In his entire eight years in office, President Muhammadu Buhari maintained a gung ho look, almost like an ultra-human from the outer planet. He rarely, if ever, granted press interviews let alone come close to his subjects in town halls. This heightened the laughable joke cracked by Buhari himself about being a body double.
Even during elections, televised debates did not happen. So grim and cultural was Buhari’s official alienation from the people that President Bola Tinubu seemed to mimick the Buhari parody of successful public evasion during the 2023 presidential election campaigns.
Governors are a bit different as they are known to wine and dine with the people only during election campaigns. Afterwards, many of them remain physically and emotionally detached from the people, making leadership at the highest level seem a sombre, macabre and extra-mundane affair. Not so for Ademola Adeleke, the dance persona and performer of a leader!
One writer described the contrast between Adeleke and Gboyega Oyetola, his predecessor: “A man of advancing years, Oyetola tends to be grave, studied and soft-spoken, but Adeleke is a hurricane — free, lively and in no way reserved – and connects with young people in ways that many can only dream of”. Now with state power, Adeleke adds stage power to enthrall his subjects. In so doing, he occasionally lightens the burden of Nigeria as one of the worst places in the world to be a human being.
No doubt, the grim hardship in the country is a sad reminder of the scale of work lying before leaders at all levels. The majority of leadership analysts point to economy, peace and security as well as patriotism, public service, honesty and integrity as the sure paths to good governance. In Osun State, Governor Ademola Adeleke brings another dimension: comic relief through characteristic dance steps. The governor popularized his dance personality during his days in the Senate between 2017 and 2019, from where he danced to the State House in Osogbo in 2022, having become the people’s darling. No sooner did he assume office than he built boreholes in forgotten hamlets, donated bags of foodstuff to the poor, visited orphanages, physically challenged children’s schools and aged peoples’ homes, hospitals and prisons. He is said to have re-enacted populism to the scale seen among the Sarakis in Kwara State.
It Runs In The Blood – No Pretences
Make no mistakes. Governor Adeleke is not trying too hard to please his subjects and to win their friendship and vote. Dance and entertainment were his unfulfilled life ambitions. Having succeeded in politics, however, he still found his dance feet and caps. Adeleke once told journalists: “Music makes me feel so good. I love music. I love dancing. In fact, I was supposed to be in the entertainment business. During the time we were growing up, our father believed that you had to be a doctor or lawyer; you had to go to school. I still have it in me. I do not believe that because I am a governor or when I was a Senator it should stop. When we have get-togethers, everyone would be stuck up.” Adeleke is father to B-Red and Shina Rambo, who are top musicians in Nigeria. He is also an uncle to famous singer, David Adeleke, popularly known as Davido.
‘Dancing Working Governor’
Adeleke’s dance steps have made him hugely popular, winning him the governorship, perhaps. Yet, that’s because there is something else about those body wriggling waves and lo lo lo Buga moves. The moves provide a significant relief to his subjects, and are also a means to celebrate his many victories in governance. And in political fights. In March 2023, the Chairman, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), General Buba Marwa, rtd., during the presentation of the Champions Newspaper Governor of the Year Award to Adeleke in Lagos State, described him as “a dancing working governor”. Echoing the same sentiments at the occasion, Adeleke was likened to Chief Obafemi Awolow in bringing light to the people. The same words were echoed by Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former Head of State, early in September 2023, while speaking at the 16th Harvest Anniversary and Thanksgiving Service held at the Love of Christ Generation Church in Victoria Island, Lagos State.
Having popularized his dance while in the Senate, Adeleke seemed to drop his entertainment ambitions just after winning the governorship. Some journalists attributed this to the seriousness of governance. However, truth immediately dawned on Adeleke that entertainment has to remain a fiber and an integral part of governance. Upon assumption of office, Adeleke, notably, began to act like the typical Nigeria governor when he signed six executive orders in one day. Adeleke’s executive orders touched on chieftaincy matters, appointments, review panels, staff audit and employment. He reversed many appointments and annulled a local government election conducted by his predecessor, Gboyega Oyetola. He also ordered a reversion of the state’s official name to Osun State from State of Osun.
Then the war ensued with political opponents, climaxing with his sack by the state elections petitions tribunal. Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State incurred similar backlash from critics just a month and two weeks in office, with his altruistic, but ultimately controversial asset declaration. Makide also launched a slew of attacks on his predecessor, Adeyemi Ajimobi, for leaving the state bankrupt, a move seen by critics as a cheap search for populism.
But Adeleke has since gone back to dancing, rediscovering his mantra as the undisputed grand master of populism in Nigeria. The rediscovery seemed to follow his victories at the appeal and Supreme Courts, after a state tribunal had overturned his governorship election. The tribunal chairman, Terste Kume, speaking in a jolting judgment had said: “The 2nd Respondent (Adeleke) cannot “go lo lo lo lo” and “Buga won” as the duly elected Governor of Osun State in the election conducted on 16th day of July 2022″. The Buga dance boomed even more after the court triumph.
Sometimes Adeleke infected other governors like Bayelsa’s Douye Diri, during the February burial of the latter’s octogenarian father, Pa Abraham Diri.
Going further from the electoral victory, Adeleke appears to be using entertainment to consolidate on a family dynasty. His nephew, Davido, is applying oil to this effort by rallying the youth behind Adeleke with his pop music in sync with Adeleke’s dace steps. Adeleke’s father, Ayoola Adeleke, served as a Senator during the Second Republic, while Isiaka Adeleke, his elder brother, served as senator and governor.
High-level performance seems to be vindicating Governor Adeleke so far. His dance moves are therefore not just an alternative to good governance, else he would have been branded a clown by opponents. One journalist said concerning critics of Adeleke’s dancing toga: “When a born dancer meets a born drummer, what results is pure art. Let Adeleke dance his dance, keeping the Adeleke name aflame through democratic dividends, plugging leakages to distant lords. By that time, many will join him in saying with pride: Imole de! (Here comes light!).