Senator Smart Adeyemi, by virtue of the fact that he is not a newcomer in the Senate, is referred to as a ranking senator. In a country where titles must be qualified to give them more weight, he revels in the label “distinguished senator.” Although these appellations are not owing to his contributions or legislative accomplishments, he is definitely proud of his senatorial toga, going by the way he carries himself.
Last month, Senator Adeyemi, who represents Kogi West senatorial district, stirred the hornets’ nest when he descended to the gallery at Senate’s plenary. During a robust discussion on the Safe School Initiative at the Senate, he shot off target and spoke on something that had nothing to do with the legislative business of that day. He had left people wondering if it was actually the Senate of the federal republic, where laws ought to be made for good governance, or an arena for jives.
Adeyemi had left the subject matter of the day and frontally attacked Abia State governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu. He not only called the governor of Abia State a “drunkard and champagne-drinking governor” but also said “drunkards” lead Abia people. By implication, he attempted not only to denigrated Ikpeazu but also all indigenes of Abia State, since, in one way or another, we are all involved in the leadership of the state, whether in elective or selective capacity or our positions in the society. As an indigene of Abia State, and proudly so, I found his action most insulting. It was a gratuitous insult.
The Kogi senator had declared: “Despite that some governors are doing their best, we are lucky to have a governor (Kogi) who has taken the issue of security as a serious priority. We are bordered by nine states, but we had an experience of unfortunate incidents that are happening in neighbouring states. Some governors are committed to the protection of their people. In my state, the governor awarded contracts for renovation of schools and provides security services to them.
“In some states of Nigeria today, where we have highly intelligent people, highly educated 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 question that readily comes to mind is this: What has gone wrong with Senator Adeyemi? His comments on Abia State were unprovoked and uncalled for. Abia State governor or the state government never said anything about Adeyemi. The Senate was not discussing Abia State or its governor. The conduct of Abia leaders, in whatever capacity, has not shown that they are abnormal.
The simple definition of “drunkard” is: “A person who is habitually drunk.” And being “drunk” is: “Affected by alcohol to the extent of losing control of one’s faculties or behaviour.” Now, tell me, what has shown that Ikpeazu and leaders of Abia State are drunkards? Is it their conduct? Or is it their actions? Has there been any reported case of Ikpeazu and Abia leaders losing control of their senses or misbehaving in public as a result of alcohol consumption?
Adeyemi’s comments on Abia, to say the least, are bad verses. His action is an unkind cut on the people of Abia State. It is an orchestrated action aimed at insulting Abia State indigenes. The fact that the senator chose the parliament, where he enjoys qualified privilege, shows that it was a premeditated action to disparage a state, its leaders and people.
Some people have said that Adeyemi was indirectly responding to a social media post, wherein Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, allegedly criticised Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello. Could this be true? Is it possible that a senator of Adeyemi’s standing, a senior journalist, who at one time was the national president of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), could be reacting to something without verifying it? If this is so, we should send our condolences, for common sense is dead. Adeyemi’s action reminds one of the late Tai Solarin in the Ebony Magazine saga, during the General Ibrahim Babangida military government, where a false and unverified rumour provoked a mass riot. It is most unfortunate.
For the avoidance of doubt, Senator Abaribe has dissociated himself from the social media post. He denied making comments about Kogi State governor. Abaribe had said: “Mr. President, I will like to make a clarification. Unfortunately, what has happened here today is one of the problems that you see on social media. I never made comments on the governor of Kogi State. Never. What has happened is what we see going on today. People write something and tag your name to it. And if you don’t ask questions, you will not know whether you actually said it or not.
“I see so many things tagged to me but I don’t talk. The last time I saw Nuhu Ribadu, I also spoke to him. Something was tagged to his name that was very deleterious.
“I’m very surprised that my good friend and colleague decided to open up on the governor of Abia for something I never said.”
However, even as Abaribe explained the misunderstanding, let me, for the sake or argument, ask this question: If Abaribe made scathing comments about Governor Yahaya Bello, is there any justification for Adeyemi to attack the governor of Abia State and the state leaders? If Abaribe did make those comments and Adeyemi disagrees with him, the normal thing is for him to address Abaribe. Abaribe is not the governor of Abia State. He is not the spokesman for Abia State government. Anything he says is in his capacity as a man. Anybody who disagrees with him should take him up and not attack another person in order to attract attention and curry the favour of his governor.
Incidentally, Governor Ikpeazu has said that he does not drink. According to him, “I don’t drink (alcohol) and I don’t begrudge those who drink.” If Ikpeazu does not drink, as he has publicly stated, and has never exhibited any bevahiour that suggests he is a drunkard, Adeyemi’s action, therefore, is most crude and uncharitable. It is an unforgiveable political sin.
I must say that the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, did not handle the matter well. It is not enough for him to tell Senator Adeyemi that a Point of Order had been raised to remind him that foul language should not be used in the Senate. Simply saying, “the air is now cleared,” and reading the Senate rule on conduct are not enough to make Adeyemi know that what he did was out of place. The Senate President ought to have asked the Kogi senator to withdraw the statement to show that the Senate abhors insults and undignified comments. If the Senate would only point to the rule without sanctions, it means nothing, absolutely.
The Senate should be and seen to be a place where elevated discussions are upheld and where high moral standard is exhibited. Senators should, by their actions and conducts, show good example. Adeyemi may think he is courageous, but making vile comments about people without any proof or justification, just because anything said on the floor of the parliament is not actionable, is simply an act of cowardice.
Those who want Adeyemi to apologise are making a legitimate demand. Such unwarranted remarks should be withdrawn to show that it was a mistake. Although an apology does not erase the insult, it would show penitence or recompense. As Margaret MacMillan said: “An apology offered and, equally important, received is a step towards reconciliation and, sometimes, recompense. Without that process, hurts can rankle and fester and erupt into their own hatreds and wrongdoings.”
Adeyemi may be too proud to apologise or afraid to do so because of how his governor may feel if he does, since “authentic apology is a tricky thing to pull off in politics, which is why it so seldom occurs,” as Gwen Ifill said, but he should know that “plausible deniability must be preserved. True contrition has to be displayed. Traitors to the cause must be immediately jettisoned. Most of all, the goal is to stop the bleeding,” as Ifill concluded. He should emulate Tai Solarin, who, on realising his error in the Ebony Magazine incident, tendered an unreserved apology. Failure to do this will make him a persona non grata in Abia State.