Remi Oyeyemi's Open Mind

The similarity between the politics of Adedibu and Adelabu is that both are people based. ...They are both in their attitude and approach devoid of the arrogance....
Monday, September 22, 2003

Remi Oyeyemi



"The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people."
-- Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the U.S.
"People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care."
-- John C. Maxwell, Author of "The 21 Indispensable Qualitties of a Leader"

lhaji Lamidi Adedibu, the famed strongman of Ibadan politics, presents an interesting study for students of political science. His brand of politics, sometimes derided as "cash and carry" or "Amala politics" by his detractors, deserves better understanding and appreciation because it has an embedded lesson for the majority of our politicians whose noxious self- centeredness and acute egoism is creating a wider gulf away from the people. This writer believes that despite the obvious shortcomings of Alhaji Adedibu's political philosophy, which could be referred to as "Adedibuism," there are a lot of positive aspects, which if properly understood and employed in our politics could enrich our political culture and benefit the people more.

Alhaji Adedibu has been around for a long time. He learnt at the feet of the "stormy petrel" of Ibadan politics, seminally brilliant and charismatic, dexterous master of grass root politics, and sagacious populist, Chief Adegoke Adelabu, popularly known as "Penkelemeesi" (peculiar mess) in the 1950s. Alhaji Adedibu despite not having attended any college, combines the sophistication of a professor of political science, the modesty of a suave realist, elderly grace permeated with palpable but efficacious threat that at times borders on ruthlessness, an intimidating combativeness wrapped in the cocoon of fatherly generousity, with genuine and very sincere concern and love for his people and Ibadanland.

The similarity between the politics of Adedibu and Adelabu is that it is people based. It is essentially based on grass root. They both have an open door policy and sincerely love their people. They are both in their attitude and approach devoid of the arrogance that has become the hallmark of the modern day politicians. The difference between their politics is that while Adelabu, a radical lawyer and politician, has an idea of what he wanted to do with political power and worked to be elected into office, Adedibu does not. He is contented to being the godfather, the power behind the throne. While Adedibu has no qualms about using arm twisting when he deemed it necessary, Adelabu believes in the power of persuasion using his charisma.

Despite the eminence of other Ibadan indigines such as Chief Adisa Akinloye, former national chairman of the National Party of Nigeria, and Chief Richard Akinjide of the twelve two-third fame, who was President Shehu Shagari's Attorney General, they do not have the kind of hold that Adedibu has on the Ibadan people. Though, Adedibu was not a national "household" name during the second republic, because of another firebrand politician of Ibadan origin, late Chief Busari Adelakun who helped to install Bola Ige as the governor of old Oyo State, but he (Adedibu) provided the necessary "cover" for the supposed "NPN giants" in a state that was a stronghold of the Unity Party of Nigeria. (By the way, Chief Adelakun who despite been the least educated member of late Chief Bola Ige's cabinet in the old Oyo State was the most efficient, most effective and probably most respected, public office holder aside from Bola Ige himself, before the reelection debacle).

What the Akinloyes and the Akinjides of this world failed woefully to achieve despite their education - the unwavering support and confidence of their people- Adedibu has achieved by dint of crystal understanding of practical politics, which though short in ideas to improve the polity, is well grounded in the nuances of psychology with bias for reward and consequences, which places premium on loyalty, dependability, yet interspersed with overt selflessness aimed at consolidating selfish interests perceived as group interests, adulterated with coercion devoid of any emotional commitment but imbued with a foxy and dexterous focus on self as indispensable to the realization of the ambition of others. Thus at the doorsteps of Adedibu are found not just the poor, the hungry, the wretched who are guaranteed their daily meal without any question as well as political "miracles" that could turn their lives around, there are also eminent professors, distinguished professionals, successful businessmen, activist students, influential market women, wearing their ambitions on their sleeves and seeking political relevance or political offices.

In so far as Adedibuism is concerned, "selfless selfishness" (not the same as "enlightened self interest") is the name of the game. Adedibuism is about catering to the most basic instinct of the ordinary people - which is to convince them that they may be poor but they are very important. Adedibuism is about open door policy that grants unlimited accessibility to the neediest, the wretched and the poorest as well as the rich, the influential, and the distinguished. It is about creating somebody out of nobody and convincing others that "if you follow me and you are loyal, your own turn could be around the corner." It is about "political godfatherism" of a different genre, where the godfather gets rewarded to use his clout to create grassroot support for ambitious candidates and negotiate position for hardworking supporters. Adedibuism's concept of godfatherism does not seek to finance the ambition of anyone. It is the ambitious, usually rich and distinguished, who finance the godfather to further their own ambition.

Adedibuism does not offer any vision of what the society should or ought to be. But it helps to give vent to the desire of his people to be politically relevant. Adedibuism puts premium on the person of Adedibu on being a serious factor in determining who holds power and by extension make his (investors) office seekers, and (shareholders) followers and supporters a factor. Adedibuism practices generousity and open door policy not just during the civilian era, it does it during military regimes too when things usually "are tighter." Adedibuism puts premium on rendering material and/or monetary support to private individuals and families, rich or poor, without any solicitation during burials, marriages or other important ceremonies. Adedibuism puts premium on not sitting "selfishly" on "investors' money" but rather on ensuring that every ward and notable field men get their fair share. Adedibuism have no use for religious fundamentalism, but engenders fairness to all religious groups -Traditionalists, Muslims and Christians among others - in the way and manner appointments are influenced.

The operational tenets of Chief Adedibu's leadership philosophy could be encapsulated in the following six Maxwellian concepts:

  1. People like to feel special, so he always sincerely compliment them
  2. People want a better tomorrow, he has a way to show them hope
  3. People desire direction, so he dexterously navigates for them
  4. People are selfish, he first speak to their needs and map out means to accomplish them
  5. People get low emotionally, he finds ways to continuously encourage them
  6. People want success, so he always help them to win

Chief Adedibu's capacity to show compassion to the needy and empathy to the ambitious, despite his reputation for toughness and confrontation if need be is his greatest asset. His practice that no one would step into his compound and leave with an empty stomach is impregnated with meanings - NO MATTER YOUR STATUS IN LIFE, YOU ARE ALWAYS WELCOME HERE. Despite the ability of Chief Adedibu to recognize the above concepts, he still demonstrates the ingenuity to treat people as individuals. The ingenuity to look at each person, understand him or her and connect, is one of his gifts. This ability to "treat people differently, not all the same as one another" is what John C. Maxwell characterized in his book as "the soft factor in leadership." Further stressing the importance of compassion as a factor in leadership, John C. Maxwell wrote inter alia:

"People respect a leader who keeps their interests in mind. If your focus is on what you can put into people rather than what you can get out of them, they'll love and respect you…."

If anyone wonders why Adedibu has any followership, despite the skepticism and the distrust of the man by the political intelligentsia and literati, the above quote bears open Chief Adedibu's secret weapon. It is his ability to define his own relevance within the context of the desires of his people.

One major shortcoming of Adedibuism, is its pursuit of power as an end in itself. By implication, this means lack of alternative ideas for the improvement of the lives of the people. Adedibuism does not concern itself with but not necessarily opposed to empowering the people for the purpose of engendering or advocating economic change or growth, social improvement for the polity or any other beneficial objectives. Probably because of undue emphasis on empathy, the lack of adequate scrutiny of those that seek the help and support of Chief Adedibu for political appointment or electoral support, by him has continued to strengthen the myth of his lack of alternative ideas. For this reason, his detractors have been able to contend that "Adedibuism" stands for no "progressive ideas" and that it is nothing more than "cash and carry."

Another major shortcoming is the understanding of government solely as a means to obtain patronage. The philosophy contends that when you get into the office, you need to look back at the source and give patronage as a way of gratitude, which is not entirely a bad idea if it is done within the confines of the law and in the furtherance of the public good. Also, Adedibuism does not believe in empowering the people to make them economically and socially independent, TOTALLY. The word "totally" is added to explain the concept that helps you to improve your economic well being and social status without complete independence from the aprons of the godfather.

However, this writer believes that Chief Adedibu could still enrich his legacy if he could be more scrutinizing of those seeking his electoral support for elective and appointive offices. The major danger he is facing now is that of "contentment with the status quo." He faces the danger of being satisfied with the same role and the same idea. He faces the danger of becoming a political relic. He appeared unable to learn and grow. He ought to begin asking for economic and social plans for the polity and support the best candidate that has the best plan. It is just not enough to help people win, one must win for the people. Chief Adedibu has been helping people win. It is time he wins one for the people he loves so much by reviewing his style and approach to utilizing his political clout.

To help Chief Adedibu achieve this objective, one is recommending the following five Maxwellian principles for teachable leadership that is willing to grow and battle complacency:

  • Cure Your Destination Disease: Some people mistakenly believe that if they can accomplish a particular goal or a particular status, they no longer have to grow. The day a leader stops growing is the day he forfeits his potential. "As long as you're green, you are growing. As soon as you're ripe, you start to rot."

  • Overcome Your Success: A leader must realize that what brought him to success, does not keep him there. If you have been successful in the past beware. If what you did yesterday still looks big to you, you have not done much today .

  • Swear Off Shortcuts: For everything of value in life you pay a price. A leader must figure out the next level and what it takes to get there, including the price, and then determine to pay it.

  • Trade In Your Pride: Admit that no leader knows everything. Bewilling to make mistakes. "The greatest mistake one can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one."

  • Never Pay Twice for the Same Mistake: Teddy Roosevelt said "He who makes no mistakes, makes no progress." But the leader who keeps making the same mistake also makes no progress. Always remember what lessons you learnt from your mistakes. If you don't, you will pay for them more than once.

In addition to the above, Chief Adedibu should look back and try to decipher the political objectives of Chief Adegoke Adelabu. He should look for those ingredients that made Chief Obafemi Awolowo a legend of all times. He should extricate his legacy from possible stigma of 'power for the sake of power." The greatest asset Chief Adedibu needs in this endeavor is the people, and he has them in his corner. All he needs is to harness them and put them to proper use and redefine his legacy in a more enduring and positive manner. By so doing, he would not only help people win, he would win for the people by helping the right people with the right plan to win.

Only time will tell if Chief Adedibu would be able to step to this next level. But nevertheless, the major merit of Adedibu's political philosophy still remains and should be emulated by other politicians. His genuine love for the people and the communality it engenders. This includes his determination to make them relevant in the sharing of political power. It includes his determination to ensure that no one controls the lever of power without first recognizing the people and going through them - or him as their leader. This way he gives the ordinary folks the sense of power and belonging. He gives them hope - that greatest elixir in the dungeon of despair- that they too could become anything if they play the game according to its rule, which is not necessarily at variance with the societal rules. His accommodating nature for all categories of folks, rich or poor, is highly commendable. This is what is lacking in today's politicians who believe only in the power of money and not in the power of love or in the power of the people.

An almost exact version of this article was published in my old column in the Saturday Tribune ECHOES OF FREEDOM and on the web site in September 2003. It is being re-published because of its relevance to the recent events in Oyo State that culminated in the ousting of former Governor Rasheed Ladoja from office.