By Muyiwa Adetiba
By virtue of my trade, I knew many top people in Government during my active days. But only few will I say I was reasonably close to. One of them was Alhaji Shehu Musa. I drove with him in the same car from Lagos to Bida when he was made the Makanma.
He facilitated my interview with the EtsuNupe. He was affable, accessible and highly detribalised. That I didn’t end up working for government was not because he never suggested it. He was not the only one at that time. I just never thought government was for me. I turned to him on occasions when I needed personal advice and he never disappointed.
Although my relationship with Alhaji Musa predated and post-dated the Shagari era, another person I was close to during that time was Chief Michael Prest whose position as Chief of Personal Staff to President Shagari, incidentally was close to what Prof Ibrahim Gambari has recently been appointed to since there was no Chief of Staff then.
We still sometimes call my son the pet name Chief Prest named him nearly forty years ago when my family and his visited the Yankari Games Reserve for a weekend. But that’s a story for another time.
I had cause to visit Alhaji Musa when he was the Chairman of the Census Board for a personal advice. As he saw me to the car, I asked him how he wanted to be remembered. It was not a trivial question.He had been a Super Perm Sec – one of five so called, he had been Secretary to Government – one of the most powerful till date, he was at the time of the question, the Chairman of a very sensitive board. He looked at me and said quietly ‘that I end well’.
There are many things elders have said to me over the years, especially during the course of my interviews. I still remember the profound ones. This is one of them. I have written so many articles around legacies that I have lost count. Legacies mean a lot to me as they should to anybody who has a name to protect and project. I have often wondered why great men die at the cusp of a new level or a new assignment or in a blaze of glory. Could it be that going further would be detrimental to their legacy?
My friend Dele Giwa died at the time people expected morefrom him professionally. Could it be that he had peaked at 38? My Chairman, Chief OluAboderin died with his lofty dreams at 49. He had just had a disagreement with his partner and Punch was on shaky grounds. Hardly a time to hand over.But death forced him to.
Now he lives on benevolently and gracefully through his creation. Chief Abiola is remembered in places as the father of democracy in Nigeria. His antecedence didn’t support that claim. But he paid the supreme price for democracy in a way that shook the nation. Would his legacy have been better if he had ascended the throne?And would his friend President Babangida’s legacy have been different if he had handed over after the June 12 election? Would President Olusegun Obasanjo’s legacy have been different if he didn’t come back? He voluntarily handed over power in the 70s – one of the earliest and few Africans to do so – and once accused his deputy of forgetting something at the Villa.
Yet he was not satisfied with two terms of eight years. His quest for a third term will always be a cloud over his head. President Buhari was seen as stern but incorruptible during his first coming. It could be due to infirmity, but I am not sure the last years will be favourable to him in terms of his legacy. The perception of his current term as deeply nepotistic and insular will linger in a culturally sensitive society like ours. For these two Generals, their ‘second chance’probably subtracted rather than added to their legacy.
I have heard many people who were once in government complain about the state of the country after leaving office.I gently remind them that they were once there and have had their chance. Some of them get my message. Many like Prof Gambari have had a second and a third chance. This however, is his most important chance yet. He is occupying a position which has been made powerful by the ambition of his predecessor and the disposition of his new boss.
He is coming with more than an ample intellect and a lot of experience. However, like most experienced people, like most people who stay long in public space, he is also coming with a lot of baggage. Ask Hilary Clinton. Some of the vitriol have come from people who either know him very well or have worked with him. So it’s not easy to dismiss their comments. Unfortunately, some of these comments bother on character.
There is a Yoruba saying that if you lose character, all his lost. I assume he is aware of that proverb from where he grew up. But I have been around long enough to know that people will say negative things about you once you are seen to be successful. Many of them will either not be true or they will be their version of the truth.
Their shield is in the belief that you are not going to get into the public ring with them. But I have also been around long enough to recollect the role he played during June 12 and killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa. Ken was someone I knew fairly well. We had our brushes. But what Abacha did should not have been defended by anyone with principles.
Prof Gambari now has a chance to prove his naysayers wrong. He has made comments in the recent past to show he knows all is not well with Nigeria. Will he have the courage to live up to his convictions or will he act ‘the diplomat’ and try to paper up the cracks? A retired Ambassador said this to me when we were discussing Gambari. ‘My hope is that Gambari will deplore his intellect and exposure to open up PMB’s administration from its pernicious insularity’. I agree completely. Only then will his ‘second chance’ clean up some of the perceived misdemeanours of his past. Only then will it be deserved.