OSINBAJO: CEREBRAL MIND IN THE MIDST OF EUPHEMISTS & MY MENTOR’S MEMOIR . . . a Vicarious Liability web
By ‘Tunji Ajayi
My hero triples as an incomparable mentor, a great benefactor, and a boss to me. He has become a benefactor to thousands of other people, through whom many Nigerians today rise to stardom and might never smell poverty in their lifetime. His passion is just about making people happy and smile. He literally becomes uncomfortable seeing any human in pain regardless of tribe, race or religion. A silent, reticent, unassuming and unpretentiously humble and genial human. I started having conflict within me, each time I mused in my privacy on why a man could be so free-giving without making any noise, especially in this egocentric world. My rating of him is that of a very complex person who perhaps fits into the mould of humans whom the music maestro Fela Anikulapo Kuti calls “Opposite People” in an epic album. Using this analogy by Fela’s description of opposite people, If everyone dey shout, my im go look . . . If my mentor bails you out of a cul-de-sac today, and tomorrow you travel a distance to go and thank him, he would tell you point blank you have troubled yourself unnecessarily as he didn’t need to be thanked, adding that no man has anything as everything belonged to God the ultimate giver.
Politicians are the wiliest men on earth. A politician’s show of magnanimity is not for nothing. I don’t know any politician, especially in Nigeria today, who does not wear “Quid Pro Quo” toga. When a politician does anything for you, he most likely has primordial and personal reasons for doing it. Yes. Any benevolent act of a politician is for a grand purpose. Many politicians aptly fit into Ògún’s frightening and apt Yoruba cognomen: “Ò fún ni l’ádìe sìn, gb’odidi omo lówó eni.” The deity’s descriptive name fits politicians, because if he offers you a gift of chicken today, be assured in the next few years, he might cunningly request from you your most cherished child or an equivalent as payback. A politician can ingratiate today by crawling on his chest to have your support, but he may shut his door in your face after exploiting your goodwill. Hence, my use of the Latin cliché: “Quid Pro Quo”. – (Rub my back, I rub yours). In other words, if your back itches and a politician helps you to it today, he expects you to do same or even more tomorrow. To a politician, nothing is absolutely free. Most of them hardly go pointblank condemning opprobrious acts of brigandage, vandalism or even banditry. They give warm embrace to the society’s upstarts, the same manner they do to the egg-heads. Ditto to the virtuous and the unscrupulous; the remorseful and the impenitent. Yes. Politicians need them all at the elections. Thus, they commend more than they condemn. They approbate than they reprobate. They are hardly pinned down to specific quotes. They are often ambivalent. When their words please the audience they take the praise. When they receive reprobation, they are “misquoted”.
Back to my mentor who is renowned for giving largely without blinking an eye. He loves people smiling. Typical of journalistic cunning and indirect questions to prod the interviewee and extract information, I thus asked my benevolent mentor: “What is your political ambition to serve and transform our country into a better society.” His genial mien momentarily transmuted into a sober and somber look. Then, his long glance at empty space ostensibly suggested I must have either stirred the hornet nest; or got him bemused by my question. His mien thereafter showed he was rather amused by my question. The man retorted in low and subdued tone of regret: “I have many good and trusted friends who went into politics. Most of them were so good, kind and compassionate, almost with angelic sterling traits. But all this went into the abyss no sooner than they ventured into partisan politics.” In the same tone he went on: “Nigerian politics, politicking and political space often make a monster of great men of honor. I can never venture into politics.”
But I had a good reason for my question. Politicians the world over have indomitable and unconquerable spirit. Like a chess player, rather than being imbued by altruistic and patriotic spirit, they are ever focused on what to gain. A chess player hardly gives up. In a biography I had described the indomitable spirit of a chess player, which is often pummeled by leonine courage and consistency. “A good chess player never forgets that he is in the game for one thing. He wants to checkmate his opponent’s King. He may be able to achieve the goal in two moves, or he may take a hundred moves. But that is what he is after. Thus he never falters in his bid to achieve the aim of checkmating his opponent.” Politicians have never-say-die spirit. If not so, what could make a man of over 70 years contest election to an office in a succession of four times; weeping inconsolably and lamenting each time he lost until he won on the fourth attempt! He needed the position so badly and had to swallow his pride and went cap in hand begging friends and associates for fund support to obtain election form. That explains the unconquerable spirit of an average politician who always aims at something in return for his dogged efforts.
I know very well that the only thing my mentor cannot give out to make other people happy and smile is what does not exist. To him nothing is ever too big and special to give out. And since I have seen many politicians placing Gedú planks across neighborhood streams as bridge, and shamelessly mounting signposts adorned with their photographs to announce who built them, the next question to my mentor was this: “If you are so determined never to partake in active politics, why have you given so largely to men and humanity for decades, and ironically, without making noise about it, when in actual fact your wealth would have accumulated and multiplied, what is the ultimate in doing this?” He looked at me intently for a moment; apparently with his inner eyes and retorted: “If you helped people and you are making much noise of it so that the world may know, of what benefit is that? I don’t even like the beneficiaries to come back and thank me. Does God announce to people whenever he blesses me? Don’t I too receive blessings from God? How many people did God go to tell.”? I sat nonplused and transfixed.
Few years thereafter my mentor - an employer of labour, was sick and on hospital bed. Seeing him in a worrisome state, I managed to conceal my apprehension. Amongst those who were beside his bed were some of his senior managers and staff members who had come to check his welfare. But the strange man again did one uncommon thing on his sick bed, which I would never ever forget. Apparently sensing the month was ending and his workers would need salaries to feed, the man asked each of his managers if there were salary cheques to sign. Consequently, the managers in turn gave him documents that required his signature. Even while in excruciating pain on his sick bed he remembered the welfare of his staff and with frail, unstable hands he was signing cheques and salary vouchers. This benevolent man would always sacrifice his comfort and anything to ensure his staff didn’t starve! I pondered deeply. How much compassion do our leaders demonstrate to assuage the sufferings of the citizens? Rather than brainstorm and think out of the box, don’t they shift government’s burdens on the already famished people? The scene got me emotional and I cried on my way back home. I know that no human is perfect. Not even the angels are infallible; otherwise they would not have looked down from their heavenly abode to admire beautiful fallible women on earth. I mopped and controlled my lachrymal gland of tears and surmised: Perhaps this man in our midst is an angel in human form.
In our egocentric world engulfed in rat race, where most state governments and politicians even hide Covid-19 palliatives gifted by corporate bodies and meant for the famished and the vulnerable citizens, we still have few private individuals who have deep concern for the less privileged. In a world filled with deceit and cunning to amass wealth, where overhead tanks of supposedly built bore-holes for community use would be manually filled with water prior the day of formal commissioning for eye-service and publicity stunt, while the projects remain useless and moribund no sooner than they were commissioned, we still have few men who honestly and sincerely are giving freely to humanity without making media noise of it, nor expecting any personal gain in return. The solace is that our society is not lacking in men of virtues and great honour.
One highly reserved and humble man of honour in our midst is His Excellency, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the affable current Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Perhaps until December 17, 2014 when he was nominated as the running mate and vice presidential candidate to General Mohammadu Buhari, not many people, except perhaps in the academics knew him. A professor of law, learned lawyer and senior advocate of Nigeria, and also an ordained Deacon of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, it is understood why Professor Yemi Osinbajo, didn’t cut the image of a typical politician often with their sophism, subterfuge and pranks to hoodwink the electorate. May 19, 2015 turned the urbane professor, and quintessential cerebral lecturer and church deacon into a politician, having been sworn in as the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Osinbajo is eminently in two lovely worlds, plus a strange world that hardly venerates nobility. First is the academic world that exalts intellectualism and secular knowledge; and the second is the saintly deaconry world that elevates puritanical discipline, where the sing song of honesty, truth and sincerity is fondly rooted. As a learned lawyer imbued with perspicacious mind, he is a genius at being quick to judge and understand complex issues. He would ordinarily love to stick to legality and embrace only the ideal. As a revered deacon in the Christendom, Osinbajo would readily detest and loathe brickbat, vendetta, brigandage and deception which often characterize party politics. But in politics and politicking - his “third world”, he needed to learn and employ the art of sophism and subterfuge. To fit into our conventional political garb, the deacon must learn and employ the art of descending into ambivalence. He needed to be unpretentiously loyal to his boss, the political party and its constitution. A vociferous lawyer must now learn to see more but say less. And one more thing. The man of God needed to learn to apply a figure of speech - euphemism.
In “Euphemism and The Bane of Astute Leadership”, I had averred: “Conversely, to elevate his piece and titillate his readers, writers employ logic, euphemism, epithets, anecdotes, alliteration, assonance, hyperbole, metaphor, suspense, antonyms, metonymy, epithets, etc. To create subterfuge and succeed at fleecing public funds, politicians and rulers peep far deep into writers' lexicon to borrow one of their great tools: "euphemism". Most Nigerian leaders are Euphemists. And a nation whose leaders have successfully developed the knack for negative use of euphemism hardly prospers. When politicians speak or write, it is to listeners’ or readers’ eternal benefit that they decode what they say or painstakingly decipher what they write, including the location of their punctuation marks, especially the comma. Unfortunately, majority of Nigerians, including our youths no longer read. Hide money in their textbooks, they may never see it. They watch films and music videos. For academic knowledge, they simply google. Except Jehovah God who can never tell lies, (Isaiah 55:11) no politician ever wins electorates' votes by telling the truth. That explains why human rulership has failed mankind consistently.
Euphemism is the use of a word or phrase to replace another with the one that is considered less offensive, blunt or vulgar. To escape from responsibilities, most Nigerian politicians love to descend into ambivalence. They are geniuses at creating subterfuge. Thus, to succeed in their ignoble acts, they love and employ euphemism. In his "Authority Stealing" Fela sang with aplomb: "Authority man in charge of money. Him no need Gun, him need Pen." Why? The music maestro explains: "Pen get power. Gun no get. If gun steal eighty thousand Naira. Pen go steal two billion Naira. You no go hear dem shout Thief Thief Thief".
But what do politicians and our rulers do? Talking about how they downplay stealing of public wealth, which Fela called their "civilized style", the maestro says the leaders deceive the people by calling the opprobrious act of stealing all sort of less direct or mild names viz: "mismanagement, defraudlement, embezzlement, forgeralization, etc". Indeed, our rulers' unbridled love for euphemistic expressions sometime ago gave vent to a former ruler's attempt at re-educating us all that "stealing" should not be called "corruption". But if a spade should be called a spade, anyone who steals is a "Thief". Politics abhors telling blunt truth. And politicians are sluggish in telling it; lest they lose elections or do not have their way. Osinbajo the lawyer and professor, Osinbajo the church deacon, and Osinbajo the politician obviously wear three togas with caps of contrasting colours. Like my mentor and benefactor said, politics changes pious men negatively. I hope our eminent Osinbajo has not served in one of the most unpopular governments that ever ruled in Nigeria’s checkered history. And he is too much a gentleman and a pious character to be in a government where citizens know no peace since inception. In his “Stride Towards Freedom, 1964, the US civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. wrote point blank: “He who passively accepts evil, is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it”.
Just like the established principle in civil or criminal law of tort, no matter what happens in an era or government, every active partaker of it is “vicariously liable” to all that happened, be it commendable or condemnable. And there is nothing horrendous that has not happened under this government, during whose era lives have been snuffed out in thousands as if the country is in internecine warfare. Criminality of unimaginable proportion has been on ascendancy daily; insecurity has been at the zenith point; the country has been grossly divided along religious and tribal sentiments; religious bigotry and tribalism have been promoted through uneven government appointments; banditry has mutilated humanity; hitherto revered military barracks and sacred Aso Rock have been ravaged by impudent criminals and insurgents, and troops massacred. Kidnapping are on daily basis. Farms have been depleted and eaten up by cattle. Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps have been ravaged. Military men have been kidnapped and fighter jets allegedly shot down by the insurgents. Osinbajo keeps telling the nation that the Buhari government has rescued 100 million Nigerians out of poverty. Hmm! But we neither found these lucky Nigerians anywhere, nor felt the impact on the larger society. All our school children are allegedly being fed with food daily, under the N500billion National Home Grown School Feeding and social investment programme, but all we see are malnourished and emaciated pupils around us.
In law, if a master shall be held responsible for a tort committed by his servant even if he expressly prohibited the servant from doing the act which caused damage (Limpus v London General Omnibus Co., 1862), it is almost certain that the servant too who committed the culpable act will not be absolved from blame. No matter what the participants and apologists of this administration feel, this era is being recorded by perspicuous History as Buhari-Osinbajo era, and there is nothing anyone can do about that tag and nomenclature. But like George Washington the 1st President of US would say: “Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.” I say no more. Verbum Satis Sapienti.
+COURTESY: Ohio Wesleyan University Press, USA
*Tunji Ajayi, a creative writer, author, biographer and audiovisual documentary producer writes from LC-Studio Communications, Nigeria (+2348033203115, +2348162124412)