Last week, I visited Awka as one of the speakers in the Emeka Anyaoku Lecture on Good Governance which celebrated a decade of commitment to the legacy of the Commonwealth icon in Awka, Anambra State capital. I had attended two previous outings as a representative of my boss at the time Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, one in Lagos where former Head of State General Yakubu Gowon chaired the ceremony and the other in Awka hosted by Governor Peter Obi. I remember that when I shook hands with General Gowon, I told him how awed I was to sit on the high table with a man I was lined up the streets to receive in Sapele as a primary school pupil in 1969! Talking about rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty in society. That is subject for another day!
Other speakers were presidential candidate Professor Kingsley Moghalu and common sense Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, two distinguished Nigerians who need no introduction. The Obi of Onitsha HRM Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe (CFR, mni) looking regal and fatherly with a permanent smile, as always, suggesting peace and contentment with himself and his subjects, was also in attendance. Former Governor Donald Duke, handsome, urbane, and charming as ever was Chairman of the event. To be sure, members of the Anambra State Executive Council graced the occasion in support of the Special guest and the Governor. Scheduled to start at 10am, the event finally took off at 1pm with no clear explanation on what caused the delay or change in time. But when it took off, it was an excellent outing both for Anambra state and the Special Guest, the 88year-old Chief Emeka Anyaoku (GCVO, CFR, CON) former Commonwealth Secretary-General from 1990 to 2000, and former Minister of Foreign Affairs under Alhaji Shehu Shagari from October to December of 1983.
In my opening comments, I dwelt on the very idea of the lecture itself as driven by the youthful and highly focused Johnson Ogbonna who has remained steady, committed and passionate about the contribution of Chief Emeka Anyaoku to world politics and governance for a decade. In a world where mediocrity and materialism seem to govern the day, Johnson Ogbonna must be commended for serving as a medium of engaging intellectual ideas on the pedestal of a man who is no longer in power. His power and his influence lie in his legacy as a successful world diplomat and his cerebral contributions to national discourse. Icons ought to be celebrated in their lifetime. Not after death. Not only when they hold political office or command a bank of wealth. That way, we reinforce the positive and high values of decent society for the youth who are seriously in search for mentors.
We were all guests of both Anambra State Governor Willie Obiano and the respectable and dignified Chief Emeka Anyaoku for a day and a memory. Driving across the Niger Bridge from Asaba, one was shocked at the impunity with which soldiers and policemen extorted commuting drivers at both ends of the bridge. Of course, the traffic snarl on the bridge is almost perennial and familiar. I first drove across the bridge in December 1971 on our way to Aba shortly after the civil war when the Onitsha end of the bridge was a narrow, improvised construction made by the Engineering Corps on the Nigeria Army. The story was that the Biafran forces blew up that end of the bridge to slow down the advance of the Nigeria Army as it prepared for a full-scale war to defend the motherland against the federal ‘vandals’. Hahahahaha! Those days of hellish propaganda! We spent frightening long hours on the bridge then, fearful of the fierce-looking soldiers who were there to ensure peace after the war ended.
Some fifty years later, it was with a feeling of déjà vu therefore that I confronted soldiers again at both ends of the bridge, some fifty odd years after. Something ought to be done to stop the rapacious soldiers from stealing in the open. Later that night I encountered them again in a checkpoint where it was business as usual. It was a sore point in my Awka visit.
The meat in the visit was the intellectual ideas that flowed from the tongues and minds of the three speakers and the Guest of Honour. It was unanimous that the Nigerian people had not been well served in terms of governance. This has resulted in negative values and stilted development in the land. In my lecture titled ‘Labyrinths of existence and Laments of the Silent Drums: An Exegesis of the Leadership Conundrum in the Nigerian Experience’, I relied for a thesis, on the Achebean prognosis which he encapsulated thus in his pamphlet ‘The trouble with Nigeria’: ‘The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership’. After the listed speakers, it was now time for Chief Anyaoku to address the audience in a vote of thanks manner which he articulately did, in his traditional rich baritone, careful articulation of words in a at-home British accent. But he took time to address national issues which he had refrained from doing for about a year. He said that Nigeria was degenerating into ‘international relevance’, because the nation was drifting away from the dream of the founding fathers. He also decried the level of insecurity and poverty, condemned kidnapping, and terrorists in the country.
At the end of the lecture, it was time for Governor Obiano to entertain his guests in his county home Aguleri. Aguleri! I remember how we used to discuss the battles between Aguleri and Umuleri! Two communities with identical names, obviously of the same ancient stock but perpetually at war. but that war has ended. In Aguleri, we saw another side to the character and disposition of the governor. The expansive country home was built before he became governor, clearly showing that he was wealthy before assuming public office. While with his guests, he showed extreme humility, a down-to-earth approach and urbaneness. He personally served us drinks and small chops with relish, even picking up discarded bottles and drinking glasses from the side stools. Whoever does that? A serving governor in Nigeria? As if reading my thoughts, Don Adinuba Commissioner for Information assured me that Governor Obiano was being himself, always pragmatic with no false airs when dealing with persons from all strata of society. The icing was the three kids he had adopted into his family, bringing them up as father with the full support of the First Lady. This is a big chance for the kids to get on in life.
While sitting with Governor Obiano in the mini theatre, we saw videos and pictures of landmark projects in the state which he completed for the benefit of the people of Anambra State. It would have been great if I had the opportunity to visit some of the sites. The cargo airport which he has almost completed infrastructure-wise will be a big relief to businessmen in the state who had hitherto relied on other airports. It is indeed a challenge to the airport in Asaba. The competition will be real! But the menace of the rampaging soldiers and greedy policemen in the southeast must be addressed by political and cultural leaders of the zone. Silence is not golden in this case!
Leadership should be by example. No matter the height he has attained, a leader’s feet must always be on the ground. He must keep touch with reality. All too soon when people are in power aides and sycophants make them believe that they are superhuman. That they will rule forever. That the world would be incomplete without them. That they are the Messiah sent by Allah or God to save the cosmos. Sadly, some people in power fall into the deceptive trap and conduct themselves like deities until the day of reckoning. If Nigeria must change, leadership must be redefined and practised with a view to altering the fortunes of the ordinary folks of the world.