By Adagbo Onoja
The unpredictability, chaos and contingent character of social reality makes it unimportant to bother about what people think about anything or anybody. There is an indigenous idiom to this in Idomaland, for example. It says that bad mouthing the hawk doesn’t kill the hawk. Rather, it makes the hawk fatter and happier. So, it is not worth worrying about such opinion for the different reason of the fluidity of the social which is such that what exists now can become absolutely irrelevant in a twinkle of an eye. In the postmodern world, two great enemies now can become two great friends the next day and vice-versa. This is what we see every now. However, there could arise a situation in which studied silence is no longer golden and it has become necessary to come down to the level of mindless puppeteers to give it back to those who might have assumed that they have a monopoly of secretive circulation of hints aimed at demonising and securitising someone else.
It is in the above context that I am compelled to write in celebration of the recent discharge of Alhaji Sule Lamido, the former governor of Jigawa State, on charges of corruption. Celebrating his discharge is what I have to do because there’s no way his conviction would not have been a moral burden for all of us who worked closely with him, particularly myself who worked with him for ten years as the chief publicist, first as the Personal Assistant on Media Affairs when he was the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the first term of the Obasanjo regime, 1999–2003 and for the six out of the eight years that he was two-term governor of his home state of Jigawa.
Above all, I have to write because the discharge provides the best evidence of the falsehood and hopelessness of the campaign that some clumsy campaigners have been waging against me and with which they hope to de-market me, politically and otherwise. When Lamido was first arrested and hit with charges of corruption in 2015, I was the only one who could roll up the sleeves for him by writing a piece which an editor graciously found worthy of back page placement. I cannot find the Daily Sun version of the piece on the internet but the same piece as published under the same title in NewsdiaryOnline the same day is accessible through this link Lamido in the dock. In the piece, I raised the puzzle of why radicals of the PRP tendency almost always ended that way and then went on to invite then President Buhari to whether he would see any connection between the fact that Lamido started in a very determined manner, transformed Jigawa from a frightening hamlet in 2007 to whatever it can be called today but only to end in the dock just as he (Buhari) who resisted corruption throughout was still brought down in 1985?”
That piece in defence of Lamido created image problems for me as a civil society activist. The civil society mandarins read the piece as a case of my support and defence of corruption. Of course, I argued back by restating my well-known position that the anti-corruption strategy in Nigeria will hardly ever work because it is based on a faulty premise. It is a position I have taken out of my discussion sessions with the late Reuben Ziri. The anti-corruption strategy in Nigeria wants those in government to append their signature to the papers that make billionaires of the contractors, consultants and traders the governments patronise while those political leaders will go home without a taste of the pie. That is, a minister’s signature can make his classmate a billionaire but the minister goes home with nothing more than his salary, all in the name of serving the Nigerian State.
I have been carrying the baggage of a supporter and defender of corruption for writing the piece even though my name was not mentioned in the cases. Thanks be to God that, in my life time, the former governor is discharged and I am technically and morally discharged too. I am discharged because if it were otherwise, there is no way I can tell people I am clean if my boss of ten years were jailed for corruption. The other equally important logic of this piece is to declare that the way this case collapsed is the way all the web of lies and the agenda of blocking and bursting me in life will also collapse one after the other. I am fully aware of each of the lies as soon as they were told. Every of its manifestation since July 2012 echoed back to me, in some cases real time. It started barely a month after departure from the Government House, Dutse where I was, for six years, the Special Adviser on Media Affairs to the then governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido. As already indicated, that was the second time I was working with him.
The first instance was when a businessman gave me Senator Orji Uzor Kalu (OUK)’s telephone number. It was within the first month of my exit from Government House, Dutse. The businessman argued that instead of the academia I was heading, he wanted to see me back in journalism. I put a call through to the publisher. He was very enthusiastic and gave me an appointment. However, on the day of appointment, Kalu was no longer accessible. I was to learn later that he spoke to someone he thought must be the source of the best testimonial on me. Whoever it was that he spoke to must have told him frightening stuff about me. That ‘encounter’ with Kalu was why I was, paradoxically, touched by the sight of him weeping recently on television and lamenting how people he said he gave transport fare during the birth of the PDP were the same persons who labelled him a thief subsequently. I wanted to go, see him and tell him: “Senator, now you know that every truth has its producer and no truth can ever be objective”. I might still do that even though I have no need for media job anymore.
The second time was when another businessman, this time from Kebbi State, insisted I was the best person to handle the biography of a former PDP kingpin. I was horrified by the suggestion because I could not imagine being the author of the biography of a star of the Nigerian establishment without being seen as a gold digger. But my friend was adamant. As a concession, we visited the politician. It turned out a perception changing encounter as the politician in question had not only been an activist of the defunct National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), he had also been a radical, activist academic with solid anti-imperialist credentials before he joined a federal para-military institution. More than that, he had suffered persecution at the height of his career because one faction in a particular administration had a totally wrong notion of him. All these changed my attitude in favour of researching his biography. Unfortunately, I was already set to leave the country and could not be available to do it the way I would have wanted. Nevertheless, I began to emplot the book so that someone else could gather the empirics and I could return to it somehow. But I heard nothing from him again till I forgot about it altogether. It was only on my return to Nigeria in 2015 that I learnt by chance that the PDP kingpin was dissuaded from contacting me again based on ‘superior information’ he got from where I worked before.
I can cite more examples that followed this pattern. In one instance, some academics from the ABU – Zaria/BUK axis went to the Government House, Dutse in late 2012 to solicit financial assistance for a worthy cause. A middle level official told them while they were waiting to see the governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido, that I only left the Government House after a hefty handshake with the governor. He meant that I was settled with lots of money before I agreed to leave peacefully. One of the academics was flabbergasted because he had been my friend since my undergraduate days and knew how I was mobilising funds for the UK trip. Another one in that audience said he could neither keep quiet nor talk. I had to explain to him that the fairy tale of a hefty handshake before I agreed to leave might not be unconnected with the aftermath of some critics of the Lamido administration going to a radio station in Kano in the event of my resignation to say I had been so materially excluded I had to resign. While I appreciated their solidarity, they were creating problems for my image because my relationship with Sule Lamido had/has nothing to do with money or material considerations. It was an ideological thing.
There was the story too that I left Lamido because I was envious of a young man who was made minister by Sule Lamido in the Goodluck Jonathan administration. I didn’t know whether to blame the author of this narrative or those who believed the author because this just didn’t make sense. I was the architect of the whole idea of the Lamido presidency. How could I leave such an enticing illusion and seek to become a minister under a floating presidency such as Goodluck Jonathan’s? It wasn’t whether Lamido would make it to the presidency or not. It was about the idea that the president of Nigeria should always be a product of a clear ideological legacy, radical or conservative. I would regard myself as one of Obasanjo’s harshest critics but, in choosing Yar’Adua, Obasanjo made a historical contribution to this paradigm. Umaru Yar’Adua was not an angel and Nigeria is not looking for an angel as president. Secondly, how was I going to become minister from Jigawa State under the present constitutionally stipulated indigeneity criterion? Thirdly, in 2011 when Goodluck Jonathan constituted his cabinet, the governor of Benue State had no nominee in it because that position was given to a PDP Exco member, Samuel Ortom. Yet, only a Benue State governor could have nominated me for ministerial appointment. Finally, I had been so critical of the PDP’s mishandling of the transition from Yar’Adua to Jonathan that I could not have even entertained the thought of being part of his government. That was the reason I gave to the benefactor who wanted me to become part of the Goodluck administration in mid-2014. I said I had over-criticised the administration and the circumstances of his emergence that I could not become part of it.
Who Then is Behind This Campaign?
So, who could be the person who had ‘superior information’ about me where I worked before? Commonsense would put it at Lamido but, as certitude is a disease, I would hesitate to reach such conclusion. So, my answer is that I do not know who is doing it even as I would not be surprised if Lamido saw my departure as a case of hitting him below the belt and could not resist the temptation of paying me back somehow. I would not rule out that possibility, especially as an Adagbo Onoja is absolutely an irreplaceable utility officer. There is no immodesty in this statement because the Idoma concept of Inalegwu that guided my side of the relationship with Lamido is not what a Nigerian political office holder can easily find a replacement. I do not steal your money, I am not expensive, I make no demands, I cannot remember any assignment or task I failed to deliver and I entertain no illusions. In the context of irreplaceability, he might have tracked my departure to a sabotage plan instead of looking at the contradictions that underpinned the relationship and needed to be managed. And if he didn’t look at it from the lens of contradictions, then he could have fallen to the temptation of saying, okay, let’s see if he can go anywhere in Nigeria.
The practitioners of the strategy of blocking Onoja’s progress with falsehood may be unknown but he/they were successfully demonising me. It thus became important to put him/her/them on notice. A draft was prepared but when it was shown to a guardian, he said it was up to God to reply to them, not me. His argument is that, in the battle between truth and falsehood, truth would eventually prevail. It was such a strong or appealing piece of positivism that the matter died there. That was in 2016. It happened again in 2020.
The foregone is why I cannot but use the discharge moment to reply to the patrons, echo chambers and sundry promoters of the agenda of unmaking Adagbo Onoja by surreptitious circulation of a claim of betrayal of Lamido by me. Bringing up snippets of the counter-narrative which will invite other Nigerians into the conversation has become necessary because the relationship between Sule Lamido from Jigawa State and Adagbo Onoja from Benue State will always intrigue those outside the ‘radical tradition in Northern Nigeria’ and who have no parameters for judging the relationship other than monologic, commonsensical notions of betrayal. As such, some of those chanting betrayal lack understanding of populism as an inherently unstable program, characterised by split and factionalisation, from Latin America to Europe to Middle East, Africa and Asia. Back home in Nigeria, the experience has been no less, given the splits and factionalisation in the PRP in the Second Republic. Even Balarabe Musa and Bala Usman had their own splits too. There is something in populism that must embody splits and it is astonishing that some of our friends cannot go beyond simplistic binaries of loyal/disloyal.
The Fiction of Betrayal
It is even more shocking that none of the echo chambers has any empirical details of Onoja’s de-linking from Lamido and have done not even the flimsiest fact finding. In a July 1st, 2012 piece in Daily Trust on Sunday titled Farewell to Jigawa, I wrote inter alia: Now, however, that chapter has come to a close. Like in all things beautiful, there is always a contradiction which, once it reaches the fore, cannot but transform a thesis and an anti-thesis into a synthesis. That is how revolutions come about without anybody being able to abort it. And that was how the Jigawa theatre kept narrowing for me to a point that any attempt to stay on would be to risk killing a beautiful relationship entirely. No sacrifice is too great to make so that such does not happen because Sule Lamido has played a part in my life.
Now, if the delinking from Lamido was pre-emptive or preventive, where did the echo chambers come about the claim that an Onoja betrayed a Lamido? Is it Onoja’s betrayal or their fear of their own shadows? I have already mentioned the case of rising in defence of Lamido over corruption charges against him in 2015. And that was three full years after I had resigned from the services of the government under Lamido. Nobody paid me to do that. I asked nobody to pay me to do that. It was the operationalisation of Inalegwu. It completely contradicts the idea that I resigned because I detected that Lamido was being corrupt. This is partly why I believe that some of those peddling the betrayal stuff are doing so out of fear of their own shadows rather than what Lamido might have told them because Lamido himself complained endlessly that I was too distant from government. He wanted me to get more involved in government but if I were doing that, I would not be able to write as much as was necessary. He came to accept my relative ‘distance’ from government. How would I have known who was being corrupt or incorruptible if I was that distant?
So, the knaves (and nobody should tell me to withdraw this word) monkeying around with the narrative of an Adagbo Onoja who has been disloyal or who betrayed Lamido should be ashamed of themselves. Even if they heard it from Lamido, they should still know that all truths are political and should have contextualised why Lamido might have said so. There is no truth in itself. Truth is always contextual and/or contingent. If the category of people who have bought the securitisation of Onoja could consume it hook, line and sinker, then Nigeria is probably under threat of uncritical consumers in much worse percentage than we think we know.
I have had the privilege of attending the University College London. The money came indirectly through Jigawa. I have not forgotten that. To go to the University of Warwick, part of the money came partially from a Jigawa legislator. I have that in mind. My junior brother needed to receive medical attention outside the country. Part of the funding for that came from a Jigawa friend. I have not forgotten that. It is in this sense that I consider myself a Jigawa investment which must yield dividend and if this campaign is aimed at rupturing my links with Jigawa by forcing me to hit back at any imaginary enemies, then it has also failed even before it started.
The author is a UK based Nigerian researcher