In our days as reporters, Professor Akin Oyebode was a classic news source. His office at the University of Lagos was the preferred destination for journalists because of his knowledge of law and positive disposition. So, it was normal those days to find newshounds from different media outfits in Lagos in his office, waiting for the privilege of an interview.
I also remember the larger than life tales about this respected scholar, told by one of my colleagues from Oyebode’s home state. This guy would tell great stories, some bizarre, about the professor’s many travels in search of knowledge and how he conquered the world of law at a very young age. I looked forward to those moving stories, especially during our weekly production nights when we stayed back in the office for a review before going to press.
So, anytime I had the good fortune of going to interview Professor Oyebode in his office, this colleague would always ask me to read wide and be ready for off the curve questions. I loved those moments.
Like every good teacher, Oyebode is also that kind of person that enriches young people with every encounter. Surely, you must gain some knowledge, not necessarily in law. He is therefore respected by many for his intelligence and courage.
For those who still remember, he was very critical of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s government at some point even though they are good friends. In fact, he was an active participant in the robust dialogues in the former president’s Ota farm prior to 1999. Oyebode does not shy away from issues of common good, he speaks his mind always. He also has a reputation for his broad-minded interventions on national issues.
A couple of weeks ago, I read a post on social media attributed to the professor. He had hinted that President Muhammadu Buhari would face serious challenges in the forth-coming presidential election in Yoruba land. The post further argued that it would even be difficult for the leader of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Buhari’s ally, to market the president in the South-West and re-enact the feat of 2015.
As inoffensive as the professor’s observation was, it attracted a very insulting reaction from a young man.
The man responded with this offensive comment: “blind man”, apparently referring to the professor.
I was taken aback. The question of what awaits Buhari in South West which was attributed to Oyebode is civil and shouldn’t have elicited any form of rudeness or abuse; after all, the professor was only expressing an opinion which he is entitled to. Less than two weeks after this shameful conduct, the author of “blind man” comment was given an appointment by a certain governor.
The rising mob mentality of our politics is really disturbing. It is clear that politicians now keep some characters permanently on social media to haul insults on respected Nigerians or anyone with a contrary view. This is appalling.
There cannot be democracy without the multiplicity of voices at every level, including the social media. Those who feel otherwise are mere wishful thinkers because Nigerians will continue to interrogate and engage politicians, many of whom occupy important positions that are clearly bigger than them.
Unfortunately, this rising mob mentality is unprecedented because past governments, including the military, did not escape criticism even when it was hazardous for the critic. So, I am usually amused by the unrestrained anger and arrogant comments of supporters of this administration over innocuous criticisms.
For those still suffering from 2015 hangover, let me state that we did not elect an angel to the highest office. President Buhari is not infallible, and he is demonstrating this fact with his failings. But nobody can deny us our right as citizens to criticize obvious gaps; we have a duty to discuss issues that affect us, after all, we are all Nigerians.
No amount of blackmail will deter Nigerians from discussing things that affect them. Those who cannot stand criticism have no business in public life; they should return to their villages or towns and farm. I urge all Nigerians to keep asking questions, especially now, because 2019 offers us a good opportunity to shape our country’s future by electing candidates who appreciate the fact that criticism has benefits.