By Muyiwa Adetiba
Most of us know the story of the Trojan War; how one very beautiful lady called Helen caused two neighbouring countries to go to war against each other.
As in most conflicts, reason fled and ego took its place. It soon became a war that neither side wanted to lose as their heroes fought for fame and country. By the time the war was eventually won through the ingenuity of Odysseus who deployed the famous Trojan Horse, the two sides were war weary and were ready for any kind of truce. Many probably didn’t remember what caused the war in the first place.
Those that did had probably ceased to care. The history books forgot to tell us who claimed Helen at the end of the day or if she even survived the war. And those who did like our Odysseus, found that their homes and property had been taken over and had to battle for repossession. It was a classic case of a private agenda turning to a State agenda.
Look around you. All through history, wars and conflicts have been started by leaders who lusted for something that had been denied them—or beyond them. It wasn’t always women. It could be power, position, wealth or simply that their ego had been bruised. But it would always be couched as something higher like state pride and honour, state emancipation and sovereignty in order to get the acquiescence and participation of Mumus like you and I. And we pay, sometimes with our lives; many times with our livelihood.
Let us look at our dear country Nigeria with its never ending political turbulence. We like to blame the artificial coupling of our colonial masters as the cause of our woes. It is convenient to forget that most countries of the world have similar backgrounds. The United Kingdom which we like to blame is no exemption. Till today, a Scot would feel deeply offended if you referred to him as English. But they worked, are still working, at their nationhood.
The difference is that here, we have leaders who delight in masking private agenda as state agenda and so accentuate rather than obliterate our differences. To show that our problem is more in personalities than geography, let us look at the conflict in the South-West that halted the economic and social growth of that region and eventually led to the collapse of the first republic.
It was a personality clash, spurred by the vaulting ambition of two people—and, as some have said, two strong willed wives—that brewed the hemlock that the whole nation had to drink. Both Awolowo and Akintola were of the Yoruba stock. They were associates and friends. They often mounted the soap box together to propagate a common ideology to their people.
So neither tongue nor ideology separated them until power, ego, pride and undue influences of close associates did. They were so blinded by obduracy and pride that they refused to see the larger picture until the grand edifice, the pride of the country, they had laboured to build came crashing on their heads. The South-West has never been the same again.
This is not about who was right or wrong. It is about how private agenda can become state agenda. Whilst still on the first republic, was Zik’s refusal to form a Federal Government with Awo in 1959 in the national interest or borne out of feud and distrust? The story of the country might have been different if those two titans had subsumed their personal interests for the common good.
On the national front, we have seen how our leaders have evolved. We are often naively surprised that they offer much and deliver little. What we must remember is that they did not get there because of any state ideals. Many got there because they felt it was their turn to taste and exercise power. Many to avoid prosecution; some to avenge perceived personal or sectional wrong; some simply had power thrust on them. In other words, they all had their personal agenda.
From what the archives have told us, it is increasingly obvious that the civil war might not have taken place if the two leaders at the time had different temperaments. One was seen to be a megalomania who wanted to rule and who disdained the leadership of the other side. One was seen as weakling who was controlled by puppeteers.
One listened to his own voice and none other. The other listened to too many voices and hardly his own. They both developed a healthy dislike for each other. The result was that these leaders allowed their different personalities to get in the way of statecraft and private agenda took supremacy over state agenda.
Now, we are hearing the drums of war again. Who knows what private agenda Nnamdi Kanu has? Objectively, the way he is going about his Biafra doesn’t make sense to some of us if it is the well-being of his people that he is after. I don’t see how the argument of persecution and marginalisation is tenable for a people who have prospered more outside their shores than within their shores. But then who knows who or what are fuelling his agenda? My people shine your eyes!!! Private agenda might again be masked as state agenda.
I end this article with a quaint little story from my secondary school days in Igbobi College. This story by the way predates Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo. We had just finished lunch and eager for siesta when a prefect got up to make ‘a very important announcement.’ He whipped up emotions by talking glowingly about school pride and our illustrious heritage and how some girls from a Federal Government school had dared to insult our school.
The boys were in a frenzy by the time he finished. All forms of contacts with this school were suspended. The name of the school was not to be mentioned within the school premises. So a pseudonym ‘Shekewa’ replaced the name of the school. (Shekewa was the name of a queen in a play written by an Old Igbobian.) Some distanced themselves from their girlfriends. Even the home fronts were not spared as brothers became cold to their sisters.
It soon got to the attention of the two principals who had to wade in. It turned out, as the story went, that it was a ‘boy-girl tiff.’ A private agenda became a general agenda that broke relationships and almost broke homes.
Shekewa by the way, became one of the songs during our Principal’s Cup exploits.