It was a colourful gathering of dignitaries who came to honour a worthy patriot — former governor, fine journalist and frontline politician.
But it was also a moment of truth yesterday in Lagos where statesmen, political leaders, government officials, traditional rulers and media executives joined associates and relations of All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain, Aremo Olusegun Osoba for his 80th birthday and presentation of his book, “Battlelines: Adventures in Journalism and Politics”.
At the ceremony presided over by former military Head of State Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, APC stalwart Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe called for national unity, urging those fanning the embers of division to desist from their unpatriotic activities.
However, in his characteristic frankness, the Eleko of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, stirred controversy, describing former President Olusegun Obasanjo as the problem of Nigeria.
The monarch, who revisited the controversial pact between the Alliance for Democracy (AD) governors and Obasanjo, who was seeking a second term on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), said he warned Tinubu against any collaboration with the retired soldier.
“I advised Tinubu not to cooperate with Obasanjo. I said, don’t trust a soldier. The main problem we have in Nigeria is Obasanjo,” he said without shedding light on his claim.
The former President could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Echoing Oba Akiolu’s statement, Tinubu alluded to the soldier’s “camouflage” dress, saying that it smacks of deception.
But, he paid tribute to Gen. Abubakar for expanding the horizon of democratic participation through the registration of the AD, following the registration of the PDP and the defunct All Peoples Party (APP).
Hailing Osoba for his achievements as a journalist and politician, the former Lagos State governor said his life was an open book, adding that he is “honest, incisive and forward-looking”.
Tinubu said: “The story you don’t want other people to know, don’t tell him. When he had health challenge, he told me everything. But, his concern was Nigeria.”
Reflecting on the consequence of APC’s insistence on party supremacy and discipline, the former governor said while it produced fatal effects in Zamfara, there was no cause for regret.
He described Osoba as a strong believer in party discipline, which he said should be maintained.
Tinubu urged Nigerians to work for national unity, pointing out that the broom, which is the symbol of the APC, advertised the unity in diversity.
He said: “Instead of using our diversity for prosperity, we have continued to use it for division, either of tribe or religion. Let’s stop it.”
Kingibe, an eminent diplomat and former Foreign Affairs Minister, congratulated Osoba, saying that he could affirm the veracity of his claims in his book because he was a witness to some of the events he documented.
Acknowledging Nigeria as an amalgam of diverse social formations, he said nobody has a monopoly of knowledge and experience about Nigeria and its complexities.
Urging Nigerians to work for unity, Kingibe said: “Nigeria is a huge elephant. Nobody can describe the whole, but the part of it.”
Adorning a brown Aso Oke, Osoba looked hale and hearty. The celebrator was accompanied by his wife, Beere Aderinsola, children, and classmates at the Methodist Boys School, Lagos, who entered the college with him in 1956. Also on the podium were students of the school who rendered the college anthem.
The ceremony, which kicked off at noon, was witnessed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), who was the guest speaker, Senate President Ahmed Lawan, House of Representatives Deputy Speaker Idris Wase, Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, his Ekiti, Ondo, Kano and Bayelsa counterparts, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), Abdullahi Ganduje and Seriake Dickson; Lagos State Deputy Governor Obafemi Hamzat, his Ogun State counterpart, Mrs. Noimot Salako-Oyedele, Lagos State House of Assembly Speaker Musashiru Obasa, former APC Interim National Chairman Chief Bisi Akande, former Governors Gbenga Daniel (Ogun), Adeniyi Adebayo (Ekiti), Senator Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo), Donald Duke (Cross River) and Obong Victor Attah (Akwa Ibom).
Osinbajo hailed Osoba for using his influence as a journalist and as a politician to build bridges across the country. He described him as a journalist who was always looking for a scoop.
He recalled that it was Osoba, through his penchant for exclusive news, who discovered the body of the former Prime Minister, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, and former Minister of Finance Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, who were killed in the January 1966 coup in a forest near Ota, Ogun State.
Osinbajo praised the former governor for his bravery in going to the battlefield to cover the civil war between 1967 and 1970. Through his reportorial skills, he said Osoba recorded the horrible scenes and tragedies of the war for public knowledge.
He listed Osoba’s feats in journalism to include his exclusive stories on the coup that brought the late General Murtala Muhammed to power in 1975, recalling that he was the only journalist to see the late Col. Bukar Sukar Dimka, who killed Murtala in handcuffs after he was arrested in Enugu.
He also praised his efforts as the General Manager of the Herald and Sketch, and Managing Director of Daily Times.
Osinbajo noted that in the course of his career, Osoba made friends with people from outside his region, particularly among the military officers. He is a nationalist and a bridge builder, the vice president said.
Lamenting that the united military had given way for ethnic and religious interests, the vice-president recalled how the political elite played the ethnic card on the annulled June 12 presidential election.
He said apart from the Boko Haram threat, there are others emerging from neighbouring West and North African countries.
Osinbajo said instead of appreciating the Federal Government’s effort in combating terrorism, people were giving the anti-graft war ethnic and religious colouration.
He added that Osoba has gained immensely from building bridges and creating a united Nigeria as exemplified by the gathering at the event marking his birthday.
Gen. Abubakar poured encomiums on the former National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) chieftain for his sacrifice and contribution to Nigeria’s development.
He recalled that his relationship with Osoba started in the 1960s when he was a young military officer and the celebrator was a young reporter with the Daily Times.
He said: “Both of us are still thinking of Nigeria. We are much interested in the affairs of Nigeria. We want Nigeria to remain great. We want Nigerians to work tall all over the world; that they should believe in themselves and make Nigeria great wherever they are.
“These feats are achievable with trust and readiness to work together as brothers and sisters and cultivate mutual relationship. We should put our hands on the deck to ensure there is peace and security in our country,” he pleaded.
Abubakar said despite the fact that he is from the Northcentral and Osoba is from the Southwest, they both share some attributes. “I left Army as a General, he left journalism as Chief Executive; while I was Head of State, he was already a governor. I was blessed with a wife who is a judge, Osoba’s wife is a renowned educationist.”
Fayemi described Osoba as an embodiment of experience, adding that younger governors have been drinking from his fountain of knowledge.
Fayemi said: “Aremo Osoba is an unapologetic democrat. He had for long been on the campaign for direct primaries, which our party has now adopted. On behalf of NGF, we celebrate with our elder and father. We pray to have you around to continue to benefit from your wise counsel.”
Sanwo-Olu, who prayed that God should continue to renew Osoba’s strength, described the book as a reference material.
Noting his contributions to national development, he said: “Osoba has made marks as a journalist, politician, Afenifere and NADECO chieftain. We need the grace of elder statesmen like Aremo Osoba to help us chart the path forward.”
Sanwo-Olu said he will buy 100 copies of the book for distribution to members of his cabinet, permanent secretaries and the higher institutions in Lagos State.
Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson said he made it a point of duty to attend the ceremony despite the distance.
He said: “I am proud to be one of Osoba’s sons who are governors. My mother is a princess from Ijebu-Ode and I am also a prince of Ijebu.” He advised Nigerians to emulate Osoba for believing in Nigeria through his journalistic and political activities.
The book reviewer, Mr Dapo Olorunyomi, said journalists and media scholars will be extremely grateful to the author for providing a lot of firsthand information on many missing gaps in important aspects of Nigeria’s media industry.
Olorunyomi said Osoba gave insights into the Daily Times crisis of 1975, which led to the removal of his predecessor, Chief Areoye Oyebola, his promotion to editor, the coverage of the military coup that brought General Murtala Muhammed to power as Head of State; the plot against Alhaji Babatunde Jose; the nature of newsroom politics and intrigues at that time; and the Tony Momoh conspiracy to bring Prof. Alfred Opubor to take over from Osoba as chief executive.
Osoba reflected on the assassination attempts on him by the Abacha killer squad, led by Sergent Rogers, thanking God for his survival.
He paid tribute to Gen. Abdulsalami, who he described as “the father of democracy”, noting that the Fourth Republic, which he midwifed had survived for two decades.
Recalling the former Head of State’s contributions to democracy, Osoba said:” He almost lost his commission. He is a NADECo General. I led some NADECO chieftains to his house to plead with him to plead with Abacha. Abacha later arrested Ganiyu Dawodu, Senator Abraham Adesanya, Solanke Onasanya, locked them up and they were sleeping on the floor in detention. Gen. Abdulsalami would have been sacked. He registered AD, although we did not meet the conditions. Otherwise, Tinubu and myself would not have been governors.”
Osoba apologised to Governor Abiodun for turning down the offer to organise a birthday reception for him.
The former governor told the story of NADECO, recalling that it was an offshoot of the Committee for National Unity (CNU), led by Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe (rtd) and Admiral Ndubusi Kanu.
Osoba also said the umbrella pro-democracy organisation was formed in the house of the late Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo, former governor of the old Western State.
Reflecting on the dark side of the pro-democracy struggle, he said: “It was Tinubu and I that were first charged to court. We were granted bail by Justice Shonowo and later freed by Justice Belgore.
“Jakande did not request to serve Abacha. We gave him the go-ahead. Otudeko nearly lost his business. He hid me in his office.
“Oba Akiolu risked his job. He gave me the key to his office when I was detained in a rat-infested room.”
Osoba described the five AD governors as “legacy governors,” pointing out that they had no question to answer before any anti-graft agency after leaving power.
He berated Gen. Obasanjo for insincerity, saying that during the discussion on the 2003 pact, he was deceiving Tinubu, who understood his tricks.
Osoba recalled the birth of the defunct Action Congress (AC), stressing that the spade work that heralded its registration was done by Ayo Opadokun and Tony Adefuye.
Reflecting on the battle for restructuring, the celebrator said: “Osinbajo as Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice went to court on fiscal federalism and local government control and he won. The National Assembly is the institution that can amend the constitution to reflect restructuring. The National Assembly can only cede its power to the Referendum and the Sovereign National Conference (SNC).
“The report of the el-Rufai Committee on Restructuring was submitted and debated before the president. It should now be sent to the National Assembly.”