Tolu Ogunlesi: May things continue to fall apart in Nigeria (YNaija FrontPage)

They buy jets and fund projects from the sweat of the bottom-billion, who know that one day Jehovah Lojiji, the God of Suddenly, will make an Expressway where bushpaths used to be.

Calm down, it’s not a curse. It’s a prayer. A prayer for the good of the country that we all love dearly but has chosen to treat us so badly. When I explain what exactly I mean you’ll be the first to shout Amen & Halleluia!

Let’s start from the beginning. Nigeria as a hotbed of conspiracy. The conspiracy of silence.

All around us are people struggling with mental illness, but we pretend like it doesnt exist, like people are not daily forced to deal with it. Look at the Jimmy Savile scandal, and imagine how many Jimmy Saviles currently exist in Nigeria — and who will never be exposed. If the UK, with its sex offenders list and apparent zero-tolerance for paedophilia, could produce a Savile+accomplices web, I shudder to imagine what’s going on in Nigeria.

Look at the religious houses. Listen to all those Islamic leaders who are silently condemning Boko Haram. See how impressively loud the silence is. Tell me if you’ve ever heard any of the men running Nigeria’s largest Pentecostal empires weigh in on any of the many issues Nigeria is dealing with — the subsidy debate, monumental government corruption, poverty, etc.

Of course they’ll most likely plead that they are preachers, not politicians. Yet their hallowed halls are full of politicians; they wine and dine and receive tithes and blessings from the same individuals working round the clock to ensure Nigeria doesn’t progress.

They buy jets and fund projects from the sweat of the bottom-billion, who know that one day Jehovah Lojiji, the God of Suddenly, will make an Expressway where bushpaths used to be.

Then there’s the conspiracy of silence required by all entrants into Club 1%. It is this conspiracy I’d like to focus on today. This is what the late Chief Sunday Afolabi must have meant when he issued a public rebuke to the late Bola Ige, reminding him that he was invited to Abuja to “come and eat”, not make trouble.

Against this backdrop, it is exciting to observe all those instances when Nigerian big men, perpetual-issuers-of-joint-communiques from the longest-running feast in world history — the Nigerian National Cake Festival — fall out, and smash the calabash of silence in anger.

One of the earliest known instances, perhaps a gold standard in the history of the smashing of the syndicate of silence, is the Tarka-Dabo Affair. Here’s the account, from Olufemi Ogunsanwo’s book GENERAL YAKUBU GOWON: THE SUPREME COMMANDER:

“On July 12, 1974, in response to General Gowon’s call for public probity, a Lagos businessman, Mr. Godwin Daboh, from Gboko, swore to an affidavit at a Lagos High Court alleging impropriety and misuse of public funds and many irregularities in the award of government contracts against Mr. J. S. Tarka, the Federal Commissioner (Minister) for Communications and a very influential politician from his own Benue/Plateau State.… It turned out that Daboh was an estranged protege and business associate of the accused Minister and that he had an axe to grind with his erstwhile boss…”

There you have it. Daboh and Tarka were “friends”, did business together, and then things fell apart. As almost always happens when the juice gets juiciest and the sharing formula (aka derivation derivatives) develops K-legs (apologies to Olusegun Obasanjo and Rotimi Amaechi).

Now, here is the truth. The bitter Daboh wasn’t making up those allegations in the spirit of bitterness. No. What he was saying was true. The media and public outcry that followed helped ensure that the timid General Gowon found the temporary liver to request Mr. Tarka’s resignation.

Ogunsanwo writes that: “It was the first time in Nigeria’s political history that a minister of cabinet rank had been forced out of office for alleged corrupt practices after being exposed in the media.”

It was a falling apart of things that triggered a momentous outplaying of no-longer-at-easiness.

In the decades since we have witnessed a few high-profile of those kinds of falling out. I’ll skip the eighties and nineties (I can’t think of any examples from then, please feel free to share) and come to the noughties, and share a few examples.

Recall the Obasanjo-Atiku fight. Otedola-Dangote. Cosmas Maduka versus Ifeanyi Ubah. The most recent: Abacha Jnr vs Dan Etete.

Think of all that we’ve learnt as a result of the calabash of elite conspiracy being broken.

Now, one thing you can not say about these falling-aparts is that they are/were ethnic rivalries. These aren’t ‘Yorubas are Igbo-haters’ or ‘Fulanis are the problem with Nigeria’ fights.

Cosmas Maduka has admitted, in a public statement, to doing business with Ifeanyi Ubah because “Ubah is his kinsman from Nnewi… On the strength of this, Dr. Cosmas Maduka entered into a joint venture business agreement with Capital Oil (Ifeanyi Ubah) for the importation and sale of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS).”

So this ongoing brouhaha is not because “that is how Igbo people always do to their Yoruba benefactors.” Nah. These are two Nnewi men. Next question.

When Obasanjo and Atiku fell apart around 2003/4, it wasn’t because of where they came from. Those who supported them (e.g. all those Southern Governors who queued behind Atiku against the Father of Modern Nigeria) weren’t doing it because Obasanjo was an Egba man who needed to be replaced with a Fulani man. No, there were other, far more important, factors at play.

Nigeria’s elite class know that there are things far more important than ethnicity and tribe in Nigeria, and that people need to be loved or ignored not because of where they are from but for what “assistance” they can provide or not provide.

Never ever forget this point: That all oil blocks speak every Nigerian language available (all 500 of them) , as do DISCO licenses. That import waivers do not bear tribal marks, and government contracts have a strict policy of not disclosing their religious outlook.

Otedola and Dangote, the only two Nigerians listed on the Forbes List in 2009, fell apart not because they didn’t speak each other’s languages. Nah. They fought over a bid to acquire Chevron’s stake in Texaco’s Nigerian operations.

It was a bitter battle, it spiralled speedily out of control.

From the Texaco turf it spread to African Petroleum. Inexplicably, African Petroleum, owned by Otedola, lost three-quarters of its share price in less than two months. Otedola blamed Dangote for commissioning the manipulation of the prices.

[PS. Now the two men are friends again, glory be to God. You’re likely to see both of them regularly in the newspapers/TV, seated or standing side by side at a meeting of the Presidential Economic Management Team, or some other gathering of Caballionaires.]

Now the latest battle on the radar is the one between Mohammed Abacha (the real one, not the one making all those foolish promises in all those $$$ emails), and Dan Etete, who served Abacha’s father as oil Minister.

Abacha is accusing Etete of defrauding him. Yes, you heard right. At the heart of the battle is an oil firm, Malabu. Now, thanks to this fight we know that Mohammed Abacha, whose claim to fame is inheriting some of the DNA of a man who stole Nigeria blind, owns fifty percent of a company that last year earned more than $1 billion from the transfer of an oil block to Shell and Agip.

Now you see why these fights are good.

We need more of them.

In many cases it is the closest we will ever get in this country, to investigative journalism. Brilliant model: Self-funded, Self-Investigative Journalism.

One memorable phrase came into Nigerian lexicon, from the Tarka/Daboh brouhaha: “If you Tarka me, I will Daboh you.”

Today we’d say: If you Etete me, I will Abacha you. If you Ubah me, I will Maduka you.

And, the greatest of them all: If you Atiku me, I will Obasanjo you.

That was probably what P-Square was getting at when they sang, with far less originality, “Do me I do you…”

Anyway, we need more Dabohs. We already have all the Tarkas we could ever wish for.

Let the fighting begin.



Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

Comments (3)

  1. A lot of Muslim clerics have spoken against Boko Haram. And I am aware of a number of muslim clerics who have been killed for this in the North.

  2. So what! They fight you watch.They make up to rob you more!

  3. Again Tolu Ogunlesi delivers his message with as much sarcasm and humor, but still manages to drive home his point. These occasional "Do me I do you" fights are good for breaking the silence surrounding what goes on in the higher echelons of government and corporate Nigeria. Kudos Tolu

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