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Ali A. Mazrui, Abdulrazak Gurnah And The Swahili Moment

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Ali A. Mazrui, Abdulrazak Gurnah And The Swahili Moment
Ali A. Mazrui

By    

Toyin Falola

October 12 has been declared “Ali A. Mazrui Memorial Day” by his friends, colleagues, and well-wishers. This year’s observance is very unique as it coincides with Zanzibar-born Professor Abdulrazak Gurnah winning the prestigious 2021 Nobel Literature Prize. Indeed, I will use this opportunity to eulogize, once more, Professor Mazrui of blessed memory while lauding Professor Gurnah, both of whom are Swahili-speaking intellectuals of great repute. I most certainly, enjoyed the opportunity of being interviewed as part of the 2021 memorial celebration for Mwalimu Mazrui as part of enlarging the Mazrui Archives.  In continuing to maintain an excellent archival website and creating a documentary on Mazrui, we owe an unlimited debt of gratitude to Professor Ndirangu Wachanga of the University of Wisconsin, whose documentary— “Ali Mazrui: A Walking Triple Heritage”— won the 2015 New York African Studies Book Award. Thank you, Ndirangu! I am Ndugu!!

It is a possibility that some younger people may not know Mwalimu Mazrui either in person or by name. However, for many of us, as scholars, whenever we hear his name, what comes to mind instantly is the representation of one of the most iconic as well as influential African intellectual figures of the 20th and 21st centuries. Mazrui, considered by many of us as the father of African liberalism, was our own US-based prolific African author as well as a political scientist, social commentator and theorist, who contributed immensely to our understanding of Africa through his vast intellectual-cum– scholarly inputs and public debates, coupled with his demand for social justice across the globe.

Mwalimu Mazrui’s inputs and contributions to the African discourse as well as an awakening of our intellectual consciousness towards understanding, demystifying and dissecting the African condition, indeed, cannot for any reason be considered minute. Through such sterling contributions of his, we sorely miss him today, and they can be classified into five topical themes: thus, the intellectual legacy; public intellectual debates; the infrastructure of the English language; epistemology grounded in Pan-Africanist-cum-anti-colonial, and transnational perspectives; and rising East African scholarship.

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It is always a hard nut to crack in trying to appraise the legacies of the late Public Intellectual, and it is simply because he meant different things to different people cross-continentally and trans-nationally. Today—October 12th—marks seven years since his glorious exit from Franz Fanon’s wretched earth; otherwise, Mwalimu Mazrui would have clocked 88 years old on February 24, this year. In his honor, many tributes have been written and, as recently as 2017, a book of eulogies was published posthumously, thanks to Co-Editors Kimani Njogu and Seifudein Adem.

In his foreword to the festschrift, eminent historian and literary critic Paul Tiyambe Zeleza identifies Mwalimu Mazrui as “one of Africa’s greatest intellectuals of the 20th century and a prominent architect of postcolonial scholarship, an indefatigable voice for Africa’s intellectual rebirth and empowerment.”   Professor Zeleza is correct, but I would further point to other areas of Mazruiana greatness in everyday life. Yes, the Mwalimu was a towering intellectual figure by all means, and that is what he was most renowned for.  We need to add everything up in an effort to honor him appropriately.

For example, the first enduring legacy of Mwalimu Mazrui is public intellectual accolade. This can be viewed from his widely known career as an academic. Therefore, his early intellectual grounding began in his native Mombasa, Kenya, where he learned to speak and write in English, Swahili, and Arabic. He won a Kenyan Government Scholarship to further his studies at the initial baccalaureate level at University of Manchester in the United Kingdom (the proverbial Queendom) and then his M.A. degree at Columbia University in the U.S., returning to the United Kingdom for his doctorate (D. Phil.) at Oxford; he began his academic career at the University of Makerere, Uganda as a sharp and upcoming Political Scientist. During the turbulent Idi Amin era in Uganda, Mwalimu Mazrui subsequently accepted an appointment at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and, some years later, he moved to the State University of New York at Binghamton (or University of Binghamton). He was also honored with distinguished professorships at some of the most prestigious tertiary institutions in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Australia and in the Caribbean.

Being unusually prolific, Mwalimu Mazrui published many books as well as edited several journals and mentored generations of younger scholars. He provided the context for virtually all of his views on pressing issues of the day. However, his primary concern was on Africa, with research interests that included African politics, international political culture, political Islam, and North-South relations. The foregoing research interests were very much central to virtually all of the views or theories he elegantly propounded. Unabashedly, he coined the concept of “African Triple Heritage” to demonstrate the three influences that modern Africa was made up of. These include the pre-colonial legacy, the influence of Islam, and the active colonial legacy. This concept was appropriately expressed in his well-known documentary series titled: The Africans: A Triple Heritage, which was published as a 1986 book with the same title.

True to the Mazruiana concept of Africa’s Triple Heritage, the indigenous African influence, which was strongest before the colonial era, is still reflective of African people’s actions, beliefs, and norms. Even, during intellectual discourses, there are clamors for preserving African cultures, traditions and norms, and a revisit to the African values that held sway in the pre-colonial era. The second, the capitalist heritage of Europe, was brought upon Africa and Africans by the colonialists. Africans are not naturally individualistic capitalists but, instead, they are communalistic liberalists — this brings to mind the age-grade system, indeed the owe among the Yoruba, Ubuntu, Ujamaa, and other African concepts that show communalistic liberalism. A concept that allows the individual certain moral freedoms, while also binding such individual by some communal moral boundaries.

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However, the advent of the Europeans and forceful acculturation of Africans—for economic and social gains — has made many African nations capitalist, patterned after European countries and states. Mazrui believed that the practice of capitalism and the proposition of socialism, Marxism, and other European political and economic concepts to Africa is a forceful way of tailoring African states after American and European countries, although Africa is largely very different culturally from those two continents.

Lastly, it is the multi-dimensional influence of Islam. After all, the Islamic influence is not only spiritual but cultural, political, and economic. Mazrui also theorized that the effects of these triple heritage are not one-dimensional but a two-way thing. Africa is not the only continent that has received significant changes in different aspects due to European and American influence. Europe and America had also received significant changes in different aspects, bordering on Africa’s influence.

Mazrui also identified some of the contradictions that he claimed could help in understanding Africa. These were successfully articulated in his 1980 book, The African Condition: A Political Diagnosis, in which he also identified the dependency problem in Africa with the belief that doing so was disadvantageous to the continent’s development, dovetailing Walter Rodney’s how Europe underdeveloped Africa’s dynamic. The underdevelopment position had been explored in a different light three years earlier, precisely in 1977, with his book, Africa’s International Relations: The Diplomacy of Dependency and Change. Several other books, articles, lecture notes and interviews from this period up to the late 2000s engaged Mwalimu Mazrui’s mind. He was, of course, influenced by the ideas of Pan-Africanism and “consciencism” that was espoused by Ghana’s  Kwame Nkrumah. Still, Mwalimu Mazrui was often critical of many other isms that he believed did not conform to the African condition. On this basis, he coined the theory of “African Liberalism”, which he argued was more suited to or acceptable for the continent’s progress.

Mwalimu Mazrui knew very well that he had a powerful influence globally, but he did not brag about it. Instead, he built a vast network of friends and even critics throughout his career, primarily via public debates with other intellectuals. He was a man who loved enormous ideas and worked towards implementing them. Since he was a deep thinker, he was widely courted by state governments as well as the international media, tertiary institutions, public and corporate organizations for alternative positions and political strategies. Earlier in his career, young Mazrui was said to have gone into an epic debate with the late Guyanese historian (Walter Rodney), who reportedly eventually “humbled” him. This penchant for taking anyone on a debate continued for much of Mazrui’s academic career. It included his famous spat with Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and, much later, American literary critic and historian, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.; these are but a few examples of how Mwalimu Mazrui engaged the public ‘order’. It is understood that he made these “troubles” to provoke great minds like him into action. The debates identified above are in the realm of paper debates, sometimes in Transition Magazine. Several others were held both on live television and radio.

Mwalimu Mazrui distinguished himself through the portal of languages. His academic career was constructed on what can be described as the “infrastructure” of the English language in collaboration with the “babel of languages”. He was equally fluent in Arabic and Swahili, which further reinforced his concept of a triple African heritage. Through language use, he   communicated his thoughts to the people and was also able to define his personality.

Certainly, Mwalimu Mazrui remains one of the very few influential intellectual giants of the 20th century. He consistently championed, re-engineered, and reasserted African studies for more than four decades, making it more profound in the West. His legacy yet spreads its tentacles to what we can call “Pan-Africanist,” anti-colonial and transnational epistemological perspectives. His writings were not primarily drawn from Western epistemologies but instead adapted from his African philosophical worldview. The arguments in his books were Africa-centered and called for a place for Africa side-by-side with decision-makers in the Global North.

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What I may well regard as Mazruiana’s most significant legacy is how his life and time have positively influenced a rise in East African scholarship. For, by far, he was one of the greatest intellectual exports from East Africa. Close to his towering figure would be a literary icon, Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Indeed, since Mazrui died in 2014, there have been some concerns that “Africa in general and East Africa, in particular, has plunged into intellectual pitch darkness.” This concern is not entirely valid as a handful of intellectual giants worldwide—from sub-Saharan Africa— are making the continent proud. However, the like of Mazrui comes once in a lifetime.

Notwithstanding, Mwalimu Mazrui’s scholarship has influenced a generation of scholars in ways that cannot be expressed. For instance, Zanzibari novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah, who recently won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature, comes to mind. The Royal Swedish Academy awarded Gurnah the Prize for his “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents”. This statement can quickly help to connect the dots. The ideas in Gurnah’s novels and his scholarship are not dissimilar from Mwalimu Mazrui’s, who surprisingly also published a novel in the 1970s about Nigeria’s Christopher Okigbo (The Trial of Christopher Okigbo, an African Writers’ Series book). Gurnah’s nomination for this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature stands at the intersection of one of Mwalimu Mazrui’s important legacies—telling the story of the African condition.

When reading of Gurnah’s life—from Zanzibar to the United Kingdom, where he settled to a new life of safety—one can find some deep correlation with Mazrui’s who also fled Uganda at the height of Idi Amin’s power, settling in the United States to a life of safety and intellectual flowering.  Apart from the fact that Mwalimu Mazrui and Gurnah are both from the East African part of the continent, both men espouse almost the same, if not the same, ideals. They worry about home and want the home to be better.  Both of them fled for their lives after they were persecuted and moved to the West to explore a career path defined by troubles at home and troubles with the continent. Their intellectual outputs are about Africa and how the African condition can be mitigated.

Other thoughts and beliefs of Mazruiana, which form an integral part of his legacy, are that Africa is too dependent on the developed world and that Africa will never earn itself the respect it deserves or an equal seat at the table until it ceases to be overly dependent on the developed world. He also believed that Africa’s relationship of dependency with the developed world could never be beneficial to Africa. Lastly, he argued that regardless of Africa’s abundance of natural wealth and resources, the African people are still Africa’s most significant wealth.

There is no denying that Mwalimu Mazrui ranks among the most illustrious sons produced by Africa. His life and legacy have influenced and, indeed, continue to spark intellectual debates around the world. Sadly, Mazrui’s case yet proves the biblical maxim that a prophet is not accepted in his hometown. His name and fame have positively reflected on the international perception of Kenya, yet, his country seems to have forgotten him. Mwalimu Mazrui himself lamented this challenge. I, in fact, think that it has a lot more to do with a complex problem. However, we must understand that not many younger people today in Kenya were born when Mwalimu Mazrui was making waves in the 1970s. I, therefore, seriously think that it is a generational gap problem, whereby today’s population in Africa, which does not preclude Kenya, is mainly made up of youthful people, whose interests are different from that of our own generation. Look at Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, the gap between when he and Mazrui were born is 28 years (1933 and 1961, respectively). He was 52 when Mwalimu Mazrui, his compatriot, passed on. Imagine how old he was when Mazrui filmed his famous documentary.

Yet, again, this did not start with President Uhuru, as it is known that even his predecessors, too, showed disdain for this great icon from Mombasa. I must emphasize that as much as Mazrui fought for the African cause, he detested the type of leadership that emerged in post-colonial Africa. We recall that although Kwame Nkrumah’s political thoughts influenced him, he published an article titled “Nkrumah: The Leninist Czar” that was highly critical of the Ghanaian President. Recall also that Idi Amin wanted him to serve as his special adviser, something akin to Henry Kissinger’s role under the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. He openly criticized Idi Amin and then fled the country and, indeed, the continent for good. A man, who does not suffer fools gladly, is not wont to be loved by African presidents, who more often than not despise criticism. So, there is an understanding of why he was better left alone by his people than being remembered for his good.

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As we mark yet another remembrance of the life and legacy of Mwalimu Mazrui, the Great Intellectual, we must deeply reflect on his concept of African Liberalism, and how we can drive discourses towards bringing it to fruition. Ali Mazrui’s life is an embodiment of pride in Africa and African cultures and languages. He always believed in the African people as Africa’s greatest gift and resource. With us in existence, Africa still hopes to take its place as an equal counterpart of other continents of the world.

We must all emulate Mwalimu Mazrui and, also, show our pride in Africa and the African culture. Beyond that, we must live African, think African, breathe African, as well as influence and shape the world’s perception of Africa positively, just like our dear friend and brother: the indomitable Ali!

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

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Dele Giwa’s Assassination: 35 Years After

By

Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye 

“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.

Dele Giwa’s Assassination: 35 Years After

DELE GIWA

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 GuardianThe 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.

READ ALSO: Ali A. Mazrui, Abdulrazak Gurnah And The Swahili Moment

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 . (scruples2006@yahoo.com)

 

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Is Ken Nnamani The New Bride?

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Is Ken Nnamani The New Bride?

 By

 Sam Akpe

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.

 

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Our Fingers And Death By COVID-19

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Our Fingers And Death By COVID-19

By

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’.

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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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