11 January 2010

Nigeria: Between Jibril Aminu and Ooni of Ife


NOT even the crassest of his critics would refer to Jibril Aminu, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, as flamboyant, ostentatious or showy.

Though he left the academic environment in 1985 when he was appointed the Minister of Education while serving as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Maiduguri , Aminu, a professor of cardiology, still leads the disciplined life of an old-fashioned scholar.

This is rather uncommon in a country which cherishes opulence and grandeur and for someone who has held what the Nigerian political class calls the grade A posts of Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Petroleum Resources and Ambassador to the United States , among others.

Still, on January 2, 2010, Senator Aminu rolled out the drums when he was installed the "Bobaselu of The Source" by the Ooni of Ife, Oba Sijuwade. Aminu's enthusiastic celebration of this honour is quite interesting. For one, he is by no means a royalist. In fact, some people very close to him suggest Aminu may well be anti-monarchy! For another, the title bestowed on him is merely honorific. So, why did he go all out to celebrate an honour that in practical terms confers no privileges, let alone rights?

The answer must be located in Aminu's deep personal conviction that everything which seems to promote even in the remotest way the cause of national integration, national unity and cohesion and national development must be supported without reservations. For Aminu, the further an honour is from a person's geopolitical zone and culture zone the better and the more significant. This fact explains the great importance he attaches to the traditional titles he has received from Nnewi and other communities in Anambra and Abia States, from the Tor Tiv in Benue State , etc.

Of all the honours bestowed on him across the country over the decades there is perhaps none dear to him as his installation as the Bobaselu of Ife by the Ooni himself and on a most auspicious occasion, the 80th birthday anniversary of His Royal Majesty. Ile-Ife is reputed to be the ancestral home of the millions of the Yoruba people in both Nigeria and the Benin Republic . The Ooni is ipso facto the cultural leader of this vibrant and progressive ethnic group.

What is more, Bobaselu is a title traditionally given to a very senior royal cabinet member who is preoccupied with the development of the whole land, and not part of it. Put succinctly, the Ooni regards Senator Aminu as someone whose primary focus has been on Nigeria's national development without regard to religious, cultural or political differences in this outrageously diverse nation of 140 million people.

In a tribute marking his 70th birthday last August, I did point out that no sooner was Aminu appointed the Education Minister than was a campaign portraying him as an Islamic fanatic and Northern irredentist launched, and consequently every policy he initiated, however laudable, was seen through the prism of the Nigerian political divide.

The executive director of a very influential newspaper in Lagos who initiated and led the campaign did so in the belief of protecting Yoruba interests. He today knows better, and is now a confidant of Aminu's.

I know Aminu has a high opinion of the Yoruba. He always speaks of their acute sense of social justice and their liberal disposition on social issues. He was understandably hurt by newspaper reports that he was no friend of the Yoruba. Conversely, he was delighted when the Lagos Island Local Government under the leadership of Musuliu Obanikoro, now Nigeria's High Commissioner to Ghana, named a major street in Park View Estate, Ikoyi, after him.

He neither lobbied for it, nor was he aware of the plan until it was announced officially. In other words, more thoughtful people in Lagos and elsewhere were not taken in by the anti-Aminu sentiment raging in the press in the 1980s.

There were people like Doyin Okupe, who was to become the presidential spokesman during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, who had the courage of their convictions and swam against the flow of popular but misguided sentiment.

Truth be told, Aminu is still nostalgic about his days in both Ibadan and Lagos. He is passionate about the University of Ibadan where he won several prizes as the best medical student. The normal practice for most Nigerian elites who studied both at home and abroad is to always speak regularly about their international education and play down on their local training.

But not Aminu. He scarcely misses any event involving his alma mater. Hence, many Nigerians do not know that he attended medical schools in London where he did post- graduate studies, including doctoral and fellowship programmes. When he returned home, there were tremendous pressures for him to lecture at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria , but he chose the University Medical College, Ibadan.

If not for the call of duty, he probably would have remained in Ibadan to this day. He left Ibadan when he was appointed the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), which was then located in Lagos.

This was his first purely administrative job. And as the NUC Executive Secretary, he facilitated the establishment of the medical schools of the universities in Ilorin, Port Harcourt , Sokoto, Calabar, Jos, Maiduguri in the late 1970s and early 1980s which in no time began to compete favourably with older universities in the country but also overseas.

The Ooni must be an excellent student of history and Nigerian society. The honour he bestowed on Aminu as the Bobaselu of The Source is obviously in recognition of the senator's ability to work with amazing ease with Nigerians from different backgrounds for the common good.

Adinuba is head of Discovery Public Affairs Consulting.

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