By Bisi Lawrence
*Against the background of the sad passing away of a “master banker”, Pa Olatunde Vincent, the furore rages on about the introduction of the 5000 naira note into our already shaky economy. The contrast between his benign era and the abrasive style of the present administration presents a picture of dismay. Old Lagos has lost one of its icons again. Apartheid is still very much with us,
it would seem. Black Africans are still sufferings very much in the same way as they did under ., racist white rule, and judicial killings have come back to town again. We too are waiting for final emancipation from ourselves through the formulation of a new Constitution, in the pristine isolation of a retreat. Such absence of distraction was perhaps what Dame Patience Jonathan was in search of while her enemies put it out that she was ill. How wicked can detractors be!
The Passing Scene
Death came at the appointed time to lead Olatunde Vincent to glory. He was laid to rest two days ago after a religious service at the African Church Cathedral Bethel, in Lagos. He had achieved the high profile of an icon in the church whose unique history is mingled with his ancestry, and where he functioned in several capacities as a worshiper and official of muscular Christianity.
But he was not only known for his rich Christian life as demonstrated by his activities in matters pertaining to church observances and rituals, but by the traits of a life of humility, discipline and honesty which made his way through life so beautiful and, in turn, beautified the faith that endued him with such a glittering existence. He put little store by prestigious titles, accommodating only prefixes like “Pa” and “Elder” which came with the ripening of his days. He epitomised those sterling qualities associated with genuine bankers all over the world – modesty, sincerity, and dependability. He was fortunately not part of the era of arrogance, flamboyance and inordinate conceit in a profession which prided itself in its fund of trust and respectability.
Pa Olatunde Vincent was as Lagos as the Carter Bridge. He belonged to the luminous background of the Alakijas of Customs Street, the Moores of Igbosere Road, the Akereles of Bamgbose, the Randles of Tokunboh, the Rotimi and Akintola Williamses of Idunmagbo, the Dohertys of Daddy Alaja, the Fasholas of Isalegangan, who bore names that you could conjure with in old Lagos, names of shining affluence and influence reflecting standards of high morality and propriety.
All of those high qualities resonated in every aspect of his career as a banker. He would never have been caught masquerading in traditional robes and gown along the corridors of a bank, any bank, during working hours; nor embroiled on a regular basis in a controversial policy or another with sound economists, and politicians and legislators alike. He dressed neatly without the slightest touch of exuberance and engaged only in sober deliberations around the welfare of the economy and the people whose lives it rules. That is why the measures he advocated and promoted, even after he had retired from his position as the Governor of the Central Bank, are highly appreciated and will endure for a long time, for they were formulated to benefit the industry and those who have their being in it.
But death came at last, as it would indeed come to everyone. However, it is definitely not the end. We could not wish Olatunde Vincent to linger for ever. He lived to a grand old age, and he truly lived a fulfilled life. But it is not the end. The flower of his being will continue to blossom in the industry which he graced for so many years with his presence, and where he will continue to be the role model for role models.
When that highly-placed official of the Central Bank of Nigeria flippantly let it be known that all the bank needed, in whatever it liked to do with the national currency, was the consent of President Goodluck Jonathan, many commentators plunged into the pool of the discussion with the assurance, or on the supposition, that the consent was yet to be given. The instruments that prescribed that dispensation did not specify that the President’s consent depended on the approval of any person or constituted body. A friend of mine, when I pointed that out in an argument with him, mirthfully remarked, “Precisely.”
I knew what he meant immediately, but I could not imagine that arrangements for such an all-important exercise that touched the entire existence of the whole nation could have been so casually considered without the input of the people whose lives would be so closely affected.
“Well, and you have been having your so-called input, haven’t you?” asked my friend who, by the way is a lawyer.
We surely have. We have argued against every point raised by the authorities of the CBN—the timing, the expense, the needlessness, and what-have-you. We have spoken as individuals; raised protests as civil societies; argued as experts and professionals. No less than over ninety percent of what constitutes this nation is calculated to have rejected the monstrous proposition. AND WHERE HAS IT LED US? It is to no less than details of how the horrendous arrangement will be carried out. In fact, on the face of it, it is a done deed. It is understood that tenders are being invited for the production of the coins and the printing of the obnoxious 5000 naira currency notes. Minting and printing firms are being short listed already. In fact, it is understood that the assent of the President had already been received by the CBN before the whole thing was revealed to the public, so the huffing and puffing of the populace, including the responsible stance of the Senate, is really of no avail.
And so, this is where we have arrived, fifty years after being permitted to rule ourselves. And this is how we rule ourselves in a democracy which we thought came with the freedom of self-rule, that a group of people, not elected or approved by the people, could fashion an atrocious measure endangering our well-being, and ram it down our throats. And what can we do about it? Even less, it would appear, than we might have in the colonial days. If we streamed out again and headed for Freedom Park, could it really not turn bloody this time? I feel so helpless, so small, at the feet of the “banker with the bow-tie”, who seems to have such total control over my destiny.
In South Africa, some black miners did just that – they turned out to demand more pay from the company which they had been serving, as it were, with their life-blood. And they actually paid with their blood. They were accosted by a detachment of trigger-happy policemen who shot over thirty of them down in cold blood. They had tried similar measures in the days when the white men were in control and met a similar fate. They would have been shot down then mostly by white men; now they were cut down by fellow black men. Almost twenty years after the rule of “apartheid” which made black men the inferior of white men, it has now been fully confirmed by that black men too can indeed do to black men what white men had the right to do to black men.
That is the measure of our freedom, or self-government, or whatever. Words! Words! Obafemi Awolowo said it for all time —”It is not so much the system as those who operate it.”
The President of South Africa is a black man; so are almost all the members of his government.
Their immediate reaction to the massacre was to arraign a number of the miners and accuse them of the murder of their comrades. It was an old ploy under the laws of apartheid. The miners were actually arraigned before the charge was dropped. UHURU.! The miners will have a say during the forthcoming elections, but meanwhile, they are staying out of the pits.
And so, here we are on our part still holding “retreats” outside tenets, in order to formulate a creed. Or would it be to create a creed from which to extract tenets? Shall we then take a second view of a bank of the nation, which can humiliate the people into doing its own will at its whims and caprices? Shall we give the President himself the sceptre of unquestionable dominion of “primus non pares”? How much of the 1999 Constitution do we need to change, really, and how much of ourselves do we have to change to believe in one another as a grouping of different nationalities. That is one of our major problems – a crisis of trust.
Have you ever considered why it is the desire of the people from every section of this country that the President should be elected, or selected, from among them? On the face of it, one would . naturally assume that a lot of advantages by way of development and a touch of welcome nepotism would be the reward. But experience has shown that not to be strictly the case. For instance, did those eight years produce any major “dividend of democracy” for the people of Otta and, in fact, Ogun State as a whole? Not in the least. The fact that the man at the helm of affairs in .’ the country comes from the same area with you may make your shoulder rise a few centimetres higher than normal, confers no additional good feeling. But we would rather have it that way, wouldn’t we, because we do not trust anyone across the state line? Now, what kind of retreat is going to create a Constitution that would change our thinking on that? That is why several honest and knowledgeable people persist in the demand for a Sovereign National Conference.
But how will that ever see the light of day when those who should facilitate it will continue to militate against it? The project must have the whole-hearted support of the government of the day to come to life. And it will not. It will remove too many people in a position of power from their comfort zone. It will change structures and alter destinies, and those in power would naturally prefer the status quo, and its advantages of corruption and prejudice.
As for the single or two-term option of the executive, all the argument against the present two-term structure seems so fragile since it is based on human nature. An incumbent who would give four years of good service so he could be returned into office for another term, and use the second term to exploit and defraud the nation, would have the same, or an even better chance to abuse his office with a single-term option. It all depends on the man and the extent of the effectiveness of the checks and balances draped around the manipulation of his service.
There are areas of a soft edge around the present Constitution, no doubt. We require a more robust federal muscle in governance, for one thing. The issues of State Police, Revenue Allocation, Security, and others can be resolved within that arrangement. Maybe we all need a retreat, anyway, to come back with renewed vigour against the problems we took away and safely brought back with us.
A few days ago, Mrs. Michelle Obama, wife of President Barak Obama of the United States, took the stage at the Convention of the Democratic Party to campaign for the re-election of her husband. Now, as you certainly are aware, she is the personification of feminine charm. Never far from the line of action, she still never appears obtrusive. Never dives in at the deep end of any topic, Does not need a super “attack dog” to guard her flanks against criticism. She appeared on that stage on a wave of applause, and left on a rising crest of approbation.
It is difficult to imagine a condition of failing health giving rise to a whirlwind of communique from the White House about this lady. Why cannot Aso Rock device ways and means of according our own First Lady such grace as is requisite to her position? Do we need more “attack dogs” to appreciate that a place like Aso Rock is, so to say, like a glass bowl?
All human beings are liable to being ill some of the time; it is not a crime. So why deny it.
Don’t those “experts” know that, in Public Relations, there are rumours you do nor try to drown even if they are untrue—in fact, sometimes because they are untrue?
Now we should all leave dear Patience alone to rest well, in her own “retreat”, and return very soon to her ever-loving compatriots.