Inspiring And Finding Decent Nigerians To Serve Our Country Is Slowly But Surely Becoming An Illusion
The frequent comparison or equation of President Obasanjo’s record in office with those of Sani Abacha may sound hyperbolic or condescending at best to many in our country today. But guess what? It is has a lot of merit and some legitimacy that well meaning Nigerians ought to be concerned about. I am concerned about it as a citizen, and I want to share some of my frustration in this write-up with anyone who may care to listen.
If you really want to hear the truth about Nigeria, one of the sources you can always trust to articulate it for you in lucid language is Rueben Abati the Guardian Newspaper columnist who is one of the best in the business in our country today. Rueben, as far as I am concerned, has become the barometer, or the gold standard in good and fearless commentary on Nigeria that I so much enjoy reading. Rueben has recently expressed the same sentiments in far superior verbiage and diction few writers can ever match. Rueben Abati is my man any day. God bless his soul.
Another patriot and arguably the last of our post Independence prominent leaders, Anthony Enahoro, is saying much the same thing with different emphasis, however, when he describes our present Regime in Nigeria at best as a civilian Dictatorship. One of my respected and brilliant legal luminaries and politicians from the old West, the great Richard Akinjide of Ibadan has forcefully made the same case. I have read another article on the website this morning describing Abacha as a hero, and Obasanjo as a big letdown.
My take in this article is how that empirical development in our country is going to make it all the more difficult in the future to inspire and attract decent Nigerians who are willing to serve and to bail out our country from this morass in the current cul-de-sac we have all found ourselves in Nigeria. Mrs. Iweala our current Finance Minister was loaned to us from the World Bank where she has made a name for herself in sound management and public probity. That Iweala has succeeded in the international arena does not, however, make her a shoo-in for success in Nigeria. It is not because she would not try her best to do in her new position what has served her so well in Washington or Zurich. She is probably not going to make the same impact in Abuja only because she has got to surround herself with irredeemable charlatans and pen robbers in implementing the Government Policy she may have helped to craft. The Civil Service of today is a far cry from what obtains under Simeon Adebo, S.O. Biobaku or Odumosu in the West or Ejueyitchie, Abdul Azeez Atta, Allison Ayida, or Grey Eronmosele Longe in the Federal, to mention just a few. The good ones have departed, I am sorry to say.
I can’t help but recount or recall at this point, in an attempt to drive my point home the dismal performance of the great Bola Ige in the Steel, Mines and Power Ministry in the second coming of Obasanjo. Up till then, the Uncle Bola Ige that I know, was highly regarded as a first class and ideologically driven performer who would turn things around very quickly, if not any where else in his very large Ministry, at least in NEPA better known in Nigeria parlance as “No Electric Power at all.” He himself had actually boasted he was going to make Power Failure, outages and fluctuation in Nigeria, a thing of the past. Your guess is as good as mine as to what the late Bola Ige had actually accomplished in that job, before he had to be moved to his natural habitat in the then Federal Ministry of Justice.
The last time I met and spoke one-on-one to uncle Bola Ige was at his Quarters in Abuja on May 28th, 2001. I had gone to Abuja on that occasion riding in the same vehicle with Chief Wumi Adegbonmire, the then Secretary to the Ondo State Government, a former classmate and a senior friend who had given me a ride from Akure to Abuja in his official vehicle to attend a Conference of Nigerian Leaders at the International Conference Center in Abuja that the Sultan of Sokoto and the Ooni of Ife had sponsored as leading traditional rulers in Nigeria. I had planned to stay two days in the Guest Chalet of uncle Bola Ige, but I ended up staying with my wife at Yanyan some ten miles away from the crawling Nation’s Capital whose traffic jam at peak period is worse that what had informed the hurried movement of the capital from Lagos by the Maradona himself, regardless of Akinola Aguda Commission’s recommendation that the building of the Capital be done in 25 years and in carefully calibrated phases like happened to Dodoma the new Capital of Tanzania under Dr Nwalimu Julius Nyerere.
But I did visit Uncle Bola Ige to explain to him my change of plan to spend the night at Yanyan, and to breifly compare notes with him as to the state of our Nation the night before. Little did I realize it would be the last time I would ever see him alive. The great mind was murdered in cold blood in the comfort of his bed room on the night of November 23rd, 2001, exactly three days after I had returned from my last trip to Nigeria.
Bola Ige was not fondly called “Uncle” for nothing in our country. He was the Darling of the Progressives in our country. He was the sharpest mind and the most congenial Nigerian you will ever know. Bola Ige, a born orator, speaks English, Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo with the dexterity of a Cicero and the clairvoyance of an Abba Ebban the one time Permanent Representative of the State of Israel to the UN, and the resounding voice and eloquent spokesman for Israel around the world. Bola Ige who, literarily, died for our country and for his good friend Obasanjo, was a great fighter and icon to the very end. I had asked him after dinner on the 28th how come he could not deliver on his promise to turn around NEPA, and how disillusioned we his admirers felt on his apparent failure in that assignment. He simply smiled exposing the hard to ignore gap in his front teeth, “Wumi,” he had said in amazing candor that still rings in my head to this day, “I had grossly underestimated the level of corruption, decadence, and stench in the place before I accepted that thankless job.”
To cut a long story short, he had concluded the odds were stacked against him, and it was “one mission impossible” to quote his exact words that evening. We then moved on to his current assignment as Attorney-General and the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of Nigeria and how he was coping with being the hatchet man for his good friend, the President. He was candid enough to tell me his days under President Obasanjo were numbered, as he was moving on to other things before returning in full force to get the South West organized for the 2003 Presidential and General elections. He never lived to witness the event. He knew from the “get go” he was stepping on several toes over the Sharia Brouhaha in Nigeria, but he never for one moment doubted he would laugh last and laugh best. He had not the slightest premonition or betrayed any Freudian slip, his assassination in the hands of those he had trusted, was in the works, any time soon. I actually believed that the man could live another twenty years or more because he was that vibrant and strong in my judgment.
Chrisore Omisore the guy that was used as the hatchet man to surreptitiously take him out, I dare say, had only played into the hands of those determined to get rid of the Cicero of Esa Oke before he got them is all I can guess in this writ-up. But Uncle Bola Ige as far back as May 28th 2001, had publicly agonized like many are doing today in our country, that the search for more decent Nigerians to serve our country in most fields of endeavor, and most especially in Government and in the public arena has become terribly compromised, and I totally concur. Why?
First and foremost, the predisposition for decent people to want to step up to the plate and to offer their services is often based on the assessment of those called to serve as to whether or not they are being called upon to serve a grateful Nation. To prove my point here, I would just briefly want to compare the United States and the old Soviet Union, and how both super powers at the time have either betrayed or honor, cherish and immortalize their national leaders and heroes in all fields of endeavor. Just compare how Nikita Kruschev was disgraced out of office or how Gorbachev with his “Perestroika and Glasnost” philosophy were treated after leaving office in the Soviet Union. You just compare how Lenin the Soviet Union founding father and philosopher is being treated today in Russia, the surviving relic of the old Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact. Compare that to how the Great George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, FDR, Harry Truman, JFK, Ronald Reagan to mention a few in God’s own country, are being immortalized and appreciated for ever.
I recently drove a friend to the JFK International Airport in New York a few days ago, and I read an inscription as I drove towards the totally refurbished and rebuilt Millennium Airport which reads “JFK Airport where America meets the World” I just shook my head because those few words had brought back to memory the fundamental appreciation and eulogizing of the youngest and the most charismatic and the most photogenic American President in living memory. And yet the icon was President for less than three years, but in those few years the man had served his country well and had left his footprints on the sands of history for ever and ever.
You go to the Arlington Cemetery today in the outskirts of Washington to see the “Eternal Flame” which has been burning continuously ever since the remains of JFK from an assassin’s bullet had been interred there for eternity. Nobody does it better than America, the shinning City on the Hill that many Americans would bend over backwards to die for, if need be, because they know they never die in vain. That is what I call the major difference between Nigeria and a country like the United States The family of Lt. Colonel Aladesuyi one of the bright stars of the Nigerian Military whose plane crashed in the outskirts of Lagos, are virtually forgotten in Akure, his home town. All those promises the Maradona as Commander-in-Chief made to all the dependants and loved ones of the falling heroes are yet to be redeemed by Nigeria. Why, for God’s sake, would anyone want to die for such a country today and tomorrow. Your guess is as good as mine.
President Obasanjo the man at the driver’s seat in Abuja has finally admitted the country, he is proud to lead, is indeed the very citadel of corruption around the world second only to probably Bangladesh. I would admit that telling us what we already know is one form of leadership, but what the Nation would appreciate the most is what the President has done and what he is doing about it, and what he plans to do next to confront the decadence. The Nation would want to know what he has done for upwards of eight years that he alone in a population of 120 million people, had been uniquely lucky to lead our country. Three years the first time around, four years the second time and close to one year now. That tenure is as long as it takes all two term Presidents in the World’s greatest Democracy to keep America on the cutting edge of development and progress.
I am not seeing any of that in Obasanjo’s leadership today, and I deeply regret it. If this is all the leadership the Yoruba Nation could offer Nigeria, it is going to be downhill from now on, I am sorry to say. The expectation of Nigerians were very high on Obasanjo because of the imperishable track record of Obafemi Awolowo in the old West. Most Nigerians had come to believe rightly or wrongly that the Yorubas were great managers of resources because our most prominent leader had done wonders with power in Nigeria. They have come to believe that Obasanjo was going to be like Awo. I dare say again that they have been wrong. Awolowo would have done for Nigeria what he had done for the old West, because Awolowo had no equal in Nigeria, when it comes to defining his goals for the country and achieving them. If anyone doubts that, let’s go back to the tale of the tape like they say in Sports and play it back for posterity here and now.
At a time Tafawa Balewa was Prime Minister at the center, Awolowo was Premier in the old West leading the whole nation by his example and the force of his ‘can do’ personality. He had, single-handedly, built the Western Nigeria Secretariat at Agodi Ibadan for a chicken change when compared with what other states are now spending to build similar Secretariats or a little segment of them today for millions of dollars and billions of local currency. Awolowo had built the Queens Elizabeth, the Second Road in Ibadan, which the Queen of England would be pleased to drive on, one more time, when she visits Nigeria next December. Awolowo did not stop there. His Government built the tallest building in West Africa at the time in the Cocoa House at Ibadan, the best University campus in Africa , south of the Sahara, and the greatest Industrial Estate complex at Ikeja and several Housing Estates in Bodija and in all parts of the old Western Region.
The same Awo had built Liberty Stadium beating the then Federal Government under Balewa to second place. For that reason the first International Boxing Tournament between Gene Fullmer and the great Ihetu Dick Tiger to be staged in Africa, could not hold in Lagos, Kaduna or Enugu, the then regional capital of the old East which Dick Tiger could have preferred, if he had a choice in it. The only stadium that could host such a prestigious tournament could only be found in Awolowo country at Ibadan. I don’t want to talk of the Free Universal Education program of which the writer himself is among the first set of beneficiaries in the old West, or the Agric Settlement Program that Awolowo’s Government had pioneered in the old West. I am leaving that to History. But the point I really want to draw attention to in this write-up is the effrontery or bravado of one Lilliputian, nincompoop PDP Governor Ladoja in Ibadan or the President himself the “de facto” leader of the PDP Government in Nigeria, who had failing to do anything when the statute of the same Obafemi Awolowo was desecrated at Ibadan by some party hoodlums led by Alhadji Adedibu.
Now talking of a grateful Nation which is the central theme of this essay, would you call the development at Ibadan something that is most likely to inspire people to want to serve our country? Hell, no, is my immediate answer. The more we see how leadership can be bastardized in our country, the more Awolowo grows in stature and recognition in our psyche. That is the truth. There is no way to separate the progress of Singapore from the Great Lee Kuan Yu, or the greatness of Tanzania from the shinning leadership of the Nwalimu Julius Nyerere or the greatness and national pride of Vietnam from the one and only Ho Chi Mingh. The great tragedy of Nigeria is not allowing Awolowo to be the best he could be for our country. That is what it is.
I hear IBB is making plans to run again, and to succeed Obasanjo as the next President of Nigeria in 2007. What a country? Here was a President that had ruled for close to nine years without anyone’s mandate, saying he now wants to govern the country again with your votes and mine, under a democratic system of Government that thrives on separation of powers and the Rule of Law. How I wish the late Funwontan Adeboye the Ewi Maestro could be alive today to articulate for us in Ewi lyrics what is most likely to happen again when IBB takes over from Obasanjo as he well, might do, given the power of money in our Nation’s Politics and Nigeria’s sick and very short memory.
I advise any of you Yoruba men and women who have never listened to Adeboye Ewi albums to go get your self a copy of that album where Adeboye, the very best in his Field, in a clarion call to all Nigerians, at home and abroad, had narrated what the likes of IBB and Abacha had done to a nation flowing with milk and honey, so to speak, in many years of plunder and savage Government. Even though Funwontan is no more today, the curses he had placed on all those who have ruined our country would all come to pass without fail. Amen.
There is no way I could reenact in English all the things that Adeboye had said in that Ewi clip and album. Only the Great Zik of Africa could do that for Nigerians in English. The one and only Zik of Africa had successfully done that with the late Wilberforce Chuba Okadigbo when he made his incantations in English, the only man I know to have done that in English. The Great ZIK had said that Okadigbo’s rain which did not gather any dark and water-laden cloud before falling, would end up in frustration, total disappointment and calamity. Has Zik’s incantation and curse on Okadigbo come to pass? You bet, it has, if you are as religiously superstitious as I am.
My point here is how any Nigerian with any moral scruple or rectitude ever going to find it easy or appealing to want to serve our Nation? That is precisely why everything Obasanjo is doing today to recycle the same set of leaders and politicians that have sucked Nigeria dry, with the exception of a few, is taking our country no where. Just like Obasanjo is now making Abacha to look like a saint in uniform, he may also be paving the way for IBB to return to Aso Rock despite all of his blunders in public office. General Yakubu Gowon who was never a crook like IBB is never being toasted or programmed by Obasanjo for succession to him. Through Obasanjo’s silence and his refusal to even bring IBB to book, he, Obasanjo is sidelining his own Vice president and sandbagging him with his lackluster performance in office. If by Obasanjo’s admission, Theophilus Danjuma was really one of the reasons he agreed to serve as President again in 1999, how come he is not persuading the same Danjuma to run for public office as President of the country? it is a legitimate question to ask, and if Danjuma is reluctant to serve, it all boils down to the same conclusion that this article has drawn that inspiring or finding decent Nigerians who will be willing to serve our country, is now as difficult as passing a camels’ head through a needle Hole. God help Nigeria. But “Heavens”, the Bible has told us, “only helps those who help themselves.” The Bible does not lie. That is the Gospel truth.
I rest my case.
Dr Wunmi Akintide