Searching for the father of modern Nigeria

Casmir Igbokwe

TODAY is said to be World Fathers‘ Day. For some families, it is a day to give hard-working fathers a treat. For some others, it is a day that is as ordinary as any other day; a day that may even remind them of a sad fatherhood experience.

The family of one Mr. Philip Benson falls into this category. Penultimate week, there were reports in the media alleging that the man defiled his 12-year-old daughter at Ikorodu in Lagos. The bubble burst when the girl became pregnant in spite of the drugs and hot drinks her father allegedly gave her to drink. The man admitted doing it only two times, claiming the girl lured him into the act by appearing naked before him. The daughter denied this, saying the man forced himself on her many times and warned her not to tell anybody.

If this story is horrendous, I don‘t know how to describe that of one Rashidi, who reportedly shot his two children in Oyo State because they couldn‘t produce the receipts for the school fees he had given them to pay. His suspicion was that they might have diverted the fees to some other uses. One of the children, 14-year-old Aminat, reportedly sustained serious injuries from the gunshot and was later rushed to the hospital. Realising the weight of his action, Rashidi escaped and has remained at large.

Like individuals, nations also have wayward fathers. Idi Amin of Uganda was a wayward father. Gen. Sani Abacha of Nigeria was a difficult father. Even Emperor Bokassa of the Central African Republic was also a stupid father.

But not all fathers are foolish. Some of the founding fathers of Nigeria, for instance, fought for Nigeria‘s independence and bequeathed many legacies worthy of emulation. They included Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and Sir Ahmadu Bello. In October this year, we will remember them as we mark our 50 years anniversary as an independent nation. Since they are late, the natural question is: who do we call daddy now?

The Men‘s Christian Association of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria in the Federal Capital Territory feels former President Olusegun Obasanjo fits the bill. In a statement last week, the association said it would honour Obasanjo as the father of modern Nigeria during the church‘s Father‘s Day celebration. The association will also honour certain individuals for their ”service of distinction to the nation.” Among the honourees are Gov. Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State; Senate Committee Chairman on Aviation, Anyim Ude; and Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Rules and Business, Ita Enang.

For anyone to qualify to be called the father of any nation, I believe that the person must have made a positive impact on the lives of the people of that nation. You can call Abraham Lincoln the father of the United States of America in his time because the legacy he left behind is still there for all to see. If not for his abolition of slavery, an African American, Barack Obama, might not have emerged as the president of the US today.

Another hero worth mentioning here is Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. This first prime minister of the South-East Asian nation supervised his country‘s transformation from a poor third world nation to a wealthy one. Among his numerous reforms are the emancipation of women and industrialisation of Singapore.

You can also call Nelson Mandela the father of modern South Africa and there won‘t be any contest about that. At the risk of his personal liberty and comfort, he fought apartheid in his country to a standstill. He emerged from years of imprisonment to become the first black president of his country. He handed over power when the ovation was loudest and has remained a hero and a legend respected worldwide.

Our own Obasanjo also emerged from incarceration to become the President of this country in 1999. That was his second coming as president. He had served as a military head of state between 1976 and 1979. He handed over peacefully to a civilian government of Shehu Shagari to the admiration of many.

Thus, it was with great expectations that Nigerians welcomed him in 1999 to right the wrongs perpetrated by the successive military regimes. He did his best to keep the country, which had tottered after the annulment of June 12 elections, together.

However, by the time he reluctantly left office in 2007, many Nigerians were disappointed. The state of our infrastructure did not fare any better despite billions of naira allocated for repair works. Poverty became endemic as the rate of unemployment increased.

To add insult to injury, Nigerians were regaled with tales that the former President wanted to go for a third term in office. He and his deputy, Atiku Abubakar, who had his own ambition to become the president, became sworn enemies. Either out of frustration or anger, Obasanjo imposed the late Umaru Yar‘Adua on us as our President.

Though out of office, Obasanjo has remained as controversial as ever. He still has some influence on the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, even as some insinuate that he has some hold on the incumbent President, Goodluck Jonathan. From his antecedents, I don‘t think he qualifies to be called the father of modern Nigeria.

Unfortunately, I can‘t think of any other living Nigerian that can occupy that position. We have been so unlucky with leadership that even with a resourceful and vibrant population, Nigeria has remained a delinquent child in the comity of nations. Jonathan is relatively new in the saddle, but I have not seen much action that will inspire hope on his part.

That is why I‘m not surprised that the Mo Ibrahim Prize for leadership in Africa failed for the second time to name any winner. Former President Joaquin Chissano of Mozambique won the maiden edition of the Prize. He was followed by the former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae. This year, the prize committee chaired by the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, could not see any leader worthy of the prize.

Somehow, this shows that Africa as a whole, not just Nigeria, is seriously infected with poor leadership virus. Let‘s hope that the Ibrahim Foundation will find one of our leaders suitable next year for the prize. Then, we can clink glasses for the discovery of the father of modern Nigeria.

Until then, let‘s keep searching.

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