Civil society groups and democracy activists – the usual suspects in such matters – were largely silent when news outlets revealed that he had not deigned to do the obligatory one year of national service for graduates under 30 but had instead launched one flourishing career after another.
The law enforcement authorities launched no investigations. President Buhari demanded no explanation and felt no obligation to dismiss him from his cabinet for what seemed a clear breach of the law. The man himself sat tight, defiant, saying tersely that he did not believe the law at issue applied to him. What service could be more important than making laws for the good governance of one of the 19 states of the federation?
Everyone was certain that the man would not be reappointed minister for one very weighty reason: his failure to participate in the compulsory National Youth Service scheme more than four decades after his graduation. His ho-hum performance as minister furnished just as weighty a reason for not reappointing him.
But on the latter basis, only a handful of ministers would have merited a second term. So, pressing that charge would be an overkill when, by everyone’s reckoning, the first charge alone constitutes an iron-clad indictment and more than enough reason to end his cabinet tenure.
Everyone’s reckoning, that is, except that of the man himself, Adebayo Shittu, lately honourable minister of communications in the Buhari cabinet.
As he told the News Agency of Nigeria the other day, he was shocked that his name was not on the list of cabinet nominees Buhari presented recently to the National Assembly for confirmation. He had confidently expected to be reappointed. Not that he was complaining. As a devoted Muslim and author, it should be added, of some 10 books on the theory and practice of Islam, he had taken the matter in his stride, thanked God and Buhari for the opportunity, and moved on. He was not disappointed.
But so many people who would not mind their own business have entered into all manner of speculation about why Shittu had confidently expected to be reappointed. Could it be, some among them have asked, that the powerful cabal that runs the Presidency had assured him that he was the President’s favourite minister, and that if one person deserved and was sure to be reappointed minister, he, Shittu, was that person?
Such assurances are not uncommon in Nigeria’s public life, and sometimes carry consequences that reach much farther.
Whenever military President Ibrahim Babangida felt that time was running out on his duplicitous transition programme and that he needed time to tinker with or prolong it, he would let it be known that he was planning to carve Nigeria into more states, or he would suborn the more vocal ethnic champions to petition him for the creation of more states.
In perhaps the last of such diversionary games before he was ousted, he told one of his loyal military chiefs that the yearnings of his people for their own state, freed from the domination of an overbearing suzerain, and with the capital in the military chief’s own hometown, was about to be gratified. The military chief should go tell his people that it was a done deal and that they should prepare for great rejoicing.
On the day the of the presidential broadcast announcing the new states, everybody who was somebody or thought he was somebody converged on the military chief’s sprawling compound in his hometown and projected state capital to watch the historic broadcast, to see history in the making, as it were.
Among the four or five new states named, none came from the military chief’s turf.
For several weeks thereafter, they kept the military chief under close watch, fearing that he might harm himself.
The reader should not rush to put this down as yet another example of Babangida’s perversity. He had been overruled by powers he could not countermand.
To return to Shittu: Among the busybodies aforementioned, some speculated that Shittu must have had the highest assurances from the prophets, marabouts, chiromancers and all manner of diviners servicing the system that he would be reappointed minister. Abuja is teeming with such clairvoyants who can, for valuable consideration commensurate with the position desired and the cost of good living in that city, deliver the desired verdict.
But those who know Shittu say he is too high-minded for that kind of thing.
Those who claim to know how the system works are saying that Shittu may have followed a tack that works for the most part but is not foolproof. This is how that system works. If the quester is, like Shittu, a Muslim, and the President and those who have his ears are Muslims and will be performing the Hajj or Umra, the quester embarks on the same holy voyage, confident that an arranged meeting with the President or those who have his ears will help seal the deal.
What vow can be more binding than one made on holy ground? Hence, Shittu’s confidence that he would be reappointed minister.
I have heard of one vice chancellor of one of the highly regarded public universities who was waging a grim battle for reappointment. Given his record, it seemed a futile bid. Then he learned that the Head of State and Visitor of the university would be performing the Umra. Pronto, he rummaged through his drawers, dug up his Tesbih, dusted it up and took the first available flight to Saudi Arabia where, not entirely by coincidence, he was presented to the Head of State.
In their brief encounter, the professor made a deep impression on the Head of State as a rarity – a scholar, a pious and devoted Muslim, and an unobtrusive southerner!
Before the vice chancellor returned to base, his reappointment had been announced.
I am in a position to assert that the speculation that Shittu employed that strategy or a variation thereof is spurious through and through. Being a devout Muslim, Shittu would consider it sacrilegious to employ the Hajj or Umra for such a profane project even if he happened to be in Islam’s holiest sites at an opportune moment.
Can it be, then, that Shittu was a victim of his own conceit, persuaded that he was, on the basis of his superlative performance in office, a sure bet for the Next Level? Some incline to this uncharitable view, I regret to say. But I am not in the least surprised. For we shall always have among us those who, out of envy or malice, take delight in the downfall or discomfiture of others.
I can assure them that their joy will be shortlived.
They should remember that the Shittu phenomenon did not just happen overnight. Back in 1979 when politics was politics, he was at 26 the youngest person elected member of a state assembly. And I am not talking of some flyby state, but the Oyo of Bola Ige, himself the Cicero of Agodi.
If they don’t know, I can tell them, based on Shittu’s personal testimony, that Shittu was the only candidate in the entire Oyo Division of Oyo State who passed the 1973 West African School Certificate Examination in Division 1 at the very first sitting.
But need I tell them also that Adebayo Shittu is a qualified barrister, who served as commissioner for Information, Culture and Home Affairs in the “landslide” administration of Dr Victor Olunloyo for three memorable months? And more recently as attorney-general and commissioner for Justice, also in Oyo State, under Governor Rasheed Ladoja?
Weep not for Adebayo Shittu. Who can put down such a phenomenon?