By Donu Kogbara
ROBERT Mugabe, the recently ousted Zimbabwean Head of State, used to be a hero. He was a brilliant intellectual who preferred books to weapons; he bravely coordinated a massive and protracted liberation struggle against the White invaders who had enslaved the Black majority in his country; and he won.
When he emerged victorious from the bush after fighting Rhodesian racists to a standstill, Africans and humanitarians across the globe jubilantly hailed him.
Mugabe became a legend and shortly after he became President of Zimbabwe, he accepted an invitation to visit Nigeria and share his experiences at various venues. One of the places he spoke at was Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria.
A friend of mine was a young student at the time; and he tells me that he will never forget the day Mugabe graced ABU with his presence. He was mobbed by adoring, whooping crowds. Lecturers as well as students felt enormously privileged to have him in their midst; and our own then President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, who had accompanied him, was almost ignored.
I am one of the many people who looked up to Mugabe for ages. But, as the years went by, I realised with mounting horror that he was using his formidable brain in a very warped way and morphing into a monster and failure. He acquired a greedy, domineering and embarrassingly much younger second wife called Grace – or DIS-Grace as his opponents bitterly nicknamed her.
He filled his cabinet with thieving and inept cronies. He presided over a prolonged reign of terror. He specialised in ethnic cleansing and murdered human rights activists and political opponents. He destroyed the economy.
He violently rigged elections, shamelessly overstayed his welcome and was 93 when the army finally said “enough is enough” and drove him out of office. And it’s so sad that there was dancing on the streets when he was booted. What a way for an ex-icon to end his tenure! He really rubbished himself.
I am particularly angry with Mugabe for vindicating sceptics who didn’t celebrate when he took over because they reckon that Blacks are useless at leadership and rightly predicted that Zimbabwe would deteriorate the minute he wrested power from the Whites who had been efficiently running the show.
I thank God that he has finally been pushed into retirement after betraying the millions who held him in high esteem and thought they could trust him to make Zimbabwe great and enhance the image of his continent and race.
And I really don’t understand why the severance package the new government has offered him, his awful spouse and their grasping relatives is so generous.
I can see why, for old times’ sake and in view of his geriatric frailty, Mugabe is being promised immunity from prosecution and exile. But I don’t see why, despite being billionaires who have stolen nonstop for decades, the Mugabes are getting a lump sum payoff of around $10 million, salaries till they die; and I don’t see why they are being allowed to keep their looted land and bank balances and other assets.
This golden goodbye and super-sweet deal is SO unfair to the poor people they cheated and impoverished…and to the traumatised families of those they killed.
A laudable role model
Derek Lenyie Mene, the Executive Director of Finance and Administration at the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, is – like me – from Ogoniland. Derek recently lost his father, Pa Piagbo Albert Mene, a centenarian who was born in 1916, in the middle of the First World War, and was respected and much-loved by all who knew him, because of his wisdom and amiable personality.
According to his greatest fan Derek, Pa Piagbo, in addition to being “peaceful, truthful, tolerant, open-handed and open-hearted,” was an optimistic and fearless gentleman who was “never discouraged or afraid in the face of hardship…and told me that the only thing that can never disappoint is hope…
“…My father found strength in his weakness – illiteracy – which he described as ‘blindness’. And he gave me a humble beginning but taught me very important values that have brought me this far in life. I will remember him forever.”
Pa Piagbo was laid to rest in his village, Wiiyaakara, last weekend; and when I went there to join hundreds of indigenous and visiting mourners at his funeral and to participate in the fond, exuberant farewell that his large family had organised for him, I was pleasantly surprised and immensely impressed.
Never before have I seen so much energy, love and money invested in a Nigerian village by an individual! Long before his dear Dad passed away, Derek had built a solid 50-room hotel, as well as a social club and several fish-farming ponds.
Meanwhile, Derek’s own home in Wiiyaakara is a modest bungalow.
In other words, instead of solely concentrating – as so many other Naija VIPs do – on providing himself, his wife and his children with a luxurious, enviable bucolic residence that will make them look positively imperial compared to their suffering grassroots brethren, Derek (who is famed for his infectious enthusiasm) has focused on providing economic boosts that generate employment and make his community look more developed and more vibrant than most communities.
In Western nations, central, regional and local governments have ensured that most villages are as attractive as – or more attractive than – most towns and cities. The British village in which I went to boarding school, for example, is infrastructurally sound, socially sophisticated and absolutely beautiful.
But governments in this part of the planet don’t – thanks to corruption, lack of concern, lack of vision and limited funds – have what it takes to achieve similar results anytime soon. So it’s down to folks who happen to have spare cash to do whatever they can do to lift up the rural enclaves from which we all originate.
If every successful Nigerian politician or civil servant or professional or businessperson or whatever does as much as Derek Mene has done, the backward Nigerian countryside will bloom and thrive and be totally transformed.
Pa Piagbo must have been so proud of Derek.
I certainly am.
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