President Shagari, please forgive us!


Tunde Fagbenle

Yes, we are so sorry, former president Alhaji Shehu Shagari. On behalf of other Nigerians, I, Tunde Fagbenle, humbly offer our unreserved apologies for our collective folly in misrepresenting your regime of 1979 to 1983 as the limit of rottenness, of brigandage, and of kleptomania any country can suffer, and the worst Nigeria would ever have. What folly!

How could we have known, Mallam Shehu Shagari, that a few decades down the line, precisely 28 years later, a government will come that will make a saint of yours, one that would make all the stealing your team (nay, not you) was accused of look like petty-thieves?

Incidentally, and sadly so, every government we’ve had after the one that overthrew your government – civilian or military –have struggled to outdo each preceding one in the degree of treasury looting and of emasculating the country! And I should list them: General Babangida’s; General Abacha’s; Chief Obasanjo’s; Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua’s; and lastly, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s, the one that takes the cake of whom I speak! I have deliberately left out one or two – Chief Ernest Shonekan’s and General Abdulsalami’s – not because they were any cleaner but because they were both too brief (only months) to count, whilst the former, indeed, was deemed null in the eyes of the law!

We called you all sorts of names, Mallam. We, especially, the “Southern” press, looked upon you with loath. We said what happened in your government was because you were a “malla” – the derogatory way those of the Hausa/Fulani stock were called by the foolish ones —; we said it was because you did not have a university degree; we said you were too old and inept; we said many other things against your humble and good-natured self. We branded and hounded your “main men” – the Umaru Dikkos, the Uba Ahmeds, the Adisa Akinloyes, the Joseph Wayas, etc.

O, yes, I remember! We, Nigerians, rejoiced and hailed the military junta that overthrew your government – incidentally, headed by ‘one’ General Muhammadu Buhari – when, Gestapo like, it stretched its tentacles all the way to Britain to kidnap Dr. Umaru Dikko, almost succeeding with getting his drugged body crated onto a plane to Nigeria to answer charges of looting our treasury!

O, yes, I remember! That Buhari’s military government rounded up most of your Ministers and even some politicians in the opposition party and angrily sent many of them (through ‘arrangee’ tribunals) to hundreds of years jail terms each! Still we clapped to show our support for the military “cleansers”, demonstrating the depth of our repulsion with your ousted government.

You would then understand, dear Alhaji Shagari, when fate gave us what our hearts had always yearned for: a President from the minority Niger Delta, young, and a degree holder – not just an ‘ordinary’ graduate but a PhD to boot. Isn’t there an adage that says one should always be careful what one prays for lest one gets it – in abundance?

But, Sir, how could we, in our wildest dream, have thought that the day would come when those hopes, those expectations, would turn to ashes before our very eyes? How could we have known that it was possible for some people to come into power and get so drunken by it, throwing all caution to the wind, going on the rampage of the national treasury and raping the country with reckless impunity? Yes, that young president said it all: he didn’t “give a damn”!

We are now waking up each day to fresh reports by the EFCC of billions of dollars (you heard me right, US dollars, not just naira) that have been pillaged by all manner of characters in the corridors of power. Mind-boggling figures that defy reasoning. Anyone and everyone that had the slightest connection to those in power partook of the grand bazaar that was the country’s treasury whilst the country ails with death-trap roads, with ludicrous rails, with ignominious power supply, with pitiable hospitals that kill rather than heal, with public schools that are public shame, with citizenry that are dying of poverty in the thousands each passing day!

But nothing beats the revelation of the billions of dollars that reportedly went through the hands of the National Security Adviser – NSA, Sambo Dasuki, a retired military officer and supposedly a prince of the revered Sokoto caliphate. Under the guise of superintending the purchase of arms and weaponry to combat the Boko Haram terrorists, this scoundrel heartlessly embarked on a stealing and booty-sharing spree, turning his office to a Dispensary for all manner of personal and political greed. It didn’t matter that the fighting army had nothing to fight with; it didn’t matter that our poor soldiers were sent to certain death in battlefield, and those that flee, to certain prospect of death sentence for desertion.

The more is found of the grand larceny, the more still exists to be uncovered! As Wole Olaoye, columnist with TRUST newspaper says, Nigerians have to steel themselves for more revelations of the stealing that took place. Steel ourselves before the stoning of those that stole our commonwealth begins! Maybe that is why a judge trying one of the many cases says it is in the interest of the accused to be kept in “protective custody” and not to be granted bail, lest they get lynched by a mad public whose sons have been sent to their untimely death!

By a curious twist of fate, the country has come full circle and, once again, we have the same man, yes, that army general that toppled your government 28 years ago, but whose desire to rid the country of corruption was rudely aborted in a coup by a permissive and complicit military junta. General Buhari (retired) is back in power as a civilian president.

So you can imagine what must be going through President Muhammadu Buhari’s mind. The country is rotten through and through, with no clean spot to stand. But if even half of our stolen wealth can be recovered, and structures and institutions can be strengthened enough to stop further pillage and discourage the impunity of the past, then, indeed, the country may be on the path to recovery and development.

Before then, once again, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, we are sorry; yours was not the limit.

And that’s saying it the way it is!

At Yinka Craig’s son’s wedding

I haven’t been to Abuja in about two years. It’s a place I somehow dread. Abuja often gives me the feeling of loneliness, of foreignness, of being lost in some wilderness. For someone born in Zaria and who grew up in Abuja’s neck-of-wood Minna, that’s rather strange. It must be the ‘artificiality’ of Abuja, the inorganic medley of abodes and habitation, which all the wide smooth roads, all the pushiest cars and all the bewildering buildings only make more loathsome contrasted with the knowledge of abundant poverty amongst the general populace, poverty, more moral than material, that has helped define Abuja as the City of Sin, where all that goes after the veneer of public offices is: Drink, Sex, and Corruption! The air awfully reeks of them.

But I was in Abuja penultimate weekend for the wedding of the son of my late bosom friend, the inimitable Yinka Craig.I don’t know what else could have taken me there in the hurried manner I did if it were not the memory of a friend I truly miss.

And so it was that Dr. Olamide Craig (yes, he’s a young medical doctor we are all proud of, taking after his mum, Dr. Kenny Craig – Yinka’s devoted and amiable wife like non other), tied the nuptial knot with Aisha at a modest but classy ceremony in Abuja on Saturday 12th.

An interesting aspect of the marriage is the total Nigerian-ness of it: Aisha’s father is Hausa (well, Southern Kaduna Christian), her mum is Igbo, she has a South-South grandparent, and now she’s married to a Yoruba! The offspring cannot be any more total-Nigerian!

This is to wish the young couple a life of abundant blessings!

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