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Tunde Fagbenle: Opeyemi Bamidele’s war of attrition

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Tunde Fagbenle: Opeyemi Bamidele’s war of attrition

by Tunde Fagbenle

It began as a rumour; then developed into what looked like a game-like gambit; and then the importunacy became truly worrisome. What is going on? What could have gone wrong? Why this? Why now? So many other questions troubled the mind, my mind. Why is it that at every point when the Yoruba people, my people, seem to set foot on the path of political progress and economic emancipation something, the devil, always jumps out to negate the dream; someone, somewhere, throws a spanner in the works?

I am a big brother, or egbon, to the two combatants; Opeyemi Bamidele and Kayode Fayemi. Both, I believe, hold me in some esteem, an esteem doubly reciprocated by me. I know both of them personally and in shared friendship well before either rose to his present high political office – one as an honourable member of the House of Rep., the other as the executive governor of Ekiti State, their state. It is in my nature to keep my distance as much as possible from those in high offices in the hope of preserving whatever mutual respect existed. And so it has been for me with both.

Of my relationship with Dr. Kayode Fayemi, my readers would already know as I have written a few on it severally in this column. But of Hon. Opeyemi Bamidele I would speak now.

Our relationship dates back to the first term of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as governor of Lagos State. Governor Tinubu had just brought Opeyemi back from the United States where he with his family lived, to join Tinubu’s go-getter team in a special personal assistant capacity. The antecedent of Opeyemi was well known as a former national student leader and a brilliant lawyer.

I had just returned to the country from “Abacha exile.” Opeyemi and I lived as “guests” of Governor Tinubu in the Isaac John Street, GRA, Ikeja, Governor’s Guesthouse, for quite some time. Our flats adjoined within the sprawling estate. I held no office but it was generally believed (wrongly or not) that I was a friend of the governor and was someone to whom he lent his ears when and if needed. And such a time came up when governor Tinubu was to reconstitute his cabinet. Opeyemi turned to me to help him put a kind word to Asiwaju’s ears to appoint him, Opeyemi, as a commissioner. I promised I would and I did.

I chose my moment. The governor usually showed up at the guesthouse almost on a daily basis, even if late at night, and I could see him unfettered. I went up to him and specifically dropped it to his ears my feeling that Opeyemi should be considered for his cabinet. Trust the ever-alert Tinubu: “O, se o ran iwonasi mi ni?” (O, has he sent you too to me) he queried. That suggested I was perhaps not the first person to plead for Opeyemi. I knew Asiwaju and could read his mind.  The whole mission could be jeopardised. “Oti o, o kanwasi mi l’okanbi eni to ye nani,” (O no, it just crossed my mind as a good candidate). Point registered I backed off, and talked of the weather, literally!

The rest is history. Opeyemi was appointed commissioner, an office he held even beyond Asiwaju’s tenure into the first term of successor governor Tunde Fashola. In all of that time and as I speak I have not set my eyes on Opeyemi Bamidele, nor spoken with him. But I have followed with keen interest and joy his rising political profile for, in truth, I consider him my very good aburo.

I do not know how the rift between the two gentlemen began. On the one, and only, occasion I visited Ekiti on the invitation of the governor, I indicated my worry about it — that was when Bamidele’s actions and public utterances just began to lend verity to the rumour — but the governor brushed it aside saying it wasn’t anything to worry about. When I called another good aburo, Senator Femi Ojudu, about it, he similarly said I should put my mind at rest.

For the life of me, I could not see what it could be that would irk Opeyemi so badly and so soon in the life of the Fayemi administration that would defy the effort of the top party hierarchy and elders of the community! Money? Power-sharing? Some agreement broken – so soon and so irreconcilably? Personality clash? Ego? A “set-up” to “shake” Fayemi so he doesn’t get it into his head that the office he occupies is a “given” for a second term?

For, make no mistake about it, within the short time Fayemi has been governor, he has made tremendous progress in uplifting the lives of the people, stupefied all by the pace and pervasiveness of infrastructural development, and raised the profile of Ekiti within intellectual, touristic, and cultural circles. And he has done it with the panache of a highly cultured, intellectual, and disciplined mind. And this is not just my view gathered on that visit but what the Yoruba would call “arunojuni” — achievements sticking all in the eyes to see! And by the time a leading and highly respected elder of the state, one supposedly a member of an opposition party, in the person of Chief Afe Babalola SAN, publicly commended in glowing terms the restoration of the State of Ekiti by Fayemi, then what more evidence could be needed?

Therefore, the conclusion could safely be reached that opposition to Fayemi could not truly be on account of his not having performed creditably well — so far; certainly not at the point at which the Bamidele’s disaffection with the administration started.

So where could the wahala be coming from? Who are those that could be prodding Bamidele on, and to what end? What could Fayemi have done wrong and so soon that “the powers that be” could not settle in the larger and overall interest of the people of Ekiti and the Yoruba as a whole? And yet hasn’t it been severally and publicly announced that the party leadership both at state and national levels endorsed Fayemi for a second term?

Could that indeed, as claimed, be the source of Bamidele’s angst — a “non-adherence to democratic norm” by the party in “disallowing” freedom to challenge the incumbent? It doesn’t quite add up. Opeyemi has now declared for the Labour Party, a party known for its “alliance” with the PDP and allegedly financed by President Jonathan to dismember the ACN/APC and thwart the engaging regional integration and present progress of the Yoruba nation. The price is far too high!

The analogy is apt with the sad occurrence in the first republic during which the stunning pace of development the Western Region was witnessing under the government of Chief Obafemi Awolowo was brought to an end and ruination on account of internal strife and contest of personalities and position between Awolowo and his successor premier, Chief Ladoke Akintola. All efforts by leaders and elders of the party and of the Yoruba nation to resolve the disagreement and bring amity to the feuding parties came to nought. Lines had been drawn in the sand. And thus began the slow but sure decline of the Yoruba nation, nay, of the very first republic of Nigeria.

I would want my brother, Opeyemi Bamidele, to reconsider, if possible, and get back into the “family” fold. I want those who have influence on him to help get him back. Or is it far too late? Can the falcon no longer hear the falconer? I am sad.

– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Tunde Fagbenle/Punch

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