Bisi Akande and Nigeria’s Last Puritan

President Muhammadu Buhari, Bisi Akande and Bola Tinubu Photo
President Muhammadu Buhari, Bisi Akande and Bola Tinubu Photo

(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 13 December, 2021)

There is a huge noise over Chief Bisi Akande’s autobiography released on Thursday, December 9, 2021 in Lagos. I have not read the book. But I have read what the media says the book contains. I have also read the book review by a brilliant professor of English at the University of Ibadan who spiced it with copious quotes. There is a particular ‘something’ that interests me in what I read. President Muhammadu Buhari’s other name among his fans is Maigaskiya, the truthful one. Buhari was present at that book launch where he declared that he loved Akande so much that he would follow him into the jungle without asking questions. But snippets from the book say Buhari, ‘the truthful one,’ promised something in 2014 but did the opposite in 2015. Before bedtime, Maigaskiya offered to make someone his soulmate; then at satiation, he denied saying so; he said it was a mere partnership he offered. And Akande asks: what is the meaning of partnership?

Like Aesop’s winds, Akande’s controversies fall upon us with their gusts and gales. It will be nice to hear the president’s defence of that charge from his bosom friend. Or will he be quiet, guilty as charged? That won’t be good for Maigaskiya. There are many other contentious claims in that memoir. We will soon see how firm the ground is under the author’s feet. However, the question of who is truthful and who is trustworthy and reliable is my greatest take-away from the book – at least for now. I look forward to reading the front cover, the photos, the leaves inside, and the back cover inscriptions, then draw conclusions. Whatever the book says, however, the good thing is that it has provoked its victims to counter-write the author, tell their own stories and put audacious Akande on the spot. It has also challenged us to ask questions on the characters of our leaders, how we got to where we are and how to avoid falling into another ditch as we forage and trudge forward.

Chief Akande has told us that there is no restructuring in his party's constitution and manifesto. But I read what Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State said at the weekend about the structure of Nigeria. He belongs to Akande's party. Click To Tweet

Autobiographies and biographies are floodlights; they illuminate fields and sack dark alleys. They are also swords with two edges- injurious to the author, to the subjects and to the objects. Some come plainly audacious like Barack Obama’s; some come wearing the masks of fiction – like George Santayana’s ‘The Last Puritan’ – a story of a “fearless but helplessly subjective” character; a book about a puritan “who convinced himself on puritan grounds that it was wrong to be a puritan.” If I meet Chief Akande tomorrow, the question I will ask him is not just why he wrote that book of vitriol; I will also ask him why now? Why is almost every outsider bad and his friends good? I will ask too about the factuality of his facts. And there is a reason for that. From the letters of Cicero to Saint Paul’s letters; Julius Caesar’s ‘Commentaries’ to Saint Augustine’s ‘Confessions’ and now to Bisi Akande’s ‘My Participations’, what we see is what Graham Greene said are “a sort of life” – and what another writer described as accounts of “a life, reshaped by recollection.” To ‘reshape’ is to rearrange. How much of rearrangement of facts is in Akande’s book of attack and abuse? How accurate biographical recollections are determines the justness of authorial verdicts. We will hear more on this author’s judgmental intrusions in days to come.

There will be other ‘puritanical’ books of push and punch. There should. But the ones I want to read are life stories of those seeking to rule me in 2023. That is what sane people demand of their princes and aspiring kings. Barack Obama is a son of nobody who wanted to be many things in the politics of the United States. He started by deciding to tell his full story. He wrote ‘Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance’ in 1995 and republished it in 2004 with updates. Through that book, he lucidly told the world that his father was Barack Obama Sr. of Kenya and his mother Ann Dunham of Wichita, Kansas, United States. He said his parents met while they were students at the University of Hawaii. Then in 2006, he decided to be president, and he wrote ‘The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.’ That book is an outline of his beliefs, political and spiritual. Obama then delivered speeches, he granted interviews and never ran away from debates. Through all these, he made his life an open book and offered deep insights into who he was, where he was coming from and where he could take his people to. There was no ambiguity in his mission and no dark shades in his vision beyond what his long shadow cast. We want politicians who would do this, not slithering snakes scheming to enter the palace through sewage pipes.

Whatever the book says, however, the good thing is that it has provoked its victims to counter-write the author, tell their own stories and put audacious Akande on the spot. Click To Tweet

Every book, notwithstanding its moral shape and form, has values. We definitely need more ‘unusual’ books to provoke and force us to think. We are not a normal people. What do we want as a people? Business as usual? At the beginning of this year, it was either restructuring or self determination. Now, the year is ending and it would appear that we have dropped the ball. Everyone now talks about the next elections and who holds next the ladle. Every activity, whether book launch or birthday luncheon, is tied to answering the next question: Who is my next governor? Who is the next president? Everyone asks that question because of the sauce in the pot and the meat in the plate and who eats what.

Harsh winds are blowing against our soul and we all feel it. That is why we should reshape our thoughts and regather what remains of our sense going forward. Do we want to rebuild and keep Nigeria or we want to do away with the sick man-child? Unfortunately, Chief Akande has told us that there is no restructuring in his party’s constitution and manifesto. But I read what Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State said at the weekend about the structure of Nigeria. He belongs to Akande’s party and he didn’t sound like he has read his leader’s book. He spoke at the 45th convocation lecture of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife as the guest lecturer on the theme: ‘When Is A Nation? Exploring the socio-Political Crisis In Post Independence Nigeria.’ He said “this structure cannot survive.” He said our “constitution lies about itself.” He said the Constitution provides for “Federal Character” for “National Cake Sharing.” He said a commission oversees the sharing of offices and other spoils of politics among the major ethnic groups.” He spoke on “manifest injustice…promoted as care for equity.” He lamented that our constitution “is silent on the rotation of offices to complete the tragicomedy.” He noted that “Federal Character is good for as long as it affords certain persons the opportunity to benefit from the sacrifice of merit on the altar of mediocrity.” He didn’t speak like APC. His speech gave hope that all hope is not lost.

As we have post-office books on participations, let us also have pre-office books of commitment to values. Click To Tweet

There will be many books and reactions to books. How they would make our lives better is what should concern us; not the politics of the books, not the indignation in the reactions. Bean cakes are sweet but honey is sweeter. A child would taste honey and throw away the cake. We should start now the conversation on how we handle the future whatever happens to Nigeria. At whatever time and in whatever space, we need real leaders. How should the leaders emerge? After their emergence, what are our expectations from their reign? Who should such leaders be and what should qualify them to be leaders? And their beginnings should not matter. It is the quality of their brain, the health of their body and the strength of their character that should recommend them. We have seen the example in Barack Obama who wanted leadership and worked consciously towards it. We’ve also seen that he was accepted following a very rigorous leadership selection process. If a nobody’s child would be king, he must have king-size character. And getting that cannot be by chance, or by luck, by trade or by force or by wishful thinking. It has to be through deliberate, well-nurtured and curated positive action. We should ask politicians to write and debate and answer questions before decking them out in kingly robes. As we have post-office books on participations, let us also have pre-office books of commitment to values. Electors should always ask questions.

Back to Buhari’s pledge to follow Chief Akande into the jungle. Why would a president think of going into the jungle and what would he go there to do? There is a book with the title ‘The President of the Jungle’ written by André Rodrigues, et al. The Children’s Book Council describes the story as a fabulous and funny introduction to how democracy works. What is in that jungle story? Lion is made the King of the Jungle, then he becomes too proud, greedy and unfeeling. He thinks he needs a swimming pool in his house and therefore reroutes the jungle’s only river to his house for that purpose. The animals go on rampage #OCCUPYTHEJUNGLE. The king laughs and challenges them to more demonstrations. They hold more protests. Then, reason prevails. The animals decide to try something new – hold an election! A commentator says: “Once Owl explains the rules, the fun begins, and Snake, Sloth, and Monkey all announce they will be candidates. But oh no, Lion is going to run too! It’s a wild campaign season as the animals hold rallies, debate, and even take a selfie or two, trying to prove why they’d make the best president of the jungle.” Even animals in the jungle obey their own rules; they allow protests and peaceful campaigns. They hold their election. The self-centered Lion runs; Sloth wins, Lion loses. Heaven does not fall. There are no threats, no killings as we had in Bauchi in 2011.

Our own president loves the jungle and would go there with his political friends. If he goes there, maybe he will learn that hashtags of anger and protests are allowed in a democracy and that even animals make promises, and they keep them. Preparatory to the 2015 elections, did the president promise to make Bola Tinubu his running mate before the primary? Did he deny making that promise after winning the primary? Chief Bisi Akande is the president’s friend; he levelled that allegation in his book. What has Maigaskiya, the truthful one, to say?

Lasisi Olagunju Photo

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