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Tribute to a titan

By DONU Kogbara
Iwas absolutely devastated when I heard, at the beginning of this week, that my former boss, Dr Rilwanu Lukman, had died in Vienna, following a prolonged period of ill health. And my profound sorrow about the passing of this globally revered Nigerian is combined with a deep sense of guilt.

I spoke to Doctor on the phone last month and he sounded so frail; and I promised to visit him as soon as I could. But work and personal pressures kept getting in the way, so I kept postponing the trip to Austria; and now it is too late; and I’m finding it very hard to forgive myself for procrastinating.

The moral of the story is that we should never put off till tomorrow something that is best done today, especially when it relates to someone we love dearly.rilwanu-lukman-111

Having failed to travel to Vienna on time, I was determined to at least make it to his home state, Kaduna, yesterday…so I could be there when his body was flown in from Europe. My plan was to drive to Kaduna from Abuja with friends.

But I and many other Lukman fans were prevented from embarking on this journey because the homicidal animals who describe themselves as Boko Haramists decided to launch two suicide bomb attacks on the convoy of ex-President, Maj-General Muhammadu Buhari, who happened to be visiting Kaduna.

Buhari narrowly missed death, as did a prominent Islamic scholar, Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi (who was, incidentally, close to Lukman). But several innocent citizens were less fortunate and lost their lives; and the authorities, understandably, imposed a curfew that made it impossible for anyone to enter Kaduna by road.

During one of the last conversations I had with Lukman, he sadly reflected on the terrible carnage that Boko Haram was inflicting on our country. And it’s ironic that these evil terrorists struck so spectacularly on his burial day, thereby compelling hundreds of mourners to say “goodbye” to him from afar.

Ah well. Never mind. Better to dwell on the man himself and on who he was and what he achieved, rather than on my frustration and depression and tears!

Lukman, a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, former Minister of Mines , Power and Steel and former President and Secretary General of OPEC, was an impressively civilized gentleman, a talented professional (engineer) and a quintessential public servant who was touchingly devoted to his family.

He was one of the few Nigerians who have acquired serious international clout. He was held in very high esteem by foreigners, who heaped honours on him.

Elizabeth II, the Queen of the United Kingdom, made him a Knight of the British Empire, KBE, in 1989. The French Government made him an Officer of the Legion d’Honneur in 1990. The Republic of Venezuela gave him a First Class honour known as The Order of the Liberator. He was also the first African ever to become a Fellow of Imperial College, University of London.

I got to know him when I was a young, London-based journalist. I was sent to interview him after the Imperial College ceremony and we immediately developed a warm and intellectually stimulating rapport.

He was so amiable, so clever, so knowledgeable, so polished and so interesting to talk to. I was awestruck by his accomplishments and felt proud and privileged when he decided to stay in touch with me and introduced me to his wife.

When I moved to Nigeria many years later, he became my boss – in his capacity as Chairman of the Presidential Oil/Gas Sector Reform Implementation Committee, OGIC, of which I was a founding member.

The Committee was inaugurated in April 2000 and drafted the original version of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB. Some of the proposals Lukman came up with were truly inspired and would have massively enhanced our oil/gas industry – and transformed our country – if they’d been implemented.

Lukman and I were in total agreement on every issue except Niger Delta empowerment. He had many pals from the South-South zone and treated me like a daughter, but I felt that he – like so many other VIPs of his generation – didn’t focus enough on the pressing needs of oil-producing communities.

However, he was a fantastic person to work for overall. He had a great sense of humour and an informal, egalitarian management style. He wasn’t the kind of Oga who possesses dictatorial tendencies, instils fear and discourages debate.

He preferred to lead by example and related to us subordinates in a fatherly fashion. He was always inviting us to have breakfast, lunch and dinner with him. He frequently asked us to share our opinions with him…and didn’t get annoyed if we dared to contradict him.

When I got miffed about a Niger Delta issue and resigned, he told me, with an amused look on his face, that I could resign from his office, but not from our friendship! I shall miss this marvellous iconic man SO MUCH. May his widow and children find the strength to bear his absence.


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