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Osoba’s cold wars and last laugh

Osoba’s cold wars and last laugh
July 16
21:10 2019
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Growing up, he flirted with boxing. We see a glimpse of that aspiration in the blurry picture of a puny ten-year-old raising a guard in over-sized gloves on page 176 of the book.

But if any portrait is framed by the chronology of the many storms weathered, hurdles surmounted, adversities endured and foes conquered in Chief Olusegun Osoba’s new autobiography, it is undoubtedly that of a stellar marathoner whose secret is an uncommon fortitude.

If forbearance exalted him in almost six-decades-long career in journalism and politics, even more remarkable is the temperance summoned in the rendition of the trials and triumphs by the master story-teller. In reliving the hard-earned victories, nowhere in “Battlelines – Adventures in Journalism and Politics” are we assailed by the slightest hint of gloating or triumphalism.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the recall of the emotionally bruising and psychologically devastating encounters with the troika of OBJ, OGD and Amosun in the combustible politics of his native Ogun State in the last two decades.

For the Akinrogun of Egbaland, there is surely more to a name. With “Olusegun” translating roughly as “the conqueror”, there can be no better evidence of a predestination to prevail over adversaries. That steely durability could only have resulted from a fortitude steeped in deep spiritualism cultivated early in life as a young boy who not only held on to the coattails of his evangelist uncle (Joseph Ayo Babalola) constantly on apostolic crusades, but also took to heart lessons from the sermons delivered. In literary theory, “imaginative omission” is making a far more significant statement by leaving unsaid words otherwise ironically the most expected.

To be precise, one of the enduring tales from the contemporary political folklore in Ogun is how a trusting Osoba fell cheaply for OBJ’s treachery and duplicity on the day of governorship polls of 2003. The story is told that while PDP infantrymen were busy laying siege to polling stations across Ogun as well as other five states in the South-west to enforce a forceful displacement of Alliance for Democracy (AD) by the ruling party in Abuja, foxy OBJ personally opted to adapt a martial tactic of decoy by suddenly paying an early morning visit to Osoba and, as usual, requesting his host prepare a feast. Who was a governor to decline a presidential request?

By time the gourmet and palmwine had been exhausted, as the story goes, the power rug had disappeared from under Osoba’s feet as well as four other Yoruba governors (except Lagos) in a poll the court later adjudged to have been massively rigged. By not confirming or denying that account in the memoirs, Osoba only nourishes the story.

Akinrogun only stops at recalling how, following the strong rumor of a Judas agenda, OBJ had sworn repeatedly before Afenifere leaders, Yoruba governors, ranking Obas and men of God of not harboring any intention to betray AD governors of his native South-west who had resolved to help him electorally in the then pending general polls by ensuring AD did not field a presidential candidate.

The trade-off was that “federal might” would not be deployed against the AD in the South-west in the other elections. Complacent, the governors literally lowered their guard, counting solely on the political charm that had delivered AD emphatically in 1999.

But how naive of them to have trusted a battle-hardened general!

Nonetheless, what the episode clearly reinforces is the image of OBJ as most traitorous and apostactic.

As events later proved, OBJ’s contradictions ensured that the political hegemony he sought to foist in Ogun collapsed within the next two electoral cycles. Once divested of presidential powers in 2007, his own very adopted political son (Gbenga Daniel) began to assert himself and soon cut off the apron strings of a domineering progenitor. The coup de grace came in 2011 when now politically toothless OBJ could not deliver his daughter, Iyabo, seeking re-election to the senate. His electoral sterility in Ogun was finally confirmed this year when his anointed and in-law in the governorship polls could not even survive the game of intrigues that rocked Ogun PDP primaries.

As for OGD, it is perhaps also a measure of Osoba’s innate capacity to wear out a quarry with a combination of superior stratagem and mental stamina that the “imperial” governor who literally made Abeokuta a no-go-area for Akinrogun for eight harrowing years would be denied his most cherished desire at the end – foisting his surrogate as successor in 2011.

So obsessed with raw power and overtaken by a sense of self-importance at some point, preening OGD even famously made a joke of the title of “Akinrogun” (the worthy one who revels in fighting battles) to “Akinrogun-sa” (the warrior who absconds from battlefield).

But, of course, it would have been most unbecoming of a truly wise elder to divulge his battle secret to a younger quarry before the decisive duel.

With his anointed eventually crushed in the governorship contest by Amosun heavily backed by Osoba’s forces, OGD must have realized too late that he had rejoiced too early.

The same war manual invoked against OGD would seem to have been deployed effectively to checkmate Amosun who double-crossed Osoba almost as soon as he became governor in 2011. Again, like the biblical Job, Akinrogun had to switch to his forbearance mode for another eight years. Enter the “Te Agba Loju” movement as the new resistance force in Ogun.

Indeed, while the party lasted, vain Amosun literally painted the town red and sought to remold any conceivable object in his own image. But there remained one big trouble with the borrowed political ensemble: the shirt fits while the trousers were oversize.

Expectedly, in the twilight of his tenure, Amosun had one last desire – to impose a successor. He boasted about his invincibility. But a calculating Akinrogun was busy perfecting his gameplan. Braggadocio is for the political upstart. Only the truly gifted chessmaster knows that the ace is reserved as the endgame.

Eventually, Amosun was denied the pleasure of crowning his own successor as Osoba’s favorite won. In the memoirs, Osoba considers being addressed as “reporter” as the best accolade. His foray in the journalism realm is no less compelling.

To the younger ones who look up to this journalism titan for professional inspiration, the Osoba signature is quite inimitable. His accustomed simplicity – this cosmopolitan playfulness – masks an awesome facility for national networking at a lightning speed to assemble facts to fleshen a story. That enigma finds expression in Akinrogun’s unique look – a countenance permanently oscillating between a grumpy frown and a mischievous smile.

For him, there is instinctive kinship with any member of the journalism fraternity, regardless of generation or echelon. And if he is still widely adored in media circles decades after quitting the editor’s perch, it is partly because of his accommodating airs and generosity of spirit to others.

I cite three instances by way of personal testimony. Sometime in 2004, when vacationing Akinrogun learnt I was visiting London, he insisted I must not leave the U.K without seeing him. On the appointed day, I took evening train and was too trusting of my skills as investigative journalist to dare imagine I could still locate his address in a gravely quiet neighborhood however late.

As I continued to count on my navigational skills even as dusk morphed to night, jocular Akinrogun was monitoring and directing my steps. After I had exhausted all my wits, Osoba, barely a year he stopped answering “Executive Governor” in Ogun, personally drove down to whisk me from the spot where I was marooned on a British night.

We joked all the way down to his home. He teased that sleuthing tactics that might crack things up for a Lagos boy in Oshodi or Ajegunle were unlikely to apply in London. His residence was a modest duplex which mortgage he started paying back in the 80s.

After a memorable evening, he again personally drove me back to the train station and gifted me a fat envelope to “shop for your wife and my grandchildren”.

When I turned 40 some years ago, Benita Obaze (of Bevista/Jevista fame) took it upon himself to host a reception in my honour in Ikoyi, Lagos. A mere text message from Obaze was enough invitation for Akinrogun. He didn’t consider me too “small” in status, accomplishments, age and every thing to honour me with the monumentality of his presence. He sat through the ceremony beside respected Pa Julius Akinlusi-Akinluyi of Juli Pharmacy (as chairman), from the beginning to the very end.

Of course, wherever and whenever he sights Tunji Bello, Kayode Komolafe and I together, he is always the first to acknowledge a quorum is formed for “OPEC” session, regardless of the recessionary onslaught of “shale gas” in recent times.

So, on behalf of the surviving members of “OPEC”, here is wishing Akinrogun happy 80th birthday.

Obaigbena @ 60

Mercurial, tireless, innovative, there can be no dispute about his preeminence in the pantheon of journalism greats in post-colonial Nigeria. Long before ICT solutions became commonplace, Nduka Obaigbena, the Prince of Owa kingdom in Delta State, had always pushed the Nigerian media faster than the leisurely pace it probably would have wished. So, the torrents of plaudits on him in the past few days are well deserved indeed. Here is wishing The Duke happy 60th birthday.

Arogbofa’s ‘Testament’ @80

All roads lead to Akure this Saturday when Chief Seinde Arogbofa finally unveils his much-anticipated memoirs entitled “To The Star Through Bows Arrows”. After more than half a century of writing in both fiction and non-fiction genres and with many prizes to show for it, this is evidently meant to be his “testament”.

The book presentation will climax series of events lined up to mark his 80th birthday which came up earlier. Pa Arogbofa, presently the Secretary General of Afenifere, was my school principal decades ago at Victory College Ikare. He taught us the virtues of honour, honesty, hardwork, self-discipline and the fear of God.

Reading his riveting story in the advance copy I was privileged to have, one cannot but be inspired by how he earned everything from an humble beginning to the zenith of his professional career as renowned educationist and popular author. Only now do I better appreciate the tough love with which he had mentored us, forever reminding us that real success comes only through industry.

Happy birthday, sir.

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