With no kink on the train of my thought, I can make bold to state that the Nigeria story tells like a fairytale. Right from how the territory was acquired and recovered to how its name was coined and by whom, one cannot but be astounded by the many twists and twirls it has meandered en route to who-knows-where. Per space mention must be made of the amalgamation of its North and South the centenary of which was marked last year under the “clueless” leadership of GEJ. Independence was to come some forty-six years later, followed hot on the heels by a thirty-month civil war.
O yes, by this time in 1967, the secessionist enclave of Biafra was neck deep in trouble for daring to sunder what God had used Lord Frederick Lugard to put together in 1914. Towns were being abandoned as one habitation after another was rendered desolate by federal troops bent on keeping the nation one – a task the then Head-of-State had foresworn to see out to the letter. As it were, the ragtag rebel army armed to the teeth only in propaganda was pummelled to surrender with a little help from a successful economic and arms blockade. All these while the world looked on and applauded.
While the weighted battles raged, many an unverifiable tale was told about transpirations at the war fronts. Among these was how the poet Christopher Okigbo was killed while fighting on the rebel side. According to the apocryphal anecdote, he was felled by an exploding grenade hauled by either him or a colleague that had rebound off a palm trunk, thus having him – as he would have put it in a veritable fable – hoist with his own petards. The veracity of the fib notwithstanding, the truth remains that the victim neither participated in the war nor wrote any line of poetry thenceforth. As for the war, it neither paused nor waned on its account. It waged on as though nothing happened, spawning heroes with abandon.
One of them – certified by all – remains Olusegun Obasanjo, OBJ for short. By accolades then attained – what else – he did march on to rule the country first as a soldier and then as a bloody civilian. Of course certifiable evidence has it that in his tour as military Head-of-State the ruling council did promulgate a decree that implicated whosoever got wind of a coup plot without telling like the plotters. It is also well known that he was to be caught in its web long after his retirement and sentenced to life imprisonment. If his subsequent move from his cell to Aso Rock in a Mandela-like transformation is not the stuff myths are made of then I’m not the person writing this piece.
It’s been argued in some quarters that OBJ only lived to fight again perhaps on account of his travails – talk about luck and its toughness oftentimes. Like Salman Rushdie opined in Midnight’s Children, the game of Snakes and Ladders often had different rules when applied to real life viz.: that while in the game one climbed up the former and slid down the latter, in life one often slid up a snake and climbed down a ladder. Today OBJ has transformed into a veritable father of the nation only comparable to the serving President who also had a stint – though short-lived – as military Head-of-State. OBJ is also believed to have swung the applecart in Buhari’s favour during the campaigns first by distancing himself from the sitting President and then tearing the then ruling party’s membership card to the full glare of television cameras.
There is no gainsaying the part luck has played in the rise and rise of these two personas. Consider, for instance what would have been OBJ’s fate had the Head-of-State he replaced been spared in the coup that failed. Or, for that matter, how we would have fared as a nation had those who toppled GMB in his military coming not spared his life. Premised on that would be what would have been the scenario had OBJ succumbed in jail like Shehu Musa Yar’adua. Or GMB caught by the bombs planted for his convoy by Boko Haram. Perhaps GEJ would have won re-election by a landslide or what have you.
All said and done it remains a fact that GMB has lines to learn from OBJ more than any other person in the federation. This is to avoid the grace to grass inflicted on the nation by the OBJ/GEJ interregnum. As much as OBJ has done for the nation, it remains a hidden fact that his name is believed to be in the Halliburton black book. And he is rumoured to be alone in it. Even GMB himself had to suffer such absurd press over a certain 2.8 billion of uncertain currency supposed to have vamoosed from the nation’s purse under his care as Federal Commissioner for Petroleum. So whichever way it swings, GMB ought to know that none can be proven guilty until his innocence is disproved. Perhaps in this lies the gully of difference that may in the end demarcate their regimes in difference.
Also it is well known that it was under GMB’s abridged military helmsmanship that a former minister was crated for onward delivery to MMIA. His offence was supposed to have been committed while supervising the massive importation of rice to stave our raging hunger for what had overnight turned our daily bread. So many years later it remains to be seen how it could have gulped a lot more than that year’s entire budgetary expense. According to former Vice President Dr Alex Ekwueme, the allegation was nothing but scandalous. Yet had he been successfully kidnapped and brought back home, he may have had to face bullets like Orlando and Owo who were shot at point blank range at the Bar Beach for committing a crime when it was not yet in our offence list.
It is also noteworthy that often in the cry to fight corruption attention is often heaped on the monetary aspects so that the tale will not lack hokes. The intangible like nepotism, for instance, often do not make the tale race. Brought into the English vocabulary via French because of favours bestowed by a long-gone Pope on his nephews, its meaning has since incorporated favours shown by somebody in power to friends and relatives. It is arguably the one accusation the present government can only sweep away from its corridors by upholding the quota system enshrined in our constitution. This canker worm that has at times seen states having as much as twenty percent disparities in admission marks to government institutions ought to be balanced in subsequent appointments. Anything to the contrary might give a suggestion different from the uprightness which the government of the day preaches or appears to preach.
This is all the more pertinent given the disparate way the GMB junta handled the President and his Vice after their successful putsch. While the former was afforded the lavish option of arrest in his house of choice, it’s well known that the later was bundled into a maximum security prison for months and months. When later he was pronounced to have been poorer than he had been afore politics, it was too late to mend a broken pot. All these are bygones and should be taken literally like General Gowon said to Professor Soyinka. We only pray that history which the ancient maintain mutates like a phoenix does not repeat. Like the Igbo say, if an old woman en route to the market drops her wares more than once on the way, passersby will count her wares.
All the same, PMB’s choice of going after thievery foremost is nothing but laudable. What else when quantities of the local currency stolen to much consternation hitherto only amounts to chicken change to its alters polished off these days in the almighty US Dollar. Also when abinitio only those at the topmost cadres used to stand accused, now even the lowliest of civil servants have been known to cream off as much as manage to make the trip across the files that trespass his table with the cheapest of pens. This means that were GMB to be compared to Ali Baba the legendary Arabian in a tale with a different didactic, he would indeed have to deal with a lot more than forty thieves. Thus he would not be needing distractions like this save as a reminder to how well we have fared.
- Isidore Emeka Uzoatu is the author of the novel Vision Impossible.
The opinions expressed in this piece are entirely those of the writer.