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The Nigerian Condition: A History Of Division (2)

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Obadiah Mailafia: The Grip Of Grief
Prof. Toyin Falola

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Toyin Falola

The Nigerian condition is not a happenstance; it is a condition with history and extensive roots. Nigeria is what it is today because some things were never right from the outset and are still not right. Therefore, it is tantamount to moving in circles if we seek to get out of the Nigerian condition without taking thoughtful reminiscing and examining where the problem started. If we do not visit our past, we will continually make the mistakes of our predecessors, thereby meeting the waterloo they met. I have often said that the problems of Nigeria are made in Nigeria, patented by Nigerians, and manufactured in our cities.

Corruption in the Nigerian government did not start three or five years ago. Kidnapping and banditry are not matters of a few years ago; only that they have grown beyond the capacity of the state to stop them. Agitations for disengagement from the Nigerian entity did not start twenty years ago—all ethnic groups had threatened to secede. Neither is it true that agitators are only just recently meeting their waterloo—Isaac Boro and Odumegwu Ojukwu were visited by state violence. All these things have been playing out from the onset, and they keep doing so in an endless loop, in a seemingly wash, rinse, and repeat manner. If we wish to make any tangible progress in solving Nigeria’s problems, it is essential that we first study the Nigerian situation. Thus, it is pertinent to ask ourselves: What is Nigeria?

Nigeria is the “afterthought” of a British commissioner, Lord Frederick Lugard. At the allocation of entities on the African continent following the 1884-1885 Berlin conference, the different entities that currently make up Nigeria fell into the possession of Great Britain. These entities consisted of distinct kingdoms which shared geographical boundaries—Hausa, Jukun, Ebira, Tiv, Nupe, to mention a few of them, in what is now called northern Nigeria. These kingdoms had their distinct languages, cultures, and people. The kingdoms in the Sokoto Caliphate had their relationships cemented by Islam. They traded, exchanged ideas, and fought wars. Some groups interacted outside the framework of how the colonial government defined “states” and “power.” For the benefit of the colonizers, the entities which make up present-day Nigeria were grouped along geographical lines. The first was the grouping into Northern and Southern protectorates, laying the foundation for solid divisions.

READ ALSO: The Nigerian Condition And The Exit Options (1)

The earliest seeds of the fully grown and malignant Nigerian condition can be traced to this epoque, when peoples of different orientations, cultures, value systems, and beliefs were broadly zoned into two protectorates. However, the seeds were not fully germinated at this time because most of the kingdoms still operated on some degree of autonomy as they still had their fundamental monarchy-based system of governments. All the kings had to do was report back to the commissioners and district officers. This meant that before 1914, there was nothing known as Nigeria as a country, and the differing cultures had not been fused in the cauldron of a faux unifying culture and identity. At that time, there was no need for the peoples of those different cultures and kingdoms to present themselves as one, and there were no conflicts of interest, all of which make up the Nigerian condition today.

In 1914, the distinctly governed protectorates were amalgamated into one. At the whimsical thought of Ms. Flora Shaw, the new entity was named Nigeria. One thing that many people have failed to think deeply about is that the amalgamation of Nigeria goes beyond merging two protectorates. The British, through Lord Lugard, merged these two entities for easier administration and more efficient economic management. Did they consider some underlying nuances that would have served as pointers to the seeming impossibility of merging over 250 ethnic groups, with little to no interaction, into one country? The entities which make up present-day Nigeria were distinct, unrelated entities before the colonial administration. Therefore, the amalgamation can be seen as the earliest sign of the existence of a half-blown Nigerian condition. Recall that the lauded indirect rule, as applied by Lord Lugard, failed woefully in the East but was a massive success in the North and a partial success in the West. This, if not anything, should have given the colonial administration some insights into the fundamental discrepancies between the peoples and cultures they chose to merge into one.

During the earliest years of the new country, the Nigerian condition still manifested at half capacity because the administration was structured along a regional basis. The people were allowed a degree of self-identification. The West, consisting mainly of the Yoruba people, had the government of the western region. The Hausa-Fulani and other minority groups were in the northern region, the Igbo were in the eastern region, while the Niger Delta and mid-western region belonged to the ethnic groups that now make up the bulk of the South-South geopolitical zone. Nonetheless, the Nigerian condition started and was further aggravated, as the politicians in the South insisted, by the wrong allocation of rights by the British colonial government. In a country with four regions at the time of independence, the Southerners argued that it was crooked of the British to have allocated 52% (over half) of the legislative seats of the soon-to-be country to the Northern region in an attempt to make the North agree to the country’s independence. Till today, what the British might have seen as a clever move is a driving force in the psychological makeup of northern Nigerian politics.

READ ALSO: The War In The Cameroons

In allocating over half of the legislative seats to the North and leaving the other three regions to scramble for 48%, many have argued that the British inadvertently passed a message to the North that all regions of the soon-to-be independent Nigeria are equal, but the North is more equal than others. Could they have carved out the Middle Belt as a separate region? To the South, the mentality of being the No. 1 manifests in the North’s approach to politics and national concerns to date. Why should the biggest region not control power? Nigeria operates a federal system of government, yet the federal charter does not take effect in the bulk of federal appointments or university admission, to mention a few. By advocating for a unitary government, Majo General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, who came to power in the first military coup of 15 January 1966, was blamed for unleashing the process that produced the centralization of power and wrong-headed federalism. A civil war followed, with the military in control for years. Power became highly centralized in the federal government.

The Nigerian condition is about the blame game and finger-pointing. The narrative from the South has permeated the thinking of millions of people. It is expressed simply: The “North-is-more-equal” mentality continued into the first few administrations of the new country, coupled with deeply corrupt practices, till the military, deeming itself as the people’s messiah, arose to take power from the civilian government. Is this view correct? If so, did it make matters better? It did not. Since its inception, Nigeria has faced corruption, a warped sense of national and uniform identity, and nationalism deeply punctured by ethnicity and ethnic loyalty. These are endemic problems caused by the fact that Nigerians have never entirely accepted the sense of being one nation—we are too apart in our notions, beliefs, social formation, and cultures. The narrative about Nigeria is tied to the region where it is created. People think first of their ethnicity before they think about Nigeria. During elections, parties permutate along religious and ethnic lines rather than ideological ones: “We have a Muslim Hausa as the presidential candidate, let a Christian Yoruba man be his vice, and an Edo woman his campaign chairperson. The Igbo did not vote for me!” There is nothing for the Igede, and nobody remembers the Esan. “The Edo can wait to produce the chairman of the party!” It has never been about ideologies; it is always about the best ethnic conjunctions producing concoctions that produce constipation.

When agitators like Nnamdi Kanu, Omoyele Sowore, and Sunday Igboho take up the challenge to call for a revolution or seek the disengagement of their ethnic groups from the Nigerian entity, millions applaud them for the courage to challenge a sitting government. Yes, it is well to applaud them for their one minute of fame. However, they also remind us of Chukwuemeka Ojukwu’s Biafra, the Mid-Western region’s Republic of Benin, and other secessionist or separatist moves that have been made in the history of Nigeria. In the early 2000s, Afenifere and Ohaneze called for a national conference to examine the legitimacy and plausibility of a federal and united Nigerian state. The years that led up to the country’s independence prove that the citizens have never for once seen Nigeria as a successful “United States of Nigeria.” The agitators for an independent Nigeria saw a failed state even before Nigeria got its independence. Since then, many Nigerians have always advocated for the country’s breakup, which has formed the basis for the Nigerian condition.

READ ALSO: Rethinking Missing Pieces In The Idea Of Nigeria’s Development

Taking a tour through Nigeria’s history will reveal that the Nigerian condition is a phenomenon that has been with us since the first attempt to lump different peoples together to form two protectorates in 1900. The amalgamation of the two protectorates gave rise to the malignancy of the phenomenon, and it has seemingly become worse ever since then. The failure of the Nigerian state is rooted in the deep sense of commitment to ethnic and regional beliefs. And because the components have never been wholeheartedly invested in making the clumsy centre succeed, the centre does not hold. The citizens consider themselves first as Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Efik before considering themselves as Nigerians. This is why the quest out of the Nigerian condition cannot be fully quenched. It will rise, like the phoenix, in another form because the old and the young go through the baptism into ethnic-centric loyalty.

There is no problem related to the Nigerian condition whose cause cannot be traced to the fundamental problem of the country’s formation, an artificial contraption. Also, there is no failed secessionist or separatist agenda or movement whose failure is distinct from the failure of others. Perhaps, Kanu and Igboho did not know this. Sowore is probably aware, which may be why he opted for revolution instead of the breakup agenda being pushed by ethnic leaders and warlords. Nigeria is what it is today because things were not set right from the beginning. The moves to divide Nigeria have failed because all agitations have shied away from the same thing and followed a similar path.

What have the agitations and agitators shied away from? Can the quest out of the Nigerian condition be rightly brought to the light of fruition? In the next instalment in this four-part series, I will examine the fundamental problems of the attempted paths out of the Nigerian condition.

READ ALSO: The Ambazonia Independence Movement In Cameroon: Agitations And Lessons

. Part 2 of 4 of the series on the “Nigerian Condition,” commissioned by the New Times. In Part 3, the failures of the exit options will be examined.

. 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.

READ ALSO: Is Ken Nnamani The New Bride?

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?”

READ ALSO: Haba, Oga Ichabod, Were You  Actually Called?

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.

READ ALSO: Guilty Of Being Nigerian In Ghana

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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