For keen followers of politics and its development, the recent verbal attacks between a former governor of Ogun State, Chief Segun Osoba, and erstwhile lawmaker, who represented Ogun Central in the fourth National Assembly, Senator Femi Okurounmu, is not a good omen.
Their prime concern is about the further damage it is capable of doing to the strained inter-relationship and unity among leaders in the southern part of the country, and the ripple effect on future common pursuits in the region.
For instance, analysts and stakeholders worry that, should this kind of feud among eminent leaders continue, it is indicative of the trouble that lay ahead if the presidency is conceded to the Southwest in 2023. The damning verdict is that it may then be difficult for the elite in the zone to unite and form a common front to harness the privilege for meaningful impact. And an even more grave fear was expressed: other ethnic nationalities could capitalise on the disunity to prise the top job from the south.
To be sure, there is nothing new about Osoba and Okurounmu’s recent media attacks. Those familiar with the habitual game of bitter rivalries among Ogun people, especially the Egba, understand the history of such misunderstanding among the elite from the ‘Gateway State’. What most people may not, however, understand is that both warring parties share a lot in common, which ordinarily should have made them the best of friends.
Apart from the fact that both Osoba and Okurounmu launched their memoirs, which brought them into the octogenarian club last month, they were both elected as governor and senator respectively on the platform of Alliance for Democracy (AD) when Nigeria returned to
civil rule in 1999. They had their political tutelage under the late founder of Action Group (AG), Chief Obafemi Awolowo, just as they were both members of the Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, until politics did them apart.
Their feud, however, brought to memory the song of the late legendary playwright, actor and musician, Chief Hubert Ogunde, titled Yoruba E Ronu, in which the artist, urges the Yoruba elite to ‘think about the well-being of the zone’. The music was produced in 1964 during the crisis of old Western Region.
Ogunde’s song produced scathing attacks on elected officers of that era such that his (Ogunde) company was banned in the zone. That was the first instance in post-independence Nigeria when censorship of creative work was applied. The ban was lifted in 1966 by the military government. Although the late artist might have produced the song to call the warring Awolowo and the former Premier of Western Region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, to order, the significance of the lyrics still has relevance in the ongoing dispute between Osoba and Okurounmu.
The former governor has instituted a N3billion libel suit against the erstwhile federal lawmaker. But some Yoruba leaders are making efforts to intervene.
Interestingly, while Osoba’s book launch attracted eminent personalities, including former military heads of state, governors, the incumbent Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan and notable Nigerians across party divides and other professions, the former Ogun Central lawmaker was only able to pull former President Goodluck Jonathan and leaders of socio-political organisations across the country.
The duo also attended the 2014 National Conference as delegates just as they are both advocates of restructuring. However, while both share the same thoughts about the challenges confronting Nigeria, they belong to different schools of thought on how to resolve the problems.
Except for the rising spate of insecurity ravaging the country and Yoruba land, nothing suggests that the difference between the octogenarians can be as destructive as that between Awolowo and Akintola, which forced the Alhaji Tafawa Balewa’s government to declare a State of Emergency in the Western Region in 1964. But some observers have said that it may further compound the sore relationship among the current Yoruba leaders if it is not nipped in the bud particularly if any of the warring party secures judgment against the other.
THERE have been some instances of politically motivated feud among Ogun elite. In 1962, Justice Oladehinde Sowemimo was the judge assigned by the Tafawa Balewa government to preside over Awolowo’s controversial treasonable felony trial, where he said, “my hands are tied’ when he convicted the founder of AG.
In 1979, when former President Olusegun Obasanjo, as military head of state, presided over the general elections, he was also quoted to have said that the best candidate might not win the presidential election. He was allegedly referring to Awolowo, who was then considered to be the best among the presidential candidates in the race. It is still widely believed that Obasanjo deliberately rigged the 1979 election to favour the late Alhaji Shehu Shagari to spite Awolowo, a fellow Ogun indigene.
The same year, Chief Justice of Nigeria, the late Justice Atanda Fatai-Williams presided over the Awolowo vs. Shagari case in which Awolowo’s petition challenged the declaration of Shagari as the president-elect of the August 11, 1979 presidential election. The late judge ruled that Shagari won two-third of the total votes cast in what was believed the military government deliberately instigated.
The feud between Obasanjo and the late Chief M.K.O Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the annulled June 12 1993 Presidential election, remains fresh in the memory. Obasanjo carried on with the feud to the extent that he declared that Abiola was ‘not the messiah Nigeria needed,’ just as he (Obasanjo) refused to honour the late business mogul, who paid the supreme price for democracy. Obasanjo later emerged the first chief beneficiary of that democracy, which Nigerians still enjoy till today.
The long-term misunderstanding between the late king of Afrobeat, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and Obasanjo over Fela’s Kalakuta Republic is also a good reference of the bitter rivalry and hatred among bigwigs from Ogun State. The legendary musician’s mother, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, died as a result of that feud when Kalakuta Republic was burnt down by unknown soldiers. Recall that former Military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (rtd), after he annulled Abiola’s election, looked for no other person than Chief Ernest Shonekan, another Egba from Ogun State to head the Interim National Government (ING) before he stepped aside in 1993. The grouse Shonekan’s acceptance to head the ING aroused still echoes among the relatives and friends of Abiola and Shonekan.
The late Military Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha tactically exploited the integrity of former Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Oladipo Diya (rtd), a fellow indigene of Ogun State, to sack Shonekan. Abacha thereafter incarcerated Abiola, arrested Obasanjo, tried and jailed him for a coup plot while Diya was later sentenced to death by Abacha for an attempted coup.
The 2016 feud between the Alake of Egba, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo and the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, over the ranking of Yoruba traditional rulers is also fresh. Fortunately, that was resolved quickly by both monarchs to save the interest of some Southwest leaders in the ruling APC.
How the attack started
THE lingering feud between the two octogenarians started over two decades ago. Okunrounmu had described the former governor and a founding member of APC as “a liar, traitor and a double-faced man” in one of the interviews he recently granted to a media organisation. In his interview, Okunrounmu also said those who understood Osoba knew that he “has always been a double-faced politician, who has one leg in the military and the other leg in the progressives’ camp,” among other things.
In his reaction, however, Osoba described Okurounmu as “a frustrated and unfulfilled politician, who also failed in his chosen profession.”He said: “I will not descend into using uncouth, insulting and gutter language like he did. In spite of his sustained attacks on me in the last two weeks, I was unruffled, unmoved as a tested fighter and warrior. It is just a mere case of jealousy and envy.”
Meanwhile, a Second Republic Senator and foremost historian, Professor Seth Akintoye; Chairman, Board of Commissioners of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Otunba Olabiyi Durojaiye, and national Secretary, Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Dr. Kunle Olajide, have expressed concern over the development, saying the altercations between the two octogenarians are not in the interest of Yoruba race, especially in the current situation when the region is facing critical challenges.
According to Akintoye, “Osoba and Okunrounmu are my good friends; we are long followers of Awolowo and it is not good to see them exchanging altercations in the media. But as an elder statesman, I cannot resort to advising them on the pages of newspapers.”
Olajide, on his part, said the crux of their misunderstanding is the different political leaning they both belong in the demand for restructuring, stressing, “I don’t think Nigeria can be restructured through executive fiat like our elders are saying. Nigeria is operating a constitution and to get it restructured requires a lot of wisdom and understanding and not necessarily a fire brigade approach. As for the altercations between Osoba and Okunrounmu, we will definitely resolve it.”
National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, also pleaded with the two warring elders to sheathe their swords in the interest of their people.
“What concerns the zone now in the face of insecurity and other critical challenges is bigger than acrimonies,” he said. “There is no need fighting over what happened more than two decades ago.”Some other concerned Yoruba leaders have also urged the intervention of traditional leaders in Yoruba land, especially the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, Oba Adetona Gbadebo and others, asking them to wade into the matter in the interest of Yoruba people.