Dimensions of the "Aso Ebi" democracy By Adeolu Ademoyo

Adeolu Ademoyo

At the just concluded 60th birthday celebration of Mr. Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the current governor of Lagos state, Mr. Tunde Fashola, gave an unusual present to his predecessor in office, what one may call, the party voices from below.

Mr. Fashola reportedly spoke of the need to inject equity and justice as value sets into Mr. Tinubu’s decision-gauge in the treatment of party faithfuls and followers.  The event itself was said to be one huge fantasia where Lagos government and local council funds were used to sponsor a?? ?bí for the celebration.

Responding bluntly, Tinubu reportedly pointed at the odd irony in Fashola’s prayer, saying ”Even you are a product of partiality, the product of my tradition of justice and decision procedure.”

The exchange between the two power men recalls interesting moments in the discussion of collective ethos, and dissent in the African philosophical space.

A?? ?bí is the African aesthetic visual representation of a sense of collectivity –the dress that all would wear or ought to wear during an occasion. The philosophical fascination in the A?? ?bí vision is the possibility for dissent, individuality, independent thought and talent to flower and flourish side by side the a?? ?bí in an intricate complexity. This is why those who may decide not to wear a?? ?bí are never ostracized or ever suffer blemish.

As an African, I do not have issues with the sense of “A?? ?bí” as an expression of our human collectivity which gives us a soothing balm and warm embrace and, which also critically balances our individuality, independent thought and individual talent with our collectivity. Sadly, Mr. Tinubu in his recent encounter with Mr. Fashola however fails this critical balance between individuality, independent thought and talent on one hand and collectivity on the other hand.

Two issues are at stake. Is it right for Mr. Tinubu to bluntly tell Mr. Fashola that he is a product of “his partiality.”  Second, is it correct to use public funds to sponsor as? ?bí for a private celebration? If the report is true, the answer is a categorical NO, FULL STOP!

On the former question, undoubtedly there could be a private subtext to the encounter between Mr. Fashola and Mr. Tinubu. However, regardless of the subtext, what is important for the building of Nigerian democracy is what we perceive in the public sphere, and not what take place or took place in the dark closet of deal making.  It is in the public sphere that we all have equal agency to comment. The dark closet of deal making can be secretive, unequal, closed to public inspection and, therefore can be undemocratic and putrid.

Incidentally, it is difficult to fault Mr. Tinubu on certain grounds. As governor of Lagos state, his epic battle against Mr. Olusegun Obasnajo, then the  head of state, will go down in the history of Nigerian democracy as a defining moment in the meaning of and struggle for federalism. This is one epic political battle historians and chroniclers of Nigerian democracy ought to be interested in.  That was one of Mr. Tinubu’s finest moments. And that moment is a gift to Nigerian democracy.

But is Mr. Tinubu the federalist also a democrat? If he is a democrat, he must be a poor one in his scarecrow tactics against individuality, uniqueness and difference.  The very survival of democracy rests on a ceaseless search for talents, uniqueness, difference, balance between individuality and collectivity, creativity, dogged pursuit of excellence and originality.

Modern democracy and societies literally worship dissent and talents. Since talents in any society are few and far in between, modern societies seek them out for the public good. In some extreme situations, modern societies go as far as excusing perceived weaknesses of great talents in order to make use of them for the public good.   

On a different but relevant note this is the precise reason Nigerian talents such as Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, Mr. El-Rufai etc will always positively show up on the radar wherever they go. Nigeria needs them. The world needs them.  In more advanced democracies politicians ignore the putrid stench of politics to seek out talents. Only the deep can call to the deep. This is one reason Mr. Barack Obama the American president who is a democrat has retained Mr. Bernanke as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve (equivalent of our Central Bank) even though Mr. Bernanke was appointed by the previous Republican administration of Mr. Bush. It is about talents. Nigerian democracy ought to learn from this. Mr. Tinubu himself lived very long in America. He knows this fact about talent hunting and talent use for public good.

Back home our great leaders-Zik, Ahmadu Bello, Awolowo, Mogwuko Okoye, Tai Solarin, Aminu Kano, Bola Ige, etc are themselves talents, and are great talent hunters. They used talents for the public good. For talent seekers, the question always is: Can you do this job for the public good? If the answer of the talent is Yes, then she/he gets it. That was how we built the three great Nigerian universities—ABU, UNN, OAU and other Nigerian institutions.

Our talented leaders did not conduct aggression against individuality, uniqueness and talents as Mr. Tinubu has done with respect to Mr. Fashola. If Mr. Tinubu aspires to be part of this pantheon of leaders  as his body language suggests, then he ought not to be at war against individuality, uniqueness, independent thought,  and difference.

Hence, Tinubu’s proposition that Mr. Fashola is a product of “his partiality” and therefore should keep quiet is unacceptable. It is self-destructive. His conduct against Mr. Fashola -who came to felicitate with him- is an act of aggression against civility, decorum, individuality, independent thought and difference, which are foundations of democracy. It is scarecrow tactics against independent thought. It is also an aggression against the meaning of collectivity. It is a poor statement about and bad representation of “A?? ?bí” democracy.  A democrat who is an aggressor against the values, virtues and entailments of democracy must surely be a strange one.

Adéolú Adémoy??: aaa54@cornell.edu, is of the Africana Studies Department, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.


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