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No book launched in Nigeria in 2021 excited the public and the media as much as My Participations: An Autobiography (xxviii + 557 pages), authored by Chief Bisi Akande and published by Gaskia Media Limited, Lagos, in November 2020, with a Forward by Professor Wole Soyinka.
It takes a thorough and complete reading of the book (not the market noise generated by armchair reviews) to realize that only a bold, honest, and forthright participant in high stakes politics would say or do certain things recorded in the book, such as telling a sitting President, “You must be out of his mind”; resigning as Secretary to a State Government on principle, only to be cajoled back into the job by a surprised Governor; or refusing to bribe councillors for their vote or legislators not to impeach him. He declared and demonstrated several times in the book that he neither offered nor received a bribe. Nobody or group has come out with credible evidence to the contrary.
Moreover, no one has controverted the evidence in the book that the author was favourably courted by many outstanding national and local political leaders, from Chief Obafemi Awolowo to Chief Bola Ige. Besides, he was and remains a beloved citizen of his native Ila Orangun, where he is the Asiwaju (frontline leader) and his home state of Osun, where he is revered as Baba Akande. All these attributes attracted the attention of four different political parties, which made him Chairman, namely, Alliance for Democracy; Action Congress; Action Congress of Nigeria; and All Progressives Congress. A common thread across these parties is the welfarist ideology of progressivism from which, till today, Akande never winked.
It is not surprising, therefore, that book attracted praise in some quarters, while generating controversy in others, controversies which gave us insights into certain events, while seeing their participants in a new light. The author is praised for giving pulsating accounts of his own participations in Nigeria’s political development, partisan politics, and governance, by providing eyewitness accounts of certain defining moments in Nigerian political history, especially since 1977. In the process, he unveiled the intrigues that shaped key events from the work of the Constituent Assembly in 1977/78 to the formation of the All Progressives Congress in 2014 and the ousting of the Peoples Democratic Party from power in 2015.
He is also praised for the thoroughness of his accounts in citing the locations and dates of certain key events, while also naming key participants, quoting conversations and quoting figures, where necessary. He never shied away from expressing his opinion on key events and the actors behind them. One such event is the assassination of Chief Bola Ige, then Attorney General and Minister of Justice. The author left no one in doubt about the possible culpability of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his government as well as the alleged involvement of Iyiola Omisore.
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Similarly, Obasanjo’s trickery of the Afenifere leaders and AD governors in 2003 in service of his reelection led the author to describe the trickster as “wily”, “cunning”, and “ruthless”, leading to the verdict on the trickster’s “relentless dalliance” as that of “a faithless suitor and an unblinking philanderer on the political field”.
At the same time, however, the book provides interesting historical details about Ila Oragun, the author’s birthplace and hometown, its place in Yoruba history, and its political development about which most reviewers appear uninterested. Yet, the author’s own growth and development as a person, professional, and politician parallel the growth and development of his home town, one shaping, as much as being shaped by, the other.
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Besides, the author delved deep into his own family history. Few would narrate in detail the abject poverty of his parents as the author did, portraying his father as a palmwine tapper whose income could not sustain basic necessities, let alone afford the children’s school fees. He had no qualms in letting us know that his father died a pauper, because that is the truth.
Yet, Akande struggled through school, once trying to become a Mechanic, until he completed the Teachers Grade III certificate. He later veered into accounting, learning via correspondence colleges, while remaining a classroom teacher. Only those who took correspondence courses in those days would appreciate the discipline required to complete them successfully while working full time. Yet, Akande did and became a qualified Accountant at the age of 22.
Faced with choice between a funeral party for his mother and paying his brother’s school fees, he chose the latter and left town peremptorily to avoid the family’s prescribed traditional rituals for his mother’s funeral as involvement would deplete his resources.
Unfortunately however, the press has been busy orchestrating the views of those exposed in the book, who began to spit fire as as soon as snippets appeared in the press. And the press blew up their condemnation of the book. Even those who cared to read the book were lured into finding faults, by overlooking the book’s merit and that of its author. This is not surprising, because, as Professor Soyinka foretold in his Forward, “This is one historic reckoning that will make many uncomfortable”.
No one seemed to care to even investigate some of the allegations, if they are to be so characterized, that the author levied against some of the participants in the events he described. Take, for example, Chief Ayo Adebanjo’s response to the allegations against him. He focused on the Lekki house, alleged to have been built for him by Bola Tinubu. That was just one of several allegations against him in the book, to which he had no answer. What is more, soon after Chief Adebanjo released his rebuttal on the Lekki house, an interview granted by Chief Segun Osoba surfaced in which Chief Adebanjo’s recalcitrance and duplicitous role was also revealed.
Other detractors of the book focused on what they alleged as a plan to promote Bola Tinubu’s presidential ambition. But I know that the book would have been launched years ago but for delay in publication. A further delay was caused by the second wave of COVID-19 when the book was finally published in November, 2020.
The book should be read from cover to cover in order to appreciate its value and the import of Professor Soyinka’s forward. A serialised review of the book is forthcoming. In the meantime, I have no hesitation in promoting it as my Book of the Year here in Nigeria, and its author as Man of the Year for his courage, resilience, forthrightness, and faithfulness to courses, principles, and ethical standards.
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