Osoba: The Veteran Politician At Bay, By Olatunji Dare

imageIn my time, I have seen a great deal as observer and gone through a great deal as participant-observer. But few things have unsettled me as seeing Chief Olusegun Osoba’s picture displayed prominently, following the general elections, in the gallery of “those who failed.”

There was something so jarring, so incongruous about the characterisation

Osoba, crackerjack reporter, astute manager of men and resources, media administrator who ran two regional newspapers with roaring success and steered the tottering Daily Times back to its glory days, pace-setting governor of Ogun State for one aborted term and a full term, a pillar and symbol of the struggle against Sani Abacha’s brutish rule and the evisceration of the choice of the sovereign people of Nigeria, and one of the architects of the realignment that culminated in the formation of the APC, now a government-in-waiting: How can such a person be characterised as a failure?

It is true that Osoba served only one term as governor of Ogun State after the return to democratic rule in 1999, losing, in the official account, his re-election bid four years later to Gbenga Daniel. They said he lost because he was remote, arrogant, and lacked the popular touch.

I am in a position to say that this was not true, having witnessed him up close interacting with visitors who had gone to his office without an appointment but hoping to see him nevertheless. It was around Christmas, in 2000, and President Olusegun Obasanjo was being expected on his sprawling farm in Otta for a short vacation.

Visiting from the United States, I had gone to Otta in the hope of meeting the President and renewing ties. Security and protocol were so suffocating that I could not even get past the farm gate. So, I headed to Abeokuta, hoping to meet Governor Osoba and pay him my compliments.

After registering my presence at the reception, I was ushered into a waiting room. Eighteen visitors had preceded me, all of them wanting to see the governor. My heart sank. This was going to be a very long day, surely.

Some 30 minutes later, his voice wafted into the room, borne by the crisp harmattan wind. I thought he was going to take the elevator to his executive suite. Instead, the door handle turned, and into the room stepped the Governor Osoba himself.

He surveyed the room for a minute or so, and began attending to the assembled visitors, starting with the person seated nearest to the door and proceeding counter-clockwise.

There was the young man who said a federal agency in Ogun State was hiring and that the governor’s endorsement would enhance his chances. Osoba endorsed his application on the spot.

There was the elderly woman, a motor accident victim recently discharged from hospital. Apparently she had sought and received help from the governor, but needed more help still. Osoba listened solicitously, and directed his personal assistant to attend to her needs.

There was an official of the National Union of Teachers which was at that time locked in a trade dispute with the Ogun State Government. From what I could make out, the official had conducted himself in a manner the governor considered contumacious of his office. He told the official he would not treat with him until he apologised for his contumacy.

In this manner did Osoba attend to all his visitors who, like me, had no previous appointment. He invited the three of us he could not attend to on the spot to follow him to his office.

Where in all this is the arrogance, the aloofness to which they ascribed his 2003 election loss?

We now know that he did not lose the election; that official result was a cruel travesty, a product of ballot stuffing on a scale almost beyond belief.

Hounded ceaselessly by Gbenga Daniel who never saw an opponent he did not want to destroy, Osoba went into political hibernation in Lagos, where he busied himself rebuilding the Ogun State ACN and positioning it to return to power in 2007 with Ibikunle Amosun, a former PDP Senator, as Governor.

The day Osoba returned to Ogun State and his home in Abeokuta has got to be one of the most glorious in his eventful life. He was met at the Lagos –Ogun boundary by a cavalcade of jubilant party men and women, admirers, and supporters, and escorted to the state capital and his home with song and dance. Rarely had the ancient city witnessed such a carnival.

Then, things began to go sour. Osoba could not get his nominees appointed to the state’s cabinet or given senior positions in the Amosun Administration, I gather. Though chair of the ACN in Ogun State, his influence was at best slight. He found himself being pushed closer and closer to the margins.

As rumours circulated that Osoba was set to dump the ACN because he felt he was not getting the respect he felt was his due, I talked with some friends about putting together a platform for reconciling him with Amosun.

Before we could launch our effort, Osoba dumped the APC.

But he did so with his accustomed refinement. The PDP had been wooing him mainly out of spite for the ACN, and would gladly have paid any price to have him join its ranks. Instead, Osoba pitched his camp with the little-known Social Democratic Party that had virtually no chance of supplanting the ACN and the PDP, the entrenched political parties in Ogun State.

The outcome was all too predictable. The SDP was clobbered in the general elections and now faces an uncertain future. The ACN that Osoba played a significant role in setting up and nurturing is set to take office at the Centre in some three weeks – without Osoba. I am sure he has no regrets but sees the outcome as the price of principles.

In the winner-takes-all paradigm of Nigerian politics, the bell may well be tolling now for one of the most engaging and colourful careers in recent Nigerian politics.

That would be a pity indeed. Osoba’s superb managerial skills, his suavity, his excellent social and public relations skills, his perspicacity, his graciousness and his quiet competence, not forgetting his regal bearing, recommend him powerfully for a significant role in General Muhmammadu Buhari’s administration.

He would make an excellent High Commissioner to the Court of St James’s

GEJ: Wrong on de Klerk

Where on earth did Dr Goodluck Jonathan come by the information he dispensed with such solemn authority during worship at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Abuja last Sunday, namely that the wife of FW de Klerk, South Africa’s last white president, left him because he ended apartheid and surrendered power to the African majority?

Dr Jonathan intended the remark to make the self-serving point that doing the right thing as De Klerk did, and as he himself had done when he conceded defeat in the presidential election, often carries a heavy price.

If it is any consolation to Dr Jonathan, Marike and her husband of 39 years separated in 1998 – four years after Nelson Mandela was sworn in as president – when she discovered that he was having an affair.

Culled from the Nation

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