The author narrated how he was drafted into the Delta State gubernatorial race. He showed that it was possible for one to serve without holding a title, and that others can identify leadership qualities in one and then persuade one to run for a public office. In this episode, he discovers that the state primary of APC was a sham:
WITH the buy-in of the Asagba, I began direct conversations with people like Fortune Ebie and Felix Osifo, the founder of Osiquip. Then I moved to Ralph Uwechue. I was glad that Chief Uwechue told the story himself at the World Igbo Congress meeting in Orlando Florida in 2012.
I called him and asked for where he was and a time to visit with him. He said he was in Abuja and that the following day was good. I then flew from Lagos to Abuja. I cut through the chase quickly and told him I had come to ask him to lead Ohaneze for the Anioma people and gave him reasons why he should. He then told me a number of things about why it seemed a problematic proposition even though he was disposed in principle. I assured him I would do the necessary work to clear the path. I returned to Lagos and then flew to Asaba to tell Asagba what the outcome of my efforts were. He also briefed me about some interested parties who had approached him. I assured him I would visit those people and review matters regarding the more suitable of the candidates.
All went smoothly and Asagba came to Lagos to host a meeting of Anioma elite for briefing. All were in agreement. The Uwechue ascendancy in Ohaneze would thus be the smoothest of President-General elections in Ohaneze tradition. After the President-General took office, I hosted him to dinner at my Lagos home in 2009 to build to build into his network a younger group of Igbo business elite and then detached myself. Even when I was candidate for public office in 2011, I did not try to reach the President-General to influence thinking in Ohaneze.
I had not only promoted the idea of identifying people and persuading them to take on roles we thought they were suitable for but had myself been drawn into service in that manner.
When I first served as Vice-President, and later, President of the University of Nigeria Alumni Association in Lagos, I had no such plans. When I was nominated by one of the elders and someone else was nominated, I actually voted for the other person. More than a decade after I had served as President, I was again approached by some elders to return to the position. When I saw the consensus, I thought it civic duty to oblige against my personal preference.
It was not by accident therefore that my 1997 autobiography – To Serve is To Live – Autobiographical Reflections on the Nigerian Condition was centered around duty and the obligation to selflessly give of self to advance the common good.
When the group of Government College Ughelli Old Boys came to see me, I felt a sense of deja vu. As the story goes, Jonny Esike was lamenting the state of Delta State and its politics. Ajiri Aluta, a friend of his, pointed him in my direction for where liberation could come from. I had never met
Aluta and he had no clue how to reach me. As the conversation developed the group of the Old Boys thought one old boy who was not from Delta State, Philip Ikhile, would be able to reach me.
Philip knew me well but had lost my telephone number. He reached out to a former colleague from their banking days who was a mutual friend, Tony Nnacheta, who gave him my number and promised he would help soften the ground for their mission.
They arrived as a group of about six people one late afternoon to make their pitch to persuade me to run for Governor of Delta State.
When two years later the so-called cabal treasonably reduced the Delta State primaries of APC to charade and mockery of democracy, one of that group, Fiddles Akpoimare, called to share with me the depths of his pain at the development. He recalled how I was reluctant to embark on the journey when they came to see me. I assured him I had no regret and believed there was a purpose for what was going on.
Had I not come on that journey, I would never have come to the kind of knowledge of the possibilities of human treachery, considered norm in Nigerian politics, a laboratory of which the process had exposed me to. I told him that now I had evidence to support my statement that Nigeria often seemed all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Values, I was confident, shaped human progress, and seeing the values of those who emerged as gatekeepers into public office was enough to tell that progress was not in sight so the revolution needed to be reconsidered. To make the point that this kind of democracy is a dead end without the evidence I was now witness to would have been faulty. At the least now I had touched the Soul of our national Failure. We were beyond theory.
I remembered how I thought a run for office was not the optimal choice even though I had a sacrificial commitment to a change in the political culture that was slowing down progress. Was it not better to allow the system inching Nigeria towards the ultimate blow-out, with the revenge of the poor to play out?
Was listening to Esike and his friends not defeat for the thesis that the system should just be allowed to move towards implosion, then the serious people left can work on reconstructive surgery. I had tracked the fault lines in the nature, structure and character of the Nigerian enterprise for a while. Did patchwork salvage effort from inside make sense?
If in a governorship role, example could be shown, may be the high cost to life and property of the revenge of the poor that ‘as bound to come, in Robert Kaplan’s vision of The Coming Anarchy, would be mitigated. Should l take this kind of trouble ? In my watch of the fault lines I had seen the class of state capture upfront. I had seen the gangster groups tagging along. I knew without a doubt that they found thinking people and straight arrows troubling around the lever of power.
They knew they needed them for legitimacy. They also knew that there were enough of such people with whom they could earn legitimacy, who were less threatening to the status quo. ‘The poor and the greedy professors,’ as one professor-friend put it. They felt that they could find the dissenting voices that they could incorporate and squelch their voices, but they were quick to study the sample groups.
I knew many found me threatening and believe many knew I would resist being incorporated. I had studied the corporatist state in post-colonial Africa and I was determined not to be incorporated and my voice silenced.
My chosen strategy was to penetrate the extant order without becoming incorporated, and to use what I learnt from the penetration to structure a liberation initiative. I found, contrary to notions from the protest movement in which some of the days of my youth were framed that it was not just that the class of capture and their co-conspirators were wicked, greedy and unpatriotic people.
What I discovered were people also wanted to see their country make progress but had been spoiled by easy money that came from being in power when oil money poured into state coffers. These people were afraid of returning to the desert. Or in Chinua Achebe, speak into the rain from which they had found cover. In the house of rent made accessible by power.
In their self-love, a kind of petty narcissism, they found comfort in the impunity that allows self to be first. It was the culture of post-civil war Nigeria, a conflict that allowed the political power wielders of the time to consolidate power and personalise influence, and would dominate elite ethos. The district of intellect and the open public sphere became an approach-avoidance conflict.
They liked the idea of The Guardian Newspaper but despised some of the ideas expressed in it which started out with a commitment to growing the marketplace of ideas and making the public sphere more robust.
They showed this in the many travails of The Guardian Newspaper, which went through a season of being prohibited and another of attempted assassination of its publisher by agents of state terror, the same set of assassins as were given the mandate for my own elimination because of my outspokenness and role in founding The Concerned Professionals (CP). They even tried Arson in which the Guardian premises were target.
Having come to know the driving forces of power well, I thought I might want to leave public office alone and find less threatening ways of making tomorrow better than yesterday for all, no matter the size of their bank account, the faith they profess or confess and the tongue that put out words to communicate meaning. I had also seen cracks opening. One ‘okay’ person here and another there. Could the range of time we figured our pushing against the wall would take to make change happen, be getting shorter?
I HAD become more convinced about my thesis on the class of capture when my friends thought our work of restoring Nigeria was done with General Abdulsalami Abubakar announcing the return to civilian rule in 1998. We had chosen to wind down CP with that announcement and leave politics to the politicians, even though some among our group had asked that we transmute into a political party. The class of capture would capture the main platform emerging at the time, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and install their own, Olusegun Obasanjo, as President.
But many of the gangsters who were their cronies as soldiers in power filled the spaces of public life, making us realize we may have made a mistake in not listening to our colleagues like Waziri Mohammed and Donald Duke. The return of the Concerned Professionals, the banner under which we resisted military rule as educated professional men and women, now as the restoration group, a political movement had led to my being urged to run for the office of the president.
Our clear purpose was to set the agenda for the 2007 elections, and, in the event of a statement, which we thought plausible in 2007, become a swing factor. Even with our agenda limited as it were, we wanted to run a serious campaign. I was going to campaign in every state of the federation.
As the typical campaign involved courtesy visits to traditional rulers, governors and prominent citizens in every state the candidate visited, I asked my friends in Kaduna who were setting up my visit to Minna to book an appointment for me to call on General Ibrahim Babangida, the former President. Ibrahim Usman had asked Mohammed Haruna to help out. The feedback I got spoke volumes. General Babangida had said to those who came that I was a friend who required no appointment to visit him. About my presidential bid, he had simply said ‘Pat is good, the kind of President Nigeria needs. The trouble is that Pat is 30 years ahead of his time in this our environment.”
When Babangida’s wife died a few years later and Ibrahim Usman and I went to express our condolences, he turned to Ibrahim as we were leaving and said “Stay close to him. He is the future.” Was that ‘Maradona-talk’ or did he think 30 years early was now looking like in my lifetime? As we left, I reflected again on the visit to Gombe during the 2007 campaign when the Emir shocked us by urging me to continue to run if the outcome was not favourable, because, in his words, “Nigeria will not make progress until someone like you becomes President.” The Emir, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary had broken the tradition of polite-talk at those courtesy calls because he believed people like me should continue to patrol around those walls of Jericho until they fall.
With Adams Oshiomhole helping make the election of a Godwin Obaseki who would fit my mould, and a few others here and there, it made sense to wonder if the crack was not widening. So, the visit of the Jonny Esike team met me still debating whether it was a timely call and whether the nature of the drafting was like the acceptance of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka Alumni positions. Those kinds of drafts had determined just about every other leadership position, outside of promotion at work, I had ever held. In each case a sense of duty compels you to say yes. Had the time come for an American-type Sherman declaration? I was of one mind to make a Sherman declaration, as in American politics when a possible candidate says, ‘If drafted I will not run, and if elected I will not serve.’
Fiddles Akpoimare captured well my reluctance that evening as they left my office. I had been there before and seen people urge you on whilst promising that they would pawn all their valuables to fund the campaign only for them to then retreat to their comfort zones whilst you have mortgaged all that was possible to so do.
In the end, I felt the legacy of the pooling of effort to push down the wall was worth the troubles it could bring me. When I computed in the fact that a friend, Adams Oshiomhole, seemed poised to become chairman of the party and former Lagos State Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu who I had worked well with and who had urged me to run for Governor of Delta in 2011 with assurance of his full support, in every manner of campaign need, was leader of the party. I thought the idea may not be so troublesome. I had said I would not run in 2011 and had chosen in 2015, at Tinubu’s urging, to work getting the party ready to win in 2015 at the federal level. Those assumptions of support would prove to be the worst misjudgments of my engagement in public life.
They led me down an intense track of touring Delta, visiting the good, the bad and the ugly; taking horrendous risks, and stretching mind and body. The endurance test with scheming people that cost plenty of money and encounters with people who think politics is about how well they can mine your pockets, labeling you ‘stingy’ even as they are spending what they have extorted from you. How can they expect good government from people they try so hard to frisk? I kept asking myself. The nature of the politics was guarantor of Governance failure.
I had truly entered a laboratory necessary for figuring out how to save a people. It was clear such a road would be bumpy. I never stopped reminding myself that the self-image I had set for myself from quite early on in life was that of a freedom fighter.
Composing the freedom fighters battle song may not be as elegant as Mozart scoring a symphony but both stir the soul. I was left to chant my battle matching and battle cry chants in a lonesome corner of a rain forest. But duty was duty! So, while the best of friends and relations were asking, ‘Why run,’ my essence was screaming, ‘Why not?’
Back to the beginning
How, why and when did I became so passionate about saving Nigeria and working for it to claim its glory? From newspaper features, columns and reports dating back forty years, it seems like a suffocating height of evidence about views that my passion for a progressive and respected Nigeria, and service to neighbour for that purpose, goes all the way back to my teenage years. But who stoked the fire and what has sustained it even when it has been materially, and sometimes, reputationally costly?
I think it is hard to precisely locate the times and sources of the drivers of my disposition on the Nigeria project, but a few experiences stand out as possible shapers of my destiny. One that I have referred to in the past, came between ages seven and 10 – these were days spent in provincial Gusau in the deep North West in the early 1960s. My father worked for British Petroleum and in those days Gusau, which hosted a petrol tank farm supplied by rail, it was the largest town before the railway terminal town of Kaura Namoda. My father was transferred there from Kano in 1962. The local Catholic church, Our Lady of Fatima, was assigned to the Dominican Order and the school attached to it was where I had the bulk of my primary school education. I was an altar boy who showed up almost every morning to serve at Mass before riding my bicycle home to get ready for school and be dropped off by my father.
The Dominican priests and brothers dominated my horizon. They were predominantly American and they were quite proud of the US President of the day, the first Catholic to be elected President of the United States, John F Kennedy. He would become my hero and role model.
I won quite a few prizes from a variety of competitions organised by the priests. The typical gift would be a book on Kennedy. At eight, I read books most adults had little inclination towards. Great quotes like “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” became my mantra. Kennedy quotes were coming out of my mouth, ears and eyes. I was impressionable and Kennedy made an impression on me so much that I still remember where I was and what I was doing when news of his assassination reached me.
These building blocks of character had another stone set on the masonry of the Dominican influence. Parents and teachers of an amazing range that worked hard and stayed honest and very devoted to the ideals of the spirit of Nigeria. However, these would compete with experience from a pogrom in the convulsions of 1966 in Northern Nigeria that makes many of today’s violent conflict seem like kindergarten exercises coupled with a horrifying civil war, which I experienced from both sides. A third of the time, I saw the evil of war inside Biafra and then witnessed the massacre of Anioma people, which reached its peak in Asaba between October 1967 and August 1968 affected my humanity much. Then from mid-1968, I was a Lagos boy who saw the war on television as a distant dysfunction.