Olisa-Agbakoba

There is work to be done. And perhaps, this National Intervention Movement, with its rather undramatic entrance, may yet be that one clarion call. Agbakoba’s tenacity over these many years and the rigorous integrity of the co-conveners’ life journeys so far, hopefully tell us that they can help shift paradigm…


Now that Dr. Agbakoba’s respectful entreaties have morphed into open picketing for urgently needed change, the hoisting of this signal red flag has to go beyond the symbolic tokenism that has often tended to mock social activism in Nigeria. Relatedly, stakeholders must know that real success will demand far more than the strident calling out of President Buhari’s government

The most patriotic of Nigerians and the most optimistic among us will be hard pressed to deny that a myriad of dire malignancies has continued to afflict our nation. It speaks to the acuteness of those deathly pathologies that our public space has become a veritable theatre of scorn where a innumerable number of cynics daily unleash vitriolic pessimism on every attempt to improve the national discourse or shift the paradigm of governance and development.

Despite its heavy infestation with sharks disguised as professional scoffers however, a handful of players seem to somehow manage to retain residual goodwill even as they swim the murky waters of Nigerian political activism. I would hazard that in this mould is Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), the civil liberties stalwart, whose integrity as a social crusader and civil society leader remains as unblemished as Nigeria’s heavily polluted political climes can possibly avail any mortal.

Combined with his focused work in the trenches of social agitation, Agbakoba has shown shrewd ability to forge pragmatic alliances across different strata of society, enabling a simultaneous deepening of brand equity as a champion of social change, even as he has also succeeded in building a formidable practice in corporate and maritime law.

When Agbakoba unveiled the National Intervention Movement recently, therefore, not a few commentators felt that he and the highly reputable personalities who are the co-promoters of this political pressure group have the street cred to successfully midwife such a movement. Still, as I had cause to say to Dr. Agbakoba recently, perhaps the word ‘congratulations’ is not quite apt yet, seeing the enormous amount of work begging to be done if the NIM initiative will fulfill its historic mission. Given the prevailing anxieties in the polity, however, my first instinct is that for every person of goodwill, the birth of that platform marks a significant moment in our still nascent democracy.

The dynamics culminating in Agbakoba and his all-star co-visioners announcing the formation of the new group, set one thinking about certain salient dimensions of the struggle that lies ahead. Specifically, a dimension which the social activism mainstream may not ordinarily pay much attention to. I will get to this presently.

It is worth noting, however, that the recent debate about generational shift as a key requirement in the search for radically improved governance was, as one can recall vividly, kick-started by the letter written to former President Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ) by Dr. Agbakoba and the equally very public reply that the elder statesman written back to the veteran social crusader. To the charge that OBJ should deploy his considerable and globally acknowledged clout to recruit his peers in the king maker C suite to help champion the emergence of a new crop of young national leaders in the mould of France’s Emmanuel Macron and Canada’s Justin Trudeau, General Obasanjo, always bristling with the irrepressible polemical energy of a young turk 40 years younger, charged Olisa that it was time to come down from the ‘sidon look’ corner and join the fray of true valours who have braved the fiery fires of politics in Nigeria. To boot, Obasanjo, a delightful Stormy petrel to behold for an 80-year-old patriarch, gave a sharp rebuke to some elements of the younger generation who he said were entrusted with leadership but who came up woefully short.

It gets more interesting when we bear in mind that before Agbakoba’s letter, the ultra high voltage trio of former military rulers Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB), OBJ and General Abdulsalami Abubakar, whose epoch-making roles remain definitive in the emergence of our fourth republic and its multiplicity of temperaments, had held their cryptic summit at General Babangida’s Minna mansion. Literally 180 million anxious Nigerians, with their butt naked toddlers in tow, had eagerly pressed their recession-shriveled ear lobes to the impregnable doors behind which these three elders met in IBB’s home, in a futile effort to catch a whiff of the musings in this ultra-exclusive presidential coven. But other than a group photograph, the taciturn trio would not divulge what they discussed. Nigerians chorused, Haba! We no go gree o, we no go gree! Lailai Never! We no go gree!

Given the notoriety which Nigerians, almost affectionately, are wont to ascribe to any synergy of these three now geriatric musketeers, the festival of sensational conjectures with which informal beer parlour legislatures nationwide greeted the three generals’ thunderous silence is understandable. For all three former heads of state, whose chequered careers, as intense and as perilous as those sometimes were, had often shown uncanny capacity for stoic humor, this must have been one of those occasions in which matters of deep national gravity begged for the amelioration of the moment’s comedic relief.

For IBB, OBJ and the lushly white-maned General Abdulsalami (who, as the nation’s last military ruler, now has the singular global prestige of being credited with birthing Africa’s largest democracy into its most enduring incarnation yet), theirs to accept and live with – with an equanimity that daily needs to be refreshed – is an often-tested eminence that is fated to thrive on a mix of awe, gravitas and, as many stubbornly insist, infamy. Their oft silhouetted robes of greatness, a poignant reflection of the intractable complexity of the Nigerian project itself.

So, when days and weeks later, the theme began to gain currency that the former Nigerian leaders had in fact been discussing the 2019 presidential permutations, and that among other key items, they had listed 70 years as the magic age above which no candidate should think of contesting the presidency of Nigeria, the atmosphere was rife with the kind of buzz that made Dr. Agbakoba’s letter to OBJ quite reflective of the topical currents.

Now that Agbakoba’s respectful entreaty to Obasanjo has morphed into open picketing for urgently needed change, the hoisting of this signal red flag has to go beyond the symbolic tokenism that has often tended to mock social activism in Nigeria. But if Dr. Agbakoba’s many pronouncements since the unveiling of the National Intervention Movement tend to portend the resolute will and political courage to wage a concerted campaign for mass conscientisation, stakeholders must know that real success will demand far more than the strident calling out of Muhammadu Buhari’s government, much as the administration’s original fire which got the nation so excited on May 29, 2015 needs well intentioned harassment from the few Agbakobas in the land, to instigate its urgent re-kindling.

The core strategic imperative, to my mind therefore, has been how change agents can find a concerted and actionable proposition that will truly rally and galvanise an electorate that has somehow remained curiously apathetic – nay, sympathetic to the shams and scams of the political puppeteers – even as it is beleaguered and is daily groaning under the crushing weight of Nigeria’s unfulfilled promise.


Relatedly, strategic clarity will be foundational to the National Intervention Movement becoming a bonafide arrow head for marshalling the restive energies of a bewildered and utterly leader-less electorate. Underpinning this will be rigorous adherence to its expressly declared apolitical stance. In these shark-infested shores, where operatives are maniacally self-seeking, the genuine power of mobilisation will come with the believability that the masses can discern from NIM’s strict fidelity to the lofty cause of pressuring virtue out of the present muck, far above the fray of political lucre and its pecuniary corollaries.

Sorting, with some method, through the multi layered lattice of the task at hand, any focused enquirer should soon find, perhaps shockingly, that despite the enlightened self-interest that we may all discern in the jostlings and counter-jostlings of the nation’s club of king makers, whether that be the much interrogated tripod of IBB, OBJ and Abdulsalami at the apex of the ecosystem or the discordant chorus of political ‘chieftains’ that dot the landscape across Nigeria, the primary challenge, the primary obstacle to progress in our democracy, is not really the much deified power brokers of the ruling class, as manipulative as their historical leverage may tend to make them.

The real monster, standing with the mocking defiance of Goliath in the path of the nation’s democratic progress, the real AGBAKO, the unsightly arch demon manifesting in all its infernal goriness – with thick black smoke pouring out of its every orifice, its beastly fangs snarling menacingly and which has planted itself gidigba with the immovability of Zuma rock, is this putrid stronghold of laissez-faire tolerance – a deeply etched mass affinity for everything untoward and every shade of impropriety, which has somehow been built in the mind of the individual voter. Not deliberately by any diabolical social engineering genius, but in the course of everyday socialisation in society.

Despite the enlightened self-interest that we may all discern in the jostlings and counter-jostlings of the nation’s club of king makers, the primary obstacle to progress in our democracy, the real monster – the real agbako – standing gidigba in the way of our democratic progress with the defiance of a Goliath is really not the much deified power brokers of the ruling class.

The core strategic imperative, to my mind therefore, has been how change agents can find a concerted and actionable proposition that will truly rally and galvanise an electorate that has somehow remained curiously apathetic – nay, sympathetic to the shams and scams of the political puppeteers – even as it is beleaguered and is daily groaning under the crushing weight of Nigeria’s unfulfilled promise.

Reeling, as it is, under the pall of Nigeria’s endemic leadership deficit, the Nigerian electorate yet remains strangely complicit in the perpetuation of its own impoverishment and in the perennial exacerbation of the myriad dysfunctions plaguing our polity. Against this daunting dynamic, I am often saddened to note that even the most well-meaning of our progressive voices tend to buy the simplistic – and therefore obfuscating and unproductive – narrative that wholly ascribes our national woes to the cunning manipulations of an obviously self-seeking political elite.

If our world-famous sleaze machine remains palpably culpable in the cyclical re-validation of Nigeria’s electoral circus, yet we must come to grips with the fact that the entire diabolical superstructure thrives on the warped psychology of the sundry voter. Any meaningful interrogation of Nigeria’s electorate – as fragmented, as hydra headed and multi directional as it is – must equally be attempted sans the metaphysical and subjective interpretation that tends to see the ‘Naija factor’ as some innate, even congenital, duplicitous tendency. Rather, real illumination will come when we bring some concrete science and rigour to a desperately needed analytical enterprise.

When we so apply the diligence of objective scrutiny, it should be easy to locate the voter’s connivance with his predator – this strange romance and eternal dance of death – where it properly has its roots: namely the deeply internalised seductions, at a painfully retail, individual level, appertaining to the primordial resource competition, which has defined Nigeria’s national life.

The evolution and character of the Nigerian state, as traceable to this age-long, ‘free for all’ scramble for a share of the ‘national cake’, its unwieldy behemoth of an administrative apparatus, the socio-economic furnace it stokes on a daily basis and the cultural complements, at a cosmopolitan, trans ethnic, trans zonal level, that this whole Frankenstein has thrown up, somehow defines the Nigerian voter.

Critical for our isolation is the seeming non-ascriptive character of social mobility in Nigeria’s peculiar setting. In other words, along with chronic despair arising from their perennial state of underdevelopment, a false sense of attainability simultaneously pervades our social milieu that tends to lull even the most abjectly poor bottom of the pyramid folk into somehow believing, at some sub conscious level at least, that a path does exist for them, no matter how nebulous and elusive, whereby with some luck, they too can someday ‘hammer’ and become like the political oppressor. If frustration at the perennial non-delivery of even the most basic social dividends does exist at varying levels, depending on a slew of existential variables, the tragedy of our reality is that there is no corresponding loathing, in any deep seated, harvest-able way, of the area political manipulator who got that ignoble ‘honour’ in the first instance precisely because, by hook or crook, he has got some financial leverage. Where this fantasy induced silent admiration and envy of the neighbourhood’s poster child of crime and grime flourishes, real political angst, at any actionable level, continues to be absent on the part of the victimised masses. This widely assumed non-ascription regarding the whole dynamic of ‘making it’ requires some close examination if a body like the new National Intervention Movement will have any paradigm shifting impact in its advocacy and mass education programme.

If a sprinkling of feudal strongholds and a succession of military catalysts look to be inexorably culpable in the historical coalescing of today’s predatory ruling elite, we must understand that the perennial ambivalence and cynicism of a severely pauperised voter has to do with the seeming fluidity and expansive accommodation which tends to be seen as an apparent feature of the entire socio mobility value chain. This is where the real problem is.

The core strategic imperative is how change agents can find a concerted and actionable proposition that will truly rally and galvanise an electorate that has somehow remained curiously apathetic, even as it is beleaguered and is daily groaning under the crushing weight of Nigeria’s unfulfilled promise.


This cultural albatross on the neck of Nigeria’s electorate has its popular manifestations everywhere, when we look among the masses. “Otedola o Lori Meji” is a hiphop hit only because it speaks so eloquently to this cancer of an opioid level thought life. ‘Emi na fe ra Range o!’ This ghetto anthem simply says that ‘Otedola doesn’t have two heads. If he can ‘hammer’, then I also have hope of such’. Enugo?

Consider too, “Ojuelegba”, the monster hit from Wizkid.

And it’s not just these city chart busters. Add to the matrix the entire discography of the Nigerian popular culture, every ethnic based minstrel and praise singer, every mediocre new ‘movie’ from our hyper prolific ‘Nollywood’, every ‘prosperity’ peddling Daddy G.O from the umpteenth ‘gospel’ and ‘miracle’ pulpit, the sundry voodoo witch doctor and ‘distinguished’ marabout with presidential level endorsement; every ‘royal’ social climber whose annual ‘harvest’ is the ritual infested doling out of chieftaincy titles to ‘illustrious’ sons and daughters. For the truly concerned change agent, all of these constitute an intimidating ocean of stubbornly congealed cultural effluents, in the cesspool of which the Nigerian voters’ intransigent apathy, connivance and capitulation to his political predator is daily cooked.

This strong sense of accessible social mobility is extremely real in Nigeria. “Certainly, if a Dino can make it, I too can?”

This is the heady motivation that powers your security guard’s peculiar swagger. It’s also why when your company drivers gather under the trees, while the Ogas rigour through the slides of major presentations in the conference rooms, that little commune has its own ‘chairman’ (properly pronounced as shia-mahhh!, if you are current with your street lingo!) It’s why that decidedly corporate title has a peculiarly Nigerian appeal across all social strata, providing the only actionable niche upon which a global cosmopolitan brand like Heineken finally cracked the Nigerian market. Chairman! Twale Baba mi!

The core strategic imperative is how change agents can find a concerted and actionable proposition that will truly rally and galvanise an electorate that has somehow remained curiously apathetic, even as it is beleaguered and is daily groaning under the crushing weight of Nigeria’s unfulfilled promise.

And, fodder to ever keep this inferno of shame crackling abounds in every facet of our national life. Consider how such systematic erosion of values has now metastasised into a full blown national culture of sleaze, without anyone being remotely nonplussed. Let’s do a little national tour of our cultural landscape and then see how easily what we learn of our everyday practices translate to a predictable pattern of electoral behaviour.

Imagine how many Nigerians will drive a vehicle today. Now, digest this. Millions and millions of motorists, but not a single one ever went through any structured, statutory drill to qualify for his/her driver’s license. There’s more. Every year, you renew your vehicle’s ‘road worthiness’ paper. Just who examined your vehicle? What statutorily prescribed vehicle certification protocols does any Nigerian ever go through to obtain the precious road worthiness certificate?

Or, consider millions of students who will obtain Ordinary (O) level certificates in the coming year and how many parents will actually pay for some ‘runs’ guy to do the papers for their wards? Imagine how many of our students gain admission to tertiary institutions simply by paying some campus ‘consultant’ to ‘work’ it? And in the four years in which these precious ones will receive higher ‘education’, do you know how many courses will be ‘sorted’ – a euphemism for paying money to the lecturer’s ‘boys’ to obtain passing grade? Of the thousands of fresh graduates who will do their NYSC service this coming year, what staggering percentage would one guess that cannot even pass a standard 100 level test independently conducted? And do you know why? It’s because, as heaven bears witness, these lads, wholesale, only ‘sorted’ their miserable ways through four years of none education. Now imagine how many universities, polytechnics, colleges of education so called are humming right now with the conveyor belt of shame, helping to churn out these packages of crass illiteracy and mediocrity. The only exception perhaps, being the private universities, whose fees the masses cannot afford. And, do you even have any idea just how many of our young girls on campuses simply resign themselves to sleeping with predatory lecturers to make their grades? Now, if in a human community, it is at all conceivable that a university teacher may indeed strike genuine friendship with some non-juvenile damsel he meets in the course of interacting with his work environment, what sorry ass of an unfortunate man serially lowers his accursed manhood into whimpering young girls who bite their lips and will their traumatised bodies to lay still as prof pounds away; pressured young things who only take off their skirts because prof insists that there is no passing his course without crossing this bridge?

And, it gets nastier.

Have you considered the pandemic of visa scams? How many Nigerian ‘men of God’ now specialise in ‘miracle’ of visa procurement? Next time you visit that mega church, be mindful that the precious woman who you see rolling on the floor of the altar in ecstatic ‘worship’, whose voice is quivering with so much emotion as she gives her ‘testimony’ in frenzied fervour, is the mother of that young man or young lady who just ‘made it’ to Malaysia or America on purely false claims and forged documents; all that shenanigan aided by the fasting and prayers of the powerfully ‘anointed’ ‘man of God’ – did you say man of gold – who, beaming with smiles currently, is now presiding over this pentecostal baloney.

Ha! But it gets worse. Can you close your eyes for a second and just picture the millions of homes nationwide in which brazenly illegal electrical connections (deliberately done to avoid paying often basic electricity bills) have collectively sabotaged our national grid, making nonsense of even a Babatunde Fashola’s every calculation?

Now, take a deep breath and think for a minute how this entire cultural structure, a priori, prepares the minds of the voting public for the national rites of shame we witness every four years?

With all of its ethnic, religious, metaphysical and superstitious nuances, the daily enchantment and hypnotising of the Nigerian voter by the seeming possibility of being able to join the ‘Jones’, has created a vicarious mind trap in which only those who fit our warped model of the materially validated conqueror gets to exert any scalable measure of political heft.


Truth is that there is hardly anyone who really and truly hates ‘magomago’ around here.

Ordinarily, every society needs its poster children of the rags to riches life story. And yes, Nigeria has a rich harvest of such. For if a military general, the son of village peasants of the humblest estate, can emerge as the continent’s wealthiest to whom every A lister wannabe of our country must pay homage; if an indigent boy from Otuoke who had no shoes when he was a school boy could rise to become president of Nigeria; if a rustic African child raised in the otherwise unsung farming village of Ibogun, Ogun State, can rise to global eminence as an iconic African statesman, are these not indeed bright beacons of hope in a country otherwise doomed to eternal despair? Certainly.

But when an endless line up of the land’s most compelling success stories are routinely dogged with harsh whispers of malevolent roots and even the clergy applauds, who the hell (says the unspoken thoughts of the sundry lumpen) is the ill-educated acada man speaking oyibo grammatica about values, ethics and such ‘nonsense’?

Systematic erosion of values has now metastasised into a full blown national firmament of sleaze, precipitating an everyday cultural frame in which magomago is the very staple of life, thoroughly whetting a permissive web of social mores in which the four yearly masquerade festivals luxuriantly thrive and its most atrocious infractions raise not a single eye brow.

And within the context of the esoteric, mystical worldview that shapes thought in our kind of social dystopia, how can anyone who daily dreams of himself or his descendants ‘making it’ someday, harbour any deep seated ill will towards those who have ‘made it’? Alas, the very predators are often, and in a very real sense, our role models – the substance of a million fantasies that keep life going in every gawd forsaken ghetto neighbourhood.

The late fuji music maestro, Ayinde Barrister, so eloquently anthemised this sordid national mantra when he sang his dizzing song hit, “All of us na barawo”. As the mega minstrel expatiated in this particularly dark observation that, ‘It’s only the tardy thief who lingered long enough at the scene of operation as to be caught at day break who bears the brunt of social ostracisation.’ To appreciate the insidious reach of this curious ‘wisdom’, you should see Barrister (my all-time favorite Nigerian lyricist, by the way) sing that particular track whenever he needed the dollar spraying at his party to go to hyper gear. Then the regally attired charlatans, hordes of drug peddler ‘socialite moguls’ and the potbellied, brazen embezzlers of our public funds descend on the band stand, everyone trying harder to outdo the other in hard currency spraying, as the gbedu thunders at ever higher decibels, the drummers hopelessly inebriated with a heady mix of alcoholic cocktails and assorted tokes of hellish herbs, cooked in specially distilled sapele water.

This delusional faith in the ‘system’ and its whimsical ability to lift anyone with enough ‘faith’ and ‘smarts’ out of poverty is a very real source of the myopia, the cynicism and the tolerance of the political predator, that makes the voter such easy meat for the pranksters who come gaming around here every electoral cycle.

And when the heart is so enamoured of the filthy lure of compromised lives, the soul unwittingly abhors any seeming totem of probity. Add the fact that in a land of severe material want, troves of ‘ghana must go’, even those freshly retrieved from smelly ‘soak-aways’, will best the prestige of ivy league trophies on the mantel piece any day. The stardom that comes with truly applaudable accomplishments pales into total insignificance weighted against the jaw dropping perceptual values associated in our land with the mega mega rich. It’s why a Donald Duke, with his widely reported sterling performance as governor never went beyond Cross River. It’s why a rare gift like Pat Utomi, a man whose strategic literacy borders on the wonkish level of a President Clinton, was roundly snubbed by the hoipoloi for whom his heart daily ached. It’s why a national hero like Nuhu Ribadu could not find any meaningful niche in which he could engage the polity, it’s why a seething volcano of competence and paragon of administrative excellence like El Rufai will be hard placed to pitch his prohibitively massive credentials to my in-laws in Igbo land. It’s why a Mandela level patriarch like Muhammadu Buhari never could shift the hard working people of Aba in their set thinking. It is why a tower of rectitude like Pastor Tunde Bakare could not ever hope to win even his own ward.

Consider Akinwunmi Ambode, whose furious infrastructural development conquests in Lagos are fast turning a sarcastic tag of ‘Asiwaju Protégé’ to a reverential emblem of ‘Ilosiwaju Prodigy’. Or the searingly brilliant Babatunde Fashola before him, the austere countenanced workaholic governor whose obsession with performance earned him such towering equity that a hard to impress Muhammadu Buhari would saddle him with three flinty rock federal ministries rolled into one. Think for a minute about the national rapture that greeted Yemi Osinbajo’s fortuitous acting presidency. Now, think about this. Which of these three, in their original elements, could have hoped to win even primaries in their respective local government areas, left on their own to the cruel snubbery of the common voter? Which of those three – now widely applauded Nigerians – would your neighbour have even dignified with a second glance, had the famed Tinubu war chest and monstrous political machine not been the rock of Gibraltar and formidable backbone that propelled their candidacy far above their hapless peers? And that, as implacable critics continued all the while, to viciously assail that inscrutable organisation with every sort of ‘jeun soke’ accusation, even as the Asiwaju completely deadpans with the equally inscrutable visage of an ancient high priest presiding at a sacred invocation of the gods, and the grave solemnity of a bishop presiding at the umpteenth mass.

So, it is clear, once we attend this with more than a cursory, non nonchalant glance, where the real gritty work lies in this whole campaign to entrench true and enduring democracy in this land. With all of its ethnic, religious, metaphysical and superstitious nuances, the daily enchantment and hypnotising of the Nigerian voter by the seeming possibility of being able to join the ‘Jones’, has created a vicarious mind trap in which only those who fit our warped model of the materially validated conqueror gets to exert any scalable measure of political heft. Demolishing that stupefying stronghold in the mind of the voter is the singular key imperative. Without prejudice to the non clone-able phenomenon of Muhammadu Buhari’s 12 million block votes, a curiosity that has its roots in its own distinct set of historical parameters, this constant, if discomfiting truth, needs to be isolated as the critical insight on which change agencies can hope to build urgently needed conscientisation messaging with any hope of true behaviour-changing impact.

There is work to be done. And perhaps, this National Intervention Movement, with its rather undramatic entrance, may yet be that one clarion call. Agbakoba’s tenacity over these many years and the rigorous integrity of the co-conveners’ life journeys so far, hopefully tell us that they can help shift paradigm with focused attention on voter education even as they sustain pressure on political leaders for heightened accountability.

Omotayo Ken Suleiman, veteran of strategic communications & public affairs analyst, wrote from suleiman.tayo@gmail.com