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The welcome in Libya

By Bisis Lawrence
On December 21st, 1988, PanAm Flight 103 was just seeking its cruising height for a smooth flight to the United States when it crashed over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. No less than 269 souls were lost, not counting 11 others on the ground. It was the result of an explosion caused by a bomb that had been planted by terrorists who tore through the ‘eighties with dastardly acts of mass murder in a variety of execution.

A shocked world waited anxiously for the solution to the puzzle of how it happened. That soon came to light. A bomb had been placed on the plane and was set to explode a few minutes into the flight. Accusing fingers pointed towards Libya.

It was the age of State-sponsored terrorism and the North African country, which was still smarting from the humiliating bombing meted out by the US some two years earlier, could not wriggle out of the investigation. It all pointed a security officer by the name of Abdel-Basset Meghrahi. After a furious diplomatic wrangle, the accused was released to Britain but was tried in Scotland, where the plane had crashed.

He was found guilty and sentenced to life-imprisonment. The incident caused a tremendous row between Britain and Libya, a relations between the two countries became severely strained over the issue. And so matters have stood all these years past.

Now reel fast forward to a few weeks ago when Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain visited Libya, and declared that his country was willing to fight against terrorism in the company of any country that was of the same mind. The Libyan leader, Mammar Ghaddafi, who was his host, of course appeared to be of the same mind. And so a good time was had by all.

However, not everyone welcomed the news, a few days later, when it was announced that the “Lockerbie Monster”, Abdel-Basset Meghrahi, was going to be released on humanitarian grounds and set free because he had a terminal illness.

The sum total of this was that the man who was responsible for the death of nearly 260 human beings should be spared the fate of dying in prison.

The United States, which had lost many citizens in the Lockerbie Disaster, naturally demurred. But since it seemed the decision was irrevocable, President Barack Obama advised, in fact almost implored, that Meghrahi’s welcome back to Libya should be low-keyed. As it turned out, however, that was exactly what it was not. A surging crowd of supporters, many of them waving the national flag, met him at the airport. There were speeches and songs portraying him as a national hero. He was officially received by Ghaddafi.

The United States found it most repulsive and disgusting. An exchange of letters couched in acrid terms was made public on both sides of the Atlantic. England, very quickly shifted the responsibility to Scotland where the decision was supposed to have been taken.

Ghaddafi then had to spoil it all by insinuating that the release of the arch-terrorist had now opened a window of opportunities for cooperation between Britain and Libya, almost in terms of a reprise to Brown’s earlier remarks about the countries that Britain was willing to do business with.

Through all this, however, Meghrahi has maintained his protestations of his innocence. One wonders how one could accept a hero’s welcome for a feat that one must deny.

*a welcome in South Africa

Eighteen-year-old Caster Semenya has brought glory on a wave of controversy to her nation, South Africa. She won the gold medal in the women’s metric quarter-mile race at the Athletic World Championships in Berlin.

Although I no longer write sports, I am still an avid fan and enjoy reminiscences of my days in sports. One of the moments I still cherish was my visit in the ‘seventies’, to the Olympic Stadium where the recent championships were held.

It was there that Jesse Owens brought the racial supremacy boasts of Adolf Hitler crashing down on the Fuherer’s head. Jesse won four gold medals there, an unprecedented feat in the annals of athletic history, and then only once rivalled. I collected some of the turf as a keepsake, to remind me of one of the earliest spots on earth where the black man told the world that all men were indeed created equal.

And this was where Caster ran the race of her life as a woman and won, but her triumph has been diminished by doubts about her sex. Mostly because of the superiority she established on the rest of the field, some people openly declare that she could not have been a woman to run that well. Her looks and stature could also indeed lead, or mislead, anyone to think she could belong to either sex. I mean, appearances show – you don’t have to see Serena Williams, even at a distance, to decide whether she is a man or a woman.

But such controversies have happened unresolved before in sports. A striking case is that of Iolanda Balas of Rumania who won the high jump for women in Rome in 1960. She did not seem to have excited much interest then, but when she came back to repeat the same performance in Tokyo an Olympiad later, some eyebrows were raised at her shoulders which had developed massively, and some equally conspicuous hirsuteness on the legs.

Some of the officials raised a protest demanding a test, but Iolanda rapidly disappeared, and her true status remains a matter of conjecture.

Caster did not disappear. On the contrary, she has appeared on many public occasions in South Africa, her home country. She too was given a hero’s welcome and received publicly by the nation’s President. She had even been tested, and that before the event, so it was really not only her astonishing prowess that led to the controversy. But the result of that test, we are told, may take quite a while to publish. Why, you may ask, does it have to take that long? I mean, a person is a woman or he is not.

All you have to do is take a peek where it tells… you know. But in these modern days, they say it is not as simple as all that. Now it’s not just sex – which, let’s face it has become a four-letter word – but you must consider the gender too, and they say that is different also from sexuality, which is another classification. So we must have gynecologists, and urologists, and psychologists, just to determine whether we are dealing with Eve or Steve.

Well, “is she is or is she ain’t?” Caster insists that she really is, so she’s welcome to her hero’s, or heroine’s welcome.

*my friend, the “skipper”

I thank all those who keep in touch with me on behalf of this page by SMS or otherwise. We do not seem to usually publish messages that show how much you appreciate us because as several of you can testify, we normally prefer to talk to you on the phone to clear up issues raised in your messages.

Of course, we also value the nice things you say about the page, but wouldn’t want to cheapen your kind opinions by making a public bunting of them. However, we were literally swept off our feet by the torrent of the reactions we received to our opinion of Mrs. Hilary Clinton’s remarks about Nigeria. They kept sweeping in from Saturday night and there was no let up for two days after.

And not one, not a solitary message, even came near to supporting our view. It therefore becomes mandatory for us to expose one or two of them under our sub-title of Echoes.

08026716547: If out of fear, we cannot tell our leaders what we think of and about them, those they don’t lead should. We are timid and lack strength as well.

07025280202: Hilary Clinton was dead right. Failed leadership is a preventable occurrence. No amount of patriotism should accommodate it. It is painful to fail in an examination, but to expect the examiners to assign you a different result is the worst of self-deceit. Prayer alone cannot prevent failure.

08052201960: I disagree with you on Hilary Clinton. If we can’t tell ourselves the truth, foreigners will do so. In how many countries will $236,000 miss from the coffers of an organisation, and the head of that organisation is receiving awards from every corner? Look at the banks and government (with) billions stolen yet no light, no good road, no medicare for the poor – and yet you blame Clinton for telling us the truth. We all know Nigeria has failed as a nation with rotten leaders and thieving politicians.

Well, I think you are all correct but have missed the point. There is no country on earth that has a press more open and critical about her leaders than Nigeria. So, it is wrong to suggest that Clinton is right to take our leaders to the cleaners since we can’t, or don’t do so ourselves. In fact, we do.

Clinton has the right to criticise our country just as I have every right to criticise hers. But she is her country’s Secretary of State and therefore bound to observe some diplomatic niceties that do not fall on my plate as a mere journalist.

The statement she made about Nigeria, where and when she made it, and factual though it may be, did not become her status as a diplomat of the highest order. That is what the US Secretary of State is.

Chief Samuel Olufemi Asekun is my friend. We have been friends for as long as I can remember. After he left the CMS Grammar School, Lagos, he went to Glasgow for his Masters” degree in Economics. I always want to say that quickly about Femi because he is so down to earth that you might harbour misconceptions about him at the first meeting, from his unsophisticated jokes and homespun humour.

He is a man who has a proverb to garnish the point of each statement. He is also a man of many nicknames. At one time, he was known as “Sammy Sparkle”.

Our nickname for each other is “Teren”, but I would be telling you too much if I explained what it means. He is also widely known as “Skipper” from his exploits on the sports field as seen, I must say, mostly through his own eyes. All the same, he was a first-class goal-keeper who also carried an educated bat on the cricket pitch.

Professionally, he was a pioneering broadcasting top executive. He is now much of a philosopher from his erudition as a Freemason of high degree, a status of which he is very proud. He was also very proud of the band he formed in his college days, “Femi’s Quartet plus One”, a jazz combo that featured at youth parties all over Glasgow and beyond. I am also very proud to be his friend. Up skipper!
Time out.


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