A cartoon published recently by Punch offers perhaps the most prophetic foreword to the political tragedy that climaxed in Ondo on November 26. Someone in an unconscious state is sketched being hustled away from the shelter of the Iroko (big oak tree) as the Good Samaritan mutters, “struck by lightning”.
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Indisputably, the Iroko moniker is patent for the brand of politics Dr. Olusegun Mimiko has retailed in Ondo State in the past two decades. The ill-starred vagrant depicted in the cartoon could only be Eyitayo Jegede, a senior advocate he had anointed to succeed him as governor, only to finish poorly in last weekend’s polls.
The cartoonist’s surreal evocation is obviously rooted in Yoruba cosmology, which ordinarily invests the Iroko shrub with some metaphysical prowess. But in the event that such powers prove impotent under a tempest, so much that the proverbial lightning could strike so viciously right under its shadow, it is then safe to conclude that such Iroko must have “gba abode” (come under an evil spell).
What remains therefore is its decapitation as a rite in exorcism.
For a man who has more or less dominated Ondo politics in the last decade, so sad that Mimiko would end riotously on a low. Now completely stripped after the November 26 endgame and haunted still by the grotesque shadow of PDP in complete disarray on account of factionalization, it would be entirely surprising today if Iroko is not already filled with nostalgia for the comfort and the peace of mind the old Labour Party had provided him before greed for power lured him to PDP in 2014.
For an outgoing governor, nothing indeed could be traumatizing as the thoughts of a hostile takeover. For a man obsessed with the affectation of populism over the years and who, by action, seemed forever apprehensive about how future historians would accommodate him, how ironic that Mimiko will have to spend his remaining days in office agonizing more on how to balance the naira and kobo in the financial book, let alone bother about what fate awaits the sundry cenotaphs carved in his image across the state.
But let no one shed tears for this prodigal son. Alas, the Iroko of perfidy is irreverently toppled by the whirlwind of Karma. Only poor students of history would not have foreseen this calamitous end for Mimiko.
In hindsight, it is obvious that the deep fissures in PDP at the national level contributed to Jegede’s defeat. But even as the chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, Mimiko acted up his billing as a political sailor without moral compass. All along, he continued to flirt with both the Makarfi camp and the Sheriff faction, perhaps shamelessly hoping to bed one after the other. Until Jimoh Ibrahim locked the room and took away the key.
To be fair, overall, no one can deny the fallen Iroko credits for modest achievements in the area of improved healthcare (especially maternal welfare) and empowerment of market women through the provision of stalls and soft loans.
But with the hostile take-over of last weekend, Iroko has lost the opportunity to have a say in how his story in the last eight years will be officially documented. And the stories of his little miracle here and there will likely be completely obliterated when the “enemies” commence a re-write after his exit.
Essentially, Mimiko’s tragic flaw stems from the carnal assumption that political success is to be measured only by material acquisitions without subscribing to any enduring moral value. To believe in nothing and stand for nothing is the worst cardinal sin. Even common harlots are governed by some ethics – an obligation to keep clients’ confidentiality, for instance.
Now, Iroko’s loneliness should be framed in the proper context. In his hey-day, he conveniently chose to believe that politics and politicking could exist in a moral vacuum. A psychotic affliction which led my brother and colleague, Sam Omatseye, to memorably characterize him as “whitlow of the South-west”.
In his delusion, the medical-doctor-turned-politician forgot that politics is defined by an avowal of a set of values. Without that, the player is perhaps no better than a motor-park tout, scavenging for his next meal ticket.
To the scion of the otherwise illustrious Mimiko family of Ondo town, politics is all about self and the preservation of narrow interests. That explains why his political odyssey in the last seventeen years would now look more like an adventure in treacheries and infamy.
As an appointee of Governor Ade Adefarati of Alliance for Democracy (AD) between 1999 and 2002, he was recruited by PDP to undermine his benefactor.
When Olusegun Agagu became governor in 2003 through PDP’s now infamous “operation totality” in the South-west, he was compensated with the plum office Secretary to the State Government.
Barely two years later, he was “promoted” to Abuja as minister. But he wanted something bigger – Agagu’s job! That set him at odds with Obasanjo and Agagu and would ignite a chain of events culminating in his migration to the Labour Party in 2006.
His scant regard for loyalty explains why he later felt no scruples in trading the otherwise much cherished Labour badge away for a rickety accommodation in PDP two years ago, thus casually abandoning mid-stream the teeming community of workers across the country who had basked in the illusion of a toe-hold, if not foothold, in political power in Nigeria through Ondo.
Yet, when it mattered most, when the PDP hyenas callously left him defenestrated in 2006, it was the same Labour that graciously offered him shelter and platform for rehabilitation. Having used the vehicle to gain second term in 2012, he opted to trade with PDP. Without conscience, he owed workers whopping six months salaries, but had money to finance his surrogate’s election bid. Without shame, he again attempted to deceive the same labour unions weeks ago by urging them to vote Jegede with a laughable promise to pay after the elections.
The same lack of sense of loyalty also explains why Mimiko hardly batted an eyelid three years ago before clamping down heavily on the popular Adaba FM in Akure. For airing news items he did not find flattering, he showed naked power by doing the unthinkable – dug a deep valley in the only access road to the station! That punitive action rendered it inaccessible to workers and clients.
Yet, when PDP “stole” his mandate in 2007 and he was left alone in the wilderness, the same Adaba FM provided him a platform to speak directly to the Ondo public, at no cost.
At personal level, the ordeals of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim are now public knowledge. For all Tinubu’s moral and financial support during the protracted legal battle to reclaim his stolen mandate, Mimiko, emboldened by his new PDP friends in Abuja, would turn round to publicly call his old benefactor unprintable names during his re-election bid in 2012.
If Jimoh Ibrahim chose to go dirty and personal against Mimiko and his surrogate, it is probably the only way the maverick businessman imagined he could avenge what he considers a great betrayal. The story is told of how the Igbotako-born publisher of Mirror Newspaper had extended huge financial support as well as legal guidance and counseling to Mimiko while fighting Agagu between 2007 and 2008 even though the latter was supposed to be his kinsman.
But once Mimiko entered office, as the story goes, one of the early actions he took was to move against Ibrahim’s interest in Ondo’s hospitality sector.
In 2010 came a big drama at the Akure airport. On landing from Abuja in a chartered propeller aircraft, Mimiko decided to walk over and say “hello” to Ibrahim nestling in his new Challenger jet. But no sooner had the governor stepped onto the aisle than Ibrahim reportedly barked at him, wondering what strange coffee he drank: “Who invited you to my plane?! Get out of my plane!!”
With his security details left in a quandary as Ibrahim raised hell, Mimiko quietly left the scene.
The paths of the two old-buddies-turned-adversaries would again cross in 2011 when Ibrahim first sought to contest the governorship on the platform of PDP, the sponsorship of which he had since taken over. As the story goes, then President Goodluck Jonathan counseled him to wait till 2016 as “Mimiko is working for me even though he’s in Labour Party.”
Though disappointed at the turn of events, Ibrahim obeyed Jonathan. Thus, “federal might” was put behind Mimiko to overrun APC’s Rotimi Akeredolu in 2012, rendering PDP’s own Olusola Oke a political orphan in the polls. But no sooner had Mimiko been sworn in for second term in 2013 than he, characteristically, decided to officially move over to PDP, thus displacing Ibrahim’s as the party leader in Ondo.
Extravagantly hoping Jonathan would deliver himself in 2015, Iroko began to see himself as PDP’s clearing-house in South-west and, ipso facto, the new Yoruba leader.
Today, the lightning has struck and Ibrahim is obviously having the last laugh.