By Bayo Adeyinka
Like Omoyele Sowore, I was the President of Students Union Government during my undergraduate days. We embarked on many protests popularly called ‘aluta’. I was President during the bloody days of Sanni Abacha in 1998. I recall that on one of those riots, I was ambushed by a soldier who put a gun to my chest at Sabo in Ogbomoso. The soldier wore a camouflage with leaves all over him. I thought the end had come that day as I waited for him to pull the trigger. All the students I led to that point had fled. I didn’t want to be caught or arrested as I knew I would just disappear without a trace. I turned my back on the soldier and ran. I ran in a zig zag, thinking he would shoot but running in that manner gave me a chance of making it alive. It was the race of my life.
Other soldiers were around dismantling the bonfires we made at the intersection of Sabo and Kara. I saw the Students Union Bus we named Aluta Missiles in the distance. Eddy Vijay Femi Adekunle was the driver and he had abandoned me when he spotted the soldiers. That day, I did the impossible. I caught up with a bus on motion. As I jumped on the bus, I looked back and saw the soldier sitting in the middle of the road, pointing at me and laughing.
On another ocassion, based on what I later learnt was a false alarm, I led students to storm the popular Owode Police Station. That was the Area Command at that time. I wanted to set free a taxi belonging to a student that was impounded by a policeman falsely accused of demanding a bribe. At that time, we didn’t know it was a false accusation as the policeman actually gave money from his pocket to the student to buy headlamps that was missing when he was stopped for driving without headlamps at night. The policeman impounded the vehicle and promised to release it when the student returns with the headlamps. The same student came to my hall and lied that his taxi was wrongly impounded. It was a terrible night. We caught the policemen unawares but they fought back and tear-gassed us. We retreated as the policemen advanced. When I saw live bullets fired, I asked everyone to run inside our Aluta Missiles. We were about 30 or so in number. The policemen shot a teargas directly into our bus. I picked the cannister and threw it out. As Eddy stepped on the throttle, I realized one of the ladies that followed us was missing. She was disoriented by the teargas and we had left her behind. I stepped down from the bus and went to rescue her. I carried her into the bus and in the confusion, Eddy faced the wrong direction. He drove out of town instead of driving back to town. The policemen knew there was no other way back to town except to go in front of the Command- so they waited for us. Time was around 11pm and everywhere was pitch black. Eddy turned back, put off the headlamps and in that darkness, stepped on the pedal. We all held our breath and ducked, not knowing what to expect. The policemen shot several cannisters of tear gas at us but we escaped. I will spare the details of what we did the following day but it took the maturity of the then Area Commander (who later became a father figure to me), the Sole Administrator of the University, late Professor Akinola Murtala Salau (SOLAD as he was called) and the Soun of Ogbomoso to resolve the imbroglio. I still recall the restraints of the Area Commander when we blocked his vehicle and my Vice-President jumped on his bonnet with his boots.
We were fearless but we were stupid on not a few ocassions. We thought life was all about radicalism and we had this utopia view of life. It was either our way or no way. We didn’t negotiate. There was no give and take. We were insulated by unrealistic expectations and spurred on by a herd mentality. There was very little accountability. We loved the sound of our own voices. Any voice of restraint was that of cowardice. For us, life was either black or white. No shades of gray.
It took an event to break me. I was done with National Youth Service and I was job hunting. Reality was gradually settling in. I was beginning to understand the demands of life far away from the maddening crowd. I had started a battle for survival. I approached a man whom I had run some errands for as a Students Leader and who was a Board member of a conglomerate owned by the South West States. I had slept in his house at Ogudu GRA in Lagos and I was a popular face at his Ogbomoso expansive mansion but all that when I was the President. I didn’t understand that people could respect the office and not respect the person. He asked me to meet him at Premier Hotel in Ibadan. I was glad. I thought he would fix me up somewhere. I got to Premier Hotel on that Monday. I spent my last money on transport to the place. I expected the man would be generous to me after we had seen. From 9am, I waited till 5pm without seeing him. He didn’t even show up at all. I was furious on the first day but then I realized I needed something from him. I was advised to come back the following day. I trekked from Premier Hotel to Iwo Road.
The next day, I was back. I waited till 5pm. No show. I left and came back the following day- a Wednesday. I waited all day. He didn’t show up. I was beginning to calm down. Thursday the same thing. On Friday, he showed up around 2pm. I was glad. I ran towards him as he entered the lift. His security aides pushed me away. He didn’t even acknowledge my presence. I sat down in despondency. After about two hours, he sent for me and I took a lift to the Presidential Suite where he was sprawled on a huge bed. He asked what I wanted. I prostrated and told him I needed a job. My sense of entitlement had vanished. He wrote a note on his card and asked me to take it to someone at Oba Akran in Ikeja. It would end up as a wild goose chase. I left that place empty handed and trekked back to Iwo Road.
But the process of my brokenness had started. Working in the corporate sector further broke me as I learnt how to take orders. I learnt how to respect the view of others. I learnt how to receive queries and apologize. I learnt about power of patience. I understood that life is not a straight line. There are curves and bends in some places. I understood emotional intelligence and started applying same in my relationships.
It is with all these in mind that I have reviewed the incident at Ooni’s palace recently where Sowore reportedly escoriated the revered monarch for keeping him waiting for 3 hours. Omoyele Sowore needs to understand that this single incident can define his presidential bid- negatively, if not well handled but positively, if he can summon the courage and admit his foibles with a well crafted public statement. He needs to understand that he’s carrying the burden of an entire generation on his shoulders and that is why his action or inaction in this case has generated a lot of brouhaha.
This is not about whether Sowore will win his presidential bid or not. As far as I’m concerned, he has already succeeded than most will give him credit for. He has thrown his hat into the ring while most of us either scoffed or couldn’t be bothered. He has indeed worked harder than most. His energy is indescribable. I’ve discussed with him twice and he has called me once and there’s no denying that he loves this nation passionately even though I have some reservations. However, passion with unguarded outbursts will hurt his efforts no matter how sincere he may be. Unbridled passion is dangerous. How he handles this gaffe may well be the tipping point of his race. He needs to avoid coming off as confrontational every time. He should transcend activism and start to become a brigde builder. He cannot afford to alienate the same people he’s trying to solicit votes from. He needs to manage his communication better. And he needs some kind of accountability system or framework within which his actions and utterances are reviewed and addressed.
I wish him well.