Since I haven’t had the courage to sink my feet into the shark-infested, murky waters of Nigerian politics, I always admire my professional colleagues who are able to do so.
I think of such men as Mr. Lateef Jakande, former Governor of Lagos State, Chief Segun Osoba, former Governor of Ogun State, Mr. Moses Ekpo, present Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Chief Clement Ebri, former Governor of Cross River State, Chief Ayogu Eze, an Enugu State senator, and Chief Smart Adeyemi, senator representing Kogi West. This may not be a comprehensive list of journalists who have been in politics. Long before these men, we had such men as Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Tony Enahoro, to mention but a few.
It is believed that the entry of these men at various times had brought honour to our much-despised profession of journalism. It had also placed them in situations where they could contribute to the defence of press freedom whenever any attempt to trample on it was made. Apart from those advantages, journalists operate in their profession with facts and figures that can lead to the search for truth. If they bring these to the table of politics, it may be a major contributor to the betterment of our society. That is why the recent verbal thuggery by Smart Adeyemi, APC senator representing Kogi West, was a big disappointment to me. But before I delve into that issue, let me state that when Adeyemi was elected national president of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) many years ago, we in the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) were warned that Adeyemi was capable of being reckless.
We were advised to be ready to absorb whatever he was ready to throw at the NPAN. One of the early actions of the NUJ under his leadership was to prescribe a salary scale for journalists, which the NPAN must adopt. We countered that the Federal Government’s minimum wage was the only legally acceptable minimum wage. Any employer had a right to go from there upwards so as to attract and retain good staff.
Secondly, we thought that in a deregulated economy salaries should be negotiated individually within a scale fixed by the employer and not treated as mass therapy.
Thirdly, we knew that in an industry where financial strength differed because some publications were either monthly, weekly or daily, it would be unwise to have a uniform salary grade prescribed for all companies. It was obvious that this unimplementable salary structure was simply a way of playing to the gallery. Adeyemi also came to the annual general meeting of the NPAN in 2002 in Abuja to seek to install a president of his choice for the NPAN. I was one of the three contestants. One of the other two contestants was from Adeyemi’s ethnic group and the third man was from Niger Delta.
On the campaign trail, when he met people of his ethnic group, he would tell them to vote for their man. When he met people of other ethnic groups, he simply told them not to vote for me because I had promised to destroy the NUJ if I became president of the NPAN. How and why would an NPAN president destroy NUJ? He did not say. But the people he spoke to knew the truth, namely, that since the NUJ and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) were already headed by people of his ethnic origin, he simply wanted a clean sweep by adding the NPAN trophy to the collection by his tribe. He did not care to find out who votes at NPAN elections.
He did not also realize that the publishers considered it an insult for him, as the leader of NPAN’s employees, to seek to decide who would run the NPAN. His gamble failed because he did not know either the limit or the implication of his action. He was simply displaying foolhardiness, the product of either overzealousness or youthfulness. That was about 20 years ago. My view was that he would grow up but it is doubtful if he has.
When he won the election again recently into the Senate, I was happy for him because I thought his constituents thought he deserved to represent them again. I also thought that was a plus for our profession. But his recent verbal diarrhea is a big disappointment.
Here are the facts: Stephen Odey, senator representing Cross River North, had sponsored a motion on Safe School Initiative. In his contribution to the debate, Adeyemi, taking off from a tangent, said: “In some states of Nigeria today, where we have highly intelligent people, very enterprising people, like Abia, they are governed by drunkards. The governor of Abia is a champagne-drinking man. Abia people are impoverished more than ever before. Abia people are unfortunate.”
The speculation is that Adeyemi was indirectly responding to a social media post in which Senate Minority Leader, Mr. Enyinnaya Abaribe of Abia State, allegedly criticized Kogi State governor, Mr. Yahaya Bello.
Yahaya Bello is said to be Adeyemi’s political godfather. Abaribe has disassociated himself from the social media post and has said that he never criticized Bello at any time. Abaribe said: “I am very surprised that my good friend and colleague decided to open up on the governor of Abia for something I never said.”
Also, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu has said, “I don’t drink alcohol and I don’t begrudge those who drink.”
In this case, Adeyemi was making a defamatory statement about a person he doesn’t know, hiding under the canopy of parliamentary privilege. Any beer parlour journalist could have done better than that.
Adeyemi’s attack on Governor Ikpeazu is completely puerile and illogical. Assuming for the purpose of argument that Abaribe had criticized Bello (and he has denied it), isn’t Bello with a battery of attack dogs under his employment capable of defending himself either by himself or by his attack dogs? Assuming also that Adeyemi was working under the philosophy that any attack on his godfather was an attack on him, why didn’t he attack Abaribe instead of Ikpeazu? Why would he attack Ikpeazu who neither attacked him (Adeyemi) nor his godfather (Bello)?
Obviously, Adeyemi had no business insulting a man who neither insulted him nor his godfather. His attack on Ikpeazu was a baseless form of transferred aggression. Dr. Ikpeazu also had nothing to do with the issue of safe schools, which was on the table of the Senate that day, and did not by any stretch of logic or imagination deserve to be unfairly targeted by a man whose words actually sound closer, by its lack of any truthful ingredient, to that of a drunkard than that of a senator. Adeyemi was simply acting as a busybody, as someone shopping around for trouble and for enemies because he knows that anything he says in parliament, no matter how toxic, is covered by the cloak of parliamentary immunity. Any loose talk of such monumental falsity as the one delivered by Adeyemi is capable of bringing the Senate into disrepute and avoidable ridicule.
I hope that Adeyemi is capable of growing up, of guarding his tongue and restraining himself from the use of unparliamentary language in parliament. Dr. Ikpeazu has handled the provocation in a very mature manner. At the launch of the autobiography of Abaribe, titled “Made in Aba,” Governor Ikpeazu politely debunked the accusation and didn’t seek to drive a knife into the heart of the man who had attempted to soil his reputation. He simply said, “if you are bathing and a mad man takes your wrapper and runs away, if you run after him naked, people will not know who is the mad person.
It is a pity that the Senate President closed the matter without reprimanding Adeyemi or asking him to withdraw those unsubstantiated toxic words against a governor of a state. If Adeyemi does not prove that Governor Ikpeazu is a drunkard, then the only honourable thing for him to do is to apologise to the governor. That will restore his dignity and the dignity of the Senate.
The Senate is a gathering of distinguished men and women, only three per state, chosen by their people to make laws for the good governance of Nigeria. It is not a gathering of rabble-rousers and no senator should be allowed to reduce it to, or for the public to perceive it as, a gathering for ruffianly vituperation. I am not sure that even Adeyemi’s godfather, Bello, will be happy to be dragged into a matter in which his brother governor is being unfairly ridiculed, especially if he finds out that the fight initiated by Adeyemi is based on nothing but falsehood. I know that thuggery, verbal and physical, are part of the arsenal in Nigerian politics, but even that has to have a high degree of justification to be tolerated.
When election season is over, the expectation is that our politicians will sanitise their tongues and keep them in check until election season arrives again. Even when that season comes, we will expect a high degree of sanity in their election rhetoric. That is how to help our democracy to grow.