Awaiting the Season of Anomie -By Arthur A. Nwankwo

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Arthur A. Nwankwo

Arthur A. Nwankwo

 

In 1980, I was in my village in Anambra State to attend a family meeting and what I witnessed on that occasion has helped to shape my resolve to stand by the truth all the time. On that occasion, the eldest man in my clan, who was about 85 years of age at that time, took a certain young man, Pascal, to the cleaners. Pascal had colluded with certain persons to appropriate the parcel of land belonging to a widow in the family. The old man was peeved by this treachery and gave the young man a piece of his mind, reminding him that his father had died from such evil conduct. Those present at the meeting were trying to calm the elderly man down but he said something that struck me. He said that, at his age, he had a duty to open his mouth wide and say the truth; that he was not looking for a maiden to get married to and had nothing to lose by saying the truth.

This man has since died, but his message is simple and true: gray hair comes with a duty, a duty to say the truth and leave posterity to judge you.

At 73 years, I see myself in the same position as that old man in my village. Like him, I am not looking for an appointment from any Nigerian government (I have never solicited for one) and I am not bidding for any contract nor looking for a maiden to marry. In my old age, I have a strong conviction that, since this generation of Nigerian leaders has failed or rather refused to learn from history, it is necessary to continue on the path of truth at least for the benefit of the future generation.

That Nigeria has remained a theater for circus governance is not in doubt. That in the execution of the Nigerian project Ndigbo have borne the burden of hubris is also not in doubt. At critical points in our history, Ndigbo have been violently stabbed in the back by people they thought were their partners. At each point, Ndigbo have been betrayed and subjected to ridicule and very often cast in the role of a felon.

In the course of time I have had intimate discussions with people like Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe at the Chancery of the Eastern Mandate Union concerning their experiences in Nigeria and what nature of conspiracy has bogged Ndigbo in Nigeria before, during and after independence. In the run-in to the Nigerian civil war, for example, so many conspiracies took place against Ndigbo, even by certain individuals who held closed-doors with some of our leaders that time. For instance, Ojukwu narrated to me what he and other Igbo leaders agreed with certain leaders from western Nigeria on what to do on getting to Lagos. Somehow these agreements were reneged on the altar of political expediency. Ndigbo were betrayed by the same people who ate, planned and dined with us. Outside Igboland, I have also discussed extensively with people like M.D Yusuf, Chief Edwin Ogbu and Kam Salem.  My sources confirmed that what Ojukwu told me about massive betrayal of the Igbos was true; that agreements were reached which were latter breached on the altar of political expediency. These are hard facts which will be found in my forthcoming memoirs.

Apart from the choreographed genocidal pogrom against the Igbo, especially in the North, the Gowon regime, which prosecuted the civil war, saw starvation as a weapon of war. The federal government adopted this policy of starvation and pursued it with devotion leading to death of hundreds of thousands of Igbo children.

At the end of the war, the federal government gave out the paltry sum of twenty pounds (₤20) to all Igbos who had accounts in banks, i.e. irrespective of the amount that person had in his or her account.

As if that was not enough, the federal government, at that time, formulated and implemented the Indigenization Decree – a decree that effectively shutout the Igbo from the commanding heights of the economy. This unwritten policy of “identify and cut the Igbo to size” has continued even unto this day. No energy is spared in cutting Igbo to size when the chance arises. The end point of all this has always been to destroy the Igbo economy.

Take the case of former Alpha Merchant Bank, for example. This was a Merchant bank that was doing exceptionally well at that time. It was owned by the late Eke Kalu with a Yoruba man, Jimi Lawal, as the Managing Director. At that time, news came that some French businessmen who were substantial shareholders in Afribank wanted to divest their interests in the bank. Eke Kalu, the owner of Alpha Merchant Bank, declared his interest to acquire the shares from the Frenchmen.

Consequently, Eke Kalu went to Cote d’lvoire to negotiate the deal with the French share owners. Eke Kalu was told that he would pay ten million pounds for the shares. Determined to raise the required capital, Kalu travelled to London where he floated Alpha Securities Ltd, through which he was able to raise the required amount.

By the time he came back with the funds, the French partners had sold the shares to Mandarin Bank of Zambia. Not ready to loose such opportunity, Kalu headed to France to further discuss with the French share owners. The Frenchmen expressed regrets that they had sold it to the Zambian bank noting that there was nothing they could do. The French men however encouraged Eke to talk to Mandarin Bank and add perhaps another one million pounds to them; and they could possibly do business. This condition was accepted and Eke travelled to Lusaka and struck the deal. The money was paid to Afribank.

But, you will recall that this was a period when the Abacha junta was trying to ingratiate itself into the psyche of Nigerians by parroting “war against corruption” and descending on banks. Incidentally, those running the Afribank at that time, especially a very highly placed management staff from the North, alerted Abacha that an Igboman was on the verge of acquiring Afribank. Abacha was nonplussed.

Just as this information was coming in, the ex-CBN governor, Paul Ogwuma, was leaving Abacha’s office with an instruction to liquidate a bank belonging to one Alhaji Bello. As the information of the impending acquisition of Afribank reached Abacha, he called Paul Ogwuma and ordered him to liquidate Alpha Merchant instead and leave Alhaji Bello’s bank.

The papers for liquidation were duly filed before Justice Ukeje’s tribunal who declined the request to liquidate Alpha Merchant Bank insisting that the bank was healthy. Angry at her refusal, Abacha removed and reposted her to the ministry and appointed a more pliable judge to execute his program. Most Nigerians at that time did not see this as a pervasion and travesty of justice. They were encouraging Abacha to go ahead with what he was doing. Abacha only had to accuse a bank of being involved in one kind of misconduct or another, whether it was true or false, for him to take the bank out of business. The political class at that time kept urging Abacha to set up tribunals to try those accused of corruption.

Now the same old politicians have come again calling on Buhari to set up tribunals to try so-called corrupt politicians. Tribunal is antithetic to democracy. It is an ad hoc judicial structure set up by dictators to do their special bidding. Setting up tribunals to try corrupt people in Nigeria is absurd. The courts are there, why circumvent them? I have had my own experiences with tribunals. If I had been tried by a tribunal in 1982 in the sedition suit instituted against me by Chief Jim Nwobodo, I would not have been free today. Even where the lower court had compromised its integrity and pronounced me guilty, the Appeal Court overturned that nebulous judgment and set me free in what has become a locus classicus in sedition cases in Nigeria. If the tribunal had tried me under Abacha I would have been rotting away in jail by now. It was the High Court in Enugu that set me free before I took the matter to the United States.

Today, the same people are shouting all over the place asking Buhari to set up special tribunals for corruption trials; to jail people without trial. Is this a democracy or what? Buhari is not a stranger to tribunals. In 1983 he empanelled over ten tribunals to try politicians and even when the tribunals found men like Ekwueme, Pa Ajasin etc., not guilty, he still remanded them in prison custody. Today, he still thinks it is business as usual. This is a democracy and such unilateralism is unacceptable. Again Nigerian politicians are preparing the ground work for despotism and dictatorship just as they propped up Abacha, who decimated their ranks.

Why is it impossible for the Nigerian circulating elite to understand that this is not a nation yet; that we are treading the path of destruction; that the stiff-necked fowl usually ends up in the old woman’s pot of soup? Why is it difficult for us to understand that Nigeria’s hope of survival is the round table; that we must come to a round table to resolve our differences? Tribunal is not the round table. Rather, it is the tinder that would spark the conflagration that is waiting to consume Nigeria. Until we humble ourselves to the negotiating table, the fate of Nigeria remains precarious and uncertain like the flight of the butterfly.

 

Nwankwo is the Chancellor of the Eastern Mandate Union (EMU)

 

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