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Benin NBA Publicity Secretary: ‘Here I’m, Send Me’ – Osaretin

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By Dennis osaretin

The major concern of today’s piece is to xray clinically the constitutional functions of the office PUBLICITY SECRETARY beyond the fascade and the glitzs and glamour which many believe might follow, but not necessarily the fulcrum of the office which many now seek to occupy, therefore, suffice to say that the function of a PUBLICITY SECRETARY of our noble association includes;

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(a) To publicise the activities of the Branch and if the need arises to assist the National Publicity Secretary of the Association in matters relating to events within the jurisdiction of the Branch;

(b) To present a correct and positive image of the Branch to the public;

(c) To on the direction of the Chairman, issue Press Releases and Statements on matters of general interest to the Branch as approved by the Executive Committee or, in case of emergencies, by the Chairman

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From the above, it is crystal clear, that a potential candidate must have the poise and present capacity garnished with some moral fecundity to give voice and public attention to all events of the branch, he may also be asked to assist the national publicity secretary in carrying out some of his assigned functions, which is to assist the national secretariat in cascading the necessary information to members of the public whom the local but autonomous branches are to serve.

Secondly, a publicity secretary MUST PRESENT A CORRECT AND POSITIVE IMAGE OF THE BRANCH TO THE PUBLIC 

It goes without saying that the NBA and indeed the legal profession in Nigeria is a professional body, which operates within the confines of laid precepts and rules of professional conduct. For instance the RPC provides abinitio that;

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A lawyer shall uphold and observe the rule of law, promote and foster the cause of justice, maintain a high standard of professional conduct, and shall not engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner.

The purpose of this Episcopal admonition is not far-fetched, because we all know that the Legal Profession is a noble one. The Rules were made to enshrine the minimum best practices for Legal Practitioners.

To buttress the above points, the rules Provides further, in Rule 55(2) that: it is the duty of every lawyer to report any breach of any of these rules that come to his knowledge to the appropriate authorities for necessary disciplinary action.

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What then is the purpose of The Rules? Let us turn to members of the exalted bench for guidance.

Fabiyi JSC in FBN Plc v. Maiwada commenting on The Rules observed that: … legal practitioners should reframe their minds to live by it for due accountability and responsibility on their part and for the due protection of the profession. 

In this same light, Ariwoola JSC in YAKIs case observed that : The rules are no doubt made by the professionals to protect and guard jealously the enviable legal profession that we all belong. 

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Flowing from the above, can it then be fit and proper for anybody whether an aspirant in an election or not to dress in a manner not prescribed by our rules of professional conducts, such as wearing apparel which does not reflect or portray our callings as lawyers to the society and minister in the temple of justice? I think not! Can it fall within the confines of our RPC for any one to  also start engaging in activities and public display which are not compatible with our profession as lawyers! I leave these posers for my readers and opponent to answer.

In the writers view, conduct unbecoming of a lawyer could include conduct in a lawyer’s personal or private capacity,  that tends to bring discredit upon the legal profession including, for example, committing an act that reflects adversely on the  lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer.

It could refer or partain, to the way and manner the lawyer is attired and carry himself or herself, it is interesting to note that the legal profession has a well established tradition and dress code for major if not all of its events including the day to day public appearance of a lawyer. Consequently, the appropriateness or otherswise of this tradition or convention has become an interesting debate due to its prime importance in our profession.

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In Nigeria therefore, the Rule of Professional Conduct for the legal profession Rule 6(b) provides that ; While the court is in session, a lawyer should not assume an undignified posture, and should not, without the judge’s permission, remove his wig and gown in the courtroom. He should always be attired in a proper and dignified manner, and abstain from apparel or ornament calculated to attract attention to himself.

By well established conventions and regulation, dark suits, black jacket and wig, and gown(not Papa’s cap or face caps), are traditionally worn in court by men, while lady barristers wear dress and no slacks.

To show how fundamental this topic is, tha Nigeria Council of Legal Education on its establishment has tried to spell out in clear terms, what the dress code of lawyers should be like. The Nigeria Law School Code of Conduct Rule 29(a) provides: He should be well-dressed at all times. The regulation on dress for male students are dark suits, white shirts, black ties (not bow tie), black
socks and black shoes with white breast pocket, handkerchiefs, and
striped black trousers may be worn under dark jackets.

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Rule 2(b) of the said Code of Conduct further stipulated the dressing code for females as: For female students, white blouse, dark jacket and black skirts, covering knees (dark suit) or dark ladies and black shoes are to be worn. There should be no embroidery and trimmings of any type, and only moderate jewellery.

The Nigerian Law School Code of Conduct, further stated in Rule 2(b), that at all law dinners, students must be punctual, and be in regulation dress; it further stated that at call to bar ceremonies, qualified students must wear regulation dress and also the Wig, Winged collar and Bids or Collarette and Barristers’ Gown.

Finally, the rule concluded by stating that the above mode of dressing is mandatory for both male and female, while at the law school and other extra curricula activities, and when called to the Bar, and attendance at magistrate and all superior courts.

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From the above, it is crystal clear that for anyone to aspire to become the image maker of an August body such as our noble association, the Nigeria Bar association, Benin branch the irreducible minimum is for such aspirant to comply with our dress codes. thus wearing apparels such as T-Shirt, and face cap turned backward akin to those worn and adorned by hip hop artist in some cities in America garnished with ornamental fittings and displaying same without caution within our legal firmament, including our virtual community, including all our what’s app group and social media pages leaves more to be desired, and in the next election such candidate should not be encouraged to portray what our profession is not.

Our professional milleau is that of sobriety, solemnity and regal candour, it does not admit for any flashy and ornamental display similar to that of an American rockstar or better still a Caucasian movie star whose only desire is to attract attention to him or her self rather than to attract attention to the association and it’s activities which remains the most important function of the office of PUBLICITY SECRETARY.

This piece, may appear controversial but the message is clear, plain and simple, lets digest it, apply the message, and leave the messenger alone for his family. Let’s make necessary contributions and commentaries devoid of biases and abuse, so as to  enhance the practice and branding of the legal profession in Benin city.

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Let’s keep the conversation going

Here I am, send me

DENNIS OSARETIN Esq.

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Currentlyserves as Assistant Secretary, of the Nigeria Bar Association, Benin branch. 

He is also a dedicated Human right lawyer with special bias for media rights and data protection and freedom of information law advocacy and related developments.

He is currently retained and recognised as one of the selected few media rights lawyer in Nigeria by the Premium Times Center For Investigative journalism.

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He make regular guest appearances on various prime timed current affairs program on both radio and television series, to propagate the gospel of the law and legal jurisprudence

A LAWYER IS ALL I AM, AND THAT IS ALL I HAVE EVER BEEN KNOWN OR PERCEIVED TO BE, IN THE EYES OF THE PUBLIC TO WHOM I SEEK TO BE THE IMAGE MAKER OF THE BENIN BAR.

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Opinion

Ooni: The Public Displays Of A King (1) [OPINION]

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Tunde Odesola

Nature was enveloped in darkness as dawn quickened in the womb of time, pushing towards the birth canal, carrying on its head daylight.

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The cock, being nature’s timekeeper, knew the water was about to break. So, it sounded the flute in its throat, cookooorooocooo! And nature stirred awake.

Upon hearing the cock crow at the crack of dawn, the fox bolted madly up the mountain, panting and shivering. Again, the cock flapped its wings and crowed. The fox ran farther up the mountain, dreading death.

The cock jumped down from the branch of the iroko and went after the fox. The fox ran and ran and ran, and came to a precipice, stopping to weigh its options: fall from a mountaintop or death by fire. It chose the second option because, with fire, escape was still possible. So, it waited as the cock strutted majestically toward it.

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Resplendent in gold, brown and black plumage, the cock smiled as it neared the shivering fox which laid flat on all fours, sinking its claws into the ground, wondering what language the earthworm speaks that makes the earth open up.

“Is this how far you can run?” the cock teased.
“I wasn’t running, sir,” the fox replied.
“I know you weren’t running, you were flying,” the cock said, asking, “Why’re you always running away from me when we should be friends?”
Fox: “It’s the fire! The fire!
Cock: The fire? Which fire?
Fox: The fire on your head!
Cock: Fire!? Fire on my head?
Fox: Yes, sir! It’s right there, burning. See! See it! On your head!

The cock touched its comb with its leg. “Is this what you call fire?” “Yes,” the fox replied, still terrified. The cock burst into a fit of laughter, tears rolling down its eyes. “Foolish fellow, this is no fire. It’s my comb; come touch it, touch it,” the cock said, moving towards the fox.

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READ ALSO: Tinubu: The Crowning Of The Spiderman [OPINION]

The fox felt the meaty comb of the cock, took a deep breath and yanked off the cock’s head, crunching the comb and cranium.

I knew when the Ooni of Ife, Alayeluwa Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, the Ojaja II, was at King’s College, Ile-Ife, for the three-month seclusive tutoring in ‘Ipebi’, where royal secrets and etiquettes are taught to would-be kings.

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However, I do not know how long he stayed there. I also do not know if Ooni Ogunwusi passed all the courses on rites of passage, discretion, dignity and tact before he was released to mount the throne of his forebears.

But being a legend himself, I’m certain the Ooni knows the legend of the cock and fox I just told. As the second-in-command to the gods, I’m sure the king can see through the stupidity of the cock. As a wise monarch, who knows the importance of bloodline and lineage, I know Oba Enitan is likely to spare a thought for the generations of the cock that has gone down the throats of foxes into oblivion.

Being a true Yoruba son, it doesn’t lie in my mouth to say many of the public displays of Ooni Ogunwusi fall short of royal expectation and dignity. I shouldn’t say that. Because no one rebukes the masquerader when it misses the road; you say, my lord, the road you took is a cul-de-sac. “A kii so fun eegun wipe o s’ina. Baba, ko s’ona nibe yen ni won n wi.” Who am I to teach the Ooni how to be a king?

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FROM THE AUTHOR: OPINION: Bola Tinubu And Nigeria’s Coat Of Arms

In the olden days, Yoruba beaded crowns were Almighties. They combine executive powers with judicial authority and legislative functions in a trinity of crown, sword and sceptre. Because they ensured security, monarchs of yore worked closely with hunters who double as police and army. Perhaps, the immediate past Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, ‘jingbinni bi atekun’, supernaturally saw that my forebears were hunters, so he made me, an obscure subject, a distant little friend.

After watching the controversial video of how Ooni Ogunwusi exchanged greetings with a Nollywood old-timer, Pete Edochie, and another Nollywood veteran, Kanayo O. Kanayo, I decided to peep into the lives of royals in and outside Nigeria – to see if the Ooni desecrated the stool of Oduduwa by his incessant star-struck public displays.

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Memory lane. In what appears like a coronation celebration in 1980 when Sijuwade became Ooni, an old video shows a brand new Oba and his guests being serenaded by Juju superstar, King Sunny Ade. In a combination of prostration and kneeling, KSA and his boys sang all through the time Sijuwade was on the dance floor. Neither KSA nor any of his boys got up all through the performance.

Ooni Sijuwade was simply majestic; he didn’t gyrate, he was just there, swaying, solid and confident, soaking in the songs of praise.

Nobody dared ‘spray’ Baba Tokunbo with money. But guests sprayed the queen dancing with him. Everyone maintained a respectable distance from Sijuwade, nobody turned Sijuwade’s ears into a microphone, neither did he behave like an usher or MC, ushering people to seats, telling them about the latest isi-ewu joints in town and where to get ladies in desperate search of husbands – like Oba Atilawi.

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In England, there are protocols that even the high and mighty must observe when they are in the presence of the throne of England. Former US First Lady, Michelle Obama, caused a stir, in 2009, when she put her arm around Queen Elizabeth. You don’t touch the Queen!

FROM THE AUTHOR: OPINION: Seun Kuti’s Double-edged Slap

There are other non-steadfast rules to observe when you come before the Queen. You don’t show up empty-handed. You should bring a gift. “Ko si gberu mi laafin,” is a Yoruba proverb that equates to this English royal protocol. No one carries goods out of the palace, be it in England or Yoruba land. But you can bring gifts into the palace.

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You must stand at attention when the Queen enters the room. Don’t eat before she does. Don’t leave before the does. Never turn your back on the Queen. You don’t call her by her first name or nickname. Speak only the Queen speaks to you. A lady must curtsey (bend at the knees) while a man must bow. These same rules apply to the King of England.

“Oba kii m’eje, iyi ni oba n fi ori bibe se,” says a Yoruba proverb. The king doesn’t drink blood, he beheads to affirm his glory.

Modern royalty, some may argue, is an extension of feudalism. Feudalism was abolished on August 4, 1789. But royalty has survived, albeit, with one kidney, one lung and an enlarged heart. In Nigeria, kings, queens, regents and the palace are the custodians of culture and tradition. It goes to say that each tribal royalty has its dos and don’ts.

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In the second part of this article, I shall analyse Ooni Ogunwusi’s unkingly display when he publicly met some celebrities, particularly when he became the MC during the birthday of a celebrity named Elizabeth Itunuayo Jack-Rich.

To be continued.

Tunde Odesola is a senior journalist, columnist with The PUNCH newspaper and a guest writer in INFO DAILY.

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Email: [email protected]
Facebook: @Tunde Odesola
Twitter: @tunde_odesola

 

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Opinion

OPINION: Akeredolu And Parable Of Onirese

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By Suyi Ayodele

I am personally scandalised by the news coming from Ondo State about Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and the state of his health. This piece, I must confess, tasks my humanity more than anything I have ever written on this page. I however decided to do it because of the way I feel about it. Without any intention to disparage anyone, I make no bones saying that if the matter were to be about any other governor, I would not have bothered to dwell on it. Arakunrin Akeredolu occupies a position in the history of constitutionality in Nigeria such that we cannot ignore the news coming from his state. For whoever wants to contest it, Akeredolu is more than a governor of a state. He is, if all things were to be equal, the constitutional moral compass that Nigeria and Nigerians are expected to use to navigate through the shambolic democracy we are running in Nigeria.

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Morally, nobody should play politics with the health of others. Doing so is completely inhuman. Only God knows who will live or die as well as the when and how of our transitions. As mortals who do not have any idea of what tomorrow holds therefore, we are enjoined to be circumspect when discussing the issue of death and illnesses. A very recent example is the brazen manner the former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, went about the health issues of the immediate past president, General Muhammadu Buhari. If Fayose were to be the giver of life, Buhari would have long been buried and forgotten. That Buhari lived and lives today, does not in any way, however, vitiate the fact that while he hid his health status from the Nigerian public throughout his eight years in office, he nevertheless expended our common patrimony to service his so many unknown ailments.

 

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At a time, Buhari abandoned leadership and spent well over 100 days outside Nigeria attending to one health matter or the other. The only occasions we were told what ailed the Mai Gaskiya was when he could not make it to an official engagement in Lagos due to an ear infection and the last two weeks or so of his exit from power, when he had to stay back in the United Kingdom to attend to a toothache. God bless our leaders. They treat us like the proverbial iwofa (pun), who, when he is ill, the rich creditor says: “oh, the silly one has come up with his tricks again”, but when the son of the rich creditor is down with fever, his father says; “just try and swallow this fish stew” (bi iwofa ba nse aisan, won a ni alakori ti gbe ise re de; bi o ba nse omo olowo, won a ni ko ro ju fi obe eja s’enu). While Nigerians were dying in their hundreds, killed by treatable diseases, our president was in the UK to see a dentist! I know that one day, God will judge between us and our rulers.

FROM THE AUTHOR: OPINION: May Tinubu Never Need Our Pity

Buhari left the Nigerian populace to speculate about his health issues for good eight years. He was not the first president to do that. Before the National Assembly invoked the novel “Doctrine of Necessity” on February 9, 2010, to empower the then Vice-President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to serve as acting president, his then principal, the late President Musa Yar’Adua, had been in and out of the Aso Rock Villa attending to his health challenges without transmitting a letter to the National Assembly or handing over to his deputy as required by the constitution. Yar’Adua left the shores of Nigeria on November 23, 2009, and it took the nation 47 days before Jonathan was asked to act as president. Even at that, not a few ‘erudite’ scholars picked holes in that noble decision of the National Assembly, describing the action as illegal.

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For instance, the late Professor Omo Omoruyi, in his reaction to the decision, said that the National Assembly acted illegally, stressing that the legislators ought to have respected the sanctity of the constitution and its supremacy. It never mattered that Yar ‘Adua, who took an oath to preserve and defend that same constitution, openly raped it with impunity! Yar’Adua was eventually announced dead on May 6, 2010, days after he was sneaked into the country under the cover of darkness by his close associates. He was said to have passed on Wednesday May 5, 2020, at about 10.30pm. Nigeria and Nigerians have General Olusegun Obasanjo to thank for his infamous: “Umoru, you don die” telephone call to the ailing Yar’Adua, who, as the candidate of the PDP in the 2007 election, was hovering between heaven and the earth. While Obasanjo remains culpable for imposing Yar’Adua on the PDP and the nation, the late president, his immediate family, and those political profiteers, who knew well his debilitating health conditions but egged him on to take over the most tasking job in the land, have the greatest share of the blame.

 

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The same was the case of the late self-over-indulged Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba State, who, on October 25, 2012, hopped into a light aircraft and flew himself to a dismal crash. Suntai, who flew an unregistered Cessna 208B Caravan plane, the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), said had no licence, no competence, and no qualification to fly that type of aircraft. Talk of what my Yoruba people call: “akeju tin ba omo olowo je” (over-indulgence spoils the child of the rich man). You may wish to ask what a governor was doing flying a private jet without a license when half of the people in his state were living below the world poverty standard and riding camels to their farms. After the unfortunate incident during which Suntai sustained brain injuries, he became a vegetable as he was moved from the Federal Medical Centre (FCMB), Yola, to the National Hospital, Abuja, then to Johns Hopkins University Hospital, USA and finally to the Government House, Jalingo, where his aides and acolytes kept prodding him like a sagging bag of maize. He remained the governor of the state in such a pitiable state and ‘completed’ his second term in office on May 29, 2015, and died on June 28, 2017, in his home. You may wish to ask the people of Taraba State what became of governance in the state while the governor’s aides and family members were the ones calling the shots.

 

This is why the story from Ondo State is particularly worrisome to me. I have never met Akeredolu in person, but I have seen his images (still and motion) on several occasions. When a man is handsome in my place, there is a way the women folk salute him. They will say: “omokurin lo dara bayi. Bi eleyi o se oko eni, hi ba se ale eni” (look at how handsome this man is. If this cannot be one’s husband, let him be the concubine). Akeredolu will, any day, answer that praise name. His figure, his gait, his well-trimmed white beard, and his infectious toothy smile are disarming. He is a man, like every other human being, nobody should nurse any evil against. So, when the news first filtered in over a year ago that he was dangerously down with an undisclosed ailment, the public sympathy was with him. His aides and political associates tried all they could to deny the ill health of the governor. However, all that crashed when Akeredolu appeared in public and his gait told the story, even to the blind. His wife, Betty’s video early this year, where she was castigating one female aide of the governor for bringing local concoction to the governor was the height of Akeredolu’s health misfortune. Not a few were scandalised that while many were deeply worried about the health of the governor, the only thing the wife could think about was the activities of a suspected side chick of the governor. It was akin to the case of an infirm for whom all villagers were fasting and praying but was caught eating three square meals. That video by Mrs. Akeredolu, I daresay, triggered a public debate about the governor’s health forcing Akeredolu to admit that, yeah, he was down health wise, though there was no immediate danger involved. He stopped at that, and nobody has ever volunteered to name what ails the governor.

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FROM THE AUTHOR: OPINION: Buhari’s Dance To The Grove

Last weekend however, changed the entire narrative about Akeredolu and his health. The news came in vide the uncontrolled social media that the Ondo State governor had passed on. Sahara Reporters, an online platform, in what it termed ‘exclusive’, on Thursday, June 1, 2023, posted the following news item: “Exclusive: Ondo State Governor, Akeredolu Incapacitated, Bedridden in Ibadan; Unable to Sign Documents Yet Refuses To hand Over To Deputy.” Shortly after the publication, the rumours of the governor’s death hit the town, such that the state government had no choice than to issue an official statement. The terse statement, titled: “Ignore The Rumour On The Governor of Ondo State, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu SAN, CON”, and endorsed by Bamidele Ademola-Olateju, Commissioner for Information and Orientation, states: “We have been inundated with calls and messages concerning the state of health of the Governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, CON. We had chosen to ignore this wicked fabrication until it appeared that certain persons seek to draw political mileage from the disinformation. Though the Governor has been indisposed, he has been attending to state matters and delegating functions to functionaries of the Government, when necessary. We enjoin the members of the public to ignore the rumour. Aketi is very much alive”. The statement emphasised that the governor was very much alive without being specific about his condition.

 

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The opposition PDP in the state would not have such an incomplete statement. In its “Theater of The Absurd: Akeredolu’s Whereabouts Should Not Be A Secret” statement issued by Kennedy Ikantu Peretei, the party’s State Publicity Secretary, the PDP admitted that, while “As mortals, any human being can fall sick. Whether in public office or private life. Rotimi Akeredolu is employed by the people of Ondo State, maintained with taxpayers’ money. So, it is criminal and a great disservice to keep mum over his health status and his whereabouts”. The party demanded that: “Those hiding the governor should tell the people where he is to save the state from speculation.” The Ondo State chapter of the PDP alluded to the 2010 health challenges of the late President Yar ‘Adua, when, “Akeredolu was one of the most vociferous voices, calling for his resignation and allowing the then Vice-President to take over.” The party added that: “If for whatever reason, Akeredolu can no longer discharge his official responsibilities, the most reasonable thing to do is to hand over to the Deputy Governor as required by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).” If you ask what I think of this demand, I will tell you right off that the party is right, absolutely right! I will explain why.

 

Like I mentioned in the introduction, Akeredolu is different from any of the run-of-the mill governors we have around. For one thing, the man who adopts the sobriquet of Arakunrin (Mr.) is a constitutional lawyer. He is not just one of the lawyers in town, but a very big masquerade in the legal profession. He is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and a former National President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). His pedigree in civil society circles stands tall. He was once the voice of the voiceless in this country. He joined forces with other Nigerians to fight the military and earned democracy for Nigeria. As a sitting governor, Akeredolu took on the Federal Government on several issues. He championed the birth of the Western Nigeria Security Network, otherwise known as Amotekun, to fight killer herdsmen in the South-West. He was, and the only governor, who issued an ultimatum to the killer Fulani herdsmen occupying any forest in Ondo State to register or vacate the forest. He backed that up with action. Even when the agents of darkness took the battle to his Owo homefront and killed innocent people in a Catholic Church, he remained uncowed and soldiered on like an akoni okunrin (courageous man). So, what has changed? Do we now have another Aketi in power? Is Governor Akeredolu saying that he does not know the capacity and ability of his current health? I ask: what spoils if Akeredolu resigns to go and face his health challenges? Will he no longer be reckoned with as former governor of Ondo State or what? Can anything, or anybody ever obliterate his achievements as the governor of Ondo State, if he resigns to attend to his health? What has he got to lose? While seeking answers to these and many more questions, I leave Akeredolu, his immediate family and his handlers to the legend of Onirese.

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FROM THE AUTHOR: Nigeria: Nothing Is Left After Buhari [OPINION]

The story of Onirese is a lesson in the perpetuity of good deeds. It tells us that no matter the circumstance, one’s good deeds live forever as testimonials of one’s sojourn here on earth. Onirese was an Oyo calabash carver. He was the best in the guild of carvers of his epoch. He had a long list of clienteles, among whom were kings and the nobles of the land. The then Alaafin of Oyo, satisfied by the works produced by the carver, made him the head of Irese quarters. But at one time, due to marriage and exposure to other climes, Onirese abandoned carving for other engagements. Whenever people came to him for carved calabash, he would simply direct them to his other fellow carvers. When it dawned on the people that Onirese would not carve calabash for them again, they reported him to the Alaafin and asked that he should be compelled to resume the craft. Alaafin listened attentively to the people and when they were through, Iku, Baba, Yeye, answered them thus: “Bi Onirese ba ko to lohun o fin’gba mo, eyi to ti fin sile ko ni parun” (If Onirese refuses to carve calabash again, the ones he carved before will endure forever). Nothing in life obliterates good works. How I wish Akeredolu will see the wisdom in the saying of our forebears and take time off the government house to attend to that which should matter to him most. Or is health no longer wealth? What other fame does the governor crave? What is more important in life than health? Or is there anything else in the government houses such that even at the point of death, every invalid wants to remain there?

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Opinion

OPINION: Still In The Forest Of The Heartless

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By Lasisi Olagunju

It was quite nice seeing President Bola Tinubu as he waltzed into the chambers where he met security chiefs last Thursday. “Morning,” he greets the chiefs. “Shall we sit or…” They murmur. His gaze is fixed on his guests. What are they saying? “Eh?” He asks; they murmur.

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“We just sit?” The president asks again.

“Yes, sir,” one of them finally answers. But Tinubu did not sit as ‘instructed’. Where he comes from, you don’t enter a river without greeting the crocs and the frogs of the deep. The Yoruba man stretched out his hand for a one-by-one handshake with the men who apparently were sizing up their new Commander-in-Chief – and comparing him with the ramrod one who left last week. That first encounter and what was said to have been said there made a very good start. But Nigeria is not a place where ‘friends’ are not kept under what Shakespeare describes as “thy own life’s key.” I wonder who else Tinubu has been meeting and what they’ve been telling him.

The week President Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in in 1999, Dr. Omololu Olunloyo, a former governor of Oyo State, fired him a congratulatory letter; and he showed it to me before faxing it to the State House, Abuja, using our newsroom fax line. Two clauses there were my takeaway; I try to recall them: “The Nigeria you left in 1979 is not the same as today’s. Today’s Nigeria is a much more dangerous country to govern…” Olunloyo proceeded to pray for his fellow Owu man. I do not know how many of the prayers were answered or how much of the advice in the letter got heeded. But, I am sure, the Balogun of Owu soon found out that Aso Rock, Abuja, was a much more lethal enclave than the danger in Dodan Barracks, Lagos. If Olunloyo felt in 1999 that Nigeria was very dangerous even for a four-star General and ex-Head of State, I wonder what he would say of 2023 Nigeria.

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“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” William Shakespeare, who wrote this in ‘The Tempest’ in 1610/1611 AD, was referring to this space. You need not go to hell again to engage Satan; he is here. President Goodluck Jonathan came into office in 2010 with a lot of goodwill. But he soon got abducted by interests who withered the lush in his verdant green. A governor of one northern state told a Lagos editor (who told me) before Jonathan ran into the storm that sank his Titanic that “we will help him to make enemies. Nothing he works on will work.” And it happened exactly as that governor promised. Jonathan assisted his enemies to succeed. That was more than ten years ago. The beasts of the Nigerian forest have since become more in number and have grown longer and deadlier horns.

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There should be a description for today’s Nigeria in Yoruba language; it is Igbó Òdájú (forest of the heartless). I have no doubt that the new man knows how poisonous the Nigerian snake is. The new president must have been receiving pieces of advice, many of them downright self-serving and wicked. But a man who has finally become what he has always wanted to become should have no problem deciding what end-of-office reputation he wants. One of my favourite Islamic preachers, Musbau Orimadegun, has a proverb for the new king: Oyè tí a bá fi òtè je, kíké ni àá ké e (One pampers with extreme carefulness a throne which one has won through extreme intrigues). Who advised the new president to hedge his throne with footstools of controversy so soon after he took the seat? He has incensed the poor by increasing the price of petrol. Could his advisers be the same forces who pushed Jonathan’s boat into storms and abandoned him midstream? Maybe no one advised Tinubu; maybe he advised himself after he was convinced of the rightness of the step he took. After all, he has guts; and it takes a lot of guts for a president to hit the ground running the way he did last week. Within his first 24 hours in power, his sword halved the real income of every citizen – rich and poor. That is what last week’s fuel price increase has done to all Nigerians.

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A friend complained that elite propaganda was everywhere on subsidy removal and they appeared winning. I replied him that “harmattan has a way of teaching the loin-clothed what cold means.” He said he loved the proverb; I told him that in the village, every hen lays proverbs which, like running water, help us to cut through mountains and maneuver around rocks. I know Tinubu promised in the last election campaigns to end subsidy on petrol which the NNPCL said gulped $9.7 billion last year. In this year’s budget, $7.5 billion was entered for the first six months’ as fuel subsidy. I also know that the three big candidates, Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, solemnly swore to stop subsidy on petrol if they became our president. They are too tall to see the ground. They said they had to do it to save Nigeria. I heard them then and remembered the apocryphal US Major who famously said his troops had to destroy a town “in order to save it.” But what this government has done is not yet subsidy withdrawal; it is what it described as “price adjustment” – an alias for price hike. Like a pilot on his maiden flight terribly bad-landing a plane, the president did it in a what-will-they-do manner. Truly, what can the shrub do when the elephant chooses to rumble his way through the forest?

The fuel price increase is costly for the poor; it, definitely, will be costlier for the new government. The NNPCL has spoken; persons who claimed to be speaking for the Federal Government have spoken too. They were diligent enough to tell us the cost of fuel subsidy but they did not tell us, and have not told us, the cost of removing fuel subsidy. They want us to figure it out by feeling it and that is exactly what we are doing. You can see the costs in hundreds of the poor trekking to work; in cabs without passengers; in filling stations without sales. The cost is more than what the streets say. Every home is counting its ceiling boards, thinking hard on how to survive these expensive times. With NEPA oscillating between the morgue and the ICU, it is generator to the rescue. But that alternative has been priced out of the reach of everyone, including the over 22 million Nigerians who voted for subsidy removal in the last elections and the over 60 million registered voters who did not vote for anyone. An average university professor has a family; he has a small generator; the family generator consumes 10 litres of petrol per night which translates to 300 litres per month. At N500 per litre, how much will the professor buy 300 litres? People in government would say that is just N150,000; the professor would say that is a third of his whole salary! That is if he gets paid at all.

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Is it subsidy that is bad or the corruption that has taken it over? NNPCL’s evacuation/dispatch data in March said we consumed 80 million litres of petrol daily. A few months earlier, the figure was 68 million. We must be sharing those litres with ghosts. If subsidized petrol is smuggled into neighboring countries, why should that sin be the burden of the poor vulcanizer and hairdresser who are now being forced to buy petrol at N500 per litre? What is the job of men of the Customs Service at the borders and who is to make them do their work? Nigeria is a very unfortunate country. Misfortune is finding a bird to kill but finding no stone to do the killing; it is finally finding a stone but seeing the bird flying away. Nigerians are the proverbial children of the butcher who eat bare bones. A producer should be happy when their product attracts higher price in the market. But Nigeria is an oil producer for whom high crude oil price is a curse, not a blessing. The country does not benefit from global crude oil price increase because, like non-oil producers, it imports refined petroleum products at a price that is determined by forces outside Nigeria.

If you see the new president, please tell him: You can’t withdraw subsidies amidst mass poverty and without refining petrol at home. The poor will die; there will be problems. The country has four refineries that eat money instead of making money. Their dead wheels munch old and new Naira notes in billions. Eight years ago, former President Obasanjo warned that any further money spent on those refineries was money wasted. Indeed, the NNPC, in a document reportedly submitted to investors at a road show in China in 2016, said it would require between $1.4 billion and $1.8 billion to rehabilitate the refineries. Obasanjo told Channels television in 2015 that the refineries had become scraps after their sale to investors were cancelled by his successor, Umaru Yar’Adua. “Eventually Aliko Dangote led a group that paid $750 million for the privatisation of two of the refineries – 51 percent privatisation – and my successor (Yar’Adua) came (in), he turned it down. In fact, he paid back the money because they (investors) had paid the money. And I went to him; I said ‘look, do you know…? And he said well, he did it because of pressure. I said ‘pressure?’, so to you what matters is pressure, not what is in the best interest of Nigerians. I said, but you know it will not work. Then I said in 10 years, if you continue, you would have spent two times the amount that these people had paid and it still would not work. And that is what happened. Today those two refineries, you can never make them work. And if we are going to sell them, we would be lucky to get $250m out of them because they have become a huge scrap…” The two refineries, the Port Harcourt Refinery and Kaduna Refinery, made combined losses of N208.6 billion in 2014; N252.8 billion in 2015; N290.6 billion in 2016; N412 billion in 2017 and N475 billion in 2018. The profile did not change in the years that have followed.

Tinubu is our kinsman; if you have access to him, tell him to use his eyes to see his nose in this subsidy removal matter. ‘They’ advised him to do it and cushion the pains with salary increase. I am not sure ‘they’ showed him where a broke government would find money to finance that increment.

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I do not envy Tinubu; the country that was handed over to him last week is a huge scrap. But, if subsidy withdrawal is the magic bullet for what ails Nigeria, then let us apply that ‘solution’ to all other subsidies. Start with elite privileges, scrap them. Stopping consumer subsidy on petrol without doing same to producer subsidy is one-sided. Asking Nigerians to stop enjoying subsidy on petrol because Nigeria is broke may sound like sound judgement, but it will be easier to do if those taking the decision are not enjoying subsidies at the people’s expense too. How much does it cost Nigeria to maintain the president and his family? In the 2023 budget, the president was allocated N331.79 million for feeding, the vice president N176. 92 million. The American president and his family pay for their meals and their drinks, their groceries. They buy their toothpastes. They pay for their personal guests too. When they throw private parties in the White House, they pay for everything, including for the service of servers and waiters. When they give gifts to visitors, including foreign leaders, they pay for the gifts from their pocket. When they go on holiday, they foot the bill; they settle everything, including their hotel bills, from their own pocket. We can copy that culture here and free the millions to provide infrastructure. Fortunately, our brand new First Lady, one week ago said that her family was blessed enough not to eat from the bowl of Nigeria. Mrs Oluremi Tinubu told a church congregation in Abuja last week Sunday that “Nigeria’s wealth is the commonwealth of all. It belongs to everyone. God has blessed my family. We don’t need the wealth of Nigeria to survive…” So, the millions budgeted for feeding, for entertainment etc for the First Family and the other big families should be freed for what benefits all. That example, when set, may make points for sacrifice and fuel subsidy withdrawal easier to argue.

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