By Olu Fasan
THE death of Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and a prolific columnist for this newspaper and many others, hit me like a thunderbolt. “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity”, my mind went to the common refrain in Ecclesiastes.
How else would one describe a distinguished life, full of accomplishments, with so much still to offer, yet cut short in its prime? Dr. Mailafia’s death at 64, on September 19, 2021, came far too soon! It’s shocking beyond belief!
Two other biblical books also came to mind: Jeremiah and Lamentations. They record the travails of Prophet Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet”, who spent his life warning Israel and Judah to desist from their wicked ways to avoid God’s wrath.
No one listened; instead, he was ridiculed, incarcerated and subjected to constant harassment. In the Book of Lamentations, Jeremiah wrote about his deep suffering, saying he was in distress and his enemies were glad he was in distress.
Dr. Mailafia was a Jeremiah of his time. Over the past six years, since the inception of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, he had continuous open warfare with Nigeria’s hegemonic authorities, fighting for the oppressed people of the Middle Belt and southern Kaduna, and for a restructured and just Nigeria.
As a result, he offended the Buhari government and powerful people in the North. Like Jeremiah, he was incarcerated and constantly harassed by the security agents and wished dead by his enemies!
Anyone who doubts that Dr. Mailafia had the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head in the past few years until his death should read his article titled: “Notes from the Underground” (Vanguard, September 14, 2020).
In that article, penned after his third invitation by the Department of State Services, DSS, for saying that an unnamed Northern governor was the commander of Boko Haram, Dr. Mailafia wrote: “I know that killer squads have been paid undisclosed sums to hunt me down”.
He added: “The other day, shadowy creatures turned up at midnight at my hide-out. I had to scale the back fence and disappear”. Earlier this week, Jonathan Asake, President of Southern Kaduna Peoples Union, SOKAPU, said that Dr. Mailafia took refuge in different places to avoid persistent harassment by the DSS, adding: “He did not die as a free man”!
Of course, there’s no evidence that the state or anyone sponsored Dr. Mailafia’s death. But if the Middle Belt Forum’s accounts of his death are accurate, then the proximate cause was medical negligence. The stories of how Dr. Mailafia, though seriously ill, was shabbily treated by different hospitals and doctors are shocking.
He reportedly complained that he couldn’t breathe and asked to be placed on a ventilator, but the doctors, allegedly, refused. They also, allegedly, frustrated a foreign consultant’s attempt to treat him, and refused to put him on life-support even though it appeared he was still alive! In civilised climes, these allegations of medical neglect would be fully investigated. And let’s face it: the Federal Government should, without doubt, probe the circumstances of Dr. Mailafia’s death.
Truth is, with proper medical attention, Dr. Mailafia shouldn’t have died from a malaria, the reported cause of his illness. He obviously had no underlying health condition. In one article, he wrote: “My grandfather and my father lived beyond 100. It’s in our DNA”. Unfortunately, due to the battles he fought, the powerful enemies he made and circumstances beyond his control, he only lived 64, dying three months before his 65th birthday on December 24!
This is utterly painful, all the more so because Dr. Mailafia, a world-class intellectual and technocrat, could have chosen a quiet life. After his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Ahmadu Bello University, Mailafia obtained another master’s degree from one of France’s most famous universities, Institut Internationald’Administration Publique, and a PhD in Economics from Oxford University, one of the world’s best universities.
Following the academic laurels, Dr. Mailafia joined the African Development Bank, AfDB, becoming chief economist. It was from AfDB that President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government brought him home to become Deputy Governor of the CBN in 2005. At the CBN, Dr. Mailafia joined Professor Charles Soludo, then Governor, to implement far-reaching banking reforms and oversee the reduction of Nigeria’s external debt from $38bn to $13bn.
He recalled signing a cheque of $7.5bn for the first tranche of the remaining debt, saying: “I caught a fever signing that cheque”, adding: “I said, ‘Oh my God, I probably have sold my country’”. After leaving the CBN in 2007, Dr. Mailafia became the Chief of Staff to the African, Caribbean and Pacific, ACP, Group of States based in Brussels.
With his wide-ranging and outstanding national and international experiences, when he returned to Nigeria from Brussels in 2015, Dr. Mailafia could have accepted a high-profile political or public appointment.
However, as he once said, “public service is my life-calling, but not at any price”. In 2019, he wrote that during an encounter with the security services, one officer asked him why he wouldn’t support Buhari and join the APC “so that everything would be alright”. But Dr. Mailafia, presidential candidate of the African Democratic Congress, ADC, in the 2019 general elections, refused to be co-opted or compromised.
For him, the plights of his people in the Middle Belt and southern Kaduna, who, as he put it, were “being killed by genocidal insurgents, murderous bandits and marauding herdsmen militia” were too important to be ignored. So, too, were the feared Fulanisation agenda and the struggle for a restructuredNigeria. To all these battles, he committed his last years, concluding one piece with the following words: “If I perish, I perish”!
Sadly, Dr. Mailafia died in the battle. He mustn’t die in vain. The struggle for a restructured, inclusive and just Nigeria, where no ethnic group is consigned to serfdom, must be won!
Adieu, Dr. Mailafia. May your soul rest in perfect peace!