The political drama of the absurd in Oyo State took an interesting turn in Abuja on Tuesday when, following a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) meeting jointly chaired by Chief Audu Ogbeh and Board of Trustees Chairman, Chief Tony Anenih, Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu and his estranged 'son', Governor Rasheed Ladoja embraced.
In the giddy euphoria of the 'reconciliation', Adedibu was even quoted as saying, "I have no problem with my son; I made him Governor. I have no problems with the peace terms. I am a 78-year old man." And as expected, Ladoja, like the returning prodigal son, also replied: "I have always said it; I have no problem with Baba".
With that, the whole world was told that the one-year crisis in Oyo State had been resolved in two hours. Of course we do not know the content of the 'peace terms' but it is interesting that Adedibu, who only two weeks ago said several unprintable and libelous things about Ladoja, could give in so easily. Except we want to deceive ourselves, the crisis in Oyo State is not over. If anything, it has just begun. That is why I have one piece of advice for Ladoja: If you imagine you can now go to sleep with two eyes closed, then you do not know your 'father'!
I have had two memorable encounters with Adedibu and they both define the essence and character of the man. But it is actually his late musician-friend and praise singer, Alhaji Odolaye Aremu, who provided a rare peep into the essential Adedibu. Okay, not many people of my generation will know about Odolaye. For me, one of the advantages of growing up in the village was to be exposed to such traditional musicians even though my wife now believes I must be a 'bush man' to listen to such "local and spiritually unedifying" music. Yet, the reality is that Odolaye Aremu, Jaigbade Alao, Haruna Ishola, Saka Olaigbade, Yusuf Olatunji et al were geniuses who happened to have been born in a society that could not appreciate their talents. But that is not the issue today.
In his album, 'Olowe Mowe', Odolaye dedicated a highly revealing track to Adedibu who was curiously at peace with the slanderous lyrics probably because they appealed to some base instincts in him while instilling fear in his opponents. Of course, only those who understand Yoruba (and I am not talking here about the adulterated language spoken in Lagos) would get the deeper meaning embedded in the lyrics while a rough translation of some of the things Odolaye said goes thus:
Adedibu, half of Ibadanland that the uninitiated erroneously describe as one person...
Death that taunts before it strikes...
Wicked man per excellence...
Son of a witch who buys on credit and still demands extra...
The man who deliberately injures and yet still commiserates with his victim...
The man who owes you and you dare not ask to be repaid...
The owner rejects his inheritance, Adedibu accepts it...
Akanbi who demands two pence from a man with only two and a half pence....
Adedibu went to the Ibadan city centre and came back with several chickens...
He did not buy them,
He did not steal them,
And nobody gave them to him as gifts,
The chickens just ran into a monumental calamity!
That is Adedibu, according to his late friend, Odolaye. But from what I have been reading in the newspapers since the inevitable trouble started for Ladoja, one strand that runs through all of them is that people seem to be ignorant of the Adedibu factor in Ibadan politics and how it can be used to actually define public office in our country today.
In deconstructing Adedibu, most critics casually refer to him as another godfather in the mould of Chief Chris Uba and because of that, their analysis of the situation remains flawed. What they do not know is that the crisis in Oyo State is far more complex than, and different in several respects from, the one in Anambra State because it is institutional and we need to understand it as such if we must proffer a remedy.
If there is anything that confirms that the situation is different, it is in the responses of the principal characters themselves. In Anambra State for instance, Governor Chris Ngige and his men have been fighting back and have actually put Uba and his people on the defence. In Oyo State, the reverse is the case. Rather than fight even in the face of provocation, all the people close to Ladoja have been conciliatory in their remarks, saying Adedibu remains the 'father' of the Governor. Perhaps the most revealing of the nature of the battle was the interview last Saturday in Tribune by Chief Bola Alphonso, Special Adviser to the Governor on Security and Protocol. He happens to be one of the most powerful men in Ladoja's administration.
Even though the interview was meant to set the record straight against the claims of Adedibu that he personally and single-handedly installed Ladoja governor, here is what Alphonso said: "Chief Adedibu is my father and I know him in and out. The second son is Senator Rasheed Adewolu Ladoja, the governor of Oyo State today...Chief Adedibu wants to waste our future and he has now become estranged, turning us to orphans." Recalling what happened at a recent meeting in Ibadan brokered by the PDP and in which Ogbeh and other top leaders were present, Alphonsos said of their 'joint father': "He (Adedibu) entered the place only to rain raw abuses on the governor. He said things like 'ori e o da' (you are stupid) to the governor of a state like ours."
On what could have led to the sharp disagreement between the governor and his 'father', Alphonso offered further insights: "Let's put the record straight, I am a living witness to the promise that a certain amount of money will be given Adedibu every month...if any arrangement had been agreed upon, I want to say it would have just been a token. Because I am sure local government chairmen would go there to pay their dues. There is no way commissioners would not go to him. There is no special adviser who will not go to him and even, I am sure, civil servants will be going underground to see baba."
What percentage of the Oyo State allocation Ladoja promised to be transferring to Adedibu every month while he was begging to be governor we may never know but one fact is constant: Adedibu is not a benevolent father who would accept a 'token' from the 'son' he helped put in office as Alphonso would want us to believe. Their 'father' is a political foreman who expects to reap bountifully from wherever he sows and I actually have that on good authority: that of Adedibu himself!
Late in 1992, at about the time the late Bashorun MKO Abiola was preparing to join the presidential race, 'African Concord' magazine (now rested) which I was then working for decided to put Adedibu on the cover. Even though some of us were initially opposed to the idea, the edition titled, 'Rigging is Politics' turned out a commercial success with all the copies sold out within a few days and the interview session itself rather fascinating. I recall one question we put to Adedibu was why he preferred being kingmaker rather than contest election himself and his reply was that it was more rewarding to be a kingmaker than to seek elective office. When we asked what the reward was, his answer was simple: "let me put it this way. Imagine you lead five of your boys for an assignment and you were given N50 after you had supervised them to do the work. As the leader, if you are wise, you will give each of your boys N10 at the end of which you would be left with nothing. You will now tell them to give you whatever it pleases them. At the very least, each would give you N2 so at the end, you would have N10 while they will be left with N8 each and they would still be grateful to you as if you took nothing. That is the reward of a kingmaker".
From that simple tale, one can draw several lessons. The first is that Odolaye knows his friend very well. The second is that when Adedibu helps anybody into public office, (and we should not deceive ourselves, he really is a master of the grassroots) he is not doing so on the basis of platforms, issues or programmes while concerns about the welfare of the people have nothing to do with it. He is doing so purely for personal reasons. If he supports your ambition, he makes it clear from the outset that once you get to office, he (Adedibu) must be in total control. Of course that never happens hence he has always been at loggerheads with all the people he helped into offices.
The third lesson which derives from the first is that as kingmaker, Adedibu expects to "eat" more than the king because he believes, and rightly so, that without him there was no way the king could have got to the throne in the first place. Yet the only way Adedibu could eat more than the king was for the latter to surrender the knife to him so he could do the sharing. That is what is at the crux of the problem in Oyo State today. Even the PDP secretariat knows that the bottom-line in this current war is the sharing of Oyo State monthly allocation and there will be no peace until Ladoja sticks to the earlier agreement by allowing his 'father' to divide the loot.
It will indeed be interesting to get the transcript of what transpired at the Abuja meeting (such meetings never even have minutes) but without being told, the plights of the people of Oyo State could not have featured in the equation. Even the PDP leaders are aware of this tragic fact but does it matter?
What worries me, however, is that politics has been so debased in our country that charlatans not only dictate who gets what but they equally have the capacity to grind governance to a halt. And to those naive PDP leaders who may be rejoicing that Baba gave his word that he will no longer give his 'son' any trouble, let me tell them something. I understand there is a big Quran in Adedibu's house with which he is ever ready to swear to convince whoever he is having a deal with that he means business. The snag though is that the hefty 'holy book' that makes people believe the 'Alaafin of Molete' cannot deceive them is actually only a Quran on the cover. Inside it is a Chambers dictionary!
Many readers might be surprised about why I have chosen to write on a personality and not issues today. It is because this personality has himself become an issue; and this depicts the level of degeneracy in our politics in this country which is not in any way different from a commercial enterprise where some people invest their money, time and energy and expect big profits when they or their wards get to public office. But I am actually looking beyond Adedibu because his example can be multiplied at ward, council and state level all over the country. And it is easy to understand the decay that pervades our land notwithstanding our enormous resources.
In a polity where people go into offices not with the support of the electorate but on the strength of some godfathers who can conjure 'victory' out of defeat, then it would be a mirage to expect such 'public officers' to meet the expectations of the masses. That is why politics is no longer about service in our country. It is, to borrow the popular lingo, a come-and-eat venture. That is also why people like Adedibu are in charge knowing there will always be politicians who want to get to public office at all cost and would make any compromise to realise such dreams. And perhaps for that reason, even now, many politicians with eyes on the future are daily thronging the Molete residence of the Ibadan strongman. Because he has what it takes to get them into public offices so that they can take care of themselves. After taking care of their 'father'!
This piece was first published in THISDAY on 5th August, 2004