END OF POLITICAL SHOWMANSHIP
In the beginning, Nigeria was blessed with a tribe of colourful politicians. They were men and woman, who smelt like rose and dressed with a touch of class. Bestriding the political landscape, like colossuses, they captivated the nation with their charisma, oratorical skills, profound convictions and costume. Indeed, they dominated their environment, hence their presence or absence on occasions were noticed.
Former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, succinctly captured that era as 'a wonderful period of politics and certainly incomparable in all circumstances to what is obtainable now.'
Besides the passion of dedication and fire to serve, most of the political leaders then maintained distinct identities. For instances, Nigeria's first ceremonial president, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, better known as Zik of Africa, had cosmopolitan outlook. He was also blessed with the gift of the gab and pursued, essentially, pan-Nigerian and pan-African agenda. Wherever Azikiwe entered, he was noticed.
He was popular, to the extent that whenever he was sighted, even by kids, the chant of 'Zik' will rent the air.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo, first Premier of Western Region, was cerebral and disciplined, despite the fact that he was austere in taste. For former Prime Minister, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, simplicity was the name of the game, while Mallam Aminu Kano was noted for his Talakawa politics. Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto, was a man of colour, who enjoyed huge followership.
In the First Republic, colour and flamboyance were seen in the political turf. In that dispensation, Chief Festus Samuel Okotie-Eboh held the flag, as far as fambouyance is concerned. Fondly called Omini Ejoh or Ejoh Bilela, he stood out with his flowing wrappers and bowler hat. In fact, among the 12-man cabinet of Prime Minister Balewa, Okotie-Eboh hugged the limelight more than others because of his flamboyant dressing and political showmanship. When he was assassinated, in the January 15, 1966, flambuoyance in government was also murdered.
In his lifetime, Otunba Theophilus Owolabi Shobowale Benson, Nigeria's first Minister of Information, Broadcasting and Culture, was flambuoyant. Fondly called TOS, he was a prolific writer and versatile public affairs commentator.
Chief Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe, Nigeria's first and only Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, was a quintessential wordsmith. Popularly known as the 'Man of Timber and Calibre' or KO, he bamboozled his listeners with bombastic language and coinage. For instance, he referred his campaign for the institution of the zoning system as panacea for national development to 'zoning to unzone.' According to Mbadiwe, for the Igbo to be more relevant in the political equation, there is need for 'handshake across the Niger.'
Tagging as 'Operation Fantastic,' his initiative that took Atilogwu dancers and Kano trumpeters on the maiden flight from Lagos to New York, while serving as Aviation Minister, Mbadiwe, Agadagbachiriuzo of Arondizuogu and Maye of Lagos, described the NPN/NPP alliance as 'accord concodiale.' In the face of political challenges, he quipped: 'When the come comes to become, we shall come out.' In his tribute to Mbadiwe, following his death on August 29, 1990, Chief Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu wrote: 'KO was grand, his actions grandiose, his speeches grandiloquent.'
Nobody would forget Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim, the man behind the 'politics without bitterness' philosophy. He was also a star of the Second Republic. In his younger days, Ambassador Maitama Sule was in his own class. A jolly good fellow, he caught national attention with his speeches and mannerisms. Even as an elder statesman, he remains a fashion icon.
Former Senate President, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, was also a flambuoyant politician. Cerebral and urbane, the Oyi of Oyi was a man who talked mainly in superlatives. His word power, dress sense and persona stood him out from the crowd. As Senate president, he brought elegance to the National Assembly. He would remain the most popular and flambuoyant Senate president the country has had. As number three citizen, whenever, he was coming into the chambers of the Senate, the chant of 'Oyi' would envelop the arena. Nobody would forget how he described Senator Pius Anyim, also a former Senate president. Popularly called Chuba, Okadigbo called Anyim 'a mass of platoplasm,' to describe the latter's size.
With the death of Second Republic governor of old Kano State, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, on April 4, the exclusive club of colourful politicians has been further decimated. To be sure, during the Second Republic, Rimi and his old Anambra State counterpart and friend, Chief Jim Nwobodo, were, arguably, among the most popular politicians. Blessed with affable looks, Rimi shone in his flowing agbada and Nwobodo caught attention with his trademark French suits. While Paul Unogo's hair style, dress sense and good looks stood him out.
During the stillborn Third Republic, Governor Ogbonnaya Onu of Abia State distinguished himself with his trademark Igbo traditional dress and red cap as well as his campaign for national integration. The same era also produced Chief Tom Ikimi, a dapper politician.
The acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, the late Chief MKO Abiola, was also a man of exquisite taste. Blessed with enormous resources, he showed the stuff he was made of by mounting the most colourful and effective campaign machinery ever witnessed in this country. Abiola's running mate, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, is also a class act, in terms of eloquence and glamour.
Under the present dispensation, only a few stars are shining on the political horizon. One of them is former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, whose cutting edge is his charisma and ability to take position on national issues. For Mr. Donald Duke, former Cross River State governor, his handsomeness and impeccable dress sense are his selling points.
Former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, also made politics fun. Whenever he appeared then, on campaign ground and in his elements, he would be noticed. His 'Umoru, are you dead? joke, when rumour engulfed the country over the perceived death of Alhaji Umar Musa Yar'Adua, presidential candidate of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) at that time, will be remembered. Likewise his declaration, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital, that state's governorship candidature had 'K-leg' were part of the fun Obasanjo brought into politics.
Hon Patrick Obahiagbon representing Oredo Federal Constituency in Edo State at the House of Representatives has carved a niche for himself with his high sounding language. Always resplendent in his native Edo attire, accentuated with beads around his neck and wrists, he mesmerises his listeners with his amalgamation of words. For instance, when human right activist and legal icon, Chief Gani Fawehinmi died, Hon. Obahiagbon wailed: 'No, no, no. Let somebody tell me this is a huge joke.
The grand initiation of Chief Fawehinmi has since brought me emotional laceration and thrown me into a state of catalepsy. This was a man who inured himself in the aqua of self-abnegation and immolation just to give justice to the down-trodden. He was simply inimitable, puritanically committed, inscrutably remonstrative, ideologically transcendental, and quixotically cosmopolitan and a ready conveyor-belt of legal tomahawks, which he intrepidly displayed in his cascading fulminations against our philistine military and political class. His transition is not just the fall of an iroko, but indeed, the grand initiation of an iconic legal salamander. We only hope that we didactically learn here that it's not so much our sybaritic lifestyle that matters more than the quality of service we render while we sojourn on this earth plane.'
Obahiagbon finds soul mate in the pastor of the Household of God Church, Rev. Chris Okotie, a former presidential candidate of Fresh Democratic Party. Like Obahiagbon, the pop star-turned cleric and politician is attached to high-sounding words, like butterfly to flower. His tribute to Fawehinmi was: 'The dismal clouds have expressed their grief in tearful outpouring for Nigeria. The great myrmidon of the people, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, lies in somnolent quietude.'