The Nigeria Governors Forum led by the Zamfara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, met at the old Banquet Hall of the Villa on Thursday. Beyond the meeting however, the state governors also held a farewell dinner in honour of former Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole; and the outgoing Ondo State Governor, Olusegun Mimiko. Some former governors were also present at the dinner which was attended by the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo.
Apart from the wining and dining aspect, the event later turned out to be a night of jokes and laughter. The main actors were however not professional comedians but top government officials. The diminutive Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, set the ball rolling when he was recalling his relationship with Oshiomhole. He said he and the former labour leader started what he called the Nigeria Association of Short People. The hall erupted in laughter.
Like Stella Obasanjo, like Yemi Osinbajo: The governor got ribs cracking again when he said the late wife of former President Olusegun Obasanjo was the association’s first chairman. Then he caused another uproar when he identified Osinbajo as the current chairman of the group. He added that Oshiomhole was the group’s President but he (El-Rufai) succeeded him when he was elected Edo State Governor. El-Rufai had at various times told me and a colleague of mine who are short that he would lead us as members of the same association on a courtesy visit to Osinbajo who he described then as our patron but I had thought he won’t have the courage to say so in the presence of the Acting President.
That night, El-Rufai also recalled how Obasanjo as the President queried him and a former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nuhu Ribadu, for attending Oshiomhole’s fundraiser while preparing to become governor. He said while Ribadu did not have a defence because he is taller, he (El-Rufai) told the former President that he attended the event because he was short like Oshiomhole.
Mimiko’s unpaid debt to El-Rufai: Then he shifted his attention to Mimiko who he said served with him in Obasanjo’s cabinet from 2003 to 2007. Since Mimiko cannot be said to be a short man, El-Rufai came through another direction. He said he was still owing grudges against the outgoing governor because Mimiko promised to contribute to his campaign but later changed his mind because he was sympathetic to the Peoples Democratic Party. He said the promise was a debt that Mimiko must fulfil one day.
“He is not a member of our association because he is too tall but his achievements make us very proud of him. Iroko has remained an Iroko. When he said he wanted to run for governorship, Obasanjo was not pleased with that decision. But a few of us went and confronted Obasanjo to allow him develop himself to the fullest. Mimiko was one of the best ministers that time and we felt we must stand by him. Obasanjo would shout at us and send us out of the room. Obasanjo is very proud of you now and what you have achieved. We are Obasanjo Class of 2003 to 2007 and we have turned out to be good leaders,” El-Rufai said.
Oshiomhole sustained the tempo when he was asked to talk. He expressed surprise that people had good things to say about him “because I have trouble just like people like troubling me because of my small size.” He said since he is now unemployed, if the current governor refuses to pay his pension on time, he would join the Nigeria Union of Pensioners to block the popular Ring Road in Benin, Edo State capital.
He said he and Mimiko shared many things in common with the exception being that while he (Oshiomhole) handed over to his party man in his state, the outgoing Ondo State Governor did not succeed in doing so. He however had a solution for Mimiko. “I have a strategy for him. I will give him APC membership card this night and when he will be handing over to Akeredolu, he will say he is handing over to his party man. In this business, you have to be smart,” he said.
Oshiomhole’s grudge against Iroko: Then Oshiomhole said like El-Rufai, he too has a grudge against Mimiko. He said, “The last time we had a meeting here, you (Mimiko) prayed that the Paris Club refund will not come until the end of my tenure. I thought you were joking. You went home to iroko tree, tied red cloth around it that this money must not come until the departure of Comrade and as soon as I left, the money came!” he said.
Mimiko also got his pound of flesh back when it was his turn to speak. He started with what seemed like words of consolation for Oshiomhole . “When Adams talked about his height, there is a Yoruba proverb that says if you are bald-headed, God will compensate you with beard…. Adams is vertically-challenged but over-compensated with a mouth. You can’t have it all. Can you imagine a vertically-endowed Adams with his kind of mouth? The whole of Nigeria will not rest.”
Oshiomhole’s hand in Mimiko’s travails: Talking of the Paris Club refund, Mimiko said he had not been paid by the Federal Government. He insinuated that Oshiomhole’s reference to the issue showed that he knows something about his predicament. “I have not been paid and I now know where my problem is coming from by some incredible arrangements of man’s oppression against man, I won’t talk more but I think I will look beyond the surface and research about the role Adams played,” he said.
Then it was the turn of the Acting President to speak and he keyed into the jokes of the night. He said Mimiko is one of his brethren because they attend the same church. He added that Oshiomhole is also one of his brethren “as he belongs to the elite club that has been eloquently described by El-Rufai.”
Osinbajo did not stop there, he got people roaring in laughter when he continued, “The club as El-Rufai said, is one that comprises Dr. Chris Ngige, El-Rufai, Oshiomhole, and my humble self. It is an elite club but people tend to take the matter to a great extreme. A certain gentleman by name Babachir Lawal, who is the Secretary to the Government of the Federation told the President one afternoon that all of us that I have mentioned have reduced the average height of the leadership of the APC.”
The ‘long and short’ of the matter: At a point during the programme, Mimiko and Oshiomhole stood beside each other to face those who attended the event. That arrangement further showed the clear difference in height of the two leaders. Osinbajo cashed in on that too when he said, “Looking at both Mimiko and Oshiomhole standing next to each other, it struck me that this is the ‘long and short’ of the matter!” He thereafter started raining prophetic prayers on the two men like a pastor that,
I am proud to be a member of the Acting President’s elite club. Enjoy your weekend.