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Nigeria in 2009

I HAVE  several foreignjournalist friends who either specialise in African news or are simply interested in current affairs in general; and many of them have called me in recent days to find out what I think of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab – the young would-be suicide bomber who tried to kill himself and a plane-load of passengers in America.

These journalists also want to know whether it is possible that Umar Farouk is just one of many Islamic fundamentalists in Nigeria.

I am also frequently asked whether I have any idea about the true state of President Umaru Yar’Adua’s health…and frequently compelled to listen to embarrassing theories.

This morning, a South African broadcaster (who shall remain nameless) told me that when she heard that our President had signed the supplementary budget in  Saudi  Arabia, she was extremely skeptical and wondered whether he was really in a fit state to understand the contents or pick up a pen!

I find it disappointing that Nigeria is generating such unflattering comments and questions…and sad that the two most high-profile Nigerians of today are attracting attention for negative reasons. What a way to start a new year!

But every cloud has a silver lining. And Nigeria is, thank God, also famed for positive reasons. Many well-travelled foreigners have told me that though we have yet to fulfil our potential and are always making avoidable mistakes, we are still the most refreshingly dynamic and self-confident group of black folks they have ever encountered.

We Nigerians have also risen to the top in quite a few areas of endeavour. When it comes to literature, for example, we have produced towering global-standard talents like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

So, yes, my dear compadres, we can certainly do much better. But we also have much to be proud of…and should ginger ourselves up and focus our strengths on trying to ensure that 2010 is more productive and more cheerful than 2009.

By the way, while I have nothing but praise for Umar Farouk’s respected parents – who alerted the authorities when he started to behave erratically and have handled the bad publicity surrounding their errant son  with  immense dignity – I must say that I wish that the Government officials who are in charge of the President’s image issues would allow the world to glimpse him, however briefly.

Is it too much to ask that they reassure Mr President’s supporters and upset his enemies by providing concrete evidence that he is OK? Even if he is frail and needs to recuperate and cannot currently cope with much exposure, why can’t  he be interviewed for five minutes by Nigerian television reporters? Why is there no film footage of him  signing the budget while his Saudi doctors hover in the background?

As for Chief Michael Aondoakaa (SAN), the Attorney-General of the Federation, his statements about the legal position regarding the President’s absence and Vice President’s role, I am not a lawyer and don’t have a clue  whether he is talking sense or rubbish. But so many people are scoffing at every word he says nowadays.

When I checked out some websites in which this matter was being discussed, I noticed that the majority of contributors to online discussions are annoyed with the Government. They feel that the country is rudderless and are convinced that they are being lied to and are directing most of their frustration at Aondoakaa, who is the main target of enraged abuse and sarcastic remarks.

It seems that the messenger is being blamed more than the people whose message he is conveying! It isn’t always easy to be a loyal servant of any regime!

A true leader

CHIEF Clark is primarily an Ijaw leader. But he has also provided substantial amounts of moral and practical support to many non-Ijaws, including me.

Whenever I go to Chief’s house, I bump into people who hail  from all corners of the Niger Delta. They are there because they know he cares and  will help when he can.

Though many individuals contributed to the Amnesty deal that inspired militants to lay down their weapons, I think it is fair to say that Chief was a very key player during the struggle to bring peace to our troubled creeks and lands.

I will write about Chief’s considerable achievements properly and at greater  length in the near future. But I want to seize this opportunity to wish him a very special Happy New Year’s Day and thank him for boosting my spirits when I was at my lowest ebb…and for being an intelligent advisor and wonderfully wise father figure to so many sheep who were desperately looking for a shepherd.

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