Tuesday 16 July 2013

Our Leaders Have Gone Mad Again

Fellow Nigerians, please allow me to quickly confess that the title of this column is not my full creation. It is only an adaptation of the original title of the extremely hilarious play, Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again, by Olawale Gladstone Emmanuel Rotimi, who was famously known as Ola Rotimi. Rotimi was one of Africa’s greatest playwrights and Directors. Believed to have been born in Sapele, on April 13, 1938, to a Yoruba father, Engineer Samuel Gladstone Enitan Rotimi, and an Ijaw mother, Mrs Adolae Oruene Addo, Ola spent his early years at St. Cyprian’s School, Port Harcourt from 1945-49.
Interestingly, he would later return to Port Harcourt many years after sojourning at home and abroad to take up appointment at the University of Port Harcourt. His name came readily to mind as I sat down to put this piece together. You will soon know why...

The reason must have been that the main protagonist in the eye of the storm and the middle of the Red Sea, the Governor of Rivers State, has Rotimi before his surname of Amaechi. I’m very sure the paths of Ola Rotimi and Rotimi Amaechi must have crossed at some point at the University of Port Harcourt where Professor Ola Rotimi was Head, Department of Creative Arts and Rotimi Amaechi was a student in the English Department from 1983-87. In any event, there is no way Rotimi Amaechi would not have read Ola Rotimi’s popular play, ‘Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again’.
That is not all. I believe Rotimi Amaechi would have been radicalised by the great literary works of those days. Whatever traces of radicalism I still possess today I’m sure I got from hanging around the Ori Olokun Theatre in Arubidi, Ile-Ife and the Pit Theatre of the then Institute of African Studies, University of Ife Campus, where Wole Soyinka, Ola Rotimi and others held sway. My theory, therefore, is that Rotimi Amaechi is not your archetypal Nigerian politician. I have made him a case study since I first met him as Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly about ten years ago. If my memory serves me right, I met the great poet, Gabriel Imomotimi Gbaingbain Okara in his office that day.

That encounter stuck with me for a long time and my interest in Rotimi Amaechi developed from that moment. Even as Governor, Amaechi portrayed a different gait. He dressed simple and maintained a casual mien. His motorcade was always brief and brisk while he sat most times I saw him by the driver. His accessibility is also baffling to me. He replies most of his text messages and checks on his friends out of the blues. On one occasion, I sent a message about a young man who had started a mobile library project in Port Harcourt and needed support from the Ministry of Education. I was surprised when Governor Amaechi said I should invite the gentleman for lunch with us and Mrs Oby Ezekwesili who was visiting from her duty post in Washington DC. The librarian later drove out with us to a public event where the Governor sought out the Commissioner for Education and promptly handed over the project to her.

How can I forget how Governor Amaechi walked like a ghost into my London home on my 50th birthday in 2010? I was shocked to my bones because I had not told him about it. He came alone in a cab and left alone after spending several hours with my family and friends. You could not see any of the presumed airs of a Nigerian Governor around him. He repeated the same feat when he drove, almost incognito, in to the Ovation Carol and Awards ceremony at the Eko Hotel & Suites in Lagos last December.

Please, let me give one more example of this amazing and down-to-earth politician. My great friend and brother, Babatunde Okungbowa, has been having a running battle with a chronic kidney problem for years. He’s one of Africa’s greatest music producers. OJB, as he’s fondly known by fans, had produced the monumental hit song, African Queen, by the prodigiously talented 2face Idibia.

But we live on a continent, and in a country, where spectacular talent does not necessarily or adequately translate to riches. We tried within our limited resources and contacts to gather our bits and pieces together to sort out OJB’s predicament. I personally worked the phones talking to those I thought might be of help including some top politicians. The feedback from all quarters was deafening silence.
I learnt some useful lessons about our attitude to charity. The response on social media was like: “why are you guys disturbing us when one of you can simply write off the cheque?” It then occurred to me that the decline in our educational system has affected our souls almost beyond redemption. The assumption is that once you’re famous you must be stupendously wealthy without commensurate responsibilities. But eight out of ten calls I get are usually bad news requiring desperate assistance. I can imagine what ordeal the Mike Adenugas face daily.

In all honesty, I did not reach out to Rotimi Amaechi because I felt he had more than enough problems on his plate. I also felt since OJB was not from his state there was no reason to bother the embattled Governor. But as fate would have it, some younger colleagues approached Amaechi and instantly he offered to contribute to the Save OJB campaign. There was no long story and no unnecessary protocol. To those who asked what was so special about OJB, I say confidently that he’s our icon. And icons are treated with special care and privilege everywhere in the world. Poor Americans contributed to making Barack Obama the first Black American President. Nigeria will never move forward if we wait only for the rich class to do everything for us.

I have deliberately gone through this long preamble to establish a few facts. One, that I’m a fan of Rotimi Amaechi. The support he’s enjoying today was not by accident. He worked laboriously for it. I have been in activism since 1978 and in politics very actively since 1982. I have interacted with all shades of politicians and I’m proud to say Rotimi Amaechi is a rare breed. There is always a reason to be biased and I have more than enough for him. This does not make him a perfect human being. No nation or state is governed by Saints but good ones are run by performers. Amaechi is one.

I have been in a room where Amaechi was grilled like a Christmas turkey by very senior publishers and was very pleased with the manner he responded to all questions. Many have called him a tyrant but not all tyrants are negative. It is in the nature of traditional politicians to wait for hand-outs from public officers; money that should have been used for general development. They often get angry if a leader comes with better ideas of how to do things. Amaechi’s master-plan of building a modern state out of the present squalid one is part of his major problem.

The second point I want to make is that Amaechi has done nothing to warrant the all-out attack unleashed on him by those pretending to be working for the re-election of President Goodluck Jonathan. Their strategy should be clear to Mr President; they needed to paint Amaechi bad in order to gain relevance. These guys have succeeded in poisoning the mind of the President almost beyond repair. On a personal note, I would be wary of a Minister who desperately wants to be a Governor and fights the incumbent the way he does because the motive is crystal clear. Someone also needs to tell such a Minister of a Yoruba folktale that goes thus:

Once upon a time, an elephant went berserk in a particular village. The elephant caused so much havoc that the king ran away with his queens. But there was this brave hunter called Afifilaperin who came from a neighbouring village and boasted he could easily kill the elephant and the village would instantly return to normal. At the appointed time, the hunter came out just as the elephant was busy destroying everything in sight. Everyone ran helter-skelter but the hunter stood ramrod in the market place waiting anxiously for an encounter with this crazy elephant. The elephant must have sighted the lone figure and wondered who the man was who did not recognise its supremacy. The elephant approached the hunter and surprisingly the man stood calm. A few villagers peeped from wherever they were hiding. As soon as the elephant jumped to crush the hunter, the man quickly removed his cap, dodged to the side and hit the elephant with the cap. Behold, the elephant collapsed. “Impossible,” many screamed in bewilderment. But true it was.

The hunter soon climbed on the evil elephant and beckoned to the timid villagers to come closer. He was joyous in victory. The people spilled in like locusts from every direction, including the king and his family. Words travel at the speed of light. At that moment the hunter felt he was king. Some hefty men lifted him up in the sky and carried him round and round the village till it was dusk. The king even invited him to a dinner of original pounded yam and fresh bush-meat washed down with concentrated palmwine, and gave him a nice room in the palace. The excited hunter was pleased with himself.

He woke up the following morning expecting to see a crowd as usual to hail him like they did last night. He couldn’t believe how desolate the village had become. When he asked around if another elephant had come out of the wilderness to destroy the village, the palace people whispered that he indeed was the elephant. The logic was if he could kill such a ferocious elephant with an ordinary cap, it won’t take him much to mangle any human. That was how Afifilaperin learnt that his day of glory was only for one day.
Seriously, there is a lot to learn from this tale. If I were President Jonathan, as I love to say, it is not too late to quell this towering inferno. I will not allow opportunists to pile up enemies on my behalf when I need all the friends I can get. The tension in Nigeria right now has reached the atrocious level of the last days of military rule in 1998 under General Sani Abacha. It has even surpassed that of the Yar’Adua cabal that some of us came out fearlessly to fight on the streets of Abuja.

What would it profit the President by destroying Amaechi on the mere rumour that he’s nursing an ambition to be Vice President to a nebulous President-in-waiting? Does the President expect to remove Amaechi with only five legislators at this time and age and hope to get a part in the back? Does he expect the Governor not to defend himself in the face of threats to even his life at this stage? I understand that even his security has been drastically reduced in a classic display of recklessness! Is power worth all this trouble?

I will repeat here that Amaechi has told everyone who cares to listen that he’s not fighting the President but that he’s ready to duel with those bandying the name of the President to cause mayhem and commit atrocities in Rivers State. The fears expressed by Professor Wole Soyinka about the personal safety of Amaechi are real. What is going on in Port Harcourt is tantamount to full-scale lunacy. Nigeria can’t afford another round of political murders like it happened during the June 12 crisis. We thought such days will never return. This was how we started our journey to perdition in the First Republic. We must also avoid the type of commotion going on in Egypt out of the stupid obduracy of some leaders.
The President has obviously missed many chances for reconciliation. He should have invited Amaechi into a room to iron out reality from neurosis. I’m sure the crisis would not have festered to the magnitude it has reached now. My simple advice to President Jonathan is that he should stop listening to warmongers and spend more quality time with peacemakers. If he reads his Bible well, he would see how peacemakers were described as the “sons of God.” I really don’t know how to describe his new best friends. This was not the same Meek and Pious Goodluck Jonathan many Nigerians thought they knew. I beg him in the name of God to return to his old self. Even if his right eye causes him to sin, he should pluck it pronto.

Nigerians want peace and not war. They will never succumb to agents Lucifer.

By Dele Momodu

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