By Clifford Ndujihe
One month after his reported comments that Nigeria’s first and only Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa died from an asthmatic attack and not gunshots, former High Commissioner to London, Chief Matthew Mbu, yesterday, tendered an unreserved apology to the Balewa family.
Mbu, who described Sir Balewa as his mentor and political godfather, said in a two-page, eight-paragraph and 740-word letter entitled: “My Apology to the family of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa,” said he was saddened by the controversies that his interview with The Nation Newspaper had generated. He offered and hoped that what he described as his “sincerest apologies” would be accepted by the late Prime Minister’s family.
The letter read in part: “I am truly saddened that my interview with The Nation Newspaper of August 5, 2010, about Nigeria at 50 and what I said immediately afterwards has generated so much controversy and caused such unnecessary anguish to the family of my mentor and political godfather, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
I hope Mukhtar Balewa will accept my sincerest apologies on behalf of the family for inadvertently causing so much pain.
The unfortunate reference to the death of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was made to The Nation Newspaper reporter after the completion of a marathon interview about ‘Nigeria at 50.’ “It was not meant to be in any way inflammatory and has obviously been taken completely out of context. As it happened, after the lengthy interview I made the statement that there were numerous facts and rumours about this great nation that I would prefer to take with me to my grave.
However, rather accepting the statement as it is, the reporter proceeded to press me for an example and after several minutes of being cajoled to speak I finally relented and gave him the example of what my friend Chris Okigbo told me about how my political father died.
Statement taken out of context
Anyone who actually read the article in The Nation of August 5, 2010, would have known that the statement must have been taken out of context, as it did not relate to anything discussed in the interview.
“Furthermore, I never for one minute said or even alluded to the fact that I knew exactly how Sir Abubakar died and, besides, at the time of the coup I was en-route to India as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to attend the funeral of late Prime Minister Shastri. In fact, it was only upon landing at Delhi Airport and being met by then Nigerian High Commissioner, Mr. Ade Haastrup that I learned of the coup in Nigeria. I instantly enquired as to the fate of Sir
Abubakar, the Prime Minister and the High Commissioner told me that both the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister Chief Okotie Eboh had been kidnapped and their whereabouts were unknown. You can then imagine what my concern was about the sad events in Nigeria.
“Upon my return from India, I met Chris Okigbo and was given his account of the events that took place. As I said to The Nation Newspaper reporter, this was Okigbo’s account. I have never said that what Chris Okigbo told me was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, neither have I said that I know better than anyone else the circumstances surrounding the painful death of Sir Abubakar.
“It is, therefore extremely unfortunate and heart wrenching that the family of my late mentor should be subjected to such anguish after so many years. Not only is this furthest from my hear and mind but also the continued preponderance of the issue by some parties, presumably in a quest to attract some attention to themselves, has further exacerbated the matter.
No ulterior motive
“Comments such as my having an ulterior motive for mentioning the circumstances of Sir Abubakar’s death and “Mbu, Osoba’s agenda remains unknown” are both careless and slanderous and further confirm the unlikelihood that the comments were made by those who had actually read my full interview published in The Nation Newspaper of August 5, 2010.
Nevertheless, and despite receiving numerous invitations to engage with some of these individuals in a public confrontation over the matter, I chose to remain silent and ignore all provocation and I would have continued to do so until I read the statement from Mukhtar Balewa. His statement made it clearly obvious that things had gone too far and that the articles appearing in the various newspapers were adversely affecting the peace and happiness of the family of Sir Abubakar.
“As such, I felt it necessary to break my silence and make a formal and heartfelt apology to the family of one of Nigeria’s greatest heroes for inadvertently providing the platform for some mischievous individuals to open up old wounds. I can only hope and pray that with this apology I succeed in putting an end to such unwarranted ‘debate’ which at times has often been reduced to baseless mudslinging. I therefore appeal to all the good people of Nigeria to allow this unfortunate issue to rest and spare the family and the nation any further anguish.”