Leadership is an often-discussed term in theory, practice, criticism, and activism. However, the practice of leadership is the most difficult of all these phases. Criticism and activism are sisters acts in that they are both endeavors that seek to bring about change, although one requires less physical effort than the other. Any citizen who moves to support criticism and activism with affirmative action deserves double respect. The head of a nuclear family knows how exerting–physically, mentally, financially–it is to steer the ship of the household. What then shall we say of the head of a local government area, a state, or a country of over 200 million people?
Nigeria is a nation-state cursed with bad leadership. The bulk of the problems the country is facing can be tied to its crop of leaders. And despite the criticism and activism of some notable Nigerian activists and critics, their efforts have not translated to a sense to lead for change or a need to rise to the challenges in the country. In a time when people are better off as armchair critics and activists, Omoyele Sowore, one of Nigeria’s most vocal activists, has taken his agitation beyond the call for change. He has taken up the challenge to bring about the change he wants to see in Nigeria. When people write about Nigeria’s problems, they conclude that the problems are insurmountable. Some others believe that the youth need to rise to the task and take the mandate to solve Nigeria’s problems. However, it often never goes beyond the discussion level. Elections come and go, and we recycle the same set of leaders, with the same promises, nonsensical plans, and perhaps just a switch of political parties–from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), or vice-versa. Two parties, same people, and a singular ambition of converting politics to kleptocracy.
Omoyele Sowore has strived and continues to strive to get the people’s mandate. He is not new to governance, a change-propelling and people-focused form of governance. The earliest memories of Sowore’s stepping into politics come from his days at the University of Lagos. Yele, fondly called at the University of Lagos, proved that he got his mandate from the people–the students–and would, therefore, be loyal to those who trusted him with the mandate. He focused on advocating better students’ welfare, which cost him two added years as a student.
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In the individualistic and lackluster nature of the average Nigerian in matters of public good and governance, many might have wondered why Sowore keeps surfacing in national news–leading protests today, advocating for a better Nigeria the next day, exposing the rot in the political class in Nigeria this evening, and calling for a revolution tomorrow. What these nonchalant Nigerians have failed to consider in all their disregard of Sowore’s genuine efforts is that activism and people-focused advocacy are innate for Sowore. These things are what flow in his veins. He has always been like that, never able to keep quiet in the face of oppression and continuously rising to the occasion.
Omoyele Sowore has been advocating since the 1980s, and the 2019 RevolutionNow Protest was not his first major protest. Nigerians familiar with the nation’s political environment in the 80s and 90s would remember the protest of Nigerian students against the then government. This protest, which was ignited as a result of the leadership’s move to take over a $100 million loan from the International Monetary Fund, shook the nation and lighted a fire under the seats of government. In their typical repressive nature, the government arrested and tortured some of the students’ leaders, while some other protesters lost their lives to the cause. Clearly now, the planning and organization of the 2019 RevolutionNow Protest were not fueled by demands for personal gains or recognition but from an innate push to act.
For this founder of Sahara Reporters, an online news agency, activism can take different forms, and one which he has been deploying since 2006 is the use of the media. The press, and in some other cases, the media, is a powerful tool for change. It is a tool that is used in activism against repressive and backward governments. Sadly, this tool, especially the free press, often falls into the hands of the powerful–the nation’s leaders. Brown envelopes are shared, active and vocal journalists are bought over with assigned portfolios and a promise of never-before-seen wealth. Media houses are bought, and the unbuyable ones are clamped down. In other words, some media houses become technically powerless, as the bulk of their annual revenues comes from advertisements sponsored by the politicians against whose evil deeds they are expected to speak. It then becomes scary that the press, the known last hope for the masses, has been won over, leaving the country at the mercy of ravening wolves in the guise of politicians and national leaders.
In the face of these revelations, Omoyele Sowore founded the Sahara Reporters in 2006 as a media house whose sole aim is to look into, probe, and bring to public glare the corruption and shady deals at the corridors of power. Knowing the Achilles’ heel of media houses, Sowore and his Sahara Reporters swore not to take adverts from politicians and the people in power, who may come today, bearing gifts and goodwill, and then hold you at ransom tomorrow by that same thing which they called a gift in the past. Since then, Sowore’s Sahara Reporters has flourished, serving as one of Nigeria’s foremost vocal and government-checking media houses.
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The above is another side to Sowore’s activism and advocacy for good governance. But then, does there not come a time when a man leaves the armchair, dons his coverall, and gets to work on the faulty engine? Fulfillment comes through activism and advocacy, but the true advocate, at one time or the other in their life, feels the deep-rooted urge to call for change and get involved in the change-delivering process.
In 2019, Omoyele Sowore made the first official attempt to lead Nigeria as its president and steer its ship away from the troubling sea of corruption, disunity, and inter-ethnic hatred. He founded the African Action Congress (AAC) on the platform he contested in the 2019 election. Although Omoyele Sowore did not win the 2019 polls, his significant pull of votes made him rank among the top 10 contestants at the 2019 presidential polls. Factoring the absence of considerable party funding and structure, which corrupt but old parties like the APC and the PDP enjoy, Sowore’s performance at the 2019 presidential election is a pointer to the fact that the people are beginning to know him and recognize him as a force strong enough to lead the nation to its deliverance.
Unavoidably, advocates who desire to liberate the nation from corrupt leaders and internal strife will always face persecution. An activist or advocate who has not faced persecution needs to rethink their activism and advocacy. This is not a case of a sufferer’s mentality. The practice and deeds of activism and advocacy attract hatred and intimidation, especially from the ruling class. Such is the fate of those who choose to challenge the status quo. Should anyone doubt this, let them think of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Wole Soyinka, Gani Fawehinmi, and a host of other Nigerian activists and advocates. All these men were persecuted–incarcerated, tortured, and some were even killed. Another thing they have in common is that in the face of intense oppression, they never failed to speak and fight for the people’s rights.
Omoyele Sowore has faced similar persecutions at the hands of the government, not once, not twice. He was first incarcerated and tortured following a full-blown protest against the annulment of the 1993 presidential election. In recent times, he has faced persecutions that can best be summed up as the “Travails of Omoyele Sowore.” The Department of State Security arrested him in August 2019, following well-publicized plans of a nationwide RevolutionNow protest. At the heart of Sowore and his fellow protesters’ demands is a call for a system change in Nigeria. Anyone who has genuinely devoted time to study Nigeria and its problems would realize that the most feasible solution to the country’s problems is systemic change. However, in its usual repressive nature, the government clamped down on the RevolutionNow protesters and arrested Omoyele Sowore.
There was a surprising turn of events that soon brought the spotlight on the pseudo-democratic nature of Nigeria. Although Sowore was granted bail, the Department of State Police refused to release him. Two court orders for bail, yet he was not released. That incident proved that there are people above the law in Nigeria, among whom are the staffers at the Department of State Police. As to the confidence that fuels their disregard for the law, one may never know its source. Nonetheless, in the case of Sowore’s arrest, the Department proved that they could address court orders as they so wished. It took the protest of Mrs. Opeyemi Sowore, the Nigerian American wife of the activist, at the United Nations Plaza in New York, and the message passed to the world, before Sowore was finally set free.
The arrest and detainment of the vanguard of the protest never for once deterred other protesters. The RevolutionNow Protests have since been held three times in the space of two years–in August 2019, August 2020, and October 2020. These protests have been held relentlessly, with the aim that they would get the government’s attention and drive for change. Cliché as it may seem, there is no gain without pain. This is indeed true for those who wish to bring about change. Change is never welcome; humans, by nature, are complacent. Change is disruptive, and hardly anyone likes disruption, especially if they are in power.
Omoyele Sowore is raw gold, currently passing through fire. There is every proof that he will come out unscathed but rather refined, polished, and fit for the occasion. Sowore’s advocacies and activism are proof that he is people-focused. He has seen beyond the often-preached financial deliverance, economic stability, transportation solutions, and other promises that other presidential hopefuls often make. He has preached systemic change because he has seen the trustworthy source of Nigeria’s problems.
Omoyele Sowore’s actions tell of one thing–he is the president Nigeria could have had two years ago, but we relegated him to the tenth position and gave the mandate to a man whose first term of office was not at all promising. Indeed, Sowore could have done better with his campaigns and publicity, as the grassroots matter a lot, and they are rarely ever reached, except by the two dominating parties in the country. The clock is ticking, and with each tick, 2023 gets closer than before. Relentless and daunting, Omoyele Sowore has again disclosed his intentions of contesting the nation’s presidential seat come 2023. What is the significance of Sowore’s return to the battlefield? What message do his protests and activism pass to us? This man has continually thrown himself in the face of government-manned attacks in a bid to call for change. What should we make of that? Who is Omoyele Sowore? What should we see him as?
On September 5, 2021, Omoyele Sowore will be our guest at the Toyin Falola Interviews, where he will shed light on several issues, his motivations, true intentions, thoughts about Nigeria and its problems, the best ways to solve the problem, and whom he thinks he is to Nigerians. To listen to the ideas of this activist, do please join us on:
Sunday, September 5, 2021
5:00 PM Nigeria
4:00 PM GMT
11:00 AM Austin CST
Register and Watch:
Join via Zoom:
Watch on Facebook:
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Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Dele Giwa’s Assassination: 35 Years After
“Death is…the absence of presence…the endless time of never coming back…a gap you can’t see, and when the wind blows through it, it makes no sound” – Tom Stopard
In the morning of Monday, October 20, 1986, I was preparing to go to work when a major item on the Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS) 6.30 news bulletin hit me like a hard object. Mr. Dele Giwa, the founding editor-in-chief of Newswatch magazine, had the previous day been killed and shattered by a letter bomb in his Lagos home. My scream was so loud that my colleague barged into my room to inquire what it was that could have made me to let out such an ear-splitting bellow.
We were three young men who had a couple of months earlier been posted from Enugu to Abakaliki to work in the old Anambra State public service, and we had hired a flat in a newly erected two-storey building at the end of Water Works Road, which we shared. My flat-mate, clearly, was not familiar with Giwa’s name and work, and so had wondered why his death could elicit such a reaction from me. But later that day, as he interacted with people, he realised that Giwa’s death was such big news, and by the next couple of days, he had become an expert on Giwa and his truncated life and career. Across the country, Giwa’s brutal death dominated the news not just because of the pride of place he occupied in Nigerian journalism practice and but more because of the totally novel way his killers had chosen to end his life.
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Indeed, death is an appointment which every human being must keep. While we are on earth, we reserve the right to reschedule or even cancel our day-to-day appointments. But in the matter of birth or death, any cancellation or rescheduling of appointments remain the exclusive prerogative of the Creator. Although death is unavoidable, yet, no man has any right to arrogate to himself the role of bringing forward any other person’s appointment with death. In fact, it is abominable to even use one’s hands to hasten one’s own appointment with death. Laws of God and man fiercely abhor such an action. So, murderers, suicide bombers and their sponsors and supporters should get it into their heads that they have no mandate whatsoever from the Creator of man to take even their own lives let alone those of other people, no matter the motivation.
Now, deep down the heart of every man and woman, and beyond the facade of all apparent fearlessness and bravery, lie this cold loathing and resentment for death. The survival instinct is always there and there is always this desire and care to avoid danger, to postpone one’s date with death, temporarily at least, hence the constant struggle at many a deathbed.
No doubt, Mr. Giwa was not expecting his own appointment with death when it came calling on Sunday, October 19, 1986. His friends say he loved life, was full of life, and wanted to make the best out of life. He had also worked hard to excel in his chosen career – journalism. But on that Sunday morning, as he had a late breakfast in his study in the company of Kayode Soyinka, the magazine’s London Bureau Chief, a parcel was handed to him. On it was written: “From the Commander-in-Chief” with an instruction that it must be opened only by the addressee.
“This must be from the president”, Giwa was reported to have said.
But unknown to him, in that seemingly innocuous parcel, was the cold, callous agent of brutal death, intent on accomplishing the abominable mission of hastening his appointment with death. Conceived by man, prepared by man, sent by man and delivered by man, this lethal instrument had only one mission: to bomb out the young life of Dele Giwa. And it did precisely that with chilling exactitude, tearing his flesh, wasting his blood, talent, usefulness to his himself, his family, Newswatch magazine, Nigerian journalism and the Nigerian nation.
Giwa had written in Sunday Concord newspaper of June 8, 1980 that “Death looks for a happy home where it can turn happiness into grief and ensure that for days the household will have nothing to discuss but the blow of death.” He was the pioneer editor of Sunday Concord. By writing this, he unwittingly wrote his own elegy.
“They got me!” Those were Giwa’s last words at First Foundation Hospital, Ikeja where the Chief Medical Director, the late Dr. Tosin Ajayi and his doctors had battled to see how they could save his life. Earlier, on their way to the hospital, Giwa was saying to his wife, Funmi, in Yoruba, “Nwon ti pa mi”, meaning: “They have killed me.”
Now, who are these “they” that were so heartless, so senseless, so callous, so fiendish and irremediably inhuman? How can a human being elect to do such a horrifying damage to another person? Giwa’s flesh was reportedly shattered, with some pieces (some of which were discovered many days later) scattered about in his study. The autopsy report performed by pathologists at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) said that Giwa suffered from “multiple blast injuries with 25 percent burns, mutilated thighs with fractures of femoral bones and avulsion of femoral vessels”.
This is indeed horrible. The first reaction at the news of such horrendous tragedy would be to ask like Banquo in William Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, whether we, as a people, had “eaten on the insane root that takes reason prisoner?”
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Dele Giwa’s death was a very slow painful death. The pictures of his shattered body which the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi displayed during the sitting of the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission of Nigeria (also known as Oputa Panel) set up in 1998 and headed by the late Justice Chukwudifo Oputa could have passed as horror images of the goriest type, showing man (Giwa’s killer) at his basest, most bestial and fiendish worst.
“They have killed me”, Giwa moaned while writhing in indescribable pain, begging Dr. Ajayi to do all within his power to save him.
For more than three decades now Giwa’s killers have been hiding, afraid of the inevitable fall-out of their satanic deed, haunted and tormented by their dirty, murky, slimy conscience. Even if they eventually manage to escape the judgment of man, they cannot escape the judgment of the Almighty God which is much more dreadful. As we all know, they will surely serve their indescribable punishment forever. That will surely be the case unless they repent of their hideous deed and make the necessary restitutions!
Giwa’s death plunged a broad spectrum of the Nigerian population into clearly unprecedented, monumental grief and fear. People were afraid to open parcels sent to their homes and offices. The public outcry and loud condemnation was deafening. Indeed, Giwa was right when he wrote in his highly regarded column, ‘Parallax Snaps,’ some months earlier, that “One life taken in cold blood is as gruesome as millions lost in a pogrom.” The reactions that followed his death vindicated the truth of this assertion.
A lot of accusing fingers pointed at the government of the day. It was believed that only a special panel could unravel the mystery that seemed to have attended the gory affair and unearth the unseen hands that perpetrated the spine-chilling murder. In fact, Newswatch’s Board of Directors called for a three-man Judicial Commission of Enquiry headed by a retired judge of high repute, with an archbishop and an Imam as members, to probe the murder. But the General Ibrahim Babangida regime insisted that it was the police that should investigate the murder. And as would be expected, public skepticism about the likely outcome of investigations undertaken by the Nigerian police was widespread.
In its editorial of October 28, 1986, The Guardian newspaper disagreed with the Babangida regime’s insistence that the investigation into Dele Giwa’s murder should be left for the police, despite widespread calls for a Commission of Inquiry to be set up to probe it.
Said The Guardian: “The police have been signally inept in solving much simpler crimes, and the public is justifiably unimpressed by their investigative ability and seriousness… The government has very little choice but to appoint a special prosecutor… [which] will be a dramatic demonstration by government that it has nothing to hide, and is as interested in discovering Giwa’s assassins as the public is…”
A year after Giwa’s murder, when the police predictably “found” nothing and “caught” no one, Ray Ekpu, Newswatch’s new editor-in-chief, in a letter to the police reminded them that any murder which remained unsolved could only mean “added insecurity to the living.”
On his part, Lagos lawyer and human rights crusader, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, vowed to catch Giwa’s killers. His attempt to dock Babangida’s two security chiefs, Brig-Gen Halilu Akilu and Col A.K. Togun, brought him in direct confrontation with the Babangida regime which made no pretense of its intention to not allow any probe more penetrating than the unserious, shallow, perfunctory thing the police were doing. A day before Giwa’s assassination, Akilu had reportedly phoned Giwa’s house to enquire about its correct address from Giwa’s wife, Funmi, explaining that Babangida’s ADC was to stop by to deliver an item for Giwa at his house. And less than twenty-four hours after this call, a letter bomb was delivered at Giwa’s house!
Until his death in September 2009, Gani remained unrelenting in his determination to ensure that the people he had continued to accuse of the murder since 1986 were brought to justice.
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It is now thirty-five years since Giwa’s murder shook Nigeria to her foundations. Several other mysterious assassinations of journalists and other outspoken public figures have also followed. Maybe, if Giwa’s murder was solved and the perpetrators exposed and punished, it might have deterred other murderous characters from going ahead to kill the other victims that were assassinated afterwards.
Even when Babangida and the two security chiefs who had served under him were summoned by the Oputa Panel following Gani’s petition, they had refused to show up. They instead sought a restraining order from the court to frustrate any attempt by the Panel to compel them to appear before it. Their argument was that the Nigerian president lacked the powers to set up the Panel. Although the Supreme Court later agreed with their submission in a ruling that was delivered long after the Panel’s report had been submitted, what has remained clear is that despite the court judgment, unanswered questions about the gruesome murder have continued to linger in many minds, which the Oputa Panel would have provided everyone fingered an amazing platform to convincingly address.
Interestingly, Col. A. K. Togun, in a chat with airport correspondents in late 1986, gave some very instructive illustrations that appeared to have thrown some light on the circumstances surrounding Dele Giwa’s murder. Permit me to reproduce the details of the encounter as reported in the Newswatch edition of November 10, 1986:
“Ten days after he interrogated Giwa, Togun surfaced at the local terminal of Murtala Mohammed International Airport Ikeja, on Monday, October 27, 1986. He told journalists at the airport that the press was ‘shouting for a crucifixion’ without hearing the other side of the story. He said that at a seminar on security organised in Lagos, October 9, for media executives and the security agencies, a compromise was struck that editors would inform the SSS of any story they consider damaging to the government interests, and the security service would then decide what to do about it.
“‘I mean we came to a real agreement and one person cannot just come out and blackmail us. I am an expert in blackmail’, he said.
“He then illustrated his point by saying thus: ‘If a motorcycle man suddenly dashed in front of a car and the driver kills that motorcycle man, another motorcycle man who was there would not say that the motorcycle man that dashed in front of the car was wrong. He would say the driver deliberately killed him, not knowing that he killed himself’…
“Togun sternly warned the journalists that he would deal with them if their newspapers published the accounts of their encounter with him and if he lost his job in the process. ‘If you allow them to take away my uniform … I will deal with you people and go to any length to even the score with you,’ he warned, but added that ‘Dele was my friend’”.
When asked what he thought about Col. Togun’s revelations during his airport encounter with reporters, the then Deputy Inspector General of police, Mr. Chris Omeban, who was in charge of the investigations into Giwa’s murder reportedly replied that the police do not go into proverbs.
And when police investigations into Giwa’s death eventually yielded no results, Gani said: The police have failed to find Giwa’s killers because they know the killers!
After 35 years, the gory story of Giwa’s gruesome murder has refused to go away. The greatest honour that can be accorded to his name now is to insist that his killers be found. It is not yet late to set up a reputable Commission of Inquiry as favoured by many Nigerians to reopen the case, reexamine the various narratives that have continued to trail the murder and really get to the root of the tragedy, especially, now that most of the witnesses and even those that have been consistently fingered are still alive.
While accusing fingers are still pointing to the direction the Babangida regime and its security chiefs whose names have remained reoccurring items in the gory event, they, too, have been trying to present their own sides of the story, and even attempting to return the accusation at the doorstep of the Newswatch executives.
In a recent interview, Togun, who is now a retired general, tried to advance some theories to suggest that the Newswatch London Bureau Chief, Mr. Soyinka, who was at the breakfast table with Giwa when the bomb exploded (and who miraculously escaped being wounded, although he reportedly suffered severe hearing impairment for quite some time) may have some more explanations to volunteer on the murder. All these accusations and counter-accusations and all the other occurrences around the murder, including the contents of Gani’s petition, are what an Independent Commission of Inquiry can thoroughly examine and solve this murder that shook the nation when it occurred.
Other cases of assassination which have also been shrouded in mystery need to be revisited too. Until Nigeria demonstrates a capacity to solve murder cases, especially, high-profile ones involving people critical of government policies and actions, potential murderers would always derive incentive from the conviction that they can always eliminate anyone in Nigeria and get away with it. And that “anyone” can be anybody! Somebody can be in government today and surrounded by heavy security, but tomorrow, such a person might be out of office and become as vulnerable as the next man out there. Leaders go all out to make society a safer place, not just because of others, but also, for them and their relatives.
As murderers continue to be allowed to circulate within the bounds of civilised ambience, and eliminate people with utmost impunity, they not only constitute a threat to hapless, decent and hard-working citizens, their vile activities go further to stifle critical thoughts that are very essential in influencing the evolution of responsible governance which fosters progress and development.
They may, however, continue to hide from man due to government’s inability or unwillingness, or both, to fish them out, and bring them to justice, but they, certainly, cannot hide from God. Their day with divine judgment will surely come! And as the African-Caribbean writer, George Lamming, said in his classic novel, In The Castle Of My Skin, “God can see the blackest ant on the blackest piece of coal on the blackest night.”
Ejinkeonye, a writer and journalist, is the author of the book, Nigeria: Why Looting May Not Stop . (email@example.com)
Is Ken Nnamani The New Bride?
First, I listened casually, then attentively as Vice President Yemi Osibanjo spoke on October 21, at the public presentation of the book: Standing Tall (Legislative Reforms, Third Term and Other Issues of the 5th Senate), written by Senator Ken Nnamani.
His speech brings to mind a poem by a colleague entitled: The Magic of Words. In it, the author, in his usual mystifying style, typical of scholars with overloaded brains, moved words from the realm of vocal or written symbols to that of humans—with minds of their own. He personified words dressed in cloaks of despots and peacemakers.
What the poet, Iboro Otongaran, said in effect is that words build. Words also destroy. Words have the capacity to ignite war; and after much destruction, initiate peace. Words mark the beginning and the end of every discussion. Words are enigmatic in various ways. They defy description.
As captured by Iboro, words have magical powers, “and would go forth to heal; or ram through to harm; upon launch at enthralled; devotees or charmed zealots…. Words can clean, and can muddy up; organised killers are baptized bandits; in another group they are terrorists; labels admit them to different fates; bandits pass off as a benign nuisance; but terrorists rightly end up in hell.”
Professor Osibanjo’s words reminded me of this stanza: “Frankly the world isn’t short of men; who summon words to good deeds; in charters for peace and progress; one good use of words has been; in calls for equity, for coexistence; Luther’s ‘I have a dream’ speech; typifies this recourse to good sense.”
From my obscure corner, Vice President Osibanjo has impressed me in more than one way; especially when he speaks. Listening to him is always a delight. Most times he sounds so innocent that you are tempted to take him on face value.
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But people at his level do not waste words. They talk with discretion. They sow seeds with words. That is, they invest words for greater dividends. Most times, their words activate actions or sustain inaction—visible and invisible.
Some people would do anything to speak like Osibanjo. Most times, even if they do not like what he says, they are captivated by the way he says them. He speaks with confidence and a touch of elegance. Of course, the man is a professor. But not all professors are so professorial in their speeches.
On Thursday, Osibanjo was at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, for the public presentation of Nnamani’s voluminous book. A detailed political literature, every page draws you deeper inside.
As Osibanjo walked into the crowded hall, he was called to speak almost immediately. The first thing I noticed was that the entire protocol was bungled from the onset. Before the VP was called, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, who represented the President, had spoken.
Assuming the President was there in person; would he have spoken before his deputy? In the absence of the President, would it have been proper for the Vice President to speak before a minister—irrespective of who the minister represented? Confusion!
Under normal circumstances, in an event that had the Vice President in attendance, there would have been no need to send in a minister to represent the President. The VP would have handled the assignment. But we know that these days, nothing is normal in Nigeria. We just keep wobbling on.
Vice President Osibanjo spoke extempore. If he had a script to read from, I didn’t see it. His speech was short, crispy and simple. Let me explain that the simplicity was only in terms of grammar; because there were a few statements left hanging. He started by describing Nnamani as “a man who truly loves this nation.”
It is not clear how deeply the VP knows Nnamani. But he should know him better than the way other Nigerians do. Some of us know Nnamani as an American-trained businessman, who returned to Nigeria, contested election to the Senate in 2003, won and was, despite executive opposition, elected the Senate President, just after two years in the Senate.
But as VP of Nigeria, Osibanjo is better positioned, with all the intelligence at his disposal, to know something about a man of Nnamani’s status, than the rest of us. So, when he described the former Senate President as someone who “lacks desperation to occupy political offices,” he might be right after all.
In a brief speech, Osibanjo recalled how Nnamani presided over the death of the orchestrated tenure elongation project of President Olusegun Obasanjo. In his words, Nnamani “stood against the notorious third term agenda; and he stood strong.”
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The Vice President, after endorsing Nnamani’s leadership of the National Assembly between 2005 and 2007, said, “We (referring to Nigeria) are today faced with challenges that call for the same type of strong leadership that you showed as President of the Senate.”
Wait a minute! What was the VP talking about? He simply dropped some well-coded words in one short sentence and expected us to walk away as though he said nothing. No, he said something. His description of Nnamani fitted President Dwight Eisenhower’s definition of a leader.
Yes, the former American President once said that the supreme quality for leadership comprises unquestionable integrity; the same way Osibanjo described Nnmanni. General Eisenhower noted that without such integrity, “no real success is possible, no matter whether it is in a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”
While I was still turning this over in my mind, Osibanjo wrapped up his statement. He told Nnamani, “Your role in national life has just begun.” There went another weighty statement from the Vice President; all in one day; at one event, within a few seconds.
After describing Nnamani as a man of character and strong will; who has continuously displayed “courageous leadership” Nigeria’s Vice President finally dropped the clincher, “that story will end well for you and the nation.” The question is; which story?
Let’s not forget that Nnamani is a member of All Progressives Congress. He is from Anambra—a state in that section of Nigeria that has been crying of political marginalisation since the Civil War ended in 1970. Presently, blood is flowing on the streets of South East. Are you thinking what I am thinking? Have we finally found a bride?
Let’s conclude this with a few words from Poet Iboro: “Words have been used to build; and to destroy what was built; to inspire lofty endeavours; to set ablaze lofty endeavours; but the balance is not holding; the world appears to be sliding; into hopeless dire straits from; baleful deployments of words.”
My thinking is that Osibanjo has given us something to think about. He spoke as an elder. It is our duty to decode him.
Akpe is a journalist based in Abuja.
Our Fingers And Death By COVID-19
Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
A finger or our fingers could be the death of us. So we are advised, cautioned, and warned by COVID-19 experts, locally and globally. In a sense, it is a new way of dying. This finger thing. I know about death at the touch of a button. Nuclear switch or button. The hangman’s button. But his finger and COVID-19 type of death? I really I’m not sure. However, it is not really a new way of catching disease. Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor who worked at the Vienna General Hospital between 1844 and 1848 was the first to establish a link between washing hands and disease. Most of his colleagues did not agree with him at the time because of the politics of discovery of scientific truth and what I may term accepting responsibility for deaths in hospitals. The poor man died in ignominy, confined to a sanatorium. Details of that story? That is story for another day. These days it is routine to wash the hands whether at home or the office or hospital. But somebody died for it.
In our days in public primary schools we were taught the benefits of washing hands in hygiene as a subject. Suffice it to say that ‘the importance of hand washing for medical professionals didn’t really become understood until scientists hit upon germ theory—the idea that certain diseases and infections are caused by microorganisms we can’t even see. In particular, the British surgeon Joseph Lister drastically improved patient mortality by advocating that surgeons wash their hands and sterilize their instruments in between patients’.
Those fingers therefore in your hands could bring a deadly virus to your face, your mouth, your nostrils, and into your life. A handshake could be the death of us, of anybody. Fingers naturally find their way to the face. To scratch. To eat. To wipe sweat or dust. The fingers rush to protect and safeguard the face. But we are told that in that process fingers could take a virus to the face. You could catch a cold. A cold degenerates. Coughing follows. Malaria symptoms. Body weakness. Pains in the joints. Fever. Pneumonia. Inability to breathe. Then death. Death horrendous for most. No family members go near them while they are ill. Sometimes, husband and wife catch the virus. One dies. The other stays back. Filled with pain. Sorrow and tears. For some both husband and wife are struck by death. The children become orphans. A finger could have brought in the virus. Or where they breathed in the virus- the virus of death. Or it could have been brought in the by innocent kids or grandchildren.
Breathing in the virus could also have the same consequences. Cold and fever. We treat for malaria and typhoid and breathing becomes a problem in some people. Death follows. Often, for the rural poor in Nigeria, it is too late by the time they realize that they should see a doctor. They prepare all kinds of herbal concoctions to fight fever. For some, Agbo saves the day. How this happens, we are yet to fathom. Yet we know that for some reason, we have not died in our thousands in the streets of Lagos or Port Harcourt or Kano or Warri as health experts had predicted. Are we immune to the deep and overwhelming tragedies of a pandemic that we do not easily succumb to death? Hundreds of years of living with viruses and fighting them may have a role to play. It has not been proven. It has not been tested. It has not been confirmed. Yet there is death. There are deaths. Many deaths. Too many Nigerians have displayed the symptoms without getting to the hospital. Some get to the hospital with all the symptoms and die. When the test reports come in, they are negative. No presence of COVID-19. Some are saved after millions have been spent in highbrow hospitals for first class treatment. Others, especially the poor ones, are not so lucky. It is their time to go. They die. They are buried immediately. No report. They are not part of the statistics of the dead. Were they a part of the statistics of the living before?
In all of this, there are doubts. Skepticism. Skepticism in Warri, in Asaba, in Enugu, in Kano, in Port Harcourt. Skepticism over the existence of the virus. Skepticism over the efficacy of the vaccine. Some say those who take the vaccine will die in two years. The confusion is heightened by the death of some people who are fully vaccinated. A fully vaccinated General Collin Powell has just died. We are told he had underlying health challenges. There are conspiracy theories. Some pastors promote the theories. Some doctors too. And some scientists have been brought into the circle to dispute the vaccine. In America, home to great scientists and science, there are over seventy million people who have refused to take the vaccine. Or to wear a nose mask. Former President Donald Trump and his gullible supporters dispute everything pro-vaccine. Trump mocked COVID-19. He caught the virus and came out of it. But he quietly took the vaccine. Wily and deceptive leadership. These all add to the confusion. COVID-19, the conspiracy theorists say, is part of the attempt to chop money, or to steal money.
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When poor victims, not famous or popular or media-known people die, the cause of death is hidden, not published. Some families believe there is stigmatization if one died from COVID-19. Such ignorance. Such superstition. Such fear of the unknown. As a result, they are silent on the cause of death even to the extended family members. One fellow who ought to know better asked me whether families usually announced cause of death in the church or newspapers or social media. I had no answer to that foolish question. I only reminded him what Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti did after Fela Anikulapo-Kuti elder brother to the music icon did when Fela died of AIDS. He made a public announcement about the cause of death to create awareness among Fela’s many fans. That reduced nothing about the person or music of Fela!
There is confusion. Big confusion. Confusion in America. Confusion in Europe. Confusion in Africa. Confusion in Asia. China disputes the narrative that the virus became a monster in their homeland. There are doubts about how our fingers that usually feed us with good food could be the cause of our death. But let it be said that the fingers that give us food could also give us poisoned food. Poisoned food. The fingers do not know what is bad or good. They act as directed. The nose which breathes in fresh air could also breathe in foul or fatal air. The word therefore is caution. Those preachers who rail against the mask should be cautioned. If they wish to die of the virus, let them go. Let them not deceive their poor gullible adherents. The late Brother Ebenezer Otomewo, President of the God’s Kingdom Society used to tell us that one false prophet was more dangerous than ten armed robbers. I didn’t understand it then. Now I understand how false teachers can lead one million people to destruction. ‘And the leaders of these people cause them to err,’ says Prophet Isaiah, ‘and they that are led of them are destroyed’. It is true. The good book says it.
The finger, our fingers could be the death of us. Our nostrils could be the death of us too. Let no one deceive us with puerile words from the altar in the name of God. Simple obedience to COVID-19 protocols and the grace of God could make the difference. Let us tap into the spirit of obedience and the grace of God!
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