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Sunday, 03 March 2024 06:45

[OPINION] Ayobolu @ 60: The question of character - Louis Odion, FNGE

Reuben Abati (“Monumental”) memorably characterises such moment as “when the phone stops ringing”. It is the ultimate nightmare of the public intellectual or just any member of the tribe at the point of — or shortly before — evacuating public office.

It is not only about the imminent forfeiture of privileges and advantage, but also the anxiety about accountability before a national jury.

For the columnist, questions are bound to be asked about just how much he practised what he had preached so magisterially before assuming public office. Observable conduct — by way of deeds or words during the stated public engagement — will be weighed against the corpus of values earlier trumpeted from the outside.

For this purpose, public intellectuals will include others involved in the knowledge economy like academics and think-tank experts, mediating between public authorities and the society.

Segun Ayanbolu could, by any stretch, not be said to have suffered any difficulty in the referenced transition between theory and praxis, despite having been exposed to the corrosive toxin of partisan politics as the Chief Press Secretary to then Governor Bola Tinubu at a very challenging moment in Lagos.

Upon returning to the media in 2008, it was clear that the critical flavor of his punditry had not diminished, which is perhaps a testimony to the character and integrity he demonstrated for the nine years he sojourned at Alausa.

Again, such seamless adaptability — this instinctive capacity for role changes without loss of identity — would seem very much in evidence in his choice to sneak onto the “sixth floor” (the sexagenarian club) recently without as much a stir or noise.

On account of his remarkable life and sterling accomplishments in journalism, not a few friends had, at the approach of the Diamond milestone, contemplated the idea of staging a commemorative shindig. But once he got wind of the plot, Ayanbolu frantically pleaded to be spared the “stress” of an “Owambe”, moreso not when most Nigerians are facing a difficult time.

Were things “normal”, self-effacing Ayobolu would probably still have found another excuse not to have a loud celebration. As attested by Tunde Olusunle in an earlier tribute last year entitled, “Segun Ayobolu: Grit, Quality, Versatility on Diamond Eve”:
“For all his staggering attributes as a very formidable scholar, a distinctly rigorous inquisitor, a sound and profound political scientist, an inimitable reporter, an engaging writer, a perspicacious editor, he savours his reticence and unobtrusive carriage.

“In a world where dunderheads, impostors and wannabes hug the klieg lights, posturing as modern-day standard-bearers, stars and men of letters, coveting conferments and adulation, he cherishes his quiet.

“He prefers to immerse himself in his study, lapping up multidisciplinary knowledge, further enriching his subsisting, even overflowing intellectual capital. His elected choices to remain ‘backstage’ in a manner of speaking, receives authentication from his minimal photographic prominence, even on the internet. And we are talking about a colossus in his own right.”

That is the essential Segun Ayobulu — one with social conscience.

In a more recent tribute on Ayobolu’s 60th birthday, President Tinubu wrote: “Segun has remained one of my steadfast associates and loyalists for many years. He served me with complete dedication and loyalty as my Chief Press Secretary when I was Governor of Lagos State. He has not failed to offer his service and intellect to us in many other areas since we left office. He remains a committed member of our progressive family.”

Overall, as anyone who has followed his writings in over three decades will readily attest, Ayanbolu’s journalism remains largely a relentless crusade for progressive values, never shy to advertise a fanatical devotion to Awoism.

As CPS to Tinubu between 1999 and 2007, he never failed to situate his many polemical skirmishes against political opponents of his boss within the broader context of never-ending progressive struggle against reactionary forces in nation space.

Of course, there can be no easy winner or loser in such ideological contestation. While recognising that the public engagement could indeed be tricky, Patrick Baert and Josh Booth, however argue that the intellectual has to reconcile themselves with some fundamental tensions and contradictions around four axes namely, “hierarchy versus equality, generality versus expertise, passion versus distance, and the individual versus the collective.”

With particular reference to the political realm, Eunice Goes, an associate professor at Richmond University in the U.K, is a bit more exact. In an intervention in defence of one-time Labour Party’s poster boy, Ed Miliband, following attack by the conservative press, she outlines the obligations of the intellectual as helping “politicians to make sense of the world.

“They offer cause-effect explanations of political and economic phenomena; they offer diagnosis and occasional prescriptions to policy puzzles. At times of great political disruption, when old certainties about how the world works are questioned, this role is particularly important.”

Doubtless, learning matters. It should however be added that learning is nothing without character, as Mahatma Gandhi forever warns. Of course, the truest test of character occurs not at the moment of comfort or convenience. Rather, it comes at a crossroads, at that perilous hour of temptation. Ayobolu’s was tested with Tinubu’s exit in 2007 and the change of guards thereafter at Alausa. He was among the few “tested hands” retained by the Fashola administration to help “stabilize” the system. The climate looked conducive for him to, in fact, be more consequential in the new order.

Though promoted as a Special Adviser, he would soon cause a major stir by resigning voluntarily “on principle”, and went back to his first love — journalism.
Indeed, as months began to roll by for the new administration at Alausa, it was clear Ayobolu was no longer finding fulfillment. In his shoes, many would have easily tagged along, for survival.

Many would have casually forsworn old loyalties or traded their convictions for new convenient principles without scruples, if only to secure continued flow of bread and butter. True, addiction to the comforts of the moment can be numbing for such slaves to office. But in not succumbing to temptations then, Ayobolu was probably reminded of Awo’s timeless admonition never “to get addicted to things you cannot afford as private citizen while in public office.”

Here is wishing Ayobolu, the one with quick smile, happy diamond jubilee.

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