By Ambassador Onuorah Obodozie
Triumphalism was a causal ingredient in the fall of the Roman Empire. The Emperors were so immersed in their Triumphs that they out-sourced command-generals to mercenaries. In 476 CE, one of such generals, a Germanic leader, Odoacer, overthrew Romulus, the last of the Roman Emperors, and became the first Barbarian to rule Rome. It was the end of the order that the Roman Empire brought to Europe for 1000 years. At the fall, Angles and Saxons populated the British Isles and the Franks ended up in France. The rest, including, Constantinople, named after Constantine the Great, is now history.
Triumphalism was present in the waning and fall of the British Empire, the ”empire on which the sun never sets”. At it’s height, in 1922, it was the largest Empire in history and held sway over one-fifth of the world’s population. With Triumphalism, the British Empire over-reached its self, started waning and the fall was not far-off after the 2nd World War, as the dominions, then, saw the myth surrounding the infallibility of the British Empire, shredded in plain sight.
Triumphalism is now rearing-up it’s head, again, in Europe with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO], led by the United States of America [USA]and, of course, the European Union [EU], seen as vassals of the USA, trying to encircle the Russian Federation and even farm in Russia’s backyard. This Triumphalism and expansionism, which began after the disintegration of the Soviet Union is a ready-made recipe for a 3rdWorld War, if not curbed. That may, also, be the fall of the so-called NATO\EU Empire-building.
Triumphalism is like pushing a spring so far back that the only thing left for it to do is to spring-back. Again, like the movies: The Empirewill always Strike Back! As a Diplomat, my training and attitude is that dialogue is always better than war; whether World Wars, MEND, Boko Haram, Odua Peoples’ Congress or MASSOB. I am, also, aware that sometimes in life, the only way to stop “bad guys” with guns is to use “good guys” with bigger guns.
THE NEXUS WITH THE 2015 ELECTIONS AND THE NEED FOR CAUTION FROM MAY 29
Come May 29, Nigeria, with many competing ethnic groups, should embrace politics of inclusion and eschew Triumphalism of “winner-takes-all”. Any way you look at it, the 2015 elections was a struggle for the spoils of war by the Allies that defeated Biafra. The “Fisherman” was the weakest link in the Alliance and was out-muscled by the “Bigger Men” in the Alliance. Yes, plural democracy is a game of numbers. Yes, the combined votes of one thousand market women, artisans, taxi drivers, illiterates et al, for one candidate,supersedes the combined votes of five hundred doctors, engineers, professors, et al, for the other candidate. It is quantity votes, not quality votes; but care should be taken to accommodate all inan inclusive governance, for the sake of peace.
Here comes the caution! The “Fisherman” has been producing the “Fish” [OIL] we have been eating, in the past fifty years, are still eating and will continue to eat, for the fore-seeable future. We should not just take the “Fish” and sideline the “Fisherman”. There should be a human face! Triumphalism is not a paragon of political beauty; rather it alienates and spurs the Empire to Strike Back, like the movies. Nigeria does not need it.
THE INCUMBENT, THE PREDECESSOR AND THE SUCCESSOR
These three Actors have a single thread running through them: Commitment and Love for PROJECT NIGERIA. I have been priviledged to interact with each of them, to a limited extent; which they can confirm, seeing they are all around and active. This is without prejudice to late President UmaruShehuYar’ aAdua; of blessed memory. I never met him; I was in hospital!
RAGS TO RICHES
President GoodluckEbele Jonathan [GEJ], went to school without shoes and earned Bachelors, Masters and Doctor’s degrees, in Fisheries [“Fisherman”] and Marine Biology. Was a standard middle-class citizen, as a University Lecturer.Ran through the gauntlet as Deputy Governor, Governor, Vice President and President. Come May 29, he will be ex-President and Member, Council of State. GEJ is the youngest elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to date, and will still be 57 years old at retirement on 29 May. The youngest unelected Head Of State, in Nigeria, is General Yakubu Gowon. GEJ did not kill anybody to be where he is today. GEJ served his Governor loyally as a Deputy, to be seen, not heard; as a spare tyre. This was repeated at the Federal level, as Vice President, seen, not heard. In fact, on the two occasions, he could have conveniently been lecturing at the Universities in Port Hracourt and Abuja and nobody would have noticed his absence; except for the legal ethics and conflict of interests involved, in both. President Obasanjo brought GEJ to the Center [Federal] as NumberTwo. The so-called second-term tenure, for GEJ, would have been the same at State or Federal: because, in each case, it was mandatory for him to complete a forced constitutional term of his bosses.
GEJ was never a saint or a sinner, from my personal experience; but I appreciate him, for the simple reason that Leaders, always, have “many irons on fire”. When I was bombed in Kinshasa, D.R. Congo, and evacuated to South Africa by the United Nations Air-Ambulance, I met him at the Nigeria House in Pretoria, then an out-patient, with his dear wife and they saw the wounds. He was then the Number Two. His words: “Ambassador, two bombs landed in your bedroom and you are still alive. First, thank God. We shall take care of you, including National Honors for Service over and beyond the call of Duty. You will see”. It did not happen as Number Two. It did not happen as Number One. But I am still happy for his success story of Rags to Riches. Many in my Diplomatic Constituency, at his age, are still trying to pull rabbits out of a hat, just to be appointed Ambassadors, with Command; not the honorary appointment. We should all rejoice over what God has done for GEJ.
GEJ will cede power come May 29, without “kata kata”. It is a testimony of his love for Project Nigeria. For what he did or did not, for many, including my good-self, let us forgive him. As General Gowon once said: “blame my Advisers, don’t blame me”.
A MAN OF CONVICTION
President Obasanjo [OBJ], is a man of conviction. I have to say this from the onset to avoid any ambiguity. OBJ ended the Civil War, was Head of State, Prisoner and later President. I will not go further into what OBJ has done for Nigeria to date, but he facilitatedYar’ aAdua as President. Some said that it was in honour of his late deputy and colleague, General Shehu Musa Yar’ aAdua. OBJ, also, facilitated Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as Vice President, to balance the Alliance I earlier mentioned.The two Candidates had two things in common: both were Lecturers and both were not front-runners for Number One and Number Two positions. A book can be written on that at a later date.
When GEJ refused the advise by OBJ to substitute Sambo with Lamido, the “Big Man”, as I, fondly, refer to him amongst my peers, stepped aside [recall, OBJ facilitated GEJ, in the first place]. From then onwards, it did not matter what GEJ did or did not do, he was going to lose the Presidential election. On hindsight, we couldgo into a lot of IFs. If GEJ had accepted the advise…! If GEJ had changed PDP to Aspirin to fight APC….! If and If and If, ad infinitum.
OBJ, till tomorrow, remains a man of conviction. If he likes, he likes. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t. Period! And he will tell you! I first encountered OBJ on a State Visit to Pretoria, South Africa. I was, then, Number Two at the High Commission. There was a reception at the Chancery for Nigerians and Staff; but I did not partake. I was, there in my office, giving final touches to his speech for the State Banquet. OBJ left the reception and was checking-out the offices [like a military man on “recce”] and then into my office. Asked what I was doing there alone? I told him. He just said: “well done”, and left. Later, a Steward came-in with food and drinks that “the President said to bring these to you”. Wow! That’s OBJ for you. Soon after, he sprained himself at squash and was stooping. I gave him a gift to aid the stooping. He was not only delighted but told his aides: “that’s exactly what I have looking for”. At departure, after the State Visit, he said to me: “I will never forget”. And he did not! OBJ is the only Yoruba man to call me “Omooluabi”.
When the Embassy Chancery and my Residence [our State House] in Kinshasa was under siege by the rebels, he was on phone constantly and offered aircraft to take us out; but we could not go through the rebels. And the civil airport was closed to air-traffic. Soon after, I was bombed. It was the Tunisian Battalion that extracted me from the Residence and rode the gauntlet to the United Nations air-wing and evacuated me to South Africa in their UN Air-Ambulance; with two UN Serbian Doctors and three Spanish UN Nurses. I was still in hospital, under-going surgery, when OBJ handed-over. The War-Lord, Jean Pierre Bemba, is still at The Hague facing War Crimes’ charges.
It did not end there. The following sequence is interesting in our discuss to eschew Triumphalism and it’s side-kick: “Witch-Hunt”. On my way to Abuja, after hospitalization, I stopped at OBJ’s Hill-Top Residence, to intimate him. OBJ had just come back from Akwa-Ibom. We had dinner, drank the palm-wine given to him, that day, by Governor Akpabio. Asked if I wanted to stay the night, I said no. He then said, “if they send you back to Congo, don’t say no. What will be, will be”. I left and was really sent back to Congo, and I did not say no.
Destiny brought OBJ to Kinshasa, D.R. Congo, when I returned after hospitalization. This time, as a United Nations Envoy. After inspecting the damages to the Residence and the bed-room where I was bombed, he recounted the events I have already mentioned in the Visitors Book: “that I should be taken care of, including National Honors for Services over and beyond the call of duty”. I am still waiting for “Gudo”, like in the children’s books. It was then, my turn to ask him why the witch-hunt on energy by the National Assembly? Have they forgotten that he cancelled the 35-Billion dollar debt by Nigeria, brought-in MTN and others and ensured stability? Why can’t the President stop them? OBJ’s response: “But it was the President that started it”. Here-inlies my problem with Triumphalism and Witch-Hunt. Progress is retarded! If we don’t build on the achievement of our predecessors, all Nigerians lose. Mysynergies, in other fora, with OBJ, are excluded for National and International security reasons. Even, OBJ himself, will not onlyapprove, but commend me for this thought-pattern.
When OBJ received the wife of MB, in his Hill-Top Residence in Abeokuta, it reinforced my thesis of him as a Man of Conviction. The same way he came out, publicly, and told President Babangida that Structural Adjustment of the International Monetary Fund [IMF] is nothing if it did not have a “human face” for Nigerians.
My only notable encounter with General Buhari [MB], was when he was Head of State. I was Head of Accreditation and Ceremonies, at the Foreign Office. Ambassador MahmudWaziri, was State Chief of Protocol [SCOP], at State House, Dodan Barracks. We had just finished a Presentation of Letters of Credence Ceremony by the foreign Ambassadors accredited to Nigeria. Successful? Yes!No hitches? Yes! We were all happy and a chit-chat ensued. Imentioned to MB the changes we needed in the Foreign Office [details not necessary here] to enhance our productivity and continued excellence. He just smiled and said: “You have your man[SCOP] here. Whatever he presents to me and I like it, I will sign. I have told the people who put me here [Coup Plotters], that anytime they don’t like what I am doing, they should just let me know and I will pack my bags and go home. But, I don’t want anybody coming to Dodan Barracks and shooting all over the place in the name of Coupd’etat. When I leave, they can tell the Nation whatever they want!”. That was vintage MB. Those words have stayed in my mind all these years in trying to understand the President-Elect as a Reformed Democrat with a human face.
Growing-up in the North, as a child, the Hausas [as we collectively call them, as a child], had a philosophy that everything, including Leadership, is from the Almighty. Good or bad, must be accepted. I should know! I was born in Birnin-Kebbi [in fact, the last British GOC of the Nigerian Army, Major General Everad, was buried in Birnin-Kebbi]. Went to school in Kaduna, Zaria, Ilorin, Lokoja and Makurdi. My father was a hospital administrator in the British Colonial Service; opening General Hospitals. Unless, it has changed. If not, let’s give MB a chance and let the Almighty do His will by His Servant.
POLITICS WITHOUT BITTERNESS
The “Oyibo” man said that “the taste of the pudding is in the eating”. The “Chef” [MB] will enter the “National Kitchen” on May 29, with his recipe to prepare the “Dish of Progress” for all Nigerians. It is my prayer that when served, the “National Dish” will be tasty to all Nigerians, including, those yet unborn. But, of course, there should be no Triumphalism and Witch-Hunt in that“National Menu”!
In the course of executing his Mandate, MB will encounter men who are “CitizensAgainst Virtually Everything” [CAVE-Men]. It should not deter him from executing his Mandate to best of his ability.
May God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Dr.Obodozie is an Academic Associate at UNISA’s Institute for African Renaissance Studies, Univ. of South Africa, Pretoria.