Bayo Alao Akala, immediate past governor of Oyo state, did more governing in the last four weeks of his administration than he did in the entire four years he spent wasting the lives of the people of Oyo state.
As soon as he lost his re-election bid, he went into over-drive, working twenty-five-hour days to achieve in four weeks everything he did not do in four years. He milked every media opportunity and perorated endlessly on what he called his “legacy”. The media, he warned, should not allow themselves to be used by his enemies to “rubbish” his legacy. Oyo state woke up to an “akshon governor” – reminiscent of Raji Rasaki’s comical tenure as military administrator of Lagos state.
Alao Akala was not done yet. He suddenly discovered the ethos of genuine democracy in the structure of the Oyo State traditional council and ended the permanent reign of the Alafin of Oyo in that department. Watchers, who thought the action curious, immediately established connections between things: Oyo town did not vote for Akala and the Alafin allegedly worked against the man’s re-election. People spoke of vendetta and the Alafin called for the outgoing governor’s probe; Alao Akala spoke of his love for democracy and fairness!
The workers of Oyo state soon became beneficiaries of the bleaching governor’s new romance with democracy and fairness. He came out of his spat with the Alafin to announce the immediate implementation of the national minimum wage for workers. He did not tell us where he suddenly found the funds for a wage level that he, like virtually every other governor, had treated like an irritating federal imposition they could ill afford. Nigerians are sufficiently familiar with this scenario: no state governor ever claims to have enough funds to pay workers the minimum necessary to maintain their human dignity. Akala found funds to “put smiles on the faces of workers in Oyo state” after losing an election. People spoke of a sinister plot to cripple the state financially and blackmail the in-coming Ajimobi administration; Alao Akala spoke of his newfound love for workers.
NURTW, that permanent reminder of the ugly side of politics in Oyo state, became the next beneficiary of Alao Akala’s new populism and fire brigade four-week governance philosophy. He de-proscribed NURTW in a gesture of magnanimity powered by a newly discovered necessity to “carry the people along.” Tokyo, good old Tokyo, had a good laugh and dismissed the gesture as the last gasp effort of a drowned and defeated politician to find love after life in office.
Then came the clincher: the commissioning of the new Oyo state liaison office in Lagos. Alao Akala worked particularly hard to complete that project and commission it before leaving office. And so it was that during the commissioning ceremony, the governor got carried away. His assistants woke him from his daytime revelry to cut the tape and his first babble, upon coming back to reality, provides a Kodak window into the psychology of governance in Nigeria: “I personally designed the lodge to my taste but now another person will enjoy it”. The keywords here are “personally” and “my taste”. In civilized climes, leaders design such public buildings as a reflection of the people. A common cultural denominator for all the people of Oyo state would have been agreed upon in the conceptualization of the aesthetics of that building. That way, the edifice becomes a trans-temporal reflection of the people and any governor would feel at home therein because it reflects Oyo state. In Nigeria, sadly, an incumbent for whom it is anathema to think of a single day out of office designs a public building to his own personal taste. As for the bit about “enjoying it”, well, governance is precisely about that in Nigeria!
The title of the present essay warns the reader against limiting these scenarios to Alao Akala and his tragi-comic tenure in Oyo state. Alao Akala is but a national archetype, a minuscule representation of Nigeria’s broader malphilosophy of governance. Every single one of the scenarios listed above is emblematic of the final rites of passage in office in Nigeria. Wisdom and epiphany always come towards the end, when the public office holder suddenly discovers what the late Tai Solarin famously called “the impermanence of permancence.” This is the point at which belated awareness of the importance of legacy sets in for the incumbent – hence the mad rush to yank a modicum of performance from the jaws of an overall corrupt and incompetent tenure.
But even this awareness is often not enough to raise the game of the outgoing incumbent beyond a crude and pedestrian instinct to mistake the settling of scores and reinforce the personalization of power for genuine and real service as Bayo Alao Akala demonstrated with his four-week madness in Oyo state. For what did the twilight really say to Alao Akala (apologies to Derek Walcott)? The twilight urged him towards a self-definition as the indispensable governor of Oyo state who must plot to come back some Monday for sure. Every bobby-trap to discredit his successor must be put in place.
Take the minimum wage question. What happens if Ajimobi discovers an empty treasury upon assumption of office and is therefore unable to sustain his predecessor’s promise to workers? After all, like most governors in Nigeria, Alao Akala ran the Oyo state treasury like his personal bank account. Does the new governor reverse this perversely populist and opportunistic last-gasp policy implementation by his predecessor? That would immediately trigger nostalgia for the rosy years of Alao Akala by the workers of Oyo state. The same logic applies to the issue of the headship of the traditional council. A reversal of Alao Akala’s clear act of vendetta would immediately put the new governor on a warpath with the traditional rulers (and their subjects). Can the new governor risk a clash with so many traditional rulers just to please one – the Alafin?
Alao Akala, as archetype of the twilight of governance, underscores the multiple angles to our struggle for the entrenchment of genuine democratic norms. Beyond the admittedly necessary focus on the need for credible, free and fair elections, we must pay increased attention to the ethos of incumbency. The follies and the vanities associated with last-minute incumbency in Nigeria are often as deleterious as the other two attributes of our democracy: corruption and rigging.