Two years of Gov. Simon Lalong – all promises kept!
By Yakubu Dati
Governor Simon Bako Lalong of Plateau State is clearly approaching the act of governance with a sense of responsibility and the seriousness it deserves. Even though the two-year anniversary coincided with his birthday, Lalong gave an advance warning against any fanfare but rather rededicated himself to a solemn appraisal of the rescue administration. This is a far cry from his predecessor who elevated his birthdays to a state affair. Prior to his election, Lalong had transversed the nooks and crannies of the state connecting with individuals and groups. He took notes in every of the 67 town hall meetings he conducted, encouraging and promoting participation in the act of governance. The key findings became a burden he carried with dignity. These evidenced-based findings, which are the voices of 54 ethnic groups in the state, form the basic conceptual framework that drives his administration. For a fair assessment of the Simon Lalong’s government, the key Performance Indicator is therefore situated within the identified areas of needs expected to impact on the growth of the communities in the state.
It is a well-known fact that Gov. Simon Lalong inherited a state in crisis caused by a self-serving regime. He knew that without peace and security, nothing tangible would be achieved in the state. Working in tandem with all arms of security apparatus, he applied his brinkmanship by initiating series of town hall meetings with all stakeholders on issue based policies sensitization and held consultative fora with the Berom and Fulani communities amongst others. These significant steps resolved some of the crises that bedevilled the state by entrenching peace, unity and security of lives and property. He institutionalised peace building by creating a proactive agency known as the Plateau Peace Building Agency – a significant shift from the reactionary pattern.
Today, Plateau is in peace. Following the restoration of peace, the urgent need to address the demoralised civil servants became so apparent. With an inherited debt toll of over 220 billion Naira, and a civil service in dire straits; Lalong assembled a whiz team of financial gurus with a clear mandate to think outside the box. This first reward was the first and second tranches of the salary bailout, which Lalong used to offset the backlog of Civil Servants unpaid salaries, pension/gratuity. This courageous deployment of about 20 billion Naira ignited the local economy and the reverberations were felt all over the state. This set the stage for a highly motivated civil service to key into the administration’s 5-Point Policy Thrust formulated to turn around the state. The journey for an endearing legacy of service gained traction. The consistent payments of salaries thereafter, and the general welfare of the workforce, which in itself stimulated the local economy has continued to endear him to the average Plateau man.
Simon Lalong rolled up his sleeves to face the education sector, despite the stench oozing from years of neglect. The performance of Plateau State at the WAEC examination was a disaster – 36th out of 37 States in the federation. Never known to shy away from the frontlines, Governor Lalong took the bull by the horns and changed the landscape through employment and training of teachers, construction of new classrooms, and a massive injection of funds. Recently over 4000 teaching personnel were recruited on an adhoc basis, while the infrastructural deficit is being tackled through construction and renovation of more classrooms. More than 500 classrooms have been built and renovated in the past 2 years alone! The Plateau State University, Bokkos has been given a new lease of life with the reconstitution of the Governing Council under the leadership of the respected Prof. Attahiru Jega as Pro-Chancellor. So far, all its 17 programmes are being accredited which in turn facilitated the mobilisation of 2 sets of graduands for the NYSC scheme earlier this year, the first since its establishment. Other state tertiary institutions are also receiving the desired attention. The regular intervention in the sector has made it to run smoothly without any interruption on grounds of non-payment of salaries, which usually give rise to industrial dispute. Today, Plateau students, especially those living with disability are being supported with scholarships and grants from the rescue administration
Lalong is also paying attention to agriculture, which is the mainstay of most of the Plateau people. About 800 trailers laden with 24 thousand metric tonnes of fertiliser are being offloaded to farmers at subsidised rate. The resuscitation of the Panyam Fish Farm, Bokkos Fertilizer Blending Plant, accreditation of Garkawa College of Education and the provision of soft loans to farmers have restored Plateau to its pride of place in agriculture.
In line with the yearnings for community leadership, vacant stools of Traditional institutions in the State are being filled based on laid down law and gazettes. So far, more than fifty communities cutting across all the local government areas have benefit ranging from the 1st class status Chiefs to district heads. The creation Districts and Development Areas are at its final stage of implementation, to bring development to the grassroots.
The state is also reviving and revamping its moribund industries including the Jos International Breweries (JIB), Highland Bottling Company and the Jos Main Market. The reacquisition of the BARC Farms is being pursued vigorously. In recognition of its multi-ethnic and multi-religious nature, Lalong has also entrenched equity and fairness in appointments to political offices and government patronage. In the same vein, cultural festivals and carnivals have boldly restored the state on the tourism map of the country.
To open a new vista in economic empowerment, the Lalong administration has unveiled the process to harness and develop the tourism sector. This is a sector that sustains many countries in the world and research by this administration has shown that there is tourism potential that are yet to be exploited. The state government has stepped up the process to harness these opportunities to boost the state’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). In the critical area of effective health care delivery, the Lalong administration has given it a boost with the creation of the state Primary Health Care Board now in operation. The Health institutions are also receiving serious government attention.
Another area the state government is looking at to boost IGR is the mineral sector, which the state has in abundance. Lalong visited mining sites across the state, which gave birth to The Mining Blueprint Committee to articulate synergy between the state and the Organised Private Sector (OPS). The state has commenced a deliberate process of opening up its frontiers to attract both local and foreign investors. Today series of MOUs have been signed for the exploration and exploitation of mineral deposits along the value chain to boost the state economy and in line with the stipulated federal government policies.
Critical infrastructures like roads inherited from the last administration have been completed as new ones are being unveiled. The land administration has been revolutionised through the relaunched of the abandoned PLAGIS. The lifting of the embargo placed on the issuance of Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) and the reduction of its cost by 50 percent has engendered inclusiveness. As a result of the speedy processing of title documents, more than 800 Certificate of Occupancy has been issued with the concurrent increase in revenue generation from 96 million Naira in 2014 to 500 million in 2016.
In order to address the rising number of unemployed and unengaged youths and women, the administration established the Micro Finance and Small Medium Enterprises Agency. About 4000 women and youths have been trained on entrepreneurship, financial literacy and skills acquisition where 48 people living with disabilities benefited. Starter-packs have been distributed to participants to begin their businesses as each is linked to financial institutions in order to achieve an appreciable level of financial inclusion.
The dominance of the Plateau United Football Club on top of the Premier league table is as a result of deliberate and conscious strategies deployed to boost sports and youth development. The participation of Plateau athletes in virtually all sporting events in and outside the state has resulted in bountiful laurels for the state. At the end of the 2016 sporting year alone, a total of 143 medals were won for the state. There are great expectations that the Plateau United Football team will present the Champions Cup to Governor Simon Bako Lalong.
Midway into the first quarter of the Lalong administration, there is no doubt that his experience a Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly has exposed him to the balance of diverse group interests in the state. His courageous application of the spirit of give and take is indeed paying off.
President Donald Trump and Upholding the American Dream
BY GODKNOWS IGALI, PhD
The twentieth day of January will for countless generations mean so much to the people of the United States of America and indeed the entire world as it heralds, every four years, the inauguration of a new occupant of the number one address of the world – The White House, Washington DC.
Going back to history, America’s first President, George Washington was actually inaugurated on April 30, 1789. On his second tenure, the ceremonies were held on March 4, 1793 and that became the commemorative inaugural day for about 140 years until the American Congress passed the “Twentieth Amendment” on January 23, 1933 by which the period of waiting of the President-elect (also known as the Lameduck period) has been greatly reduced to few weeks after confirmation of results of election by the electoral college.
This brought the date for inauguration of a new Congress (Parliament) to 3rd January and the President to 20th January. The enigmatic personality, Franklin Roosevelt was the first to be inaugurated on 20th January 1937 as the 32nd President of the United States.
The Americans penchant for homebred peculiarities is not the least on such a significant events as Presidential inauguration. In many other countries with the Presidential system of government, the oath taking of a Head of State is an event largely controlled and determined by the protocol and state practices determined by the executive branch of the government in which the Chief Judicial Officer (Chief Judge) merely performs a function and the legislature are august guests.
Even in some other climes where the swearing in holds in the chambers of parliament, it remains seen as an Executive function. Not so in the United States where it is a program under purview of Congress and holds glamorously in its premises. It is against this backdrop that 70 years old Mr. Donald Trump, the son of German immigrants, took the oath of office, few minutes after 12 noon on 20th January, 2017, as the 45th President of the United States of America.
In reminiscence, the emergence on the global scene in 1776 by the United States of America represented a fundamental departure from the old dictate of statecraft which was defined by the reign of absolute monarchies, expensive wars and alliances such as the Anglo-Franco wars, the Franco-German wars, Thirty Years wars and other internecine feuds. Indeed, it was a time when France was also shaken and rocked by the smoke of revolution as King Louis XVI was guillotined shortly afterwards in 1793.
In those same years, Britain and France were also daggers drawn in war over questions of faith (defense of Catholicism and Ireland) by the later and deep seated animosities of faraway colonial estates in North America (Canada). It was only in 1815 that the great French armada, led by the seeming invincible and marauding Napoleon Bonaparte, who emerged after the collapse of the monarchy in Paris was defeated at the famous Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
The new American nation itself was considered by most Englishmen of the time as the product of a sacrilegious rebellion and mutiny against the British Crown and the person of King George III. With all the events of the time, American statehood based on a republican credo was influenced copiously by the French Revolution with maxim of “equalite, fraternite, liberte” thereby giving global politics a new reason for the existence of the state.
Indeed, the brand of American republican philosophy and ideology though not expressly underscored, but easily gleaned from the writing of its founding fathers, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Alexander Hamilton also borrowed much from the “Social Contract School”. As espoused by English Philosopher, John Locke and his French counterparts, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Charles de Montesquieu, social contractist insist that it was the people that gladly acquiesced their common will into a “volonte generale” which is supposed to be some kind of collective interest of all to form the state.
So, in the new world represented by American idealism, the social, ethical and jurisprudential foundation of the state was geared towards pleasing the common will of the people and not just the King, nobility or the aristocracy. This was well encapsulated in the chapeau to the declaration of independence, reading inter alia.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights… that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the govern.”
The new political order which came with the founding of America therefore provided for a new strongman – the President. Although the Emperors, Kings and Princes of order, this new personae was still endowed with strong powers, he owed his position to the people collectively expressed through the ballot and to the document called “Constitution”.
The Constitution has further tried within human possibilities to temper the powers of the President, including the setting up of a two-chambered Congress (Senate and House of Representatives). This was something similar to the House of Lords and House of Commons which the founding fathers of the new republic came with from the United Kingdom but adumbrated now with greater force.
In pursuing these ideals, freedom came with great price. Like many other countries whose political history has been written on the blood of its people, the end of a fratricidal civil war which ensued after independence from Briton brought the American State and people much closer.
More than that, it also taught the new nation at the time, a lesson that the interest of states is intrinsically determined by selfish factors. These include fundamentally, need to preserve their territorial integrity and the imbedding of the virtue of being strong internally through the building of a stronger federation and republic. Having occurred at the time of the beginning of the industrial revolution, post-war interaction, contacts and reconstruction became enhanced.
Although some of the legacy issues such as race remain critical factors, America has continued to maintain one of the founding principles promoting free society where the best of mankind have found a home. In the post-World War II era, America became the sanctuary for some of the best intellectuals, especially people from the Jewish community in Europe, all of whom joined to build the country.
The best in scholarship, science and technology as well as commerce and enterprise was easily attracted by the allure of free society, its capitalism and free market. Of cardinal significance, the other virtue of freedom enshrined in the country’s Constitution and Bill of Rights (the first amendments to the constitution) adopted by the Congress in 1789 was a magnetic pulling to this country of the best around the world.
It is a fact that the United States was not an active combating state both in World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945) but was dragged into both wars. However, the massive increase in its government expenditure on military production for the wars brought bolstered its total economic recovery from depression.
Specially, this made the country which hitherto, was a mere colonial outpost of Britain, faraway backyard of Europe and had to fight for independence for nearly seven years (1776-1783), to become the military powerhouse of the world including the leading in nuclear. America’s military industry became so monumental and overwhelming in a manner never seen before.
With all these and through the efforts of strong Presidents like Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, many of who were themselves decorated military persons, the country on the other side of the Atlantic, emerged on the scene as the number one military force in the world and also determine the post-World War II order.
With regard to new world order, the USA midwifed both the creation of the United Nations to deal with issues of political, strategic, social and inter-state relations and also crafted the Bretton-Woods super-structure encompassing the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to provide direction and activity in the global economy.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Theodore Roosevelt, America’s 26th President, spent great moments to ponder on the future of the country and called his countrymen not to rest on the oars of the seeming industrial revolution, but adopt a more rigorous lifestyle. He championed the move for excellence and American supremacy and advantaged competitiveness in all areas of human endeavor. This paid off as the United States soon became the industrial work yard and warehouse of the world. Today, the country is only 4.4 percent of the world’s population but contributes about 24.5 percent to its GDP.
In terms of food production, which is man’s first need, American farmers who make up only 2 percent of the country’s population cultivate an area of nearly 915 million acres of farmland and lead in the production of virtually every known crop and livestock. As a matter of fact, United States’ farm production places her in a position to be able to feed the whole world uninterrupted over a long period.
Questions have commonly been asked about what has kept America strong and united and whether it will last longer. Why has the office of the American President become so powerful, gargantuan and straddling like a colossus over the entire global political landscape?
In answering these questions, it should be noted that the American dream and ideal have been founded on certain virtues which still remain strong today. Despite some right wing tendencies and seem accentuated since Donald Trump’s electoral victory, which are borne out of ignorance of the historical antecedents of America’s greatness, the process of aggregating some of the world’s best into one political space has been this country’s forte.
Much more than any other human civilization, it also became the world’s superpower and a dominant welfare state in the midst of livid capitalism. Besides the great premium placed on agriculture, infrastructure, military might based on technology, scientific advancement and huge expenditure on education, research and innovation will, for a long time in human history, keep the country dominant and internally strong.
Now that the country has emerged as the most powerful political entity and its Presidents, greater than any potentate ever known including Pharaoh, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Disqus Khan, Chaka the Zulu, Mansa Musa all put together, he becomes duty-bound to act despite the peculiar interests of his country as a kind of father of the whole world. Of course, fatherhood comes with its peculiar pride and expectations. For example is the expectation of moderation, maturity, role model status, tact, and to some extent, being a provider and protector.
American Presidential trajectory has turned out some of the greatest statesmen the world has known. Apart from the great names of antiquity, like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson in modern times, world changers such as Dwight Eisenhower, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Ronald Regan, James, and not the least, Bill Clinton, and our own Barack Obama, have all emerged on the scene. Each creating monumental impact in the sand of times and have left indelible marks for humanity to follow.
This is the background on which Donald Trump has assumed office. Interesting enough, President Trump is a different kind of person in terms of background, professional experience, and personality. He is debonair, outspoken, self-actuated, impulsive and independent minded.
From the days of his pre-candidacy to being the flag-bearer of the Republican party, electoral victory, and transition, he has shown a temperament which is largely a variant from the known norm and expectations. Both his closest associates, fellow party members and countrymen and the entire world alike have remained gaped in awe and trepidation as how to what the US and world would be under Mr. Trump’s presidency.
But then, all are quick to acknowledge that the new helmsman in Washington is of usual intelligence and cerebral depth. He is also a great tactician and of outstanding courage and commitment to core conservative values of the federation. He has proved his mettle in commerce and industry, the censure of American grandstanding and assembled a “dream team” of some of the country’s most celebrated names.
Beyond all these, the American dream has been casted around some intrinsic values and pillars, a great derogation from which would be futile. Even much more, the American state does not exist in autarky. Its leaders, as strong and mighty as they may be, have always realised that they need the rest of the world to be a super-power.
Godknows Igali, PhD is an Administrator, award-winning author, and diplomat.
On that 30th April 2014 when diverse citizens gathered to march in solidarity, no one could have imagined that any out of our 219 Chibok Girls abducted from their secondary school in April 2014 would remain in captivity of terrorists 1000 days after the tragedy. One recalls pictures of distressed parents supported by local hunters foraging through the path they were told that the terrorists had hauled away their daughters. Meanwhile, their government was missing in action cynically indifferent to the cries for help.
One of the parents said he was desperate to find his daughter by walking off into Sambisa Forest before the Nigeria Army prevented them, because the future of the entire family depended on that daughter finishing school and taking care of her siblings. How can we not be moved by such decisiveness on girls education in a region that topped both then and now, the chart of poor school enrollment and worse parity ratio of four boys for every one girl in school compared to the rest of the country?
Nations that have bothered to know the value of having all their girls in school have since discovered the multiple and diverse benefits. More than ever before in history, the economic health of a country depends upon the skills, knowledge, and capacities of its people. Research validates that countries which have made dynamic progress in the last century, are also the ones that help each of their citizens – male and female- to acquire the human assets of values, skills, knowledge and capacities that education bestows.
In addition to the obvious productivity and income earning benefit to the girl-child and their families, some of the data that validate a diverse range of benefits have global relevance. According to UNESCO, the “Children of mothers with secondary education or higher are twice as likely to survive beyond age 5 compared to those whose mothers have no education. Improvements in women’s education explained half of the reduction in child deaths between 1990 and 2009. A child born to a mother who can read is 50% more likely to survive past age 5″.
We are products of the values that shaped us. A Value that some of us imbibed while growing up is that nothing makes a female child inferior and so nothing should keep them from being educated. Those of our parents that held strong to such value bequeathed them to us by sending us to school despite our being female. Like the parents of the 219 ChibokGirls, our parents overcame all barriers that are known to limit educational opportunities available to girls around the world or even more specifically, our various regions in Nigeria.
For the forward thinking parents of the abducted girls, they desired that their daughters would not be part of the statistics of out-of-school adolescent girls. A recent report on Girls Education in Nigeria by the United Kingdom’s British Council found that in the North East, 54% of adolescent girls are out of school. In the North West, it is 53%, in the North Central, it is 21%, in the South South it is 9%, in the South West 6% and in the south-east, it is 4%. The ChibokGirls parents understood that at an individual and family level, the benefits of offering education to their daughters outweighed the associated social, cultural, religious, physical risks and economic constraints.
What they did not imagine as part of that calculus was that the physical risk to life for those who dared to show up in their Chibok school has risen substantially to certainty. Boko Haram terrorists are driven by the hideous determination to make knowledge abominable thus challenging our civilization. None of our ChibokGirls parents could however have imagined that neither their own government nor those of the rest of the world would defend the dignity of endangered lives of their children if anything like abduction happened. None of those parents could have imagined that the lives of their daughters would not be protected by the Nigerian nation-state which has a constitutional duty of providing for the security and welfare of citizens- especially its young ones. None of those parents could have thought that having their daughters show up from their various schools in that local government to take their certificate examination with peers in that Government Secondary School Chibok, would become a fatal choice between being educated or staying alive.
Doubly tragic is that as we mark #DAY1000 since the worst nightmare of those Chibok Parents materialized, two successive governments have completely failed to be as bold as the parents of our missing ChibokGirls. From the initial self-preserving coldness, indifference, mockery and tentativeness of the immediate past administration to the “cannot-be-taken-for-their- word” hubris, lethargy and inertia of the current one, any discerning observer can see a common thread. It is the same we-don’t-give-a-damn atti tude that is making their successors who assumed office on the back of a strong promise to commit their utmost to rescuing the girls within six months in office; to repeat history.
What is the cause of this empathy-deficit toward citizens by those that govern, regardless of their political symbol and hue? The disconcerting answer is that among our political class, citizens – whether dead or alive – have no bearing on the incentives that drive the quest for the right to govern them. Unlike those countries where leaders set their country Development vision on their citizens’ values, knowledge, skills and capacities, our own “rulers” place their stewardship quest not on the lives of citizens but on the certainty that oil will flow. Oil will flow and the public purse will flourish whether a citizen dies or is missing.
The logic is simple: As long as the proceeds from oil are guaranteed, the nation can afford to leave its children with terrorists for any length of time. For as long as oil flows and with that, the proceeds, the cutting short of any Nigerian life has no effect on the country. It therefore has not mattered as much to any of the two successive Governments of Nigeria that losing our ChibokGirls is a loss to our national stock of human capital. That our Governments prolonged the time it is taking to give justice to children who were abducted in the course of their search for knowledge is a statement on the things we value.
Should any think this assertion to be farfetched, all they need do, is, compare the swiftness with which our governments -regardless of which political crew run it- responds to any threat to the flow of oil in the Niger Delta. For our governments, the cynicism towards citizens- who with a certain measure of education are converted to human capital- is that they are of less value than a barrel of oil.
This is where the parents of our ChibokGirls have more than a lot to teach our political leaders. These parents may not have any “political clout” – part of the reason that many adduce for the way their daughters have been neglected by our government– but they know something that our political rulers are yet to grasp: No commodity but our human beings like Chibok Girls, other abducted citizens, hundreds of Nigerians needlessly killed in distressed conditions in the North East, Mainland and South Kaduna, Agatu, Aba, Enugu, Onitsha, Jos, Keffi, Abuja, Lagos and such other places, can guarantee us the swift passage to economic development.
The slight redeeming prospect of the President Muhammadu Buhari led government as far as the specific matter of ChibokGirls rescue goes, is that in the last three months, it has managed to bring back 24 of them mostly through negotiation with their terrorist abductors. For our freed school girls and their peers in all the internally dislocated peoples’ camps in the North East, it is the duty of the Government’s – Federal and State- to place a premium on their education and skills acquisition to ensure that Nigeria speeds up the accumulation of our human development scores. The education of the girl-child benefits not only the girls and their families but their communities, states and nations.
Following its inauguration in May 2015, the administration was trapped in more than 15 months of numbing indecisiveness on how to rescue our ChibokGirls, whether through military option or by negotiation with the terrorists. Twenty one of them were eventually released on 13th October 2016 to our Government by the terrorists and embraced by their exuberantly joyous parents. Just a few days ago, another one of the girls returned, having been accidentally found among terrorists and their victims that the Nigerian Army captured. She returned after 997 days in the stronghold of terrorists clutching an innocent baby, rather than the certificate her parents hoped for when they took a risk to send her to school.
The tragic irony is that one of the reasons parents send their girl-children to school is to help delay marriage and child bearing while they acquire life skills for a better life. Rukiya Abubarka Gali’s parents while rejoicing at the return of their daughter yesterday, must be regretfully wondering like not a few other parents, whether it was worth it after all, to have made the choice for knowledge for their daughter.
That DAY1000 is upon us with still more than 80% of our Chibok Girls still captives of terrorists, the only person that can assuage their deep regret is the President and the Federal Government of Nigeria. The way it can do this is to ensure that not one more day goes beyond the one thousand days of suffering of our young daughters. This Federal Government must realize that the more it makes promises and fails to immediately back them with decisiveness and results-focused actions, it risks completely eroding its fast depleting stock of credibility and goodwill.
The inability and perhaps unwillingness to learn from mistakes is reason this Federal Government has again relapsed into inertia, lethargy, contradictions and silence on the status of its public pledge last October that another 83 of our girls would be back “soonest”. Our ChibokGirls have always been a symbol of several other victims without identity that are captives of our common enemies or those whose lives were wasted needlessly across the country. Now is the time for our President to find the courage to accord the highest value to the Nigerian life regardless of their region, religion, ideology, political persuasion, social and economic status above any other thing in this country.
We must not allow more deaths over and above 18 of the brave mothers and fathers who sent their girls to school. The hope of those deceased parents and the ones alive was that their girls would go on to become part of our more enduring capital. They did so, trusting that their Government cares about the dignity of life. It is time for the remaining 195 daughters of these courageous parents who voted for girl-child education to return. 1000 days are already too long. Mr President, we want more results! It is time to bring back home our girls now. And alive!!
• Ezekwesili is co-convener of #BringBackOurGirls Movement
Originally sourced from: Omojuwa
REMEMBERING AZAZI, YAKOWA AND ORONTO– AN ENIGMATIC TWIST OF DESTINIES
It is four years ago this season and we again have reason to forebode our inevitable duel with fate, as we remember that the lives of two of Nigeria’s most cherished statesmen and others came to a melodramatic end, following the ill-fated helicopter crash which occurred in the creeks of Okoroba, Bayelsa State on 15th December, 2012.
One was Nigeria’s most decorated military servicemen, Owoye Andrew Azazi, while the other, Patrick Yakowa was a debonair politician and seating Governor of the all-important Kaduna State, as well as the two crew, and two others who were all on board.
The story of the plot regarding these two men remains hanging until the related account of the life of the inveterate rights activist; Oronto Natei Douglas (OND) is retold.
As fate will have it, both Gen. Azazi, then aged 60 years, and His Excellency Yakowa, 64 years, the two main protagonists in what appears like a typical “tradegy” in Ancient Greek drama, died while returning from the funeral of Pa Tamunoobebara Douglas, father of Oronto.
Oronto himself became totally shocked and subdued by the toll of fortune that left all thoroughly paled at the ominous outcome of what was otherwise a celebration of life of a good old man, remembered by all as a bellwether of peace. But then, fate did not spare Oronto many years of continued living in that mournful state as he soon fell to the cold hands of death just two years later on the 9th of April, 2015, at a much younger age of 48.
Like an Oedipus trilogy which often climaxed in doom, one is left to ask, could all these have been mere coincidences, scientifically and empirically determined? Or could the hand of destiny, inevitable and predetermined, as it seems to be, have played a mysterious role? Recapitulating on the course of events on that ill-fated Saturday afternoon and the aftermath, one’s scientific reflexes and modernistic instincts, easily crumble in the light of the compelling metaphysical and spiritual explanations.
Who were these Nigerians?
Patrick Yakowa who, originally was an administrator par excellence was unarguably, one of Nigeria’s most interesting politicians up to the time of his death. He was always graceful, affectionate, and ever smiling politician with a happy mien that was positively infectious. A fine gentleman, sweet spirit, humane, simple and detribalized. Unlike most other top echelon of the Nigerian Civil Service, Yakowa had a peculiar experience of having started from the Local Government Level rising through the system to becoming a Permanent Secretary and a Commissioner at the State Level.
He later transferred to the federal service as a Director and eventually made it to the vaunted rank of Federal Permanent Secretary (Director General) in 1999. It was from there that he answered the call into politics which quickly rewarded him as Secretary to Kaduna State Government in 2003. But then, the machinations of destiny left series of vacuums which soon acted out their ominious scripts.
The first was the death of the then Deputy Governor of Kaduna State, Steven Shekari, a fellow kinsman from Southern Kaduna in July 2005. In the precarious balancing of the delicate ethnic matrix of Kaduna State, this resulted in Yakowa becoming appointed as Deputy Governor to serve out the former’s tenure.
Subsequently, he became Deputy to then Governor, Architect Namadi Sambo and worked peacefully and diligently together until fate struck again. This second time, the fortunes of life showed up tragically in Abuja and placed the entire Nigerian state in mourning following the death of then sitting President, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Unplanned and uncontemplated, Yakowa found himself entering the shoes of his boss, Sambo as Governor of Kaduna State in May 2010.
Really? Yes, in that wise, he became the first person of Christian faith and indeed from “Southern Kaduna” to rule over a city and state considered the political capital of the Muslim North of Nigeria. Indeed, even presaging Nigeria’s independence from British colonial rule, Kaduna under the late Sardauna of Sokoto, the venerable Sir Ahmadu Bello, had carved out a reputation for itself as a city of intrinsic political manoeuvring, horse trading and nocturnal power calculus.
Interestingly enough, most of the over 1.2 million votes in the 2011 Governorship Elections which he recorded in that poll, came from predominantly Muslim areas showing the worth of the man and the mass appeal of his trustworthy character and refined personality.
For the period he ruled until he met his death, he took Kaduna State through a season of unprecedented growth and development.
A pious and reverential Catholic who saw greater worth and benefits in religious harmony and mutual reinforcement for a peaceful Kaduna and Nigeria. Against all odds, he left an unbeaten record in maintaining relative restraint and appreciative harmony and tolerance between Muslims and Christians and at another level, between Sunnis and Shiite Muslim extractions within the state.
The fact that he was the only Governor who went to the creeks of the Niger Delta to commiserate with Oronto, spoke volume of the personae and mental orientation of this global citizen.
As for General Azazi, in his native Ijaw language name, his first name Owoye means “what is ours” and his life truly depicted that he belonged fully and wholly, not only to Bayelsa State but to the whole of Nigeria.
Azazi personified what has now become euphemised as “I belong to all”. Besides his family who had a special place for him, Azazi could in a word be described as “Mr. Nigeria”. He was unarguably one of the finest and most professional military men ever produced in this country. He received the best training in the world’s most elite military and defence institutions.
Azazi always carried the day and remains the only Nigerian officer that had the benefits of being thoroughly trained by the leading security and intelligence houses in the world, including CIA, MI6, Israel’s Aman Military Intelligence, and the French Direcion Generale de la Securite Exterieure. He therefore had his contacts in all these countries, an asset which he always brought to the protection of Nigeria’s national interest.
He kept an unbroken record as perhaps one of the best crack intelligence officers that has served this country. In the same way he served in some of the most challenging tasks and roles ever undertaken by any service personnel. Azazi rose systematically through the ranks of the Nigerian army, at every stage, outpacing all his peers and contemporaries, adorning all the prestigious epaulets that were available for grabs.
He remains on record as the first Nigerian officer to have risen and occupied, almost back-to-back the positions of GOC Division, OMI, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Defence Staff and National Security Adviser. In cause of this period of service, it is generally acknowledged that Azazi played a major role in formatting the national security and defence policies of Nigeria.
But more than that, Azazi was just an ordinary Nigerian highly detribalized, enlightened and amiable. He specially had a very deep love for his fishing community, Peretorugbene. A lover of culture and great patron of the arts, all of which he promoted at every given opportunity.
Just like Yakowa, Azazi’s high and intimidating profile did not prevent him from serving God as a very devoted Roman Catholic and in mixing with all, great and small, irrespective of creed or tongue. No wonder the two men were close friends.
So, although Yakowa came to Okoroba in his own chartered helicopter, he hand-in-hand with Azazi, boarded the Nigeria Navy helicopter which was there to pick the decorated four-star general; and went down together.
On his part, OND was an intellectual warrior as well as a human rights, people’s rights and environmental rights lawyer. He had cut his teeth, under the tutelage of the ace environmental martyr, Ken Saro Wiwa, before his foray into local and national politics. In public service, Oronto’s forte remained his intellect and character.
When his erstwhile boss, Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha, Governor of Bayelsa State was removed from office under rather opaque circumstances, he easily turned down an offer from Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the successor Governor of Bayelsa State to continue as Commissioner. This is even when he shared some kinship bonds with the later as both come from the same Ogbia Local Government Area in Bayelsa State. It was only when Dr. Jonathan became Vice President of Nigeria and later on President, that he accepted to join him as a Senior Aide.
Oronto had in the years preceding, been diagnosed with cancer of the stomach. But even in the face of such illness, he continued to serve humanity till the very last minute. When it was obvious that his last hours on earth had come, he reached out to almost all his friends and associates who were available to share copies of some of his writings, some of which have not been made public and discussed point after point, his passion on various national issues.
Like Saro Wiwa, Oronto believed and was an actual practitioner of non-violent resistance against what was perceived as authoritarian exploitation of the oil and gas resources of his home, Niger Delta, and the wanton despoliation of its environment. Although one of the leaders of Ijaw youths, and a signatory of the famous Kaiama Declaration of 1998 by which the option of a more militant struggle was adopted; he remained dwelled on nonviolent resistance, something much akin to what has become known as Prague Spring Revolution of 1968 which helped forestall wholescale Soviet invasion and annexation of then Czechoslovakia.
The mystery of whether what happened on the humid Saturday afternoon in December 2012 is destiny, fate or fortune or just a simple mechanical occurrence like many other cases, it will remain a sour point of thought and reflection. A well serviced military helicopter simply gave way and these two heavy giants and national heroes bowed to the call of nature.
On the average, the crash rate of helicopters is 9.84 per 100,000 hours every year around the world; maybe this was one of them. If what happened is one of such cases, it is very sad that two of the country’s finest had to go that way. And if that were the case, what an irony that they will both die in a heavy oil producing community like Okoroba close to Oloribri where oil was discovered but yet can only be accessed by boat or helicopter like much of the oil rich Niger Delta, no roads.
But some others are more inclined to reason that none needs to mourn and bemoan, but at times like this, only remember with unreserved elation Azazi and Yakowa as well as their host, Oronto, because these three lives are all truly fulfilled and accomplished their courses. Indeed the fate of these three Nigerians only shows the reality of human existence which places all in the hands of destiny.
Even in most traditional societies, there is a strong belief in the concept of destiny. More importantly, in the dominant monotheist religions of the world, Christianity, Islam and Judaist, there is a clear belief of pre-destiny in the sense that the lives of men are in the hands of the Almighty God.
God decides men’s times from when life starts to when it ends. Indeed, some hold strongly that everything that happens to man is within God’s purview and that was why King David said in one of the most quoted Psalms “my times are in your hands”.
In other words, it is God’s mighty hands that determine all that happens on earth. He may not want to suffer man or in this case the whole country through pain and loss of so dear persons, but what has occurred is not beyond Him. He saw it, allowed it and it is always for a purpose.
Therefore, Yakowa, Azazi and Oronto whose fate and destiny became tied together, although could individually be eulogized, have not left us in vain but came, saw and conquered. They performed their full courses and left indelible marks in our personal lives and all around our country and the world. Like any other seed, their good works will germinate, grow and come to positively impact generations unborn.
Godknows Igali, PhD is an Administrator, award-winning author, and diplomat. firstname.lastname@example.org