Post-humous Letter To Okadigbo

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Post-humous Letter To A Fallen Patriot And Hero


Being a speech by Prof. Isawa Elaigwu at a post-humous lecture in honour of Chuba Okadigbo
 

By

 

 Isawa Elaigwu

Dear Chuba,

The news of your transition to the greater beyond came to me as a shock. From the last news I heard about you, you were very agile and healthy. Then, suddenly the Great Bell tolled, and you exited our sphere.

Candidly, I must confess that I refused to call at your Abuja house for over three weeks. This is not because I did not care - for you know that I do. I was simply put off by the chain of Nigerian hypocrites, seeking photo opportunity at your residence. Typical Nigerians, they were more concerned about their images than your family needed to cope with the shock of your transition. The old friends you had not seen for over a score of years, your genuine friends and colleagues, the back-stabbers, the night traffickers in "Chuba must go" or "Ghali must go" bags - from you know where?; the bare-faced liars and the sundry were all there. I believe that as you observed the troops of "friends" going to your house to condole your family, you had on your characteristic wry smile, with tongue in the cheek, at times, even surprised at the motley crowd.

Well, yes Oyi, I did go to your house much later when things were much quieter. I refused to sign the condolence register, but handed over to your wife a card on behalf of my family. After giving a thought to the whole episode, I came to philosophically accept the Shakespearean line in Othello, that "there are many events in the womb of Time". In death - an event which makes mockery of all human efforts - all corporeal events terminates; hatred, competition, aggressive selfishness and greed and lies. Only the truth survives the test of time, because while in "the battle between falsehood and truth, falsehood may win the first round, truth wins the last and the most enduring of all rounds." The truth which survives us are often epitomised by our footprints in the sandstone of history.

How do I begin to eulogise you - Chuba - as a philosopher and a thorough academic who enjoys polemics? As a subtle and far-sighted politician who is pragmatic and yet principled? As a moderniser in search of traditional values to buttress modern politics? As a patriot whose belief in Nigeria was firm, unwavering and consistent? As a nationalist who knew that when the call of duty sounded, you always answered with characteristic enthusiasm? As a politician who knew when to attack, when to retreat, when to run and when to walk, when to speak and when to hold your peace; when to charge with vengeful venom and when to hold peace, and calculate available options, before reacting?

Dear Chuba, you remember when I invited you to give the Keynote Address at the Training Workshop of members of the Bauchi State House of Assembly in January 2000? In your speech, you expressed your concern about "Kudi" factor in Nigerian Politics, which had made the Nigerian political arena un-level for players, and arms of Government. You expressed your commitment to strengthening the legislative arm in order that Nigeria's Democracy might survive.

Similarly, during our discussion in Bauchi, quite early in the Fourth Republic, you made certain observations, which have become manifest. You had feared the emergence of a titanic and predatory executive (given years of military rule) which would be very wary of the Legislature, and would want to overwhelm and swallow it. Your position was clearly one, which believed that the Fourth Republic offered an opportunity for all Nigerians to lay the foundations for a genuine democratic polity. You expressed your belief in the rule of law. You repeated your determination to ensure that the autonomy of the legislature was protected because you believed, very strongly, that the checks and balances built in the Constitution were necessary to enhance the development of a democratic process, rather than massage the ego of individual actors.

Yes, you believed that mistakes would be made as part of the learning process, but there was a terminal point in these kinds of mistakes. You were worried that the learning process would become an excuse for political actors to carry out undemocratic actions, which would unfortunately form part of our political culture. I shared and still share your belief that no democracy can be built on undemocratic foundations. The excuses of a "nascent democracy", you believed, were hollow and I agreed with you. After all, Balarabe Musa was impeached within the first two years of the Second Republic. Similarly, President Collor U Mello of Brazil was impeached within the firs two years of Brazilian democratic polity after military withdrawal from politics. In both cases, the democratic plane did not crash.

You and I share the view that politicians were using "nascent democracy" as an excuse for carrying out undemocratic actions. While in the practical political terrain, you fought such hypocrisy, I fought it at intellectual and public enlightenment plane. What is democratic about our last four years of civil rule coloured by messianic arrogance and residual militarism of major political actors? If there was nothing democratic about it, there could hardly be anything 'nascent' about it.

If your determination to lay the foundation for a genuine democratic polity were deliberately misinterpreted by political predators, you did your best to keep your vision in political reach. I believe that if you had not politically exited precociously, you would have struggled to achieve your vision of one, united democratic Nigerian polity, with an enviable legacy to pass on to our children.

Dear Oyi of Oyi, you learned from Dr. Azikiwe, the values of pragmatism in politics, without being opportunistic. You also learned like our venerable political leader, Azikiwe, that modern politics must be grafted in a traditional base. Like Zik of Africa, you went back to your base to take the traditional title of Oyi of Oyi. In a way, this was a process of traditional title in the political arena, with shouts and/or chants of Oyi, you tried to traditionalise the modern political process with traditional appeals to your base. Oyi became a campaign slogan too in the modern political arena. Similarly, by uplifting the traditional title to the level of modern political appeal and legitimacy, you were also modernising tradition in an inclusive manner.

Yes, Chuba, that is the evidence of a truly educated man. Education, as Lewis once pointed out, is a man's ability to acquire and critically evaluate the civilisation of past, participate constructively in the civilisation of the present, and lay the foundations for the civilisation of the future. It really reflects the trinity of time - the past, the present ant the future. You had no cause to be ashamed of the past, and you believed strongly that you could make a difference to the civilisation of the present as a strong foundation for the civilisation of the future. You did your best, and have cause to smile all the way home.

My Distinguished former Senate President, you saw politics a game and tried to play it according to the rules. Unfortunately, you miscalculated - not that you would have changed your essential self, but you might have changed your strategies, as a political tactician you were reputed to be. As I have said many times at public fora in different parts of the country, there are three of the political groups among members of the political class. The first group comprises the genuine politicians who know how to acquire political power and use same for purposes of (i) maintaining law and order; (ii) seeking to achieve the welfare of the people who elected them; and (iii) pursue the nation's interest in interaction with other nations. These are very few and have become an endangered specie in the stadium.

The second group is the political contractor, for whom democracy is a tolerable nuisance in his calculus of business and profit. The electoral process is a commercial process in which deals can be made in the form of investment in politics, the dividends of which can be cashed after election. Dear Senator, I am sure you remember your former State, even though I know that you have transcended the boundaries of indigeneity. It was an example of cash-and-carry politics. It does not matter who is elected, as long as he or she gives appropriate returns.

The political thug forms the third group. Often brazen and rough, the only value of this group is the profound ability to dispense violence and/or threats of violence, as requested by the political contractor. Unfortunately, the high level of unemployment has swelled the membership of this group.

It is my humble view that in a political arena dominated by political contractors and thugs, politics is brutish and rough. There is no trust that cannot be broken, no trust that cannot be betrayed, no deal that cannot be undone, and no promise that cannot be reneged. In essence, politics is not a game but a battle. In that battle, nothing succeeds as much as success and nothing fails as much as failure. The important element in all these is the output - profit to the individual of group, not service rendered. So my Dear Chuba, you were playing politics as a game in the context which sanctioned politics as a battle. All hope is not lost, I do hope, that as in other countries, the political contractors and thugs would transform themselves into politicians or go legitimate.

Rt. Hon. Dr. Okadigbo, I was given only fifteen minutes to write this letter to you. It is probably getting too long. How can I stop until I tell you a story from my part of Nigeria, a little below the Benue River. An old man died and left behind a number of sons. By tradition, there was to be a traditional memorial thanksgiving to him after the first year of his transition. Usually, the children are expected to make sacrifices at his graveyard on this particular day. Many of his sons displayed their wealth as symptoms of progress since the exit of their father through sacrifices. Some, sacrificed cows, others goats, hens and so on. This particular son whose turn it was to make his sacrifice at the tomb, gently got to his father's tomb and said - "Dear father, you knew me well when you were here. Things have not changed much for me since you left. I am still as poor as you left me. But I love you so much that I will not let the display of wealth by my brothers dissuade me from coming to pay my respects to you. Please accept this water which I now pour on your grave. As it soaks through the soil and cools it so may your soul rest in peace."

Yes Chuba, not much have changed since you left - (i) the level of political intolerance is still very high - in fact politicians hardly remember that if this continues, they will be committing class suicide; (ii) the economy is still in shambles, and I understand that the exchange rate of the naira to U.S. dollar is well over N140; (iii) the refineries are still not producing to a point which will give us relief. As a mark of good economic management, we still export our crude and import refined oil products; (iv) we are carrying out privatisation (or is it personalisation) of national assets - some say that proxies of those in government are buying over our assets; (v) the economy suffers from profuse invasion rather than investment in spite of our international trips; (vi) life is hard for all Nigerians, except those who manage resources in the public sector and this poor retired teacher friend of yours is not excluded from this ordeal; (vii) human rights records and respect for the media equate or compare favourably with military days of government; (viii) the roads (including those in your former state) are still in good shape with potholes, evidence of severe erosion and little lakes - do not worry about the money you hear was committed to repair these roads, that was a mere mobilisation fee, the real stuff in still to be realised after the 2003 supplementary budget.

As you know, the 2003 budget was never signed into law - may be I just did not know; (ix) the decay in educational and health services continue unabated; and (x) all the above notwithstanding, we are the happiest people in the world and gave maximum mandate to rulers to go on for four years of selfless service and sacrifice. Well, as my Bible says, "even this too shall, come to pass" - for so does everything under the sun.

Candidly, as you know, I am a progressive fatalist. This is why I am not bothered about all the speculations on the nature of your transition. I believe that all human beings should accept two aspects of their nature, which transcend human capabilities. In all of our scientific discoveries and genetic engineering, human beings have not been able to create life, and death still defies human assaults. I believe that we all owe our maker (or God) a debt. When the bell tolls for any of us, we must answer. It is the debt we own our maker for the gift of life. What I have come to learn ephemeral nature of this world. As the Psalmist put in the bible:

"Lord, help me to realise how brief my time on earth will be.

Help me to know that I am here but a moment more. My life is no longer than my hand! My whole lifetime is but a moment to you.

Proud man! Frail as breath! A shadow! And all his busy rushing ends in nothing. He heaps up riches for someone else to spend. And so, Lord,

My only hope is in you.....For I am your guest. I am a traveller passing through the earth, as all my fathers were."

- Psalm 39 3-8; and 11 (The living Bible, compact Edition).

For you the bell has tolled and you have answered your call - thus paying the debt of life. As you float, leaving the corporeal body behind, it is clear that the body we so nurse and cherish, is nothing. What is important is what you have behind. Oyi, you came, you contributed positively to the present and you gallantly made your exit.

In the graveyard of Nigeria's history shall be an epitaph on a glittering tombstone:

HERE LIES A PATRIOT, NATIONALIST, A DEMOCRAT AND A STATEMAN, WHOSE FOOTSTEPS IN THE SANDTONES OF TIME WILL REMAIN INDELIBLE.

Adieu my friend, till we meet again!

God bless.

Elaigwu, Jos-based Professor of English, read this speech at a post-humous lecture in honour of Okadigbo in Abuja last week.

 

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