(ON)GOING CONCERNS: When two elephants fight…

By Tolu Ogunlesi

First published in NEXT (February 2011)

The debate started on a peaceful, rather cerebral note. Former presidential aide and two-time minister, Femi Fani-Kayode put up a short Facebook “note” titled: “Is Hosni Mubarak’s Time Up?” and comments were pouring in.

Ibrahim Saminu Turaki, governor of Jigawa State between 1999 and 2007, and currently a member of the Nigerian Senate, was an active contributor to the debate. All went well until the spotlight shifted, to the Nigerian situation and the country’s trademark leadership crisis. Turaki brought the late President Yar’Adua into the picture by saying that Yar’Adua was “the best [of the] class of 1999.” (It’s hard to tell if this was said in sarcasm or not) Fani-Kayode described Yar’Adua’ as “a disgraceful choice.”

Then both men started to argue over who was in the know regarding the circumstances surrounding Yar’Adua’s emergence as president. Turaki, describing himself as “the closest [governor] to [Obasanjo]” and therefore an insider dismissed Fani-Kayode as an “appointee” who was “not in the deep [sic]”.

Riled by Turaki’s comments, Fani-Kayode told him ‘the story of his life’, as they’d say in my language. “Ibrahim, you were elected in your little state somewhere in the dusty northwest and apart from coming to the villa to curry favour and gossip at night you were not part of us at the federal level.” By the time Fani-Kayode was done, he had ‘revealed’ several things, including, but not limited to the following:

One: that surrounding Mr. Obasanjo was a cabal of “evil” people, who did nothing but “[steal] vast sums of money, [supply] little girls for the president, [create] turmoil in our states and [mess] up government policies.” The name of Obasanjo’s aide Andy Uba featured prominently.

Two: that contesting for control of Mr. Obasanjo’s mind, were two camps- one full of “well bred intellectuals” who “came from an upper class and well-respected background”- and the other, a “cabal”, consisting of “a bunch of unenlightened and barely educated people who had managed to buy their ways into various government houses as governor in 1999 and in 2003; mainly charlatans, cowards and self-serving liars and a bunch of self-seeking sycophants.”

Many other very alarming things were said; indeed, when two Nigerian elephants fight – the shit covers the grass! But let’s for a moment ignore these admittedly unsurprising allegations, and focus on Fani-Kayode’s concluding words to Turaki: “When next I see [Andy Uba] or you I will take great pleasure in telling you both all this to your faces. It is long overdue…”

Long overdue. Crucial words. Isn’t it a disgrace that the story of the Obasanjo years remains mostly unwritten? In a sensible country the bookstands would have by now been awash with titles – tell-all tales of the workings of the Obasanjo Presidency, and the ill-fated Yar’Adua Presidency that succeeded it.

But because this is Nigeria – nothing of the sort will happen. We need WikiLeaks to tell us that Aondoakaa tried to blackmail the British government into dropping charges against James Ibori; and FaniK-Leaks to reveal that “little girls” were regularly supplied to the Presidential Villa.

Last year, Donald Duke shared with Nigerians a most fascinating treatise on how Nigerian governors rig elections, but did it casually, in what appeared to be an extempore speech.

Nasir El-Rufai waited until things had completely fallen apart between him and the Yar’Adua administration before publishing – incidentally also on Facebook – a lengthy biographical essay about the late president. That essay does contain shocking details. Imagine that no one had thought of letting Nigerians know the kind of man they were getting as president in 2007?

Why is it only when things fall apart amidst them do Nigeria’s Big Men deem it fit to open their mouths? What does it say about the culture of conspiracy that reigns in our political spaces; the informal deals of mutual silence struck to maintain an oppressive status quo?

It is a tragedy that ordinary Nigerians like you and I have to wait for cases of “Two Fighting!” for any insights into the goings-on in the engine room of our country.

On the whole, reading the Facebook exchange (pre- and during the ‘fight’) between two men who by virtue of their positions were insiders of sorts in the Obasanjo years, was a fascinating experience for me. From it a clear pattern emerges: of an impulsive but intelligent Fani-Kayode, and an arrogant Turaki whose insights were tragically diminished by the garbled statements and atrocious grammar that conveyed them.

One other thing to take away from the incident is the fact that the debate thrown up by WikiLeaks – about the dividing line between the private and the public – is one that is bound to stay with us for much longer. In succumbing to his fury, was Fani-Kayode aware that he was making comments that were available to the public? And in bringing what was essentially a debate on Mr. Fani-Kayode’s Facebook “Wall” into the ‘public-public’ (outside-Facebook) domain, have I, as a columnist, taken any indefensible liberties with privacy?

Most interesting is that the entire exchange has now been deleted from Mr. Fani-Kayode’s Facebook page. Medicine after death, sadly, for anyone who knows a thing or two about the Internet’s infinite memory.

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