The remonstration of retired Colonel Abubakar Umar could have been titled: When a King writes like a Slave. Rather, I chose this one – which is not an original. It is the same as a book by Toby Young – a brilliant but imbecilic former Fleet Street journalist. Though, a graduate of both Oxford and Harvard Universities: by the standards of his book – he can also be described as dumb and an ingrate. Ask Graydon Carter – former editor of Vanity Fair.
The retired soldier has not fared differently with his attempt to make bold in the face of uncouthness. What then is the correlation between Mr. Young and Mr. Umar, Coup Planner Extraordinaire – formerly of the Nigeria Army? Why attempt an appellation between both gentlemen? The reasons are superficial but sufficient to consider the youthful looking former soldier could have written the same title as the journalist.
In an attempt to prove patriotism and not opportunism, the retired soldier exhibited a fault line in his attempted psyop. He allowed sentiments to betray and expose the mirth that so long cocooned him. His accuser now has an advantage over him. The accusations – if at all they can be so labelled are classic but not enduring. They are probably spurious and vengeful. When he could have ignored the impertinence of the Special Adviser to Mr. Obasanjo – he chose to compete with him in the same foul trench.
Here is my take: Mr. Umar stated his previous closeness to power; Mr. Fani-Kayode demonstrated his closeness to it. The retired soldier denied he is an opportunist by making a case for the same charge and this is an issue to comment on later. The Special Adviser makes his own case: for the same charge he accused another. One commonality shared by both men is that each, in the case of the retired soldier, has worked and is working selflessly for the political development of the country, Nigeria. The Special Adviser could hardly be denied the same. However, in his case, it is arguable his current position is titillating and he is being carried away.
There is no doubt that both the accused and accuser have a deep sense of their relevance in the Nigerian space. Mr. Umar unashamedly reminded his readership that siding with the Nigerian Press takes a cause farther. Could the Special Adviser be denied the same adroitness? I believe not. The retired Colonel defended General Haruna; the Special Adviser defended President Obasanjo. Both defended democracy and explicated their distrust of General Abacha. The Adviser inferred it and the retired officer enumerated it. The antecedent of the retired Colonel in supporting democracy was laid out; the Adviser charged that that the letter of the accused: ‘The Devil is it, Mr. President.’ does not sustain democracy.
What I labour to present is that both men are singing the same tune but from different hymn sheets. What differentiates them is the personality clash, which in common parlance is: “you no know your rank?” And that is from both sides. Could the retired Colonel have been so irritated to the extent that he ignored J.F Kennedy’s response at the epochal presidential debate with President Nixon? Why has the retired Colonel dignified an accusation when he could well have laid his case without inquiring of his accuser over and over again, if he was an opportunist? By the article, Mr. Umar has only himself to blame. When a King speaks and acts like a slave, he deserves to be treated like one.
Permit I concentrate briefly on the accused. When as a dashing young Major in the Nigeria Army and in charge, firstly at the Federal Housing Authority and latterly Governor of Kaduna State – he exuded a panache that made being a Roadie attractive. Along with time, unfortunately he is stooping to a level beneath contempt with the Special Adviser of the Nigerian President. The Adviser is not any different from his Principal. When Professor Aluko criticised Mr. Obasanjo – the vituperation of the president fell short of the expectations of his Office. Why the surprise that his Special Adviser is not different?
Mr Umar’s departure to Harvard University had a tremendously positive impact on many young Nigerians. I recall a meeting with Dr. Adetokunbo Lucas at Harvard University Public Health School, Massachusetts. When I arrived at the building, looking for the eminent Nigerian, I found him in his Nigerian native attire: Buba and Sokoto; and welcoming too. We even had time to exchange notes on his father, who many years earlier had left me with an indelible impression. I was proud to see a Nigerian making his mark at Harvard.
After meeting with the former World Health Organisation Head, it was for only one reason that I proceeded to J.F Kennedy School of Government and Politics to witness firsthand the building Mr. Umar had sat as a postgraduate student. The retired Colonel was not my hero. It was curiosity borne out of respect that led me there. I must confess that on other occasions at visiting Harvard, I had done the same. But at my next visit, I am unlikely to wander around thinking of Mr. Umar. After all, the retired Colonel is a felon that ought to be indicted and has displayed a lack of discretion. There are enterprises that are better recorded, when history is hazy and not catalogued publicly at an inopportune time. The retired soldier made an error too common with people that are consumed by self-importance.
He has succeeded in alienating those who respect his achievements inside and outside of government; and zeal to fight for a better nation. Count me on the list. I have no doubt many of the retired officers named, as fellow felons will not be expressing their gratitude. They all have reasons to be afraid of the knock on the door. Believe it or not, Mr. Umar may unwittingly have done more damage to those he needed to corroborate his story. He has burst what Linda Grant, the award-winning novelist described as the bu’ah in Israeli Society, which his fellow conspirators have long resided: a bubble that may still asphyxiate them. The likelihood of which, I admit is currently remote. But consider what is now happening in Georgia.
President Mikhail Saakashvili’s crusade against corruption is not the same as the one we operate in our country. The Georgians are determined to rid their country of corrupt leadership and do they not do it in a grander style than us? Georgians are treated to publicly televised arrests of corrupt officials and those that have misused power in the country. The anti-corruption crusade is yielding results in a country where previously a common curse was: may you live on your wages. I digress.
The accusation against the retired Colonel is a standard cheap ploy in a war of wits. The Special Adviser’s attack was meant to lure the retired soldier into a hawkish reaction, which would make it difficult for Mr. Obasanjo to fire his Adviser. Consider the evidence: would the president fire his Special Adviser over a man that did not support his ambition to become president? Further, could the president sacrifice his adviser over a strongly worded article? If Mr. Umar had not played a prominent role in the nation and the Army in particular, his article in spite of the cogency would have been ignored. Contextually, the first exposition is not different from what other commentators have written and neither are his claims more superior to many editorials.
Nicholas Lezard’s profiling Mr. Young’s book said: ‘this is a book about failure. And, it has to be said, a very successful one…highly entertaining… for those of us who like Schadenfreude and the spectacle of someone making an absolute ass of himself, it is delightful.’ The account of the former military officer at planning coups can be described in the same words because of its wrong timing. Why use such an account to respond to a man who is as much an opportunist.
The exposure of fellow officers who are still criminally culpable for intervening in a democratic government is unwise. His account of an attempt to topple Mr. Ibrahim Babangida’s government is not unfortunate to the extent that the government was an anathema to the common good of our people. Mr. Umar’s account smirks of nothing but an affront to a society where the rule of law is not upheld. Let us consider: what type of justice was he championing, when he had been a kingpin in disposing of an illegal government?
Edwin Madunagu in his article: “Umar Abubakar” opined and concluded that the “sparring” between the accused and accuser is a microcosm of the relationship between the president and Mr. Babangida. I disagree. The display between the accused and accuser is not new. It is rampant. Most rejoinders like the Special Adviser never proffer superior arguments. To them, the issues are personal.
I return to Mr. Lezard’s characterisation of the failure in Mr. Young’s works; and as stated it is also my belief of the retired officer’s indiscretion. It remains to be said that if opportunism is not about disclosure of attempted treasonable felony, what else can be so described. If Nigeria were a country that regarded the rule of law, would the retired soldier display such foolery of accouning to overtake the government of Mr. Babangida? Though it would have been welcomed, if successful. But should that legitimise a coup d’etat? If it is not opportunism that soldiers on whom the resources of the nation were expended were travelling the length and breadth of the country to seek support to intervene in governments, what else could it be?
Mr. Umar may have done a great deal for this nation. The irritation that precipitated his reaction to respond in the way he did, is inimical to good leadership traits. I support his candour at: “I will not be silenced.” Anger achieves nothing and the retired soldier must abide the advice of Cornelius Tacitus, the Roman Senator and Historian – Sine ira et studio – directly translated: With neither anger not partiality. I recommend he continues to state his allegations and request the presidency to explain 300 Billion Naira expenditure on roads; why 1.8 per cent of our budget is devoted to education as against the 26 per cent recommended by UNICEF; why his government does not implement budgets; why this government has continued to spend money without recourse to appropriation laws passed by the National Assembly; why the president is not aware his vaulted dividends of democracy have not yet trickled down; Why security of life and property is at its lowest state ever; why our infrastructure has further degraded despite the billions spent for its rehabilitation; why the last four and half years of democracy have recorded the highest unemployment; why the private sector has lost its capacity to provide the engine of growth for the economy; why most industries have shut down; why the Naira has lost over 50 per cent of its value in the past four years; why corruption is unabated; why we have failed to attract the much desired foreign direct investment as our environment has remained unsafe and unattractive for such investment. Those are the issues that neither the President of Nigeria nor his Special Adviser can convert. If Nigerians are vilified for asking these difficult questions, the President had better be prepared for the judgement of history, which at this rate is set to be unkind to him. And, Mr. Umar must resist reducing this debate to a personality clash even if the presidency seeks to do so.
The writer is a solicitor of the Supreme Court, England and Wales and a Lawyer at a Firm of Solicitors in London, England.
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