As various victorious candidates of varying cuts of political cloth celebrate their legislative electoral triumphs and salivate at the opportunities which lie in prospect, one legislator’s name is conspicuous by its absence from the roll-call of political victors. The Hon. Patrick Obahiagbon, one of the nation’s most colourful and cerebral legislators in the Federal House of Representatives will not be returning to it as a member when it reconvenes in May. This follows his unsuccessful bid to attain the right to represent his political party in last weekend’s federal legislative election. The news of his non attainment of this privilege will have come as a surprise to some, a relief to others and a disappointment to many. But such is the drawback and majesty of elective representative government, such that no one is assured a monopoly of representation in the affairs of the people. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the calibre of the politician concerned.
In surveying the assembly of Federal Representatives for 2007-11, one would struggle to find many of that political intake who towered above Patrick Obahiagbon in the public eye. A collective of elective representatives, notorious for their staging of well publicised festivals of fisticuffs, in which certain members showcased their pugilistic skills to the amusement, astonishment and embarrassment of the nation. Not even the Speaker of the House, with whom, Pat Obahiagbon, shared the distinction of being one of the most visible of that legislative congregation, towered above him. In matter of fact, the Speaker’s visibility owed more to his position and the lofty status accorded to it in the national political hierarchy, rather than to the memorability of his contributions to the national political discourse.
In contrast, to the Speaker, he was a stellar performer who was often to be found pontificating grandiloquently on different political matters. Captivating and regaling his audience with his engaging and entertaining style as he offered his diagnoses and prognoses of national political problems.
Admittedly, he was not everyone’s favourite drinking potion and for some he was an acquired taste, but for others he was an easy swallow. His preference for, and use of, psychedelic language couched in exoteric and esoteric complexity often concealed kernels of wisdom. Kernels of wisdom embraced by some and dismissed by others.
But his chosen approach may have had more to do with the fact that in performing as he did, he often adopted a role akin to that of ‘the fool’ in ancient theatre. But in drawing such an analogy, it is important to point out, that one does not imply or impute or seek to convey the idea that he is, in any way foolish or given to trivialities. He is not. His enactment of such a role in a contemporary political setting was an intelligent way of allowing him to establish the latitude to pronounce upon pertinent political issues of the day without restriction or regard for whose oxen were gored in the process. He positioned himself at the centre of key political debates, leaving the periphery to those who preferred to play it safe, content as they were, with issuing blandishments calculated to curry favour and fortune with those in high political positions.
In commentating on different political issues, he often unveiled refreshing insights. For instance, in his assessment of the performance of the present political system, he was quick to point out that what Nigeria is currently undergoing is civilian rather than democratic rule. It was a rich insight. As the two notions are often conflated and confused as one and the same thing. Nothing could be more erroneous and misleading. Civilian rule in our experience has not been much different from military rule – give or take the difference in costumes of the different masquerades on parade. The corruption, the abuse of power, the proliferation of bank accounts swollen with stolen funds, the general climate of underperformance and non-performance, and the atmosphere of impunity remain integral aspects of our political system, regardless of whether the operatives are uniformed or in mufti.
He, it was, who talked about the palpable lack of ideological underpinnings of the main political parties, to the extent that not much differentiates one from another. These political parties appear buoyed, but are without ideological anchor, bereft as they are of guiding principles and political leitmotifs; they drift aimlessly in uncertain political waters. Most seem bound together by threads of acquisitiveness which tie them to the acquisition of public funds for private benefit.
On the subject of poverty, he pointed out that its debilitating effects were the same regardless of where its victims were from in Nigeria. Thus, pointing out the need for a commonality of action to deal with the root causes of this socio-economic problem regardless of the ethnicity, religious affiliation, or political association of the victims.
During the political impasse regarding the whereabouts and capacity of the late president to discharge his official functions, he spoke out in favour of a swift constitutional resolution of the situation. And when the late president was returned surreptitiously to the country at night, he not only questioned the wisdom of such action, but queried the propriety of involving soldiers in such subterfuge.
In a nation, in which the general tendency has been to ignore the outpourings of its political class, Pat Obahiagbon was successful in arresting the attention of the nation. He raised his head above the parapet, while others in similar positions around him chose to bury theirs in the sand. By his courage, he achieved national recognition beyond the borders of his Oredo Federal Constituency.
In effecting a pause in his political career his political party may have unwittingly done him a favour. It had become clear to observers that he had assumed the proportions of a ‘Gulliver’ in ‘Lilliput’. And as such required time to reflect carefully on what platform is best suited to his talents. But, nonetheless, the Federal House of Representatives is the poorer for his absence from its benches.
Wherever his political future leads, I, for one, do not believe that the nation has heard, or seen, the last of him. And if the Grand Geometrician of the Universe has anything to do with it, he will be back before long.
Hon. Pat Obahiagbon, thank you for the memories!