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Attah @ 81: His cup runs over

By Dele Sobowale

Amaechi, Attah
Obong Victor Attah

“The true measure of your wealth is how much you will be worth when you have lost all your money” – Anonymous.

To that I want to add that the true test of your integrity as a powerful political leader is how much respect you still receive long after you have been out of power. Obong (Dr) Obong B. Attah, a former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, AKS, and the Father of Akwa Ibom State, falls into that category of leaders who were born into wealth and privilege and who, after attaining great political power, retained the public esteem they enjoyed while in office. He was, to me, the best of the class of 1999-2007 Governors. He is still one of two human beings on earth, outside my family, who can call me in the middle of the night and ask me to come and I will go without hesitation. He did not buy the privilege. Attah does not pay for acclaim. He earned it by the many footprints he left on the sands of our time.

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It would have been a pleasure to write a two-part series on the one of the few p,,,oliticians I hold as an exception to the standing rule that “you cannot adopt politics as a profession and remain honest.”

(VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p192). But, we live in dangerous times. Nigerian politicians are once again driving the country to the brink of lawlessness and anarchy, anyone privileged to have a voice as a columnist cannot afford to over-indulge his own passion – even if in Attah’s case it is absolutely justified.

“Ye gods, what crypt or what love divine took part in this?” – Sophocles, 495-406, VBQ, p 144.

Each time I am writing about people exceptionally blessed, Murtala Muhammed, MKO Abiola, Babangida and Attah, my mind races to that line by Sophocles, the great dramatist of the Age of Alexander who lived more than 400 years before Christ walked the earth. God, in his infinite wisdom, selects some people and invests them with glory even without their consent. They move with thieves and don’t get soiled and with kings without losing the common touch. They slide through life like hot knife through butter with relative ease compared to the rest of us who must struggle for recognition.

In a nation in which life expectancy is still as low as 51 years, Attah was 80 last year. And at a time when most men his age would be completely bed-ridden and rendered useless by health challenges, he is unusually in good condition. That, in itself, would have been sufficient reason for thanksgiving. But my mentor, role model, senior brother and friend, has since received several awards and honours. Permit me to place on record some of the accomplishments of Attah for posterity.

First, contrary to the claim by his successor, VICTOR ATTAH INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, UYO was 90 per cent completed by the time he left office on May 29, 2007. The airport was commissioned in August 2007 by President Yar’Adua when the first flight landed at the airport. Since then, his successor has been claiming credit for the airport. But everyone knows that it is impossible to start and finish an airport project in four months!! Attah substantially built the airport at Uyo and I challenge anybody to dispute that statement. There are proofs to settle the matter so that the project is no longer claimed as one of the so-called “Uncommon Achievements” of his successor.

Long before Attah became Governor, he had developed the master plan for Uyo. He embarked on it right from the first day in office and worked steadily on it for eight years. A year after he left office, someone was laying claim to the development. But, the people of AKS know the truth. Attah also designed the master plan for the University of Calabar and he partook in creating the Abuja master plan – among other institutions in Nigeria.

Attah became the Chancellor of Western Delta University founded by former Governor James Ibori last year. Ibori was the first among the 1999-2007 Governors to establish a private university in Delta State. He was also a co-commander of the struggle for RESOURCE CONTROL. He has utmost respect for Attah. Unlike many other Chancellors who virtually sit in the Vice Chancellors’ offices, my mentor has allowed the authorities to run their university. Students and their parents are the major beneficiaries of a university established, not for profit, but to give back to society.

Just as one would imagine that the honours have stopped rolling in, Attah received an award from the US-based World Council of Mayors in September this year.

The World Mayors are no strangers to Nigeria. The Mayors had visited Nigeria during Attah’s tenure and they held their first ever conference in Africa in Uyo. They were so impressed with what they saw in AKS that they promised to come again. They are on their way to be hosted by Governor Udom Emmanuel.

Full details of the award ceremony will be revealed later. Thus, within one year, Attah has received recognition at home in AKS, Delta State and in far away US.

Permit me, for now, to stop here. There might soon be another opportunity to write about Attah. Kindly join me in wishing my dear egbon many happy returns of November 20.

God bless you sir.

FIRE ON THE APC MOUNTAIN

“A man cannot gradually enlarge his mind as he does his house” – Alexis De Tocqueville, 1805-1859, in DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA.

America, whose presidential system we borrowed and have bastardised, has endured for so long and has achieved its manifest destiny of being the greatest country in the world by having substantially good leaders at all levels – Federal, State and County. Nigeria, by contrast, has so far failed to even become the acclaimed leader of West Africa – not to talk of the African continent. If one is asked to point to one thing that makes the difference, it will have to be leadership. I know you have heard that a thousand times before. I am afraid you will be confronted with it again. We have a serious problem. It took one Hitler and his gang of thugs to set the world on fire. He started by wrecking the political structure in Germany and replacing it with a ruling party based on hoodlums. So destroying a country does not require a long time. In fact, it can be achieved speedily by having the wrong people in the ruling party.

Because most of our readers were either unborn in 1963 or too young to know what was going on – except those at the front lines – my Fellow Nigerians need to be reminded that the WILD WILD WEST or the mayhem which the Western Region experienced during the period resulted from power struggle between Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his successor as Premier – Chief SLA Akintola.

There is no need to give a detailed account of what occurred then. The chaotic situation in the West was later a remote precursor of the first coup in Nigeria.

“Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana, 1863-1952, VBQ, p93.

If the leaders of the All Progressives Congress, APC, don’t take urgent steps to restore peace within the party in general and Edo State in particular, the country might be heading for trouble that might make the “wetie” battles in Yorubaland appear like child’s play. For one thing, there are more guns and explosives around now than in 1963. The scale of destruction will be monumental if Edo gets out of hand.

The similarities between 1963 SW situation and 2019 Edo cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand. The transfer of state power from a leader to a successor often creates a testy situation if the successor, after getting a firm grip on power, refuses to obey instructions from his predecessor who had installed him. When new power and old power dig in for supremacy in a potentially violent conflict, blood must flow – unless wiser heads prevail before trouble starts.

The problem with Edo APC conflict is made more difficult and threatening by the fact that the Chairman and leader of the party, who should be mediating disputes, is at the centre of the confrontation. Adams Oshiomole has placed himself in a situation in which he cannot be a judge over a matter in which he is directly involved. Yet, he cannot willingly step down and allow others to take over that role. More than anybody, Adams Oshiomhole is aware that there are too many knives out for his blood within the party. Chairmanship remains his coat of armour, stripped of the title and he becomes a sitting duck. Duck pepper soup usually follows in violent political conflicts. So, more than anybody else, he needs a peaceful resolution of the matter.

“Character is destiny”; that is according to a sage whose name escapes me now. When a man has built a reputation for being combative and has succeeded largely on that image, compromise threatens his macho man image – even if that is what is required at the moment. The stubbornness, which had taken him so far, if not discarded, might take him too far.

Ordinarily, there would have been no reason to shed tears that a politician is embarking on voluntary deletion. What makes this an exception is the likely outcome of this conflict. In the absence of any credible opposition, the APC remains the only “game in town”. Even if we don’t like it (and I don’t), we must pray it does not just disintegrate because the consequences for all of us are just too horrible to contemplate. Many of us can now voice our opposition to soldiers’ demand for identification. If 1963-6 mayhem repeats itself, the first decree passed will legitimize “show your ID.”

History is replete with instances in which one man or two people can set a whole nation ablaze in their quest for power over a territory. That is one fate we must avoid at all costs. Buhari and other top leaders of the APC need the Wisdom of Solomon or Suleiman to deal with this matter. They cannot ignore it because they stand to suffer collateral damage if the situation gets nastier. One of the possibilities could be the declaration of a state of emergency. State of emergency would appear far-fetched now. But none of the actors in the 1960s crisis thought it would escalate as it did. Each side just wanted to win without consideration of the consequences.

Once emotions take control and the mobs on both sides get moving, the instigators invariably lose control.

I was tossed over the fence of our family house at Inalende Road, Ibadan in 1963, when a mob led by a top politician in government (name withheld out of forgiveness) came to attack the house of the late Chief Lanlehin – an Awolowo supporter. Lanlehin miraculously escaped. But shops were looted while women and girls were assaulted with impunity. The top politician, sitting in a Land Rover, was satisfied with the result.

A mob is beast without brains. That is what violent political conflicts breed.

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