By Olusegun Adeniyi
“The concept of loyalty is a very strange one. My prayer is, may our loyalty never be tested.”
That famous quote was from the Works and Housing Minister and former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, during his senate confirmation hearing on 14th October 2015. But few remember the context. A hospitalized woman who required a kidney transplant to save her life had two daughters. So there was an expectation that at least one of them would offer a kidney to their mother. As it turned out, neither was prepared to make the sacrifice. Fashola’s summation was that when it comes to loyalty, everybody has their breaking point—the testing limit.
That perhaps is the best way to situate the relationship between the Interior Minister and former Osun State Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola and erstwhile Lagos State Governor and current presidential contender, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Aregbesola was Tinubu’s Commissioner for Works in Lagos between 1999 and 2007. He was also his political regent in Alimosho local government. So close were the duo that it was common knowledge in Lagos that no political decisions were taken by Tinubu without the input of his beloved Rauf—even while the latter was serving as Osun State Governor. But in the days preceding last weekend’s Osun gubernatorial primary of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Aregbesola dealt heavy blows to his leader. Many wonder whether the script was written for him by Chief Olabode George. The only plausible conclusion to draw is that the test of Aregbesola’s loyalty to Tinubu rests on who has the power to anoint a governor in Osun State. On that account, he failed most miserably.
The concept of loyalty is as old as the beginning of human interaction and has engaged the attention of philosophers and prophets from time immemorial. Loyalty, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, can be characterized “as a practical disposition to persist in an intrinsically valued (though not necessarily valuable) associational attachment, where that involves a potentially costly commitment to secure or at least not to jeopardize the interests or well-being of the object of loyalty.” It is a virtue that friends and families expect and countries do everything they can to foster.
But there is also a school of thought that suggests loyalty is not value-free. This is the subject of an interesting conversation between God and Satan in the Bible. The account can be found in the Book of Job, Chapter One, Verses 9 to 11: “…Then Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”
The import of Satan’s argument is that people are loyal to a cause or another person only to the extent of the material or political benefit they enjoy from the relationship. And that once such benefits are removed, all bets are off. In the study guide, ‘Book of Job Loyalty to God’ on Shmoop.com—a website offering a variety of materials by scholars—the author wrote that since Job had everything he could ever want, Satan was “pretty sure that Job’s loyalty is dependent on God’s favours. Take that fence and house—and hey, his entire family, while you’re at it—and maybe he wouldn’t be so loyal.” At the end, Job passed the test of loyalty though that is not usually the case in the world in which we live.
Before I continue, let me state that I have separately engaged both Aregbesola and Governor Gboyega Oyetola regarding their quarrel. During the last Ramadan, I honoured Aregbesola’s invitation for Iftah (breaking of fast). In the weeks preceding that dinner, I had also been to Osogbo at the invitation of Oyetola’s Chief of Staff, Dr Charles ‘Diji Akinola who was a colleague at the Harvard Weatherhead Centre in 2010/2011. During the visit, the governor shared with me insights on the acrimonious relationship with his former boss and predecessor in office. So, when the discussion at Aregbesola’s dinner dovetailed into Osun politics, I illustrated my interjection with a Yoruba idiom. I said Aregbesola was trying to play the usual “A fún ni l’ẹ́ran má ju okùn sílẹ̀” (crudely interpreted, it means that Aregbesola wanted to remain the decision maker and godfather in Osun State even after office). Aregbesola of course disputed my claim and his supporters corroborated that he never demanded anything of the governor beyond respect. When he saw me off to my vehicle afterwards, Aregbesola explained how Oyetola was handed to him by Tinubu (first as Chief of Staff and then later, as anointed successor) and his response on both occasions was simply, ‘Yes Sir’. That Tinubu took sides with the governor based on a filial relationship was why he felt betrayed, he told me.
Stripped of all pretensions, the face-off between Aregbesola and Tinubu is not about ideals, principles or for that matter, the welfare of the people. It is about the power struggle in Osun State. That’s why I pity those who are taking sides in this battle. It is foolish. Besides, when a relationship is as deep as that between Tinubu and Aregbesola, there are many things third parties could never know. Even now, there are lines neither would dare cross to avoid mutual destruction. Tinubu particularly would be aware that if someone as close as Aregbesola could injure him the way he did, latter–day supporters who are now singing and dancing “Kò sí ìdáríjì fún ẹni tí ó bá dalẹ̀” (no forgiveness for betrayers) will probably do worse tomorrow when faced with a similar circumstance. That perhaps explains why he has decided to maintain a dignified silence.
Aregbesola is at liberty to support whoever he chooses for the Osun APC gubernatorial ticket. Just as it is within the right of the newly minted Jagaban of Adamawa, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to stake his claim for the party’s presidential ticket. But whatever may have been his disappointment, I believe Aregbesola went too far in his outburst regarding Tinubu. And I am sure that in moments of introspection, he will realise that and try to make amends. Tinubu must also understand that enduring loyalty is based on the time-tested principle of reciprocity. After all, as the Yoruba would say, “Gbà fún Gbàdà [Gbàdàmọ́sí] nílé, ni gbà fún Gbàdà lóko. Ọmọ oko tí o fẹ́ jẹ búrẹ́dì, yóò fi isu ránsẹ́ sílé.” (I wish I could interpret that but whatever the context used, it is about the constancy of the law of sowing and reaping).
This now brings me back to Fashola’s thesis. He said the concept of loyalty is strange. I beg to disagree with him. What is strange is the abuse of the concept of loyalty in the Nigerian public space. There is a perception that when people seek those who would do right, regardless of the circumstances, the virtue they look for is integrity. But when they are seeking those susceptible to manipulation, the quality they demand is blind loyalty. What is often missed is that where integrity is lacking, loyalty is forfeit. And that is why those who seek the latter at the expense of the former most often run to grief.
Even in a monarchy, loyalty to the institution of kingship takes precedence over loyalty to a particular king. But we run a democracy in which loyalty to individuals is what our politicians invest their time, energy and enormous public funds seeking. We see that in the way outgoing governors anoint their successors. Only recently in Akwa Ibom State, Governor Udom Emmanuel brazenly announced a commissioner who knelt before him as successor! On Tuesday, the governor had to fire his Chief of Staff in what is seen as the beginning of trouble. If Emmanuel could upend his own godfather, Godswill Akpabio who recruited him from Zenith Bank and later handed over to him, what is the guarantee that the man on whom he is now staking the future of Akwa Ibom people will not do same to him in future?
The late iconic American writer and humourist, Mark Twain, described loyalty as “a word which has worked vast harm; for it has been made to trick men into being ‘loyal’ to a thousand iniquities, whereas the true loyalty should have been to themselves.” The point here is that when people are true to themselves, they will seek public good. So, loyalty which constitutes an important dimension of everyday living may not be the problem. The real issue is the misapplication of the concept, especially in Nigerian politics. It is too often used to depict a situation in which somebody supported to a position of power should make their benefactor an object of perpetual worship at the expense of public trust.
To strengthen our democracy, we may have to look at the definition of loyalty by James B. Sullivan, a philosopher. “Loyalty is an enduring commitment and full devotion to a relationship of deep trust, common cause, and reciprocal value,” argued Sullivan. “And at the heart of all committed relationships are mutual trust, passion, and service.”
Service is not about self. It is about seeking the best of others. Loyalty that is about self does not ennoble and never lasts. Sadly, that is the loyalty that many of our politicians crave. And that is why Nigeria is in such a sorry state today. To change the narrative, our politicians must embrace a more enduring form of loyalty that is geared towards lasting ideals and the common good, rather than to some power mongers. But then, it may still be helpful in our everyday interactions if we constantly remind ourselves of Fashola’s prayer: May our loyalty never be tested!
What APC Must Understand
The Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was put together after the dissolution of the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) by President Muhammadu Buhari in June 2020. While the mandate given Mai Mala Buni was to emplace a new NWC within six months, the governor and his enablers had other ideas. First, Buni abandoned Yobe and relocated to Abuja, although he once confessed to spending three days in the state every month (apparently to preside over the sharing of Yobe’s allocation from the federation account). Second, he began to crisscross the country, looking for governors from other parties that he could poach into joining the APC. That was how Buni also abandoned his primary assignment in the party. And with a sleight of hand and connivance of other APC kingpins, Buni’s dubious mandate became elastic. Six months stretched to 12 months. And then 18 months.
Even when an apparently embarrassed Buhari moved in recently to ask for an end to the farce, the president was practically dribbled. After the national convention was set for 26th February without any plan or venue, it was obvious that Buni and co were playing games. And on Monday, Buni wrote to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), talking about zonal congresses to be held on 26th March! So, effectively, the idea of a national convention had been jettisoned. But confronted by fellow Governors within the party (many of them with their own different agenda), Buni had no new card to play. Seizing the initiative, the Progressives Governors Forum (PGF) on Monday night intervened and following a series of meetings, including with the president, APC announced dates of the processes that will ultimately culminate in its national convention on 26th March. The party has also zoned offices in a bold and strategic move that reflects the current national sensitivity.
We must commend the APC governors and the president for ending the rigmarole of recent months. What has been going for the absentee Yobe governor is that first-term colleagues are on his side, having assured them of their second term party tickets. Why should they take risk with a new NWC when one of their own is already there to give them a free pass? The plot was for Buni to stay at the helm of affairs until he can preside over the nomination of candidates for the 2023 general election, however illegal that would be. Buni had been scheming (may be still doing so) to become the APC vice presidential candidate after installing a puppet southern presidential candidate.
Buni and fellow travelers obviously have scant regards for democratic ethos. Now that their cold calculations seem to have failed, we hope the APC, as the ruling party, can help chart the way forward. The 2023 general election is just 12 months away and there are issues we should put on the table: The collapse of public education at virtually all levels and how those who aspire to lead us would address the problem, the question of subsidy payments in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, the rising mountains of local and foreign debts, the social upheavals arising from lack of jobs for our teeming young population, the seemingly intractable security challenge that has made our country unsafe etc. These are some of the issues that should drive the campaigns.
In case APC leaders have forgotten, let me remind them of what happened after the party’s registration in 2013. The then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) national chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur was asked for comment on what he thought of the then opposition platform shouting ‘Change, change’ like Lagos Danfo conductors! He was dismissive. “If you go for a contest, you have the striker – you know Lionel Messi? PDP is Messi in that contest,” said Tukur. “We will dribble them like Messi. Tell them (APC) that the chairman said PDP is the Messi (of Nigerian politics).”
At the end, we all know what eventually happened to that ‘dribbling Messi’.
While I hope that the PDP has learnt its lessons, the APC must also be wary of power mongers who stand for nothing. With our country seriously challenged on all fronts, political parties and those who seek power must begin to come up with practical ideas on how to resolve some of the contradictions that have for long held Nigeria back. A democracy anchored on a ritualistic and mechanical conception of elections that are not issue-based will not only enthrone people who neither understand the rudiments of governance nor the ability to advance public good but will also ultimately run into trouble.
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