These are happy times for Balogun Akin Oshuntokun. He turned 60 a few days back and he is celebrating it with a Lecture to be delivered by the great intellectual and journalist, Dr Reuben Abati.
That is vintage Akin Oshuntokun, who is also a great intellectual, journalist,essayist,
and politician, to limit it to that. He is an all-rounder.A man of many parts. He is a great mind who is also a deep thinker. He turned 60 on Wednesday 24th November 2021 and he had an open house,as he and his wife played host to a few distinguished guests. Akin has every reason to celebrate. He has paid his dues.He is an accomplished Nigerian who has played so many roles in public life. When you hear him speak about Nigerian you will appreciate the richness of his intellect.
But the interesting thing is that Akin still doesn’t look 60. He has managed to stay slim.He has kept his pencil-slim frame as he clocks 60. He still looks so young. But for his grey hair he could conveniently cut off 10 years from his age and nobody will argue over that.
This great Nigerian recently reflected on his life at 60 and he revealed what many don’t know about him.”There have been a number of critical predisposing departure points for Politics and Public activism in my life,”he explained.
“First were the circumstances of my birth and family pedigree. Second was my chosen academic course in the university. Third, was my career in Political Advocacy Journalism and the allied sphere of Conflict and Crisis resolution (on the most topical issues-the annulment crisis, North-South dichotomy and East-West dichotomy and the Newbreed-Old breed dichotomy).
Fourth,was seeking elective office in the military disengagement- transition to civil rule programme; inauguration of the Fourth republic
and the short to mid-term normalization of Nigerian politics.
Fifth, was my instrumentality to securing legitimacy and stability for the industrialization drive of the Dangote group (against the problematic backdrop of the North-South dichotomy of Nigerian politics).
Sixth, was my transition from Journalism to
national political career; and as they occur in my subsisting career overlap.”
” My first public consciousness in life was of me and my grandmother fleeing our residence in the wake of arsonist attack by political thugs in January 1966. This repercussion stemmed from my father’s high profile political partisanship from 1951-66 as representative of the Ekiti district constituency in the
Western region house of assembly.”
” In mid-career elevation, my father, late Chief Joseph Oduola Osuntokun, was appointed Cabinet Minister in the Western regional government from 1955-66-spanning the Premiership of Chiefs Obafemi Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola. Following the factional crisis
that splintered the regional governing Party, Action Group, AG, in 1962, Akintola formed an alliance with the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC and the Northern Peoples Congress, NPC, to form a new
political party called the Nigerian National Democratic Party, NNDP-on which platform he was able to secure his incumbency as Premier of the Western region.
My father pitched his tent with Akintola and remained as Minister until the end of the first republic in January 1966. Consequent upon the hotly disputed regional elections, for which Osuntokun, in his characteristic candor, blamed his own Party “the NNDP was thoroughly immersed and enmeshed in a
most shameful falsification of the results of the election”(1) there was an outbreak of widespread violent riots across the Western region. It was within this occurrence that our residence was destroyed.”
According to Osuntokun Snr, “ it was the second day that the Army took over power, January 18th that both my houses, one built in 1954 before I became a Minister and the other in 1960 were attacked by AG arsonists led by my erstwhile friend, Ayeni Bata”.Akin Oshuntokun revealed that he had since lived in the shadow and active consciousness of Nigerian politics. “Growing up in the Western region, I inherited the liability of my father’s political legacy which was on the ‘wrong side of the coin’
(interpretation of the `1966 aftermath) that casted Awolowo as the hero and Akintola, the villain.”
“My siblings and I in particular (on account of my name Akintola,which was so notorious that bearers sought a change of name) were the butt of cruel jokes and sundry harassment for the better part of our childhood. Thus, I was compelled and challenged from early on in life to develop, uncommon sensitivity, to the nuances and problematic of Nigeria’s political divisions.”
“I was challenged to develop a questing and questioning attitude towards the received wisdom of Nigeria’s politics. The quality of this imposition was burnished with a first and second university degree in Political Science from the University of Lagos.”
“Leveraging on my social science education and gifted with a skill for writing I more or less drifted into a career in Journalism, specializing in Leader and Editorial Opinion writing. I started with the Vanguard newspaper in 1989 and moved through the Daily Times in 1994 onto the flagship of Nigerian journalism (the Guardian) in 1996-all in the capacity of weekly columnist and member, editorial board.”
“The decade of 1989 to 1999 was quite eventful in Nigeria more so for media practitioners. It was the decade that Nigeria matured into another crisis of national disintegration proportions deriving from the annulment of the 1993 Presidential election won by the late Chief Moshood Abiola. In the absence of other
democratic platforms, the media became the national theatre in which the crisis of the willfully botched transition to civil rule programme\military disengagement from power played out.”
“Under the dispensation of Military rule, the role of the Press is expanded to fill the vacuum created by
the absence of institutional opposition (the legislature). I played a significant role as an influential opinion leader particularly at the peak of the crisis which coincided with my stint at The Guardian, between 1996 and 1998 as Lead Columnist on Sundays.”
“My forte was advocacy and interpretative analysis of the crisis and political history of Nigeria. In the tradition of many media practitioners who had gone before me, I converted the public exposure I had garnered to a launching pad for a career interchange from journalism to politics (aided by the prop of family pedigree in the politics of the first republic).
In the opinion of Jack Shafer, the jobs of journalist and politician do overlap—both are in the business of extracting and publicizing information, of explaining, of leading, and of persuading.”
“Inspired by my social science training, I spotted and articulated a response to the emergent generational gap and vacuum in the transition to the Fourth republic politics. In a joint endeavor, I floated the Progressive Action Movement, PAM, ‘which was conceptualized as a response to the failure of the political system to fulfill the role of continuous and regular leadership reproduction and recruitment into the civilian political class-to assume political succession from one generation to another. There was an emergent generational gap and vacuum-to whose remedy we
programmatically addressed ourselves.”
“We intended ourselves as a kind of political nursery for preparing and producing a successor class at the shortest possible time.
As it were, the major indication of this systemic failure was the recycling of political leaders rather than a renewal with successor generations.” “Conventionally and specifically, the role of leadership recruitment into the political system is that of the political parties.”
“Understood as such, the poverty of the performance of this role is self-explanatory in the non-existence of political parties for the better part of the period spanning 1960 to 1999.”
“Not immediately fully engaged in elective office or appointive role, I was invited to manage the Corporate Affairs and Public Relations of the largest sub-Sahara industrial conglomerate, Dangote group, as it transited from Commodities trading to Industrialization.
In the immediate aftermath of the prolonged era of military dictatorship, the Hausa-Fulani identity of the industrialist, Aliko Dangote and his perception as a beneficiary of discriminatory patronage and nepotism by a succession of military rulers of the same ethnic regional origin (as him) posed and portended a negative public relations backlash against him in the resentful environment of Lagos and the South West.”
“It was my brief to manage this difficult transition for the group and I had to draw from the goodwill of my media esprit de corps; and the political capital payable from the iconic role I played in the anti-military dictatorship struggle-to secure legitimacy and a politically friendly environment for the business group.”
“It was from this station I was tapped to serve as the Media and Publicity director\spokesman of the
reelection campaign of President Olusegun Obasanjo in the 2002\2003 general elections.”
“I was quite excited at the opportunity given me to direct the national campaign and I adapted political science theories into the praxis and practice of Nigerian politics.
It was quite an enriching experience traversing
the complexities and contradictions of the Nigerian political landscape-been able to acquire invaluable field experience and give intellectual depth to the campaign in return.
After a successful prosecution of the campaign and the reelection of President Obasanjo for second term tenure, I was posted to the News Agency of Nigerian, NAN, as the Managing Director\Chief Executive-a quasi-political appointment and zenith of journalism career in Nigeria.
With over 40 bureau offices in Nigeria and four International bureau in New York, London, Abidjan and Johannesburg, NAN was quite a vast enterprise which entailed
for me a lot of travelling, especially with the added responsibilities of the board of governors of the Pan African News Agency, PANA, domiciled in Dakar, Senegal and the executive committee of the body of
International News Agencies.
Simultaneously, I was a key member of the political inner caucus of the President, saddled with a number of significant adhoc assignments including the selection of successorPresident,
consequent on the expiration of the two term tenure of the incumbent President; Presidential media task force and Presidential task force on National security. Preparatory to the conclusion of his stewardship and the general elections of 2007, President Obasanjo formally appointed me his Political Adviser in 2006 and
was given comprehensive supervisory responsibility over the political transition period-which attained a climax in the first uninterrupted successful transition from one elected President to another in the political history of Nigeria.”
” After declining the offer to serve as an Ambassador, I was momentarily exposed to the dilemma of ‘premature retirement’ that tend to beset political and public service appointees whose careers
invariably terminate with the tenure of the administration under which they serve.
In a concept paper I developed for career renewal-I formulated the dilemma as follows ‘attendant on the haphazard development of leadership recruitment culture-there has emerged a lack of sustainable public sector career path for highly developed and trained manpower. The concomitant premature termination of such careers (along with a reservoir of significant institutional memory) is compounded by the incapacity and inability of a poorly developed economy to productively reabsorb them. It could also be the case that those caught in this dysfunction have not applied themselves to the task of carving out an identifiable market niche.
The more recognizable manifestation of this phenomenon is the legion of aborted careers (often in their prime) in the military, political/public service sector, academia and the media. This unique circumstance has made the contemplation and cultivation of a second career lap
inevitable and profitable to both the career holder and the society’.”
“Subsequently, I, again, followed the fairly established tradition of putting my media background, political and public life exposure; and accumulated network of contacts to reactivate a public policy consulting firm I had established in collaboration with a friend and colleague way back. “
“In this capacity, I served as Consultant to the Presidential Campaign of President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2011 General Elections and was his Coordinator of the Presidential campaign strategy committee in the Presidential election of 2015.”
“Beginning in 2013, I reverted to serving on the editorial board of Thisday newspaper and writing a weekly national agenda setting weekly column for the newspaper.
In the penultimate Presidential election of 2019, I was the Spokesman of the Presidential campaign of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the Presidential candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP.”
” I have been privileged by the circumstances of my family
pedigree, education and career to occupy the vantage position of a unique Participant-Observer in the post independent evolution of Nigeria’s political history-especially in the aspect of the role of the media, the latter days of Military dictatorship, the crisis of the annulment of the 1993 Presidential election, Military disengagement from government and political normalization; democratic stability and sustainability of the Fourth republic.
Nigeria is once again mired in a festering political crisis with a potential for devastating escalation. Since the overreach of the federal government partisan intervention in the Western regional crisis that ensued in 1962, Nigeria has been a victim of the negation of Federalism and over-centralization of power syndrome.
The syndrome accelerated with the weakening of the Federating Units structure given physical
manifestation in the sub division of the four federating units in 1966 into 18 units in the second republic, 30 in the third republic and ultimately the subsisting 36 units.
Conversely, the legacy of the unification and centralization of powers of the Military government tradition has been worked into the Nigerian constitution fostering the antithetical (to federalism) expansion of the scope and magnitude of the powers of the federal government.The adoption of the Presidential system of government (personified by the President) has further
deepened the syndrome and offered an explanation of Nigerian governance failure in the dictum of Lord Acton that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely-‘the centre has become powerful enough, relative to the nominally constituent federating units, to impose its will on the nation; incumbency at the level of the federal government has become so consequential as to make the
struggle for its custody a matter of life and death and the most destabilizing factor of Nigerian politics (given its inherent liability to the winner takes all syndrome)’.
I have written extensively on Nigerian federalism and how its distortion and degradation have exerted singular dysfunctional effect on Nigerian politics and posited that the lingering governance failure hacks back to this dysfunction as causative factor. Indeed the willful evasion federalism since 1966 has resulted in the interminable experience of constitutional chaos and confusion-aptly presaged in the observation made at the leaders of thought meeting in 1967 by Chief Jereton Mariere,’
The context of the current situation in the country changes as events unfold themselves and it may well be that whatever solutions one considers proper at a given point ceases to be so when a new situation develops in a different context. That is why we seem to be moving forward and backwards’ ,Jereton Mariere (introduction, Awo on the Nigerian civil war).
“The need to explore and dig further into these departure points and themes has become increasingly urgent for me-to preclude the liability of fading memories and intractability of source materials.
It is a need that can begin to be substantially assuaged by the research utility of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.”
Please join us in wishing this great Nigerian a Happy 60th birthday.And we wish him many more years in good health.