Yar’Adua’s independence gift and Onovo’s movies

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in Sunday Punch, Oct. 4, 2009 

President Umaru Yar’Adua is a man of few words. He is also a man whose outward appearance denotes humility. As a private person, these are virtues some people will likely admire and cherish. But as a public figure, these same qualities may present some problems for him.

 Last Thursday, for instance, the leader of the Niger Delta Vigilante Movement, Mr. Ateke Tom, was at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. His mission was to accept the amnesty offered Niger Delta militants by the Federal Government.

 As Tom put it in Pidgin English, “Immediately you announced the amnesty, I be the first person wey embrace the amnesty because I like the amnesty. But things wey we talk wey dey worry us make una try do am for us because we dey suffer for Niger Delta…”

 It was an elated President who said, “I would like to praise and thank God almighty for this afternoon visit. Chief Ateke Tom has just given me my 49th independence gift. This independence anniversary gift you have given me, I cherish it very much because, of all those things I cherish, one of them is peace and security in the Niger Delta.”

 The president had expressed similar sentiments some two months ago when another militant, Mr. Victor Ben Ebikabowei, a.k.a. General Boyloaf, visited the Villa to announce his own acceptance of the amnesty. Boyloaf was even reported then to have warned the Federal Government not to ever renege on its promises.

 No doubt, Mr. President’s pursuit of peace in the Niger Delta is quite commendable. Pardoning repentant militants and inviting them to Aso Rock to cement the new found relationship is also noble. Even the courage by the militants to surrender their weapons and embrace peace is praiseworthy. But with all due respect, the President should speak and carry himself with more dignity.

 True, Yar’Adua emulated the father of the Biblical prodigal son who threw a party to welcome his hitherto lost and forgotten son, but did he need to pour such eulogies on the militants, knowing the circumstances that led to the amnesty? How will the innocent victims of the activities of some of these militants perceive the statement of our President? Of all the things that happened on our independence day, the visit of Tom was the greatest gift Yar’Adua cherished most. And, perhaps, will cherish forever.

 This ‘humility’ also came to play against him when he visited the United States in December 2007. To the then President George Bush, he said, “I feel highly honoured and privileged to be here and have the opportunity to share these few moments with you. This is a moment I will never forget in my life…I thank you very much Mr. President, this is a rare opportunity.”

 Granted that everybody can’t be an orator, but every public officer is expected to think over what he says in public. From the way some of our government functionaries speak, the impression is created that they don’t really think about what they say.

 This brings us to the statement credited to the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ogbonna Onovo, last Tuesday in Abuja. It was at a meeting with senior police officers. Speaking on the efforts of the police to apprehend the killers of the Assistant News Editor of The Guardian, Mr. Bayo Ohu, Onovo said Nigerians wrongly believed that assassination cases could be solved in a few days.

 Hear him: “Nigerians want everything quick, maybe because we watch so many movies. You know in the movies, everything will start and end in one hour…I think we are watching too many movies, forgetting that movies are acted and are not true stories.”

 Mr. IG sir, this is too simplistic. And it’s rather unfortunate that this came too soon after your recent statement that you didn’t believe Nuhu Ribadu visited Nigeria because you didn’t see photographs of the visit in the newspapers. Was it movies that stalled investigations into the murder of the former Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Bola Ige? Could this love for movies have made it impossible to unravel the mystery surrounding the assassinations of Chief Aminasoari Dikibo, Chief Marshal Harry, Mr. Dele Giwa, Bagauda Kaltho and many others?

 Certainly, nobody is expecting the police to perform magic. But if the history of unresolved murders in this country is anything to go by, nobody should blame Nigerians if they want speedy solution to their nagging security problems.

 It is worthy to note that leadership goes beyond sitting down in the office to sign documents. What leaders say or do goes a long way to motivate or demotivate their subjects. Great speeches had engendered some popular revolutions in the world.

 Sometimes, what we say in public remains indelible. During the military era, incumbent Senate President, David Mark, said telephone was not meant for the poor. Up until today, people have not forgotten that statement. Also, people still remember some words of wisdom by such leaders as Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy, and Winston Churchill.

 What quotable quotes can we attribute to our current leaders? Independence Day is usually a day for great and memorable speeches. What did we hear on our last anniversary? Dour and uninspiring speeches! Somebody like the Governor of Ekiti State, Segun Oni, said, “We have not been stealing your money. It is not as a result of shortage of ideas and tricks to employ. It is because of the covenant we have with God, who gave us the grace to be where we are.”

 What nonsense! Was he elected to steal or to make the life of his people better? So, if not for the so-called covenant with God, he would have stolen his state dry.

 I think our public officers need to learn the art of public speaking. They should think about what they say; or better still, they should keep silent if they don’t know what to say.


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