The verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I cannot remember the last time I picked the biography of a Nigerian and could not put it down. That was until last week when I was given a copy of “Audacity on the Bound: A Diplomatic Odyssey” by Ambassador Olusola Sanu, a masterpiece that tells the story of our country and continent from the perspective of a diplomat.
Incidentally, when my friend, Fola Mosuro–whose famous family publishing house in Ibadan produced the book—came to my office to hand me a copy, he had no inkling that Sanu actually taught me in my final year at the Department of International Relations in Ife. However, although that was what aroused my initial interest, it was the fascinating story that got me hooked to the riveting 514-page book.
Now, let me say very quickly that I know my readers very well. Today, this is not the kind of intervention they are expecting from me, what with the dizzying events happening around us. I am sure many were expecting me to write on the Panama Papers, especially considering that there is hardly any global scandal that involves illicit money that would not have a Nigerian angle. There are also readers who would want my view on the ruling of the South African Supreme Court that President Jacob Zuma should refund to the treasury the $23 million of public money he spent upgrading his personal house. That came as no surprise really because many of us have long suspected that President Zuma carries the DNA of an average Nigerian public official!
Again, for those who may have forgotten, today marks exactly two years that 276 female students of Government Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State, were carried away into captivity by Boko Haram insurgents. Even though 57 of them escaped, 219 are still unaccounted for. Yet, because we live in a cynical country, there are people who still argue that the whole tragedy is a “hoax”, just as many Nigerians were doubtful, until last week when he was finally buried, that DSP Alamieyeseigha actually died.
Even for those who may not feel the pain of the Chibok parents (17 of the fathers have died in agony in the last two years), they at least feel that of the fuel crisis that has virtually grounded our country and has also become source of an international scandal. Last Sunday, I understand there was commotion in Paris when the crew of a scheduled Abuja-bound flight said it would have to disembark 40 Nigerian passengers and their luggage to conserve fuel because of scarcity of aviation fuel in our country. Such an emblem of shame only compounded our woes at home as majority of our people now spend their productive hours looking for fuel.
Given the state of our nation, Nigerians have learnt to laugh at our problems with the latest joke reading: “When Mr. Suleiman Hashimu trekked from Lagos to Abuja to celebrate President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory last year, we called him stupid. But now, majority of our people are trekking with their cars parked at fuel stations because, even with their money, they will not find fuel. All hail Mr. Hashimu, a man who leads by example, a man who sees tomorrow.” But the situation of our country is no laughing matter.
On Monday, the Kaduna State Director General on Interfaith Affairs, Alhaji Namadi Musa, made one of those it-can-only-happen-in-Nigeria disclosures by admitting that he personally conducted a mass burial for 347 corpses, following the clash between the Army and the Shiites last December. According to Musa, one Major led three military trucks loaded with corpses from the Army Depot while another came with five Mercedes Benz trucks also loaded with corpses and he counted the dead bodies as they were being dumped into a single mass grave one after another. And here, we are talking about Nigerian citizens who were not convicted of any offence before they were practically executed.
However, as important as they are, these are the same issues we have been dealing with over the years: Corruption, misplaced priorities, the total collapse of social and physical infrastructure, deployment of maximum force without any restraint by conscience, from those who are paid to protect the people etc. Today, I want to write on something more ennobling which I find in the story of Sanu who, by the way, is 86 and was, at different times, Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States, China, Mexico, Belgium and the European Union, Ethiopia, Australia and New Zealand.
Sanu, the youngest among the first crop of 24 Nigerians recruited into the Foreign Service in 1957/58, indeed has a compelling story because he manned strategic positions at epochal moments in our national history. He was the State Chief of Protocol (SCOP) to Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa in the First Republic, the same position he retained under the first military Head of State, Lt General Aguiyi Ironsi. Sanu was also the Nigerian Ambassador to Ethiopia and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) during the civil war while he was in Washington as our ambassador to the United States on 13th February 1976 when General Murtala Muhammed was assassinated.
In Sanu’s book are great anecdotes but it is also very revealing of how much change has been wrought in our world in the last 66 years. For instance, when Sanu arrived United States in 1949 to study, there were about 5,000 Nigerians in the country at the time. Now, they are in millions. But in the first job he got as a student, some of the ”laws” handed to Sanu included that he, as a “Negro”, must never enter the building through the front door and should get used to being addressed as “boy”. Interestingly, today, someone who would be regarded as a “boy” at that period is now the president of that same country! That is how far America has advanced in recent decades yet in Sanu’s story is also the tragedy of our own country that held so much promise at independence but is now grossly mismanaged.
While the account of his early years is fascinating, it is after leaving secondary school in the forties that Sanu’s story becomes more relevant for this intervention. The three people who fired Sanu’s imagination to go to America were Mbonu Ojike, Nwafor Orizu and Kingsley Mbadiwe at a period most Nigerians were going for British education. It was Ojike who eventually facilitated Sanu’s way to Howard University in Washington.
By the time Sanu completed his first degree in Economics, the plan was to return to Nigeria but an Englishman by name Reginald Barnett recommended that he should stay behind to do his postgraduate studies. It was this same man who collected the post graduate forms for Princeton, Yale and Harvard which Sanu filled and was admitted by all the three. Quite naturally, Sanu chose Harvard and when he announced it at the apartment block where he worked as a janitor, he became an instant celebrity. At the instance of his boss, a white American woman, a big banner was also put up on the board with the inscription: “Our janitor goes to Harvard”.
However, it was not everybody that was happy for Sanu. A particular American Senator, who resided within the premises and whose sons could not secure admission to any of the Ivy League universities despite his best efforts, told Sanu: “I am amazed that you have been offered admission to one of America’s prestigious universities. What kind of country are we running that a jungle boy like you can just walk into Harvard?”
However, what was interesting at the time is the quality of education in Nigeria which would reflect when Sanu returned to the country in 1957with two Harvard degrees—MA and MPA (Masters of Arts in Political Science and Masters in Public Administration) to be interviewed for a job in the Western Nigerian Civil Service. This recollection in Sanu’s book about his first encounter with his white boss before he assumed duty says it all about what the University of Ibadan was at the time: “Are you one of the new bright boys coming out of the University of Ibadan?” , the man asked.
To this Sanu replied: “No Sir, I actually just arrived from the United States.”
That, according to Sanu, so angered the man that he retorted: “What have I done to them in Ibadan that they have to send me another graduate from one of those wretched universities in America?”
A few months with the Western Regional Government, a friend brought to Sanu an advertisement in ‘Daily Times’ newspaper calling for applications from qualified young men interested in the Foreign Service. Sanu applied and was interviewed by a man who only asked him questions about his time at Harvard. Just a few minutes after the interview session in September 1958, Sanu was called back and “informed that I had been selected and I should report to the Prime Minister’s Office not later than the following Wednesday.”
With that, Sanu became a member of the second batch of twelve officers recruited for Nigerian Foreign Service. The first set of 12, recruited a year earlier, was dubbed “the twelve apostles”. In this second batch with Sanu were George Dove-Edwin, John Ukegbu, Sam Ifeagwu, Adedokun Haastrup and Isa Wali (the late father of Mrs Fatima Wali-Abdulrrahman and Mrs Maryam Uwais). The six of them were immediately posted to Washington as Liaison officers and operated under the umbrella of the British embassy. It was in the United States that they also received their Diplomatic training, including having to learn French language. Also among this generation of brilliant Foreign Affairs officers were Emeka Anyaoku, Olu Adeniji, Emmanuel Odogwu, Akporode Clark et al.
Sanu’s recollection of the First Republic is vivid because of his position as SCOP, which meant he had to deal with world leaders, including a notorious one from an African country he simply described as “alainitiju” (The Shameless One). This particular president, according to Sanu, was fond of procuring Nigerian women to sleep with anytime he was in the country while he also ferried some of them back home at the expense of his government. This unnamed African president even expected such women to be arranged for him as part of “protocol” to the extent that on one occasion, his desperate SCOP had to confess to Sanu: “My brother, my president does not sleep alone.”
Ambassador Sanu’s account of the First Republic and the military take-over is sketchy but no less profound but he had fond memories of both Balewa and Aguiyi Ironsi. However, his account of the only time the Prime Minister was angry with him speaks to the challenge of post-colonial leadership in Africa and I want to quote extensively from the book:
“I found working with Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa very pleasant. The Prime Minister worked with any officer posted to him without asking what part of Nigeria he came from, but only demanded that you carry out your duties promptly and efficiently. I remember only one occasion when the Prime Minister was extremely angry with me. It was on the occasion of the first official luncheon for the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ meeting held in Nigeria in 1966. The Heads of State and Prime Ministers were all very conscious of their status and they worried over trifles.
“For example, we had to get their seating arrangement right. In this regard, we obtained the date of assumption of duty as Prime Minister or Head of State of each one of them from the Commonwealth Secretariat in London. I thought I had done rather well in arranging the seating placements for the luncheon. The Prime Minister of Canada, Hon Lester Pearson, came early to look at the seating plan, almost thirty minutes before the end of the first session and found that he was seated correctly to the right of Balewa who occupied the head of the table. He felt quite happy because he found himself in a vantage position to hold private discussions with the Prime Minister.
“When the morning session broke up, Balewa came to look at the arrangement and I was surprised when the Prime Minister screamed at me, literally accusing me of wanting to destroy his efforts at maintaining the decorum he had managed to ensure at the morning session. ‘Don’t you know that the Prime Minister of Sierra Leone almost fought with the Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Harold Wilson, over the issue of Rhodesia? How can you put them side by side during the luncheon?’ the Prime Minister queried me.
“Balewa was not interested in the pecking order from the Commonwealth Office and insisted that I place the Sierra Leone Prime Minister, Sir Milton Margai, far away from Harold Wilson so as to avoid the continuation of the acrimony of the morning session’s debate. I apologised as profusely as I could. I indicated that I was not allowed inside the conference room so I did not know what transpired during the morning session. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Pearson who had come in earlier, now noticing a change in the seating arrangement, said he was no longer hungry and would like to be excused from lunch. It took an hour for Balewa to persuade him to return to the dining room as the seating arrangements had been adjusted.
“It was at the end of the day that I learnt that the discussion on Rhodesia had been very heated. The Prime Minister of Sierra Leone, Milton Margai, took the lead on the attack on Harold Wilson. He was supported by Milton Obote of Uganda who joined the conference straight from his wedding in Entebbe. Both of them accused Wilson of taking sides with Ian Smith of Rhodesia by delaying action on all the issues. The attacks were so fierce that Wilson decided to play his own card by bringing in Kamuzu Banda of Malawi to join the Commonwealth meeting, the aim being to put the African Heads of State, particularly from Southern Africa, in their place. To achieve this, the British Prime Minister sent a transport plane to Blantyre to bring Banda to Lagos. I was sent to the airport about 2am to join the party to receive him.
“As expected, Banda took the earliest opportunity the following morning to lash out at his African colleagues. He asked to know from them what they had achieved since independence. He lavished praise on Ian Smith of Rhodesia, telling them that at least he kept an orderly society and was already laying the foundation for a prosperous future. The other African leaders took on Banda, calling him all sorts of names, including being a stooge of British imperialism. Harold Wilson had his pipe permanently lit with smoke billowing from it while the African members went at one another. Once Banda’s hatchet job was done, he left for Malawi at the end of the debate on Rhodesia.
“The rest of my stay under Prime Minister Balewa was fairly routine. I found he was more liberal than many people thought. Despite the conservative nature of his party and government, he established diplomatic relations with Israel. It is on record that when it was time to appoint his first Ambassador to Cairo, he appointed a Christian, John Mamman Garba, though he was not deployed at the end, because another important appointment opened for him. The point here is that Balewa had a liberal attitude to religion. After the Balewa era, if you were not a Muslim, you could not go to Cairo as our Ambassador…”
Working in the corridor of power has its benefits as well as its perils as Sanu also found out. Within months of working with General Ironsi, Sanu found so much favour in the then Head of State who decided to elevate him beyond some of his contemporaries even though the story, as told by Sanu, did not have a happy ending:
“All Heads of State take the opportunity after settling down in office to install their own men as heads of diplomatic missions abroad. As soon as that time came for him, General Ironsi requested the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs to submit a list of officers to head diplomatic missions. When Mr. Francis Nwokedi submitted the list, General Ironsi asked why the name of Sanu was omitted. The permanent secretary laughed it off. ‘Mr Sanu is still a young man and still has an opportunity in the near future’ he answered.
“General Ironsi was not amused. He gave Nwokedi back the list and said he was not signing it. He told him that when it was time to run a risky mission, they didn’t have any problem sending Sanu. The permanent secretary went back and inserted my name as Ambassador for an African country—I believe Sierra Leone. When he took it back, General Ironsi looked through the list, crossed out a name and put my name down to be the first Ambassador of Nigeria to Brazil. My immediate boss in the Department of International Organisation made a laconic comment that still remains in the file in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mr D.C Igwe wrote his objection in the file and added that ‘I assume the Head of State is sending young Olu Sanu to Brazil to learn how to frolic with young ladies on the beaches of Rio-de-Jenairo.’
“General Ironsi stood his ground and the government of Brazil gave me the necessary ‘Agreement’, which is a formal acceptance of a diplomat to their country. This came barely a week before my departure to attend the meeting of the Administrative and Budgetary Question (ACABQ) of the United Nations in New York. I was on my way to the airport for New York when General Ironsi was on radio and television making his famous speech announcing the promulgation of Decree 34, establishing a unitary government. I almost wept as I listened to the speech because I was certain that the decree would create further problems for Nigeria. I did not return to meet General Ironsi in power…”
With the death of General Ironsi and the assumption to power of General Gowon, Sanu’s name was withdrawn as Ambassador to Brazil. “It was undoubtedly the most embarrassing thing to happen to a serving diplomat,” he wrote.
As it would happen, two years later, Sanu got his first ambassadorial posting to Ethiopia and the OAU, at a time of the Nigerian civil war. So, that put him in a situation in which he would interact very closely with General Gowon, his Finance Commissioner, Chief Obafemi Awolowo as well as with the Biafran leader, Colonel Emeka Odimegwu Ojukwu and others like Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. One revealing account in Sanu’s book about the civil war was the day the Ethiopian leader at the time, Emperor Haile Selasie read to him the riot act:
“’Ambassador’, the emperor started, “what does General Gowon think he is doing? Does he want to kill all the Igbos, starve their children to death? When he finishes with them, who are those left to govern? Young man, go and tell my friend Gowon that I am tired of receiving bad news from Nigeria, I want this war to end.’
“By the time he finished, I was sweating and breathing heavily, a bad state to be in a high altitude like Addis Ababa which is well over three thousand metres above sea level. I knew that the Emperor was being unfair to Nigeria considering the fact that he was also waging a war to keep Ethiopia one…I told the Emperor that Gowon was the most humane among the senior officers in the Nigerian Army and that things could have been far worse if the civil war was being conducted by someone else. He huffed off leaving me paralysed on my seat.
“The emperor’s aide, a Major-General, noticing my discomfiture, laid his hands on my shoulder to calm me. He told me that considering the negative information available to the Emperor from the Biafran side he was not surprised at the treatment I got that cold winter morning. He noted that Addis Ababa was my first ambassadorial posting which could explain why I had taken the discussion with the Emperor so personal. He told me that the older I grew in the Foreign Service, I would realize that an ambassador is the ‘shock absorber’ of his president and his country…”
That message, according to Sanu, would serve him ten years later when, as Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States, General Murtala Muhammed was assassinated. Walking on the street of Washington on that fateful 13th February 1976, Sanu was confronted by an elderly white woman who pulled out her umbrella, hit him on the head several times, and started shouting hysterically, “why do you Africans always kill your leaders?” Sanu said he didn’t react because he remembered the lesson he learnt in Addis Ababa a decade earlier that as ambassador, he was a “shock absorber” for Nigeria.
Reading between the lines, one can see very clearly that Sanu’s book is also about what might have been for Nigeria but that is an issue for another day. Incidentally, it was after he retired from the foreign service that Sanu became a visiting lecturer at Ife (where he taught me), essentially to keep a deathbed promise to the man who built the university whose story has hardly ever been told the way Sanu did, even though within just a few words:
“…My relationship with Professor Hezekial Oluwasanmi dates back to 1953 when we met at Harvard. Our meeting was accidental. I was strolling along Harvard Yard when I passed by a tall man who suddenly, in a commanding voice, hailed me. ‘Young man, come here,’ he ordered. I walked back to him visibly upset that a graduate could literally be commanded by a fellow ‘student’. I became sober when I got to him because he was a giant of a man, very tall, with a great presence that command respect. He fired a salvo of questions at me. “I presume that you are a Nigerian. Why are you dressed so casually in a New England winter? Did your parents send you here to catch pneumonia? Go back to your room and dress properly. I should have a talk with you. I suggest that you join me for a glass of wine before we proceed to lunch.’
“With that admonition, he walked off. I stood frozen to the spot I was. If he was a student, he had me under his spell and if he was a member of the faculty, I could only bow and tremble. He was in fact the most senior African student in the graduate school and was about to complete his Ph.D programme at that time. I joined him for lunch and Oluwasanmi became my mentor and guardian during my entire stay in Harvard.
“During my stay in Ethiopia as Ambassador, I made it a point of duty to see Oluwasanmi whenever I came home on consultation. He was the first to suggest to me that it would be nice if I found time, during one of my occasional visits to Nigeria, to speak to his class. He was then a Professor of Agricultural Economics at the University of Ibadan. He felt that his students would benefit from a talk on my duties as Ambassador of Nigeria to the Court of Emperor Haile Selassie. He was of the view that young university students should be encouraged to broaden their world view; to learn a thing or two about Nigeria’s foreign policy. Each time he raised the issue, I just glossed over it and thought nothing much of it.
“Eventually, he became the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ife which later became Obafemi Awolowo University. He never stopped reminding me that I should come and spend some time with him at Ife. I was home on leave in 1983 when I was informed that he was in the hospital with a sickness from which he never recovered. I promised him on his sick bed that I would fulfil his desire to share my experience with the University. This visit to him on his sick bed was a very emotional one for me. Oluwasanmi was now a ghost of himself and he had two of his daughters with him.
“As I looked at him, I remembered during one of the many lunches we had together in Harvard when one day he asked me out of the blues, ‘should I marry a white woman?’ I was surprised that he would ask me such an intimate question. I knew that he had a white girlfriend, but never thought that their relationship had reached such a state. My reply to him was an emphatic ‘No’. I told him that if he wanted to be useful to his family and to the University, he should not think of it. As I looked at him in the hospital I asked myself whether I had made a mistake. Oluwasanmi took my advice seriously and did not marry his white girlfriend. Instead, he married a West Indian.
“When Oluwasanmi took on the task of building the University of Ife from scratch, the relationship between him and his family became strained. His wife could not understand why Oluwasanmi devoted all his life towards ‘Project-Ife’, to the detriment of his family. The magnificent Obafemi Awolowo University was the toil and sweat of Hezekiah Oluwasanmi. In later years when I looked at his statue in front of the University Library, I ask myself whether I had the right to offer an advice on such a delicate matter as love and marriage as I did over a glass of Rose wine at Harvard. My consolation was in walking through the grounds of Ife and remembering that the University will always bear Hezekiah Oluwasanmi’s footprints…”
Having retired to his native Ibadan, there are many regrets in Sanu’s book about what our country has become and the missed opportunities. But one that he obviously takes very personal is the lack of recognition of the role Nigeria, and particularly President Ibrahim Babangida, played in the peaceful resolution of the Sudanese crisis. As OAU Chairman, it was a crisis to which General Babangida devoted much efforts and for which he set up the presidential mediatory committee in 1990 headed by Sanu. It is therefore no surprise that the longest chapter in the book is devoted to the Sudanese peace initiative for which Sanu has nothing but affectionate words for Babangida.
In retirement, Sanu has also been learning a lot about the politics of his (and Mrs Ayo Obe’s!) city-village, especially since he was appointed chairman of the Ibadan Elders Forum. That had, in a way, put Sanu in a sort of collision course with the late Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu whom he described in very unflattering terms. But it was in the process of trying to save former Governor Rasheed Ladoja from being impeached in 2006 that Sanu got his first lesson in Nigerian politics as he recollected:
“If the Elders Forum was drawn into the periphery of the murky waters of Ibadan politics, it was because we felt that a High Chief of Ibadan, Chief Rashidi Ladoja, the then Governor of Oyo State was about to be unjustly impeached by the state legislature through a combination of forces both of which we regarded as hostile to the interest of Ibadan. These forces were spearheaded by President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Deputy Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala.
“To forestall the impeachment of Ladoja, the Forum decided to visit Otta Farm to plead with President Obasanjo not to allow impeachment to be. Meanwhile, it was unknown to the forum then that the Governor had offended the “Godfather” of Ibadan politics, High Chief Lamidi Adedibu, who had decided that Ladoja was not keeping to the ‘agreed formula’ on the sharing of the governor’s security vote. It was also not known to us that the Governor had committed an offence against President Obasanjo which we were not privy to at the time. The offence was personal between Obasanjo and Ladoja. The dice was loaded against us even before we proceeded to Otta.
“The delegation to Otta comprised six senior members of the Forum led by my good self. Others in the delegation included Chief Omowale Kuye; Bashorun Kola Daisi; former deputy Governor of Oyo State, late Chief David Abinusawa; Asiwaju of Ibadanland, Chief Bode Amao; and former Secretary to the Government of old Oyo state, Chief Theophilus Akinyele. This high-powered delegation left for Otta farm with very high hopes that we would receive a favourable response. It did not take us long before we discovered that we were not welcome. One of us went to knock on the President’s door, about three to four times, and nobody answered. We thought we needed someone whose knuckles could produce a heavier knock. Still there was no response. It was obvious that the occupants did not want to answer us.
“President Obasanjo eventually agreed to meet with us. We explained the reason for our coming and pleaded with him in the interest of peace and fairness to let Governor Ladoja complete his term of office having already spent two years as Governor. President Obasanjo insisted that Ladoja must go and that the impeachment would go ahead as planned. No amount of pleading would make the President change his mind.
“In spite of the failure of our mission, Obasanjo invited us to a sumptuous dinner of pounded yam. It was a dinner most of us would never quickly forget. To accept hospitality from someone who had just humiliated all of us was hard to take. By the time we left Otta farm, grim-faced and literally ashamed of ourselves, it was already 7:00 pm. We had begun to learn the nuances of Ibadan politics…”
As you would expect, a book from an 86-year old man cannot end without reference to people who wronged him and there are such people in Sanu’s book. But it is also remarkable that there is no feeling of bitterness in his recollections. In fact, one of such persons who rubbed Sanu the wrong way is our current president. Yet, Sanu supported and voted for Buhari last year. Below is an account of what happened between Buhari and Sanu some 38 years ago:
“When I was prematurely retired, I thought it was unjustifiably done and indecently handled. What I did not reveal fully in the early part of this book was that my retirement was done during the first coming of Major General Muhhamadu Buhari. I was not particularly bitter about him because I felt that he had not stayed long enough to know those of us in the Ministry individually or collectively, diligent officers that he retired from the Foreign Service. Buhari acted lamely and rather hastily on the list compiled by our own colleague, Ibrahim Rafindadi, who acted in revenge. Painful as my retirement was, my main grouse with Buhari was the treatment that I received at his hands on the one occasion that I had direct contact with him.
“I was asked by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when I was Director of International Organisation Department to accompany Buhari on a trip to West Germany when he was Minister of Petroleum in 1978. He was going to discuss the issue of German interest in importing Nigeria’s crude oil. During the flight, to and fro, the Honourable Minister of Petroleum did not say a word to me even when we sat side by side in the first class compartment of the plane.
“When we got to Germany and went to the Nigerian Ambassador’s residence, my Minister spoke entirely in Hausa throughout with the Ambassador-in-post. He did not speak to me all throughout the trip. I was deeply hurt and disappointed. Right from the beginning of my career, I have escorted Heads of State, Ministers and top officials from all over the world. I have been Chief of Protocol to two Heads of State, Balewa and Ironsi, so I know about courtesy, warmth, fellowship and engagement.
“This encounter with Buhari remained ingrained in my memory such that when he ran for the presidency, I thought he was not suited for it. So strong were my feelings that I was going to write a strong article during his first attempt to run for the presidency to show that he was not a good material but somehow I held back.
“Time is a great healer and I bear Buhari no malice. My encounter with him was more than 35 years ago and I believe Buhari is now a changed man and Nigeria in decline is in need of disciplined, honest, focused and purposeful leadership to turn it around. I confess that I joined the bandwagon of Buhari’s supporters during the 2015 election. Like Paul who started his Ministry by persecuting the followers of Jesus Christ, I am now an avid supporter of Buhari…”
I find Ambassador Sanu’s book very insightful even though the editing is rather poor, for such an important work. But as I reflected after reading it, I felt struck by the recollection of the argument about Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) at the 1966 Commonwealth Conference in Nigeria hosted by our late Prime Minister, Sir Tafawa Balewa. I cannot but remember what Ian Smith said in a 2003 edition of ‘Atlantic Monthly’ magazine where the late white supremacist told his interviewer: “You can’t imagine how many people come up to me and say, ‘We didn’t agree with you back then. We thought you were too rigid and inflexible. But now we see you were right. You were so right: they (black Africans) were not fit to govern.'”
Whatever may have been our view of Ian Smith, who died in 2007, he was obviously looking beyond how Robert Mugabe had destroyed Zimbabwe to the mismanagement of other countries within the continent, including, if not especially, Nigeria, the most populous black country in the world. Therefore, it is in our collective interest to prove Smith wrong and that will only happen if we begin to rebuild both our civil service and public service with a resolve to making going into office about the people, rather than about self and cronies.
How we will do that, I do not know; but it is my hope (more of a prayer, really) that it will happen in my lifetime.
Meanwhile, those interested in Sanu’s book can contact the following numbers: 08033229113; 07037504083; 08063450173 and 08143284461. It is also available for sale online at www.konga.com/thebooksellersltd and www.ikasuwa.com.
Following the launch of my personal web portal, olusegunadeniyi.com, last week, I have been receiving a lot of messages of goodwill. I want all those who have sent mails or text messages that I appreciate them all. And to all my readers, I say thank you!