SENATOR Gbene (Chief) Cyrus Nwidonane Nunieh was born in Beeri, Ogoni, on February 5, 1930, and quietly passed away aged 98 last year.
His was not an easy start in life, but he was too self-confident to allow surmountable obstacles to hold him back. He was a force of nature – ebullient, fun-loving and charismatic as well as serious and cerebral. He was the type of person who sees glasses as half-full rather than half-empty, and he wound up overcoming numerous early challenges to excel both academically and professionally.
After studying at the London School of Economics, he became the first and foremost lawyer from my ethnic group. His professional admirers affectionately nicknamed him “De Marquis of the Bar.”
Commentaries on nationhood
He also became a key legislator who represented several local government areas of Rivers State in the Second Republic Senate (1978-83). He chaired key committees, significantly contributed to the establishment of the Liquefied Natural Gas plant, NLNG, in Bonny Island and was known to fond colleagues as “The Great Soul”.
Let me share two of his wise commentaries on nationhood: “Nigeria is a potential world power. To be really great, Nigeria must not only be big in size and population, but it must also be great morally. It must be great in discipline, self-respect and devotion to duty. Tribalism must give way to nationalism, whilst individual protection must not be swallowed by the mob, and whilst hoping that both the majority and minority will both have their way and say. For true democracy, this standard is a possibility and not a utopia.
“…The socio-political history of Nigeria is a history of a gradual creation of a single Nation, out of many peoples and tribes – where each ethnic group large and small is distinguishable by its language and culture and jealously preserves its identity [despite] European and Arab…or other external influences.
“We will emphasise the importance of unity, despite the diversity in our culture and ethnicity. Love shall be the foundation of our social policy; unity shall be the basis of our national power and honesty shall be the motto of our moral conduct.”
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Nunieh was a great friend of my late father, Ignatius Suage Kogbara, and an uncle of whom I was very proud. I was heartbroken when he died and was very happy to be invited to participate when his equally delightful daughter, Gbene Joi – also a lawyer – organised a memorial lecture and debate in his honour on Wednesday.
It was held at the Nigerian Bar Association hall in Port Harcourt. The First Lady of the Federal Republic, Mrs. Aisha Buhari (ably represented by former First Lady of Akwa Ibom, Mrs. Godswill Akpabio) was the special guest of honour and chief launcher.
One time Miss Nigeria, Mrs Helen Prest Ajayi (who is also a super-smart lawyer), passionately appealed to the audience to join a new campaign to save our National Flower, Costus Spectabilis.
It is the only plant that grows in every state of Nigeria and it features on the coat of arms (albeit erroneously – the image featured on the coat of arms is red, the real thing is yellow).
Dr. Nevers Mumba, the former Vice-President of Zambia, was the chairman of the occasion. The anchor was Professor Allswell Osini Muzan. Panellists were this columnist, Dr. Chris Ngige (ex Anambra State governor and ex-Minister of Labour), Donald Duke (former Cross River State governor) and Mr. Abiodun Owonikoko (SAN)
The obligations of citizenship
The main theme of the above discussion was the role of citizens in nation-building. My panel colleagues – all erudite gentlemen – made many interesting and worthwhile points.
I said that I didn’t think that lousy leaders should expect suffering followers to be obedient citizens.
Dr. Ngige, without malice and with a mischievous smile on his face, described me as an activist; and I accepted the label because though I am pretty conservative and passive compared to firebrand revolutionaries, I grew up with a father who was the Biafran “ambassador” to London and was taught to regard rebellion as an acceptable option when injustice is being inflicted on a populace.
I pointed out that successive Nigerian governments have previously betrayed Nigerian citizens…and expressed the view that ordinary folk – Niger Deltans especially – shouldn’t have to pay a dime in tax until decades of oil revenues have been properly accounted for and until environmental degradation that costs lives and robs farmers and fishermen of their livelihoods has been remediated.
What do Vanguard leaders think about this viewpoint?
One leader away from greatness
A foreign friend of mine says that “Nigeria is in a terrible mess now but is only one leader away from greatness”.
Easier said than done!
How do we – well-meaning real patriots (as opposed to jingoistic fakes) find this one special leader who will always put Nigeria first and then get him or her past the usual toxic (corrupt and violent!) enemies of progress who dominate the political scene?
How do we help him or her get through the endless financial and massive practical hurdles that aspirants have to leap over to get anywhere near the corridors of power in this country?
And if we do find an ideal him or her who has the guts and energy and determination to stick with such a difficult journey to the top – and who can raise campaign funds without selling his/her soul to the devil – how do we keep him/her alive, given that the usual enemies of progress will invest all of their waking hours in trying to figure out ways of assassinating any leader who is profoundly effective?!