By Festus Adedayo
I ordinarily do not rejoind rejoinders to my pieces. My philosophy is that, the same freedom I enjoy to air my views is same the person penning the rejoinder has. However, I have had to break this principle, in reply to the doggerel written by Mr. Laolu Akande, the Special Assistant to the Vice President on Media. Of a truth, after reading his, with the benefit of hindsight, I felt I shouldn’t have written it, thus saving Nigerians the horror of encountering Mr. Akande in his rawest fit.
I have known the presidential media assistant for more than two decades now and I, as well as those who know him, know that his short fuse is akin to an epileptic fit. That he would translate this drawback into the management of his office was not a surprise. What is surprising is that mature minds in the presidency couldn’t rein in this personal limitation from becoming an official imprimatur that paints the hallowed office of the Vice President in the visor of a common motor park tout whenever this fit is in full blossom. Like in the rejoinder under reference.
Not only do I know Mr. Akande very well, on my part, I thought he was my friend and that he is aware that friendship shouldn’t stand in the way of making comments on issues that affect the country. Specifically, I knew Mr. Akande in 1995, about 24 years ago, at the Tribune House, Imalefalafia, Ibadan, Oyo State. Surprisingly, while Akande pretends never to have worked there, I still carry the glory of this frontline newspaper which made me what I am today. Those who are in the know would tell you what Akande used the Saturday Tribune newspaper he edited then for, which he knows that I know. With what we all know, Akande is the least person to impute motives to what journalists write. It is on record that almost all the lead stories in the newspaper under his editor-ship were against the government of the day. Would it be right to say he collected money from the opposition then?
I hope Mr. Akande remembers that I was not just an insider in the Tribune then, we were sufficiently close for me to know what he did. The language he used for me in the said rejoinder did not in the least shock me, his friend – I assume! – of almost 24 years, given the fact of what I know about how Mr. Akande regards relationships. My friend, Akande, was a member of a 5-man circle of very closely-knit friends in the Tribune at that time. Can he explain why the other four were sacked in 1997 and he did not only survive the sack, he, like a supplanter, took over the post of one of his sacked friends? Or has he forgotten how he became the editor of the Saturday Tribune, a position he took from his sacked friend? Till today, Mr. Akande’s friends still lament the knife with which his Cassius stabbed their Julius Caesar. The quadruple facilitated his employment at the Tribune. This is basically why I am not bothered about his intemperate language. All of us, his friends, do not expect anything noble from Mr. Akande.
On March 17, 2018, celebrated and respected journalist, one of our immediate forefathers in the pen profession, Mr. Dele Momodu, wrote a very emotional piece about Mr. Akande. He entitled it An Open Letter to Laolu Akande. In that piece, Mr. Momodu traced the genealogy of his association with Akande. He began by wondering “what people eat or drink inside the Aso Rock Villa that makes some of those of (our) ilk, who we once admired, misbehave the way you (Akande) did last night.” Like me, Mr. Momodu had known him for more than two decades.
He wrote about how, on meeting Akande in America where he was sojourning, he “expressed the difficulties and vagaries of life (he) faced in America,” how he made him North American Bureau Chief for Ovation International and how, at some point, the editor “complained about the way you handled transactions and so on” and how he “simply abandoned a company that provided some modest income for (him) in America.” He had been publishing a ragtag online medium called Empowered Newswire which visiting Nigerian politicians to the US claimed he was using to extort money from them. Mr. Akande’s reply to a similar piece I did critiquing the VP authored by Momodu was, “For good measure, Bob Dee, maybe we should just remind our readers that not only are you an active member of opposition, you also retain with top notchers of the PDP significant business relationships.” It was a euphemism for alleging that the respected journalist was compromised.
I noticed that in the said rejoinder, Mr. Akande repeatedly referred to me as “Mr.” Being someone with visceral hatred for titles, I do not bother about whatever prefix anyone attaches to me but, in this instance, I noticed that this was done for spite purpose, even when Mr. Akande is aware that I hold a PhD – not honoris causa – from the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan, same school I am aware that Mr. Akande struggled unsuccessfully for close to two decades until he abandoned his doctoral pursuit. For his information, while he is stagnant intellectually, I have gone a step forward to acquire an LLB from that same University of Ibadan .
Now back to his claim of my manufacture of the information in the piece. While I owe him no apology whatsoever, explanation or any detail, I leave Nigerians to place us side by side and judge who is believable between us. Here was a presidential aide who, about a week ago, took about 200 million Nigerians for a ride, telling them that there was no sack of his principals’ aides by the President. A few hours after, a colleague aide of his at the presidency told the world that there were indeed sacks of the same people. Mum has been the word from the supplanter since then. In saner climes, it was enough reason to resign his portfolio. Shamelessly, he still appends his signature to releases. No remorse, no shame. Till today,
Mr. Akande is apparently one of those “government people” whose warped and narrow minds cannot conceive the possibility of anyone critiquing government personalities without having been compromised. He has failed to tell the world who could have compromised me to write an old information that was common knowledge on the Nigerian information highway. I am sure that those who were privy to the information must be laughing themselves hoarse at Mr. Akande’s unexampled attempt to make a corpse walk.
As a parting shot, the person I pity most is the VP who is trapped in the cocoon of this irascible element who has transposed his short fuse into the management of the press of the vice president. I recommend the examples of his colleagues – Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu – to him. When you critique their boss, not only do they take it in their strides, they do not smear the critic in swine lingo as Akande does. Today, Mr. Akande has scant regards among Nigerian media chiefs due to this limitation of his and how he cannot maintain friendships. No wonder the office has almost nil media rating. Many of the barbs the professor VP receives are ostensibly ones meant for his media chief who will descend into the gutters and splash sewers on whoever tells the world that his principal isn’t exactly a nephew of Angel Gabriel. No one is.