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Maryam Babangida…. Obituary for the living

By Emma Okocha
“I do not think that it is the right thing for one to write one’s epitaph. So, I am afraid I would have to ask that I be excused from writing my epitaph…. what I want is that when it pleases God to send for me, well my contemporaries would be in the position to write whatever they like, pro, or contra, about me.

But History will be my witness.’’
— Dele  Omotunde, Dare Babarinsa, Zik of Africa at 90, Tell Magazine, Cover Interview, November 21, 1994. Also see Dr. Nnamdi  Azikiwe; History Will Vindicate The Just,  The Satellite, August 26, 1983…..”Veritably, it is unAfrican and inhuman to make mockery of life, because Africans and all human beings pray to God to prolong their life span.

Nevertheless, those Nigerian politicians who indulge in this abomination shall not live to be old.They shall die before their alloted span, and they shall suffer for vilifying the root of the tree from which they sprouted.”

Maryam Babangida
Maryam Babangida

“I really appreciate what you did for me during my four years in your school. I heard the rumour on the 17th of November and I was scared. My family and I wish you a quick recovery. Students of El-Amin  International School miss you.
— Fatimah Kash-Momoh, Vanguard Feed back.

“If Nigeria has good hospitals, will she be in Los Angeles?”
— Abonyi Rojers. Vanguard Feedback

“I’m glad that you are alive. May your days be long, Madam. May you last as long as Methuselah in the Bible”— Okoro, Aukland. Vanguard Feedback.

“This Lady called Maryam Babangida is a force to be reckoned with any day….a role model to many strong-willed women.’’
— Felicia Mbanaja – Hadjesmaili. Vanguard Feedback

“Hajiya, it is believed that rumors about one’s death, add more years and good health to the person in question. May the almighty grant you long life. Amin. Amin.— Ndaman Mu, Vanguard Feedback

“I do not know that you people in Vanguard love me this much…. Only God gives life and takes it. I’m alive, well and I’m okay…. I’m surprised that some people are wishing me dead….I thank Almighty Allah for His mercies and kindness’’— Maryam Babangida , Vanguard, Tuesday, November, 17, 2009.

I’m part of all that I have met

Made weak by time and fate

But strong in will to strive,

To seek, to find and not to yield

—Ulysses, by the  Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson.

My uncle’s house at number 23, Gerald, Ikoyi, was my official residence after my program at Unilag. His home phone numbers were the numbers given to the protocol officer. So when the phone rang and my late uncle’s wife picked up there was nothing to it, until she got stuck, frozen, and would not let go the receiver.

My uncle, bulky six-footer and former managing director of the UNIC insurance group, rushed to his wife’s aid.

”What is the problem, darl?’’ he bellowed. He managed to disengage her from her suffocating clutch and with the other free hand picked up the receiver responding to the velveteen voice that was calling from Dodan Barracks.
”Good Evening, this is Maryam Babangida. I will please like to speak with Emmanuel Okocha. Is he at home?”

My uncle in a most relaxed voice, returned Her Excellency’s courtesies, noting that Emmanuel Okocha was not at home, ”must have gone with his friends to play tennis.” He said. She cut off the conversation after she asked my uncle to reach me for an appointment in her office. My good old uncle, Ogbueshi Chukwuma Nwokolo didn’t get a hold of me for a long time.

Anthony Mmoh, former Nigerian Tennis Champion, was in town. He was coming from the Caribbean Island of Jamaica. Anthony, was my junior doubles partner. After some warm up exchanges, he decided that I should join him in some ATP tournaments, and off we went to see the world. Moreover, I had lost communications with the First Lady since her call to the Daily Times.  She had called and asked the management to help in locating the writer of a Sunday Times article, titled, ”Expectations of the First Lady”… In that piece,   we had challenged the occupiers of that hitherto non-descript seat to leave their own imprints of service, along the path of their husbands’ legacies.

The then Managing Director of the Nigeria Daily Times, Achike Okafor had combed the streets and later found me somewhere at the Airways Club, Ikeja. He took me to Dodan Barracks and that was my first meeting with the First Lady.

There and then, I elaborated on my Sunday Times article, and made more clear demands on those expectations from the First Lady.  We  esplained that the Nigerian poor masses were looking up to her  to step into a new romance with them. Her moment was on and history would judge her not only as the wife to the then president but if she did good, her place in the Nigerian chapters of time, would be imprinted in gold.

In our subsequent papers, we proposed radical changes for the office of the First Lady and concluded that Maryam Babangida’s native attributes and adorned official privileges, organised with the sole mission of meeting the needs of the forgotten people of the country, would in the end, ensure her reign as the most productive First Lady of our generation. We argued that she had to use her native gifts and win for the poor.

Whether on camera, and off camera, Maryam’s electrifying Hollywood presence is enough to stop the cry of the hungry baby. At her prime, Ndidi’s poise is like the Cardinal bird elegance, of Helena of Troy; two of the few exceptionally attractive ladies, chiseled from marble, created on a Monday morning. All through history, these rare beauties are dangerous if their overflowing gifts are not harnessed for sublime causes.  Blessed with jubiliance, and left at the courts or the corridors of power as objects of worship and idle gossip, these divas of power, recoil to plague humanity as subjects of unbridled envy, subterfuge, causing international and civil wars among men.

Coming from some positive mixed background, which in a very co-exacting federation like Nigeria is a welcome advantage, we thought the script and stage and the audience were ready for the actress. Maryam was brought up from a Christian family, married in the Catholic Church at Asaba, and grew and converted to the Muslim faith. Western Ibo, Niger Deltan and married to a non-core Northerner, (Niger is considered Middle Belt Region), she was very influential as the former Chairlady of the Army Officers’s Wives Association.  With a husband, and a President who had unlimited powers, we thought the sky was our destination once she decided to move to the side of the poor masses of the nation.

All the tons of the relevant proposals and the Eleanor Roosevelt memoirs, including Blanche W. Cook’s work, were all handed over to Major Banjo the protocol officer, who surprised me by refusing me further entry to Dodan Barracks.   Even if you are on the other side, who will argue that she did not strive and who will say that she was not the best.

I have gone this far to reveal that while my subject is well-known to me, I’m not hiding my sentiments as we comment on her ordeal and hope that sanity returns to our clime, after the persiflage of the last three days. The woman that invited us for an appointment with history had intimated to us that she would carve a niche for her legacy.

“How did you guess what was in my mind,  Haba.” She declared. Now, I’m a muslim wife, married to a military General….I have no budget to do anything, I don’t want to come across like I’m imposing myself…. You know my religion, this is difficult…”

“You must try,  and the model is Eleanor Roosevelt, the greatest American First Lady of all times. She influenced her husband to change America, invited to the White House, the first black, a  student leader, called  K O Mbadiwe in 1939.  Influenced her husband’s New Deal Program,  the Social Security. ” I countered.

“If I get a budget and open an office, please, Mr. Okocha, you will come help me.” Then, to her Protocol Officer, ”Major, anytime Mr. Okocha wants to come here, make sure he has no problems at the gate.’’ I was in Negrid, when the Orkar coup almost swept away the Babangida regime. Major Banjo the First Lady’s protocol officer was part of the coup.

I did not see him again until the Okigbo conference at Harvard, September 2008. He was my Taxi driver to the University from my hotel when I heard his unmistakable voice. Not so sure of what to expect from him, I asked him to return me to the hotel.  He moved over to a Gas station and said.

“Emma Okocha, don’t be afraid. This is America. I know where you are going…. but I saved your life by refusing you entry into Dodan Barracks.  I was planted with the First Lady. So are others in different departments. My job was to stop anything good happening from her office. It is the case in every regime. ”


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