appealed to you before you calmed down and embraced your godson, warts and all, but you did the needful, and despite rumoured friction between both of you today, Fashola remains a great pride of Lagos State and Nigeria as a whole.
Thereafter, I also had occasion to beg you not to get involved in certain battles at the beginning of the Buhari administration because I was aware some people were out to use and dump you, but your new acolytes frowned at my humble suggestion and went to town with blistering insults and abuses. Over three years after, I’m sure you’ve seen the futility of your great effort at helping your party get its bearing right. Even the reconciliation committee which you headed was never allowed to flourish for one day. It has been one crisis after the other. But let’s leave that and move forward to the crux of the matter today.
Let me say categorically that no one has sent me to you because what is fashionable these days is the web of conspiracy stories on social medial. You must have guessed what this is all about, already. My appeal to you, openly and frontally, is to plead with you to handle the Akinwunmi Ambode debacle with utmost care and tact. Until you brought him out from retirement, not many people ever knew him and his achievements as the Lagos State Accountant-General. He was obviously a young, shy but brilliant man who knew how to get results. Your unusual sagacity and prescience in unearthing gems like Fashola and Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the Vice-President birthed another genius of an administrator in Ambode. He has succeeded in following and emulating the glorious heights set by you and Fashola and Lagos State has again been better for the choice you made. I have read all sorts about how power changed him and how he has not been too grateful and appreciative to all those who gave him this uncommon favour and the seat of power that he currently occupies. I have also sat with people who swore never to forgive him even if you do. We all know though, that once you give direction, all the sabre-rattling by these political journey-men will cease and they will abide by your decision. Hmmm, Asiwaju, at the end of the day, no matter what happens, you would be held responsible for the plight of your party, APC and Lagos State, for good or for bad.
It is normal for every mortal to feel let down. It is even always tempting for humans to get angry and seek vengeance but after every war, the gladiators often come together on the table to start a new life as if they were not killing themselves in recent past. I can’t claim to know all the sins Governor Ambode committed to warrant his present predicament. But whatever it was, we are told he has begged and pleaded, his wife has apologised, many distinguished Nigerians have beseeched that you forgive and allow him to complete his good work. I have read the complaints of many of your foot-soldiers, Sir, the reasons and excuses for dumping Ambode are very similar, he has not looked after anybody, he has been standoffish, who does he think he is, and so on. These are at the very worst, personal issues that could naturally lead to bickering and animosity. I doubt if the issue was more about lack of performance in accordance with the mandate of improving Lagos which you gave to him. Not even uncharitable persons would accuse him of that. Politics is indeed a delicate and dangerous game. A few months back, no one would have envisaged this type of strife or brouhaha to visit a man everyone called the most hardworking Governor in Nigeria. If I want to sound superstitious and to put it the African way, this is the handiwork of witches and wizards.
I’m aware that my very dear Brother, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, incidentally, I’m 20 times closer to him than Ambode, has been dragged into the cauldron of intrigue and power struggle in Lagos State. I will love him to be Governor, because he is undoubtedly qualified, but not in the manner many of your supporters are going about it. If he is so destined, he may still be Governor, some day. This is my reason for saying that the apparent unnecessary and unwarranted humiliation of the current Governor is bizarre and definitely uncalled for. The giddiness of the moment must urgently give way to sobriety. If care is not taken ‘kata kata’ may burst! It seems that the Lagos electorate is being taken for granted and that it is assumed that they are merely dogs that can be controlled by the whistle of the dog handler. Asiwaju, you never know, the unpredictable may happen and it has happened before. I do not pray that history repeats itself within a short time, at a time when you hold sway as the undisputed power broker. If that happens, God forbid, most of those saying there is no one like you today, will swiftly disappear before you can blink an eye. I venture to say that most of them do not personally like you. They live in fear of you and not in awe of you. I hear and know what many of them say behind you. If one asks them, why haven’t they told you face-to-face, the usual answer is “you will be called an enemy once you tell Oga the truth…” These are people very close to you, but do not have your interest at heart. They are only concerned with their selfish interests and self-preservation.
What would be worse is for this grave matter not to be settled and Babajide’s head is used to break coconut. This would be sad. Everything must be done to bring your team together again as one. Both of them can still work perfectly for the good of the State. There is nothing wrong in having two brilliant, diligent and industrious people on the same ticket to advance the prospects of the State, with the recognition that the deputy is already anointed to take over. I believe that this may be a veritable solution to the present imbroglio and that it can work to assuage the feelings and aspirations of all concerned.
The present situation is sad and unfortunate. I seriously pity those who think you and Ambode cannot be friends again. I know from your antecedents that you do not practice politics like that. You are much more astute. You are buoyed by the philosophy of ‘itesiwaju Eko’. That demands sacrifices for the Lagos State you envision. I believe this is one sacrifice that is necessary to make. It is difficult but not impossible. You must forgive and make up, before it is too late. All those who have intervened are waiting, and watching, to see if you would disregard, and disrespect, them all collectively. That would be truly unfortunate.
Finally, Asiwaju, you have shown your power and demonstrated the ability to squash and rout, but, please, don’t fire the bullet. Ambode deserves a second chance.
I remain your dear younger one who will not shirk from telling you the plain truth!