By Muyiwa Adetiba
My interview with Dr Ukpabi Asika, the late administrator of the then South Eastern State, must be one of my memorable ones if not one of my best. (His interview was one of the few I did in two parts).
I remember the man for his intellect and sheer verbal prowess. He loved his drink and he loved to debate. My time with him was a contest of both! Many of the Igbos, his people, will probably remember him as a traitor to the Biafran cause.
And for quite a while, he was regarded as a man the Igbos loved to hate. His colleagues and students at the University of Ibadan will remember him as an erudite scholar and a detribalised Nigerian. To an average Nigerian however, he was the man who tried to put the great Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe down and earned himself the sobriquet, ‘Mr ex this and mr ex that’.
For those who were too young to know the story, Dr Asika had more or less described Dr Azikiwe a former President of Nigeria as an expired, yesterday’s man to which Dr Azikiwe, an erudite scholar himself, had replied that we will all be ex this, ex that at some point in life.
When you are in your 20s as I was then, retirement is a distant goal post and the truism of that kind of statement doesn’t hit you. Reality has however caught up with me. It is now with increasing regularity that people introduce me as ‘He used to be the Editor of ….. or the Publisher of…..’
My past has now become my identity card. I am truly and firmly an ex this, ex that. But it is a brotherhood that grows by the second. Last week, it added two more prominent names in the persons of Mohammed Abubakar, the ex Inspector General of Police. (I am sure I will not be the first to refer to him as an ex IG) and Andrew Yakubu, the ex GMD of the NNPC to the club.
The first thing these gentlemen will notice is the strange sound of silence as everywhere and everything become unusually quiet. Where is that throng of people that crowded your every step? And why is the phone no longer ringing off the hook?
The few people who call or come around are so careful with words as to be almost hypocritical. The peace is welcoming at first until it begins to haunt. Suddenly there is time, too much time, on your hands. Mr Gbolabo Ogunsanwo, a former columnist and ex Editor of the influential Sunday Times was succinct in his observation of the early ‘delisting’ process. At the height of his writing prowess, Mr Ogunsanwo was a delight to read and his admirers cut across various publics.
Of course many wanted to identify with him and his home in Surulere, Lagos was a hive of activities as people dropped by for drinks, conviviality and ideas. The visits reduced and virtually stopped when he was removed as Editor. One of the ‘depths’ was when he looked out of his window this Saturday morning and saw a familiar car on his street.
The car belonged to a man who was once a regular caller. People had moved on as Ogunsanwo found out and as Abubakar will find out in the coming weeks. Loyalties will change; negative and hurtful words will be uttered about your tenure and person. It can get worse. Your signature no longer carries any weight. In fact, some of the documents you appended your signature to at the last minute could be stopped. Earlier ones could even be revoked.
The other stages to insignificance come very slowly as seats are no longer reserved for you at your favourite places and you are no longer recognised for mention at public functions. It can also hurt when things you thought you achieved are being erased by a successor who is keen to plant his own footstep in the sand. Your former ‘boys’— those you helped put in strategic places — suddenly become unavailable. That is when you know you are truly a yesterday’s man. Unfortunately, this is when you realise you could have done more.
I have seen many people in and out of power and I can say nothing prepares you for the ‘loneliness’ that descends. The President no longer calls. President? You will be lucky to get a call from a State Governor after the first month. *One ex big man described it as the closest thing to being dead.
What satisfies at this point is not the amount of money or material possession you have acquired — you really don’t need much at that age unless you have a new wife — but the legacy you leave behind. I wrote at least two articles on Abubakar and warned him that the Force he is leaving behind might not be a better Force. The role of the police during some State elections was worrisome.
Clearly, he did not position the Police towards professionalism. Also worrisome were the antics of certain commissioners of police in certain states. Did public confidence in the police improve during his tenure? I doubt it. Glaring cases of incompetent, corrupt and criminally minded officers who were not punished do not foster public confidence. It is also unfortunate that many of the ills inherited by Abubakar are still plaguing the Force today.
Finally, I belong to a small group of professionals which meets every month to ‘pass the time’. Aided by good food, good music and choice drinks, we discuss everything and nothing until the next meeting. In the group are a few ex editors, a couple of ‘retired’ medical doctors, an ex Federal Minister, an ex Ambassador and yes, an ex Police Officer.
The newly retired IG might want to give his ‘senior’ a call any time he needs to fill an empty day and join us for a meal. We will give him a few laughs. Welcome to the club.
As for Abba, his successor, the clock has started ticking and he will become like us soon enough. He should worry about his legacy and not let politicians determine it for him.