Tunde Fagbenle: With friends like these, who needs enemies?

by Tunde Fagbenle

Tunde Fagbenle

Methinks, however, the “nature of friendship” and its import for power and governance is essentially a function of the state of political development of a country and the strength of the institutional structures in place.

The title is a common aphorism in Nigeria and the fact of its commonplace itself is a reflection of the general state of distrust in our society where “dog eats dog”, siblings betray siblings, and true friendship is at a discount.

Distrust and betrayals permeate the society and, in a way, may be fundamental to many of the problems bedevilling the country. It affects the growth of business, it conditions our psyche in social interaction, and, most importantly, in power play and governance of the country it has been at the root of the derailment of the country.

That last aspect, the nature of friendship and its fatal consequences for governance in countries, especially African countries or countries without strong structural institutions, was what engaged the mind of a Nigerian don, Dr. Wale Adebanwi, Associate Professor at the University of California, Davis, USA in his lecture titled, “What Are Friends For? The Fatality of Affinity in the Post-colony,” delivered at St. Anthony’s College, Oxford University, UK for their 2013 Annual African Studies Lecture.

Wale, who is also a good aburo of mine, had invited me to the lecture and it was an honour I could not let pass. Also honouring Wale’s invitation were important personalities including the Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, and his wife, Bisi Fayemi, Senator Babafemi Ojudu, Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosumu, British publisher Mr. James Currey, MD/Editor-in-Chief of Tribune newspapers, Mr. Edward Dickson, former editor of The NEWS Mr. Muyiwa Adekeye, my son and attorney, Kunle Fagbenle, Mr. Kayode Samuel and others, joining an array of Oxford University dons including the chief host, Director of the African Studies Centre, Dr. David Pratten, and our well known Dr. Anthony Akinola.

It was very clear that Nigeria with her political history of insincerity, backstabbing and betrayals amongst “friends” in power was on the mind of Adebanwi in choosing and embarking on research of the subject. And in the over two-hour long lecture, Adebanwi copiously used a surfeit of Nigerian examples to demonstrate his position that “in the context of political competition, friendship is often not used for virtue but for utility thereby turning friends into enemies.”

Adebanwi, a former Bill Gates Scholar at Cambridge University, illustrated his theory of the incompatibility of friendship and power with the examples of the “friendship” between president General Babangida and Babangida’s Best Man at his marriage, Major-General Mamman Vatsa whose execution Babangida went on to sanction on the charge of planning a coup against him, a charge which General Domkat Bali, who was Minister of Defence and Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff in Babangida’s regime, in later years dismissed as having no clear evidence, saying he was “not so sure whether we were right to have killed Vatsa.”

Another example cited by Adebanwi was the “friendship” between a President Obasanjo and his minister of justice, Chief Bola Ige, adding the surprise that in spite of the gruesome way in which Ige was killed and his loyalty to President Obasanjo, Obasanjo later flippantly dismissed his late friend as someone who did not know his left from his right. The audience was also reminded that Ige was assassinated while planning to leave Obasanjo’s cabinet to work on stopping Obasanjo’s party from winning or rigging the 2003 elections in the South-West.

Further examples given by Adebanwi were: the assassination of Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso by his friend Blaise Compaore; the alleged killing of General Shehu Yar’Adua through the injection of a killer virus into his body by agents of his “friend”, General Abacha; the annulment of MKO Abiola’s election by his “friend”, General Babangida, which led to the imprisonment in solitary confinement (from which he did not come out alive) of Abiola by yet another “friend” of his, General Abacha; and so on and so forth, insisting on the “political fatality of friendship” in the pursuit of power, position and prominence.

Says Adebanwi, “The fact that their friendships were also fatal in virtually every case invites us to examine the potential fatality of friendship when friendship intersects with the search for power in Africa. Secondly, the friendships and ambitions of these men have largely defined the political history of Nigeria in the past three decades and half. Thirdly, the friendships of these men were largely cross-cutting.”

Adebanwi’s elaborate treatise states that from Aristotle and Plato through Montaigne and Durkheim to Giddens “the meaning, significance and purpose of friendship in public life have exercised the minds of philosophers, theologians, political scientists, social thinkers, and later sociologists and anthropologists.”

He then urges “students of African politics should pay greater attention to (political) friendship and use the phenomenon in new ways to understand the dynamics of, and the struggle for, power in contemporary Africa.”

Although Adebanwi considers politics as “a real testing ground of friendship” being “a testing ground of character and goodness,” he must have countries other than Nigeria in mind. Here, politics is not about “character and goodness,” the opposite is the case; hence strange bedfellows cohabit and conjugate; they become “friends” that need no enemies!

Methinks, however, the “nature of friendship” and its import for power and governance is essentially a function of the state of political development of a country and the strength of the institutional structures in place. Where there are entrenched systems and structures no one bothers about the “nature of friendship” of individuals. Leadership of a country should not be a whimsical, pass-me-down thing like an Obasanjo handpicking a Yar’Adua. Time to grow up Nigeria!

The shenanigan of Portuguese embassy

There is a Yoruba saying that “bi iya nla ba gbe ‘ni san’le, kekeke a maa g’ori eni”, literally meaning “when a big affliction plagues one, all manner of smaller ones come to have their own fun too.”

That’s what came to mind when I read on the ubiquitous FaceBook, on the status of a high school senior and friend of mine, Dr. Seyi Lufadeju, the following:

“The world needs to know the real reasons why Portugal adopted a policy of failing to grant visas to some Africans to attend the RI Convention in Lisbon in June, 2013!”

RI stands for Rotary International, the global club of over 1.2 million members whose objective is “service – in the community, in the workplace, and around the globe.”

RI is not a backyard, fly-by-night, inconsequential club for crying out loud. Its members globally are highly respected professionals noted for their principles and integrity in service. So why would a country, not a particularly first-rated one at that, deny visas to hundreds of members from all over Nigeria intending to attend the RI Convention about to hold in Lisbon, Portugal come June, 2013?

The whole story is nauseating. It involved a long story of rigmarole by the Portuguese Ambassador that included being passed to “Agent” of the embassy that increased visa fees from 60 Euro to 100 euro and conflicting and conflating requirements and waivers.


Read this article in the Punch Newspapers


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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