by Bisi Ogunwale
I started my professional career at the Guaranty Trust Bank in 2005 and met quite a number of people in the seven years I worked at the bank. Some of these people form the core of my relationships today.
I met Habeeb for the first time during my early days at GTBank. I watched as the dark, averagely built young man talked to the attending customer service personnel who asked him questions about an account he had complained about. The tradition then was to keep new recruits in training school for about three to four months teaching them about banking, finance, accounting and all the necessary skills needed to excel on the job. I passed out of training school in 2005 and was posted to work in the branch where the training school was situated at that time – Ilupeju.
Working out of Ilupeju branch had its advantages and disadvantages. One of its many advantages was that it gave us the opportunity to meet other members of staff working in different parts of the country when they came to the training school for different courses. As a new intake, I loved going back to the training school section just to see the new recruits and encourage them because the process can be really tasking and tiring.
The second time I saw him was at Abeokuta Branch when I was in the city in August 2006 for the traditional wedding of a family friend. I needed to get new notes to spray at the party and had gone to the bank for this. He was very helpful and that was how we became friends.
Over the next ten years, we found that we had similar aspirations and believed that we could change things in this country. We developed mutual respect for each other.
In 2009, when I arrived in the United Kingdom for my Masters Degree in Cranfield School of Management, Habeeb was the first person to call, having been around a couple of months before to study for a Masters Degree in Renewable Energy at the Robert Gordon University, Scotland. He essentially settled me into the life of a Nigerian studying in the UK by advising on what documents were important to sort out as a student.
Fast forward to 2014 when we had both moved back home. Habeeb rang me up and requested for a meeting. We met at Terra Kulture, Lagos, where he informed me of plans to contest for election into the Oyo State House of Assembly. I was very elated as I informed him of my similar plans. We exchanged ideas and agreed to meet again in two weeks to review our plans and progress.
About 5 days after our meeting, I got a call from Habeeb. He was confused about which of the two big parties to join. We both examined the strength of the APC and PDP and concluded that he should join PDP since that was the strongest party in Ogbomosho. We believed that regardless of the party, young people should be able to make positive impact wherever we find ourselves. HB hails from the Onikoyi Royal House in Ogbomosho South Local Government Area of Ogbomosho town in Oyo state. Though born in New York, USA, Habeeb lived most of his adult life in Lagos and frequently visited Ogbomosho. He had decent name recognition in Ogbomosho and it was not surprising to see his people embrace him after he announced his bid.
In less than ten days, he was nicknamed Olokoto, an ancestral name for his forebearers. He’s still called that today. As I was busy travelling the length and breadth of my constituency soliciting support for my bid in Kwara, Habeeb was doing the same in Ogbomoso.
I must admit that at some point I envied my friend’s campaign because he had tremendous support from his people. Every time I saw him or the pictures of his outings and rallies, there was always a sea of heads surrounding him. It was perhaps easier for HB because of the high level of political awareness already on ground in the state and the people’s surging interest in political processes. I cannot say the same for my people in Oke-Ogun.
Just like me, Habeeb was also later approached by the elders in his constituency to step down for another aspirant. This preferred candidate was just relocating from the United States and he certainly had more money. The aspirant had tried twice in the past but failed to get the ticket on both occasions. This was his third attempt and it was not going well because Olokoto had become the rave of the town.
One Saturday evening, Habeeb and his wife, Shade, drove into Ilorin to see me. He needed to escape from the tension in Ogbomosho especially with the new deal being proposed by the party stakeholders. He was yet to make a decision on the path to tow. As we deliberated this issue and other things, we agreed that there was no going back on his quest. “No retreat, no surrender,” we both chorused as they departed at about 8:45 that night.
Olokoto did everything that needed to be done and legally won the PDP primaries for Ogbomosho South state constituency. It was a free and fair election well covered by the press – TV, radio, print and online media. He joined his supporters and well wishers in victory songs and danced around the town thanking people for their support while promising to take their message to the capital. Little did we know that we were just starting the fight. He had won the war but the battle was far from over.
The PDP did not immediately provide Certificates of Return to the successful aspirants. Rather, they were told to visit the party secretariat in Ibadan a few days later to pick up the certificates. The names of the flag bearers would eventually be forwarded to the PDP national secretariat in Abuja and then the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Habeeb decided to spend the next few days with his family in Lagos before the stipulated date for collection of Certificate of Return. I was having a last meeting with the team having pulled out of the primary race in my constituency. Then I got a frantic call from Habeeb; he was literally going mad.
“…My name is not on the list.” I managed to cut in and said, “Hold on, oga, you’re not making any sense. Which list? What are you talking about?”
He then went on to explain that he was at the party secretariat in Ibadan to collect his Certificate of Return but was told his name was not the one presented as Ogbomosho South candidate even though he had won the primary election. The party executive had substituted his name with the other money-bag aspirant from America without recourse to the real winner. I couldn’t believe my ears. I felt so much pain. I had hoped that my friend’s victory at the polls would give me joy and hope since my own bid went south. But the hope had just been truncated by this call.
We decided not to go down without a fight. I quickly called my lawyers as he did his too. Then the petitions and legal tussle began. The lawyers asked for all evidence he could gather so a proper case could be built against the superimposed candidate and party.
As we went about gathering that we discovered something quite shocking. A local television station in Ogbomosho covered the primary election and aired it in one of its news bulletins. Two days after the primary, upon our request, the TV station gave a copy of that video to one of Habeeb’s cousins called Waheed who was resident in Ogbomosho. Before we could get down to Ogbomosho to pick the video recording, Waheed had sold the video to the opposite camp and claimed that the cameraman from the TV station came back “to collect it so that it can be properly edited.”
We tried reaching our contact in the TV station again, but he was outside the state for an assignment. Five days later, someone came forward with a video recording of the election proceedings where my friend won. Habeeb submitted petitions at the state and national secretariats of his party. He even met Alhaji Adamu Muazu, the then PDP National Chairman, but nothing changed. The other aspirant’s name was submitted as the party flag bearer to INEC who eventually lost to the APC candidate at the general elections on April 11, 2015. With that, all hopes of reclaiming HB’s mandate was go.
Editor’s Note: Bisi Ogunwale’s new book, “Stepping Out: A rookie’s guide to Nigeria’s politics”, chronicles his experiences during the 2015 general elections when he ran an unsuccessful bid to unseat an incumbent representing Oke-Ogun Constituency in the Kwara State House of Assembly (KWHA). It also narrates his role as a member of the Buhari-Osinbajo campaign team in Kwara, as well as several other personal experiences. The Scoop will publish three more excerpts from Ogunwale’s “Stepping Out” on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. You can purchase a copy of the book here.