By Muyiwa Adetiba
I don’t know if anybody made a physical count, but the reports in the media was that 34 private jets landed in Minna for the wedding of Halima, the daughter of General Ibrahim Babangida. In other words, the figure could have been more or less. But 34 jets for a wedding? In a recession? Even if all routes were to lead to Minna, people should have been more sensitive and more circumspect. This is in a country that cannot boast of a National Carrier. It would not surprise me if the collective wealth of those people out there was more than the entire wealth of the nation. After all, it has been said that one percent of Nigerians consume about ninety percent of her resources. And a sizable and significant part of that one per cent would have been in Minna on the twelve of May.
Speaking of jets, sometimes in 1977, British Caledonian Airways (BCal) had the Inaugural Flight of a wider bodied variety from Lagos to London. I was one of two journalists on my flight; the other being Mr Tony Momoh, Editor of the then powerful Daily Times. By my side were Captain Paul Thahal, the then MD of the now defunct Nigeria Airways and FMC Obi his predecessor; a couple of rows in front of me was Chief Kunle Ojora, the industrialist; not too far from him were Chief Dotun Okubanjo and Chief Chris Ogunbanjo both active members of the Nigerian/British Chamber of Commerce. The Nigerian Chamber of Commerce was duly represented by Chiefs Adeyemi Lawson and Henry Fajemirokun among others. The judiciary had among others, Justice Fatai-Williams who gave the after dinner speech. Top government officials of both civilian and military garbs were copiously represented on the flight. It was a fair assemblage of who’s who in Nigeria at the time. I remember thinking—and writing in the Punch—that it would have been a tragedy of immense proportions to Nigeria if anything had happened to the plane.
Now fast forward 40 years. Under one roof in ancient Minna were assembled leaders of different shades; who’s who in almost all the sectors of business and politics in Nigeria including the media. Would it be morbid to imagine what it would have meant to the country if a Boko Haram bomb had landed on the building? And would it be just me thinking such morbid thoughts?Think for a minute of the people who were there; the past and the present. Then think of the tribal battles the country has fought over the years and the people at the vanguard of such battles. Think of the politics of hate and division the country has always grappled with and the people who sat next to each other as if they were life-long friends. Think back at the time corruption became an issue in Nigeria and the people who controlled governance then. Think of the treasury and the people who have direct access to it and what they used the commonwealth for. Think of the symbols of luxury as exemplified by the luxurious jets in a country of mass poverty.Then think of the flip side; those who have impacted positively on their environment through business and philanthropy—they must be have been there. Those who genuinely wish Nigeria well and have worked hard for her place in the sun—some would have been in Minna too however few. It is a safe bet that Nigeria would not be the same again were such a tragic thing to happen. But is a fresh start such a bad idea considering where we are coming from and how we have utilised our various endowments? And would we take off on a good foot or a bad one considering the greed and distrust those outside the Minna mansion have been indoctrinated with over the years?Would those outside the mansion drop the baggage of the past and be prepared to embrace a new future? In other words, can Nigeria even survive the future without the input of those who were at the Hill Top mansion on the twelve of May?
The imagery that comes to mind when one thinks of the class of people that thronged to Minna for the wedding is that of ants and sugar. No matter how well you sweep a place, the ants will always surface once a piece of food is dropped. The sweeter the food, the more the likelihood of their coming out of the woodwork—even if you had earlier used a disinfectant to clean the place.The ants have a nose for sugar just as our politicians have a nose for power. The media can write all they want about Babangida, the power brokers know where real power is and they will come out of the woodwork if necessary to pay homage. We can shout corruption until we are hoarse; the sheep will always hearken to the voice of the herdsman be he Fulani or Tapa. For all those who felt Babangida was a spent force, the proof of that stared us in the face some two Fridays ago. I don’t know of anybody out of power in Nigeria that could have pulled the kind of people that went to Minna on that day. I don’t know of anybody that has the stature to pull such a politically bi-partisan, such a tribally diverse crowd. One thing seems certain; the spectre of Babangida, the charms of Babangida, the wiles of Babangida still have their imprimatur on governance in the country. The Ebora of Owu can do all the shouting, all the pontificating,all the sermonising he wants while the silent puppeteer in Minna is gathering all the strings. But because we know his antecedence, because we know the capability of the self-styled evil genius, because we are well aware of the skills of our political Maradona, because we are conscious of the self-centred agenda of the class he represents, and because the country is once again in dire straits where one decision, one wrong turn, can have serious consequences on the polity, we can only look up to the skies and ‘say heaven help the country’ at this moment in her struggles as a nation. Heaven help us all.