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Meeting Jagaban’s Childhood Playmates

Tinubu

My meeting with Jagaban’s childhood playmates left me with a sense of wonder at an uncommon devotion and loyalty not often found in these shores. Unless, of course, there’s more to it than is apparent from this intellectual appraisal of the phenomenon.

I find Jagaban’s childhood playmates both fascinating and particularly un-Nigerian for one reason – their collective vow of silence. To meet with these boyhood classmates physically is a tall order for anyone living in Nigeria today. And so it was for me, too, until I remembered one of the many encounters I had with the boisterous and colourful politician called KO Mbadiwe of blessed memory.

One particular interaction made me resolve to find and describe the boyhood playmates of the Jagaban.

To digress a bit, I met Chief KO Mbadiwe for the first time on June 20, 1987, during a book presentation at the NIIA in Victoria Island, Lagos. I noted the date in the book. The drama began when it was KO’s turn to “launch” The Story of the Ibibio Union, authored by the late Justice Udo Udoma. The book was not a legal tome by the erudite justice of the Supreme Court. It was, rather, an account of his youthful labours for the Ibibio State Union, before he moved to the bench.

KO accepted a copy of the book, moved to the podium, held it aloft and deliberately measured his audience. Then he turned his full attention to the author as he intoned:

“I have not read the book, but I have read the man!” The audience exploded at another KOspeak. Remembering this KO moment reminded me that there are many ways of meeting with the boyhood playmates of the Jagaban. There is no known book to read about them but we can read from the silence. One of the principles that journalists are taught in the news reporting class is that “no comment” could become the lead story, if properly contextualized. An astute reporter can bring into bold relief the context and use this to demonstrate how significant and insightful a no-comment can be.

It is in this context that the no-comment stance of the childhood playmates of the Jagaban assumes gargantuan significance for Elections 2023. We are presented with the loudest no-comment in the history of electioneering in Nigeria – on a man who is in every sense one of the frontrunners.

In May 1999, when Senator Bola Tinubu, the subject of this essay, became governor of Lagos, the issue of his place of origin and his educational qualifications became front-page controversies.

Significantly, not one childhood playmate or classmate came to his rescue. No one was willing to step forward and speak for him. The defence, then as now, devolved to a band of publicists who discharged the responsibility with some dexterity.

The issue has, however, refused to die down. I personally do not care for the issue and I have said why before now. But I am worried at the way it is papered over or forcibly sealed off, waiting for the next election cycle.

There are only two ways to lay the controversy to rest. One is to produce hard evidence of where the Jagaban had his early education. The other is to show who he schooled with or grew up with, his childhood playmates. In the absence of hard evidence, what meaning can we, like KO, read into this over two decades of silence by the childhood playmates?

Gov. Tinubu is clearly an enigma, both as a person and in his politics. Having put some thought to what is powering his quest for the presidency of Nigeria, I can tentatively suggest that what makes him such a phenomenon is the intersection between his politics and his person and how his childhood playmates appear to have agreed to put a cap on the story. Today, their silence has transformed Tinubu into an inscrutable being, a mysterious performer whose political ascendancy mesmerizes his nation.

Gov. Tinubu is nothing but a lucky man. He has the best set of loyal childhood friends in the world, friends from where he comes from, where he grew up, and where he schooled. No doubt, many of these friends are alive today, but there’s not one Judas to be counted among the lot.

That’s incredible.

Tinubu’s situation with his childhood playmates speaks to one of three things. There may be no story worth telling about the man, after all. This can be an uncommon devotion and loyalty from childhood friendship not often sustained on these shores, especially in matters of politics. And, of course, is it possible that some of them may fear that something resembling the sword of Damocles hangs over their heads?

Enugu Metro, my alternate online publication, passed up the opportunity to report day-to-day campaigns of the World Cup just ended in Qatar. We could not find a reporter who would not read the book (be physically present) but would read the matches and joyfully report them with authority and insight. What is worth doing…

We ended up serving the next best – an intellectual harvest of articles that speak to the World Cup values. The last four articles we published examined the things you won’t find about the competition and the artists that define this era of football – Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar and Mbappe.

One explored the medical miracle that gave the world a prodigy called Lionel Messi. Another used Messi to rekindle age-grade rivalry, a third painted his hero Messi in poetic hues and the final dismissed the notion of Messi as a G.O.A.T.

Here’s something else I can add.

Except for CR7, the other three have their roots in two continents (Africa and South America) but currently eat at the same table in a different continent (Europe).

These three phenomenal footballers – Messi, Neymar, and Mbappe – came to the grand finale from the same club, Paris St. Germain FC in France. The national teams they played for – Argentina, Brazil and France – advanced to the quarter-finals, with France and Argentina playing the final match. It is, therefore, germane to any discussion of WC 2023 to note that players plying their trade in the French football league gave the world the best final match in recent memory. We are unlikely to witness the deadly rivalry between two Saint-Germain artists as they pulled their magic tricks from their hats to give world audiences a finger-biting final.

And the two not only ended up with the top performance prizes but overloaded the World Cup 2022 final match with other historical records.

France may have lost the final match but three of the four top gladiators will return to French soil.

And one of them – touted as the G.O.A.T. – will surely leave his epaulette in France as he retires. For the crown prince who refused to cry after scoring a record final match hat trick to wipe away shame from the eyes of his countrymen.

The future belongs to the African French lad as the ageing stars depart

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