Friday, October 15, 2010

“One Nation, One Destiny”


“One Nation, One Destiny”


Friday, October 8, 2010

It may not be our destiny, but if it is our desire, then it is our destination. Then again, it maybe our desire, but neither our destiny nor destination.

Shehu Shagari’s National Party of Nigeria, NPN, was a party of big moneybags. When Obasanjo hastily handed over power to this political tribe, its major operatives were at home with the national treasury; many of them had been there. With “One Nation, One Destiny” as its motto, a party of phonies, powerbrokers, and fiscal fraudsters emerged and went on a looting spree. At the time, there was still enough money to plunder. Only politicians with zero access to the treasury complained. Others either joined them or let them be __there was no beating them.

These men and women lived on borrowed time. The looting frenzy could not sustain, but they ignored the open dangers. A “great nation” was in the making: One Nation? One Destiny! All sorts of superlatives soared: most populous country, Giant of Africa, leader of all Blacks on earth, biggest democracy in Africa, etc. The oil-boom fired up a romance with sociopolitical utopia. There was no doubt about it: Nigeria was a paradise, a paradise of princely pickpockets.

Shagari’s regime had the opportunity to make Nigeria great. Little things like a caring minister, an efficient communications network, security, probity, and rule of law could have narrowed easily the religious and regional divisions. Instead, it forced Nigerians back to social and political ghettos. In times of trouble, folks feel more secure with people who look like them and spoke like them. With their “kith and kin,” they dreamt on: There is one great God up there. The élite went to work and did what they do best: acerbic criticisms merely give vent to personal frustrations, nothing more.

Average Nigerians are great optimists. “God dey!” captures the principle of definite divine intervention when all else fails. In addition, those in the mostly liberal Christian South and Middle Belt believe that if they work hard, they will move into the high-life class; or their children will pick up from where they stopped. Either way, there was no need to rock the boat by agitating unnecessarily. Average Muslim northerners, especially the masses of conservative communities, believe in the will of almighty Allah, that destiny determines who went to Lagos and who scavenged from the table of alms-giving tribes of elitist alhaji.

Meanwhile, the destined democratic dictators in Lagos looted from the nation’s treasury as if their parents had put the money there and willed it to them. Governors and ministers donated state funds to all causes as if it was loose change. Nigerians traveled to London for Saturday evening parties, and came back early enough for Monday-morning “business-as-usual” __whatever that was. Officials at all levels abused state resources recklessly in an unfolding nightmare.

After Friday classes at state universities, female students traveled to London for parties, shopped at Marks & Spencer and Harrods, and flew back for Monday-morning classes. Priests and popular musicians prayed for the politicians to live forever; the politicians sprayed the musicians with hard cash to sing on, and donated large sums to God! It was not long before a healthy treasury grew wings and flew into secure Swiss safes and longing London vaults.

In an atmosphere of alternating phony politics and mean militarism, it is easy to throw the baby away with the bath water. We quickly shouted down those who try to highlight the good things about Nigeria. If the media spend half the space allotted to negativity on positive profiles, Nigerians might appreciate and count their blessings. There are so many great things about Nigeria, but one has to search. The positive images do not make front pages. Journalists chase the mother of negative exclusives. These “exclusives” are not elusive, because the politically powerful are often unresponsive. The so-called “corrective” military men, often the armed alter ego of professional politicians, make matters worse. Babangida and Abacha set the height of pointless looting and abuse of power, with deceit and duplicity aplenty.

However, there were good days and many happy hours worth talking about. Many of the events may not be earth-shattering situations, but many more of such situations would have made matters better. Thus, certain occurrences in history make many Nigerians look at this colonial contraption and say, “There is still hope.” Even in the face of rancor and rivalry, a few good citizens rise above personal comfort to speak, act, and die for the belief that, out of the ashes of dangerous diversity, a beautiful nation of nations might emerge. We usually underappreciated these men and women, either because the “victors” are still writing the history, or because one noted mistake rubbed a powerful clique the wrong way. In other cases, Nigerians probably unintentionally turn a blind eye as they grapple with one sociopolitical crisis after another.

Few people living in Enugu today know that the first and pre-independence mayor of the political capital of Igboland was a northerner. Fewer Nigerians have heard of Umaru Altine. He believed in making his home where he lived and thrived. In the West and North, Igbo parents felt so much at home their kids bore Yoruba and Hausa names. Nzeogwu was named Kaduna, his city of birth. Zik was born in Zungeru of Igbo parents (as was Ikemba Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu). He was named Ibrahim, schooled in Calabar and Lagos before moving to the United States for university education. He lived in West and gave his children Yoruba names.

Musicians sang in diction other than theirs. Victor Olaiya, a Yoruba, sang the classic ballad Omolanke in Igbo language. The 1990 Shina Peters’ album, Ace, was so trendy no one cared he was speaking mostly Yoruba. Dialects sieve from local languages and ingrain into the Naija lingo at a dazzling rate. Not many Nigerians know the etymology of suya, but they go out in full force to enjoy the spiced beef-roast delicacy. In 1980’s Enugu, nobody beat an Hausa roadside roaster at Owerri Road. Popularly known as “Professor,” patrons did not know what the erudite roaster looked like. It did not matter: the suya said it all. Ishi-ewu is so popular only Igbo speakers really realize that the tasty delicacy means exactly what it says: “goat head.” From the Efik nation, edikaikong (a snail-shrimp-vegetable soup), and became national cuisine. Cultural coagulation continues in fits and struts, but civil crises usually butt in to turn back the hand of clock of nation building.

Amebo filtered in as “an overbearing gossip,” from Edo lingo for the last sister-wife in a polygamous household, whom the Hausa call “amariya”. Who does not know that oga is “boss” __ditto oga-madam! You spew a lot of hot air, it’s shakara, apology to music-maestro Fela Anikulakpo-Kuti. The Hausa maigadi is now a gateman to the rich. If you keep away from his security-cum-cigarette-stall post, you will have no wahala. Wallahi tallahi, eziokwu, the guard will scream ole (thief)on top of his voice if you attempt to steal his stuff. Yes, this is Eko, an Edo word for “camp” and the local name for Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.

In 1965, British Major-General Welby-Everard was head of Nigerian Army. The affirmative-action “quota system” devised to speed up intake, training, and selective promotion of Northerners was showing results. Some parliamentarians were pressing the defense minister to indigenize the army completely. Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa decided that the country had had enough of British commanders; a Nigerian would be chief of the army.

Four top officers were the beautiful brigadiers, each with a pack of political and army backers. Samuel A. Ademulegun was from the West, but pitched camp in NPC-land. Zakari Maimalari, a northerner, was popular with the northern-dominated army. The outgoing British commander allegedly favored Babafemi Olatunde A. Ogundipe, another Yoruba. There was J. T. U. Aguiyi-Ironsi, an Easterner who had led the Nigerian contingent in the Congo-Katanga crisis.

Politically, it was a call between NPC and NCNC. The demoralized AG, (Awo was still in jail) had no cards to play for the Yoruba candidates. Ademulegun did not need AG because NNDP Western Premier Akintola was in an alliance with the NPC. Some observers say that Ahmadu Bello backed Maimalari. Others contend that the NPC wanted Ademulegun, or would have accepted his appointment. Eastern Premier Dr. M. I. Okpara and NCNC “timber-and-caliber” politicians probably backed Aguiyi-Ironsi to the hilt. [Aguiyi-Ironsi came from the same Umuahia area as Okpara.] President Azikiwe (Zik) could have rooted for Aguiyi-Ironsi, but he had not been in the good books of the ruling NPC since the 1964 elections. Besides, Zik had to maintain an uncomfortable above-politics posture as president.

Surprisingly, Aguiyi-Ironsi got the job, backed by Balewa to the obvious anger of his NPC boss in Kaduna. This curious decision did not win Aguiyi-Ironsi many friends within the corps of young officers. Right across the ranks and outside the army, they called General Aguiyi-Ironsi “Balewa’s boy.” In jest or in admiration, the move did not harm Balewa’s government. In fact, the appointment could have been a calculated move to keep Dr. Azikiwe and the NCNC off the back of NPC-NNDP train. The politicking injected a high dose of politics into the army but, even the appointment of Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of worldwide Anglicans, comes with the political blessing of No. 10 Downing Street and the royal blessing of Buckingham Palace.

Misgivings, mistakes, and passions apart, few fair-minded folks fault the idealism of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. The coup mired in blood, yes; but Nzeogwu spoke for his fellow citizens sick and tired of sociopolitical jiggery pokery. After reading out a long list of offenses punishable by death __“looting, arson, homosexuality and rape, embezzlement, bribery or corruption, obstruction of the revolution, sabotage, subversion, false alarm and assistance to foreign invaders” __Nzeogwu said:

Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in the high and low places that seek bribes and demand ten percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers and VIPs of waste; the tribalists, the nepotists; those that make the country look big-for-nothing before international circles; those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.... We promise that you will no more be ashamed to say you are a Nigerian.

Nzeogwu said what any leader of a revolution would say about Nigeria to Nigerians today —44 years later! The only difference is that the table turned 360 degrees: his military colleagues were knee-deep in the mischief, misconduct, and Mickey-Mouse militarism. It is a screeching shame that a sound military setup that produced some of the best patriots reduced to a sick shadow of itself after many years of political adventures. The situation calls for the military men and women to back off and stay out of politics permanently; there are enough housekeeping jobs to do.

Unfortunately, a house that is against itself cannot stand. There is no way folks with big logs in their eyes can possibly remove specks in their compatriots’ eyes. The military establishment failed Nigerians. It is so sad because, love them or loathe them, the armed forces have produced men that stood out, rightlky or wrongly, when situations called for action. The list is long, but the following officers will suffice: Aguiyi-Ironsi and Fajuyi, Ademulegun and Maimalari, Kur and Unegbe, Nzeogwu and Ifeajuna, Muhammed and Danjuma, Gowon and Ojukwu, Onwuatuegwu and Adekunle, Wey and Effiong, Obasanjo and Yar’Adua, Buhari and Idiagbon, Garba and Nwachukwu, Ukiwe and Madueke, Vatsa and Bissala, Dimka and Orkar, Babangida and Abacha, Madaki and Umar, etc.

Notwithstanding many anomalies in the armed forces, they gave men who are “sons of their fathers.” Navy’s Ebitu Ukiwe dismissed belief in “benevolent dictatorship” or in the absurdity of “democratic dictatorship.” Coups and counter-coups are exactly what they are: a rape of democracy, an autocracy. Ukiwe told Nigerians to stop looking at military juntas as anything but dictatorships. Without firing a bullet and without as much as delivering an academic paper, Ukiwe dealt a devastating blow to IBB’s ploy to Islamize Nigeria via membership of the Organization of Islamic Conference, OIC. Whatever the status of Nigeria in OIC today, he stood up to denounce military manipulation of religion and ethnicity for pointless political posturing.

The irrepressible Colonel Yohanna Madaki is made of similar stuff. While fighting to keep Nigeria one, the trenches in Biafra became his classrooms. He made it to the officer corps. He rose to become an officer and a learned gentleman. As a military governor in Gongola, Madaki told a meddling feudal lord, the Emir of Muri, to mind his traditional business. He made sure the man would comply: he fired the emir! He did not stop there, he told a news medium that there were commendable aspects of the first military coup; that Nzeogwu so loved Nigeria he came to the rescue. The army kicked him out, but later relented and retired him. Madaki surfaced again in defense of Zamani Lekwot, a retired general, before the Babangida-guided Mr. Justice B. O. Okadigbo’s “special tribunal.” Fed up with the court’s modus operandi and the humiliation of his client, Madaki withdrew his counsel. The tribunal sentenced Lekwot was to death, but public opinion pressured Babangida to commute the sentence to a jail term in Port Harcourt __where Lekwot was once a military governor.

Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar soared like a helium craft. He surfaced as a respected governor of Kaduna State after Babangida’s ascendancy. He spoke his mind, even when Babangida and Abacha did not like it. After Babangida had heard enough, he sent him out for “further studies.” Umar came back and picked up the pieces, even though he was on purely military posting as the commander of a military unit. When Umar said the army should let Abiola have his so-called “sacred mandate” and get out of governance, Abacha marked him for elimination. Framed for a coup he was not thinking about and sent him home early, Umar left with his head held high. The “coup” resided in Abacha’s head only. Colonel Umar shunned conspiracies, but he continued to criticize policies constructively.

The Nigerian Police Force, NPF, with warts and worms, has not fared very well in its relationship with civilians, but it has never tried to meddle in governance. It must be disconcerting to the force that both politicians and the military use the police as they deem fit. With limited resources and poor conditions of service, the police held endured. They never rocked the boat of national politics. They never flaunted police power on a national scale nor flouted laws on their own. The men and women of the force are true allies of the judiciary.

This police-army relationship endured until 1986. Police PRO Superintendent Alozie Ogugbuaja got so frustrated with coups and the behavior of soldiers he simply went verbally ballistic. Ogugbuaja was an instant celebrity. The ruling military junta balked at the blow to military-police esprit de corps. Ogugbuaja had more to unload: He said the army officers did nothing all day but eat peppered, goat-meat soup and guzzle bottles of beer. This, he posited, gave them ample time to plot coups. Meanwhile, the idle, bone-lazy ordinary soldiers loafed around the barracks drinking burukutu (a potent local brew that defiles elementary hygiene), smoking weed, and placing bets on foreign soccer teams they could not pronounce nor locate the cities in which they played on a good map of the world. IBB junta declared him a hostile ally and fired him. Another courageous citizen silenced; military coups continued.

Whether Alozie Ogugbuaja was wrong or right, many more coups occurred within a decade of his exit. The fact that the police could not defend its own showed that the law-enforcement agency was the prawns in the political pasta of whoever occupies the state house. It is a shame that no administration has deemed it fit to equip the police force to such a standard that police officers could challenge, if not stop, forceful take-over of government and flagrant disregard of courts orders.

Since the police force could not defend its officer accused of verbal diarrhea, the press came into the play. Dele Giwa, the flamboyant founding editor-in-chief of Newswatch magazine raised print journalism to higher pedestal by vowing to keep Ogugbuaja’s star shining. When it became clear that Ogugbuaja was toast, Giwa pledged to welcome him on board as a columnist. At the time, Alozie Ogugbuaja was writing a very popular column for the Government-owned Sunday Times.

Alas, Dele Giwa had opened up many fronts. There was a very incisive story on the removal of Ebitu Ukiwe as Babangida’s deputy, and he promised more. Dark clouds gathered around the likes of Sani Abacha. There were rumors of corruption and drug deals in high places. The stories of mysterious “Gloria (Drug Mule for a Big Madam) Okon” and fake contracts involving billions of dollars circulated freely. The state security services tried to “rattle” Giwa, according to information minister Prince Tony Momoh. The next day, on October 19, 1986, at about noon, a special mail arrived at his Lagos residence. Giwa thought he knew the sender, but it was a bomb; it blew him back to his maker.

The police never solved the assassination of Giwa with a letter bomb. The incident drove living fear into Nigerian journalists. Media men and women, who had thought they saw the last of press persecution with the departure of the Buhari-Idiagbon junta and its dreaded publish-and-perish Decree 4, were scared senseless. They remained undeterred, even under severe economic squeeze. They fueled the light that Giwa and those before him had lit. No matter the number of charlatans, impostors, and praise-singers infesting the profession like demented dogs, the unsolved death of Dele Giwa remains a testimony to the courage of Nigerian writers.

On December 7, 1993, President Félix Houphouët-Boigny of Côte d’Ivoire joined his ancestors at an official age of 88 years old, exactly 33 years after country secured independence from France. The world lost its third-longest-reigning head of state (after North Korea’s Kim il Sung, who followed shortly after; and communist Comrade Fidel Castro of Cuba, who has survived to every American presidency from JFK to Obama). Africa lost one of the generations of leaders who had led their countries from colonialism to freedom and beyond.

Nigeria lost a friendly enemy __a good friend of Biafra. Here was a man who recognized the Biafran secession, and hosted Odumegwu-Ojukwu and his core command when Biafra failed. He was a larger-than-life leader who actively encouraged dialogue with the apartheid regime in South Africa, while successive Nigerian leaders and radical intellectuals itched for global isolation, if not war. Félix Houphouët-Boigny was everything but a fan of the Nigerian military juntas.

The first African in a French government cabinet, Houphouët-Boigny kept close cultural and economic ties with France to an extent his critics called him a neo-colonialist who imitated European grandiosity. They berated him for building white elephant infrastructures while his people struggled to survive. The criticisms did not faze him. Unlike the British elsewhere, the French stood by him through thick and thin.

Many expected the flamboyant funeral to be just a news item in Nigeria. Babangida had cultivated a warm relation with Houphouët-Boigny, but IBB had sidestepped out of power. Surprisingly, Abacha turned a trip to the funeral into a coup of sorts. On his entourage were the ex-warring generals: Biafra’s head of state Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s wartime C-in-C; and Olusegun Obasanjo, the colonel who received Biafran surrender in situ. Pundits marveled at this sometimes strange but in fact normal African show of solidarity. One diplomat reportedly rhapsodized: “This is good for Africa.” In death, therefore, Houphouët-Boigny made Nigerians stand tall. Sadly, within two years, Abacha had Obasanjo behind bars for a 15-year jail term.

Every time I open a book on African affairs, I usually check out entries for Nigeria to gauge its position on current continental issues and to reassure myself that things are not too bad. In David Lamb (1983), Ghana’s President-elect Hilla Limann said shortly before he took office in September 1979: “As soon as we have a civilian government, foreign investment will pour into Ghana.”

It did not. .... Ghana’s national debt at the time was nearly $2 billion; it was eighty-nine months behind on loans; its inflation rate topped 100 percent a year. Shortages of essential commodities were so severe that, as a Christmas present, nearby Nigeria sent Ghana twenty-three truck-loads of food and medicine.”

Such reports do not appear in the Lagos-Ibadan popular print media. Everyone is busy emphasizing the negative. Positive deeds go unrecognized. Alas, the “Christmas present” did not help President Limann to survive and welcome the expected rain of “foreign investment.”

On New Year Eve 1981, Jerry Rawlings, whom Limann had retired from the military, came back with troops “asking for nothing but proper democracy.” Nigeria’s President Shagari frowned at such rascality in his backyard. Some observers say that Shagari should have risked international brouhaha and invaded Ghana to restore democracy. Instead, Shagari chose to make life a bit more uncomfortable for Ghana under Rawlings. The mass repatriation of about one million Ghanaians, Togolese, and other ECOWAS citizens engaged the attention of every organ of communication in Nigeria.

Early 1990s, Rawlings discarded his dictatorship in a controversial election. He was no longer the wolf; he turned Ghana around economically and politically. Changing military uniform with mufti might not be everybody’s idea of “proper democracy,” but it worked for Ghana. Rawlings renaissance reassure Nigerians that come coups, countercoups, or combats, things will still turn around for good; after all, God dey!

Nigeria is a country of sad contrasts. Here is a country with more Ph.D. holders than East, Central and West Africa combined, yet palpitating chaos rules. Here is a country with more universities than many so-called “advanced nations,” where some state capitals have four tertiary institutions, yet no Nigerian head of government earned a degree from a regular, Nigerian university before 2007. The current president has an earned Ph.D. Nothing to be proud of, but it shows the road ahead is still wide open; the future is pregnant with immense possibilities.

Beating the patriotic drum is not patriotism. Still, sometimes in the silence of their inner world, Nigerians are proud of their country as a place. This is a country that got wealth and shared it with others; unwisely, but it shared without asking for anything in return. Gowon flooded the ports with every product made on earth in the early 1970s. He went on a Caribbean-spending spree. Everyone cheered and rejoiced: a giant of Africa at last. The FESTAC ’77 Expo was one feat no country has attempted to repeat.

Accepted, an oil-boom bonanza drove those days. Before that, while the people operated a cocoa-palm-peanuts produce economy, Nigeria took in a young Briton from London ghetto of Brixton. He had no high-school credit worth remembering, and he had failed an interview to a bus-conductor job. In xenophobic and often racist Britain, the unskilled job went to an immigrant, West-Indian woman. The young man surfaced in Jos, Northern Nigeria as a bank teller.

Twenty years later, the young man made it to the pinnacle of Her Majesty’s Foreign Service and later became Britain’s chief financial officer, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. His name is John Major, ex-British Prime Minister John Major. Did Mr. Major ever go and visit or seek out old acquaintances? No. A Nigerian would be in London the next day digging out old friends, teachers, and landlords/landladies. Yes, the average Nigerian—natural or nurtured—has soul.

Following the fine tradition of Aguiyi-Ironsi in the 1960’s Congo-Katanga crisis, General Chris Garuba headed the 1995 United Nations peacekeeping force policing Angola’s never-ending crisis. Nigerian military men led peacekeeping efforts from Serbia to Somalia, from Cambodia to Lebanon. Nigeria has lost very fine men in Sierra Leone and in Nigeria’s “Vietnam”—Liberia, and bore the brunt of wars in which it had little strategic interest. Nothing stopped Mr. Charles Taylor from dealing Nigeria a dirty hand when he took over the government in Monrovia. [Liberia “stayed out” during the December 1995, UN resolution condemning Nigeria over the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa.]

Based solely on commitment and achievement, Nigeria’s quest for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council had merit. Then Abacha made a tactical error in hanging Saro-Wiwa. It refueled the dying embers of June 12, 1993 annulled elections. Damage control with paid media bombardment across the continents ensued. Nigeria became a pariah state. The situation hurt so many Nigerians both inside Abacha’s gulag and in exile.

A friend of mine said the TV ads in the US (which also ran in CBS’s “60 Minutes” that had nothing but contempt for Nigeria) was like asking Remy Martin XO of a man who would not offer you soda in his house. The media blitz was a blatant squandering of resources; Making MKO Abiola relevant in Abacha administration and putting Saro-Wiwa away for a few years could have saved the thoughtless spendthrift. Sadly, Nigerians did not know they were dealing with a man whose sadist and morbid curiosity was out of this world.

In his transition-program broadcast on the 35th independence anniversary, General Abacha commuted the sentences passed on the “alleged” coup plotters of March 1995 by the in-camera tribunal of General Aziza. Whether the amnesty was for political expediencies or to parry world condemnation, Abacha sowed a common-sense seed of restraint amidst anarchist bloodthirstiness. It was a quantum leap from the bloodletting era of Obasanjo and Babangida. Unfortunately, there was the Shell/Saro-Wiwa saga, a politically incorrect move that defied decent political analyses and comprehension.

Nigerians appreciate and cherish leadership. They expect their leaders to show the way, to make right or wrong decisions but to make something happen. This explains why some hardcore Abacha critics elevated him from 1995 “evildoer” to 1996 “saintly status”: he dethroned Dasuki, fired “unsafe” generals, clubbed the Customs, dismantled “disruptive” unions, jailed bank swindlers, etc. Right or wrong, something was happening. Nigerians cheered. The same quality showed in President Obasanjo during his second coming.

Even when unpopular, Nigerian masses soften a tyrant in their mind’s eye. They dubbed Brigadier Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, a military and later elected governor of defunct Bendel State, the “action governor” for his populist style of governance. Obasanjo was fondly called “Uncle ’Sege” even as he stumbled in his 1979 transition program. Babangida was “Maradona” to friends and foes, or simply IBB. Abacha was “Uncle Sani” to his pocket fans and foes, but Abacha could not be “softened”; he remained Abacha. During Obasanjo second coming, Nigerians graduated to using initials. They called Olusegun Matthew Obasanjo “OBJ,” when he should be “OMO.” President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was “UMYA,” and President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan has become “GEAJ.”

The problem with many dictators is that they try to determine how history will judge them. They forget that those who argue with history are doomed to fail. History is unforgiving and uncompromising; it rules beyond appeal and beyond all reasonable doubts. People always remember tyrants by the big blunder they commit: denial of the inalienable right to life, freedom, and fraternity. This is why Obasanjo and Babangida dictatorial days hunt them. Who would remember that Abacha’s jaundiced transition produced two female senators-elect: Hajia Mohammed, first woman-senator elect in the North, and Mrs. Florence Ita-Giwa, the princess from Bakassi, second woman senator from the South; the first being Edo-born Senator Franca Afegbua and who later married to a northerner.

Abacha’s reign stuck with the hanging of Saro-Wiwa, but it did not define his reign. Babangida earned the hauteur of history with the annulment of June 12 election—just one act at the dawn of his eight-year reign —not for his political pragmatism and toothy smile. Buhari weighed in with his ruthless overzealousness and effectiveness, thanks to his unsmiling, stone-faced deputy Tunde Idiagbon. We remember Obasanjo fondly because he handed over power willingly –though he had no other good choice, if he wanted to live and enjoy. We remember Murtala Muhammed by the brutality of his death, the romance with martyrdom, not for his regime’s deeds or his military callousness during the war. We remember Gowon for squandering unimaginable wealth and his boys-scout looks, not for winning a war, keeping Nigeria as-is, and reigning the longest in one stretch.

Nigerians relate to elected officials for what they are: politicians. Zik was a politician first. With all his faults, everyone admired his fight for independence. Fault Awo all you want, the man had sterling qualities that make his loyalists elevate him to sainthood. [He died in 1987 aged 78 and interred on May 13, 1996, the weekend Zik died at 91.] The “sins” of Awolowo stuck only when he flirted with the military with the logical fallacy of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Bello [born Ahmadu Ibrahim Rabah] lost out to Sultan Abubakar III in the struggle for the Sultanate of Sokoto. As Sarduanan Sokoto, he shined like a star much brighter than the respected but reserved Sultan. He died more than 44 years ago, but no one in the entire North has held a torch to his strong leadership qualities.

Balewa, Bello, Okotie-Eboh, Mbadiwe, Akintola, Okpara and all the First Republic politicians have soft spots in the hearts of many Nigerians. Ditto all “our heroes past”: Herbert Macaulay, Mbonu Ojike, Aminu Kano, Adegbenro, Dantata, Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, Sanussi, Akanu Ibiam, Ene A. Bassey, Joseph S. Tarka, Margaret Ekpo, Gambo Sawaba, Dennis Osadebay, Kashim Ibrahim, Fani-Kayode, Imoudun, Eze nwa Iboko, Alvan Ikoku, Tai Solarin, Michael Ajasin, Alfred Rewane, Elias Aneke Chime, Flora Azikiwe, Eyo Ita, Mohammed Ribadu, John Nwodo, Sabo Barkin-Zuwo, Sam Mbakwe, etc.

Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, hero of the Biafran revolution, maintained his desire to keep Nigeria united up to May 30, 1967. Then he declared the independence of Biafra. By 1995, he was beating the same path he had walked for Biafra on behalf of Nigeria. He declared he would fight for the Nigerian Army, and he had no apologies for his support for an indivisible Nigeria. This is romance; reality is different. The question is, will the scars of coups and ceaseless political wrangling stop ethnic, regional, and religious bitterness from reaching the sore wounds of national dysfunction? This issue goes to the heart of Nigeria’s reality.





For a final solution to the problems of Nigeria-Biafra War Veterans at Oji River


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