REMARKS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, PROF. YEMI OSINBAJO, SAN, GCON, THE VICE PRESIDENT, FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, AT THE BOOK LAUNCH OF LATE MAITAMA SULE TITLED “ THE GENIUS ORATOR” AT INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE CENTRE, ABUJA ON THURSDAY 9, 2017
An orator is a skilled public speaker, a master of words especially in the use of words to persuade, to exhort, to inspire, to set direction and possibly to create a vision.
Words are of course important, indeed they create or destroy, they edify or humiliate, and words well-spoken can uplift, encourage, and inspire.
But words are also the defining tool of nihilists, traitors, hate merchants, demagogues, and rascals of every kind. In the past few months, we have heard words intended to stoke conflict, to denigrate the ethnicities or faith of others, to divide a great people into several small and weaker parts.
So oratorical genius like all forms of genius, is not in and of itself a virtue, the character and motivations of the man or woman behind the orator is then what is crucial.
Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule, Damasanin Kano, was an exceptionally gifted orator, but his greatness was not in the gift of oratory. It was in the exceptional character that undergirded that gift.
He understood the power of rhetoric and persuasion, drama and theatre and he translated the sometimes exasperating twists, and turns of the Nigerian socio-political drama into words of rebuke and exhortation but ultimately of hope.
In one of his often quoted statements he said: “symptoms of revolt loom large in the horizon, in short, there is meaninglessness in philosophy, insecurity in polity, chaos in politics, immorality in society, corruption in the economy, frustration in art, and lack of creativity in literature”.
But then he was ever hopeful and in 2012, at the award dinner of the Academy for Entrepreneurial Studies, he said: “as we overcame all the crisis in the First Republic, so shall we overcome the crisis in the present Nigeria. Therefore, I have a dream that Nigeria will soon be great; that Nigeria will be a united country, a prosperous country that will take her proper place in the comity of nations and will lead the rest of Africa, inspire Africans all over the world”.
He goes on: “that we will come to love one another because the problem in Nigeria is lack of love, our problem is tribalism and religion… Islam and Christian faiths teach the same moral values.”
Alhaji Maitama Sule was a truly great man and we can see that in the testimonials that followed his passing, in the calibre of the friendships and relationships that he built across Nigeria, in the quality of his thinking and writing, and especially in his simplicity and humility.
This was a man for whom material comforts were never a driving force. Public service to him was never about himself, it was never about the trappings of office, it was never about wealth or privilege; instead it was about serving humanity and living true to his beliefs and ideals.
I recall at a meeting that I had with him, he recounted the story of how he conceded the presidential nomination of the NPN political party then to Alhaji Shehu Shagari. I believe the story had been told again today by Elder Statesman, Chief Edwin Clark. But what struck me about that story is the fact, despite the fact that he could very easily have won that nomination especially in the run off, he chose to concede the nomination to somebody he considered older and more experienced.
Any man who can walk away from the presidential nomination of a major political party truly must be exceptional, there is something different about him and truly there was something exceedingly different about Maitama Sule.
He believed in Nigeria, and that was truly one of biggest ideals and he was a believer until the very end.
The authors of this book deserve our commendation, for documenting his life and views in great detail. The importance of the task of recording and documenting history can never be overemphasized.
In their Prologue, the authors make a somewhat depressing observation, which I shall quote and the author himself mentioned this: “as we traversed the country and encountered the surviving political gladiators of the First Republic, we came upon the reality of a generation that had virtually passed on. We met old persons in various stages of mental and physical fitness.”
This observation should alarm us. We must ask ourselves, who will document these important stories before the principal actors and characters pass on? I am reminded of the African proverb that tells us that when an old person dies, it is the equivalent of a library being consumed by fire. Where are the biographers and the film-makers who will record these things for posterity? Who will teach our children about the exploits of our Maitama Sules, and about the ideals of unity and integrity and service which they modelled for us? Thankfully, this book, ‘The Genius Orator’, will help ensure that one of our most important libraries is preserved for all time.
I talked about the first time I met Alhaji Sule when I was 15 years old and I spoke about that when I visited the family in Kano.
But let me close with a story about our last interaction. He visited my office, and I persuaded him that it would be too much trouble to walk upstairs and he kept insisting that he had all the strength and energy to do so. But anyway, that is another story.
So he came and we sat for as you can imagine, a very long time. Anyone who has interacted with Alhaji Maitama Sule knows that you cannot have a 10 minute meeting with him.
But I will forever cherish that interaction. There is a photograph from that day, which is included in the book in which he clasps my hand with both of his, and his head bowed respectfully. He didn’t need to do that and I told him so and he said to me, “age before beauty”. Just typical of his humour.
But that was the quintessential Maitama Sule, a great man who had no desire to demand deference, or to impress people with his greatness.
Nigeria is richer for his having lived and served among us, and the poorer for his passing. May his memory inspire greater greatness in those of us he has left behind.
I thank you for listening.
SSA, Media and Publicity to the President
Office of the Vice President