Yet again, Mr. Yinka Odumakin has attacked Prof Yemi Osinbajo, SAN. This time around, he scoffs at the Vice President’s faith and ethical fidelity to the principles of rule of law. In August 2017, in reference to an idea expressed by the Vice President, Mr. Odumakin claimed that Prof Osinbajo had abandoned federalism because he had become Vice President. Not much else can be gathered from Mr. Odumakin’s antagonistic pieces other than that they serve the purpose of discrediting both the man and his ideas.
The first thought is that while Prof Osinbajo’s recent views might point to the underlying philosophy that informs Government policy, much as they explain the policies themselves; they are by no means novel to the man. Prof Osinbajo, in the past two decades, remains one of a dwindling number of Nigerians that we regard as public intellectuals that provoke both the rationality and conscience of Nigerians. The only impression that Mr. Odumakin intends to leave with the reader is that power has somehow morphed Prof. Osinbajo into a hybrid of a hypocrite and an intellectual charlatan. However that isn’t the case.
Mr. Odumakin tries to project the image of intellectualism in his commentary on national issues. The issues that constitute the object of Prof Osinbajo’s views as well as Mr Odumakin’s attack are important national issues that dominate contemporary public debate. Restructuring, against the background of sectional anxieties, as well as the perennial herders-farmers conflict, has been driven largely by ethno-religious sentiment. Prof Osinbajo, both as a leader of constituted authority and moral thought, in both instances offered a constructive narrative to douse palpable anxieties and foster unity among the diverse people of a country where ethnic and religious suspicion is often cheap currency for less than altruistic political actors. Lives have been lost, property has been destroyed, and mutual trust among the citizens of our country, severely fractured. It is easier to destroy and tear apart than it is to build and bring together. The tragedy of the genocide in Rwanda fuelled by divisive views is a footnote to always remember. The best-rationalized thought expressed with little regard for truth and conscience is at best hollow- at worst, it is destructive. Being in the public view, an objective review of the alternative narrative now being advanced by Mr. Odumakin is relevant.
So taking his first stab in August, Mr. Odumakin disingenuously misinterpreted the VP’s statement made at the Institute for Security Studies in a Paper titled “Unity in Diversity”. The reference to Nigeria being a “geographical expression” in Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s seminal work of 1947 “Path to Nigerian Freedom”, was explained as an invitation to do the hard work of building a unified federal union, rather than a balkanization along ethnic or religious lines as Odumakin had misconstrued. The VP dug through history to a century earlier where the notable Austrian diplomat of the 19th Century, Prince Clemens von Metternich, made a similar “geographical expression” reference in relation to Italy. Metternich who was a towering figure in European diplomacy, (central to the restoration of monarchical Europe after the turmoil of the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars of 1789-1815) was confounded by Italian unity or lack of it. This led him to the famous quote- “Italy is a mere geographical expression” expressed in a note written on August 2nd, 1847 to Count Dietrichstein.
This thought led Sir James Hudson, British minister in Turin, to ask Lord Cowley, British ambassador in Paris, in a letter of January 5th, 1860: ‘Why should it be more difficult for four Italian provinces who have but one written and spoken language to transact their business than it is for Highland, Irish, Welsh and English members to sit and vote together?’ The implication of the “geographical expression” conundrum of Italy, which concerned both Metternich and Hudson, is: that although a considerable chunk of Italy had greater linguistic unity than the British Isles had, it yet was less unified as a nation, than linguistically diverse Britain. Essentially, Chief Awo’s thesis was that a unified federal union must be worked upon and not assumed- an idea that Prof Osinbajo articulated. Becoming a “nation” was an intentional and collective effort that isn’t assumed either because of geographical proximity or linguistic affinity. As such, the idea of Nigeria’s restructuring along ethnic lines will not necessarily confer the benefits of a working federation as seen from Italy’s example. In the same speech, Prof Osinbajo alluded to his continued belief in fiscal federalism and devolution of powers to the federating units- States- ideas he had not only canvassed in theory, but also fought for in the Supreme Court.
Now, Mr Odumakin has ratcheted up the flames of attack, questioning Prof Osinbajo’s faith. Apparently, Odumakin observed the VP being in a “forlorn” state during a prayer event at the Redeemed Christian Church of God campsite. He alludes to the sad death of “that lady evangelist”, (Pastor Eunice Olawale) exploiting a very unfortunate incident to stoke up anger. The mark of genuine Christianity and fellowship do not lend itself to the acerbic passion that Mr. Odumakin attempts to foster. In fellowship, the VP’s wife visited with the family of Mr. Elisha Olawale to commiserate with, and comfort them on the sad loss of their wife and mother. Prof Osinbajo never condoned nor encouraged criminality perpetuated under the guise of religion or on any other ground. Mr. Odumakin attempts to suggest that the VP’s comment or lack of it on each criminal act committed against members of his faith is evidence for his belief in, or ditching of, the rule of law. The real evidence of belief in the rule of law is reforming Nigeria’s broken criminal justice system that is incapable of tracking down criminals and bringing them to justice- something that has been a feature of governance for decades. In the same way that the high profile political assassinations of Bola Ige and Aminasoari Dikibo remain puzzles for crime detection, is the same way many criminal acts all over the country go undetected. One of the first actions of this administration was to push for Police Reform. The Vice President also has an active role in promoting the rule of law in all facets of Government as he continues to work in formulating and promoting policies that ensure that the broken system is fixed. But many of these structural reforms must be backed up by legislation. State policing, one of the proposals that have been put forward as a structural reform of Nigeria’s security apparatus can only materialize by legislation.
The Herders-Farmers conflict is another very divisive issue that touches on security, the economy, food security, national unity and climate change. At the interdenominational service to mark the Armed Forces Remembrance Day, on January 7th 2018, Prof Osinbajo only expressed the view that the conflict must not be politicized. While there is an important law and order issue, there are also underlying factors that touch on land, water and pasture that must be addressed to avert future occurrence. This conflict is an age-long and century old struggle for livelihood among groups that have co-existed for decades but have increasingly become agents of violent and fatal conflict. In addition to its own policy initiatives, the establishment of a National Economic Council (NEC) committee by the Buhari administration is in recognition of the principle of federalism. The States, which are the theatres of the conflict, are integral to the solution. This Committee, comprising the VP and Governors, is what Mr. Odumakin refers to as “diversionary and contemptuous shadow-chasing committee”. The terms of reference of the Committee include dialogue with all the parties involved and not just Miyetti Allah as Odumakin mischievously suggests. There are those with little moral fibre that will play to the gallery and score cheap political points with this historical and critical national issue. Prof Osinbajo’s remarks only suggest that the issues must be addressed devoid of the mischievous characterization that promotes the conflict rather than prevent future conflict.
Odumakin’s recapitulation of the history of Nigeria’s independence struggle is disingenuous as it is irrelevant. The reference to Chief Awo’s recounting of the independence struggle with the British infers that Prof Osinbajo must walk out on the governance challenges of our nation. These are tough issues that have been left unresolved by generations of Nigerian leaders. It requires detailed and focused solutions. The leadership demanded by this situation is that of a lasting policy resolution and not staging a walk-out as Odumakin proposes.
In all, Odumakin appears to be creating an “Ad Hominem” argument which attacks the person of Prof Osinbajo. His argument seeks to provoke a sentiment that there must be an acceptance or rejection of an idea based on its source, not its merit. Because the VP is related to Chief Awolowo, Odumakin disingenuously interprets his views and action, in contradictory terms to that of the late Premier of the Western Region. That view cannot be good, neither is it consistent with the actions or ideology of Chief Awolowo, simply because it emanates from Prof. Osinbajo who is family to Chief Awolowo. This is not only a fallacious and hollow way of reasoning; it is a divisive and destructive argument devoid of truth and conscience.
It is always easier to destroy than to build; divide than unify; aggravate than defuse. An examination of the ideas proposed by Mr. Odumakin and Prof Osinbajo places them on two different divides. This isn’t the pool of generalities but the island of specifics. One is standing on the convenient island of becoming a verbal sectional champion versed in the use of the hook of a divisive bait to score political points. The other stands, speaks and acts as a unifying figure, on that good island where the pitch is to the conscience and reason of the citizens of this nation of all tribes and creed to work hard and together towards building a strong union. This is by no means hypocritical; neither does it amount to an abandonment of his well-formed commitment to the rule of law.
Words spoken and printed do matter especially when cloaked with the “intellectual” garment of a Newspaper Article or Opinion. Nigerians must become vigilant in rejecting and calling out half-baked and disconcerting views that merely pander to the sentiment of populism and fail to exhibit any real intellectual rigour or higher moral objective. This is why we are calling out Yinka Odumakin’s diatribe for what it is- a fallacy and a hypocritical piece.
Ikechi Chukwudi writes from Lagos