IkembaEmekaOdumegwu-Ojukwu, the former Biafran leader (now deceased) was once invited to a private residence in Isolo, Lagos by a friend. He wasn’t told the reason for his ‘summons.’ He got there to meet a motley crowd of other friends, relations and well-wishers. The house was called to order. Ojukwu’s friend soon asked him to stand behind him. A white man stepped forward. He was clutching a colourful academic gown which he put on Ojukwu’s friend. Clink of wine glasses. Click of cameras. His friend was being awarded a doctorate.
Schooled in the United Kingdom which emphasised academic rigour and the sanctity of honours, the Ikemba who had then just returned from exile was dumbfounded at the bastardisation of honorary doctorate in the 80s which is yet to abate till this day. He would later remark in his inimitably witty way: “I thought I had seen everything there was to see in this world, not until a friend invited me to his private residence in Lagos. He asked me to stand behind him. There and then, he was being awarded a doctorate. Until that day I didn’t know doctorates could also be awarded in a residence.”
What Ojukwu was trying to describe was the farcical. The debasement of honorary doctorate degrees. But farce is not limited to the education terrain. More than anywhere else, farce stares us in the eye everyday, especially on the political front. Farce rules Nigerian politics. Farce envelopes the political parties, especially the so-called largest party in Africa. Farce is the definition of the absurd, the unhealthy, the silly, the unreasonable and the illogical.
Nigerians were treated to the farcical last week when a group of otherwise respectable men and women wore their best attires, and embarked on the long journey from Abia State to the Wadata House plaza of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP. The mission of the group, which was led by Gov. T.A. Orji and had some National Assembly members as well as some notable political figures in attendance, was to plead with the national chairman of the party, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur and the national working committee against the purported return of former Gov. Orji Uzor Kalu to the party.
They told the national chairman that they had heard and read that Kalu was planning to return to the party in the spirit of reconciliation pursued by the Tukur administration. They said they were happy with the state of the party in the state and did not need to be reconciled with the former governor who they descended on with verbal blows bordering on rabid dislike.
I watched the group on television and read what was credited to them the next day in the newspapers, and I honestly felt sad for democracy in this clime. I felt truly saddened at the level politics had descended to in our country, if we can call what the Abia group went to do in Abuja that. I had never seen such brazen gang up against one man in the name of politics or whatever they choose to call it. It was a terrible waste of tax payers’ money to assemble a group of people, fly or transport them to Abuja, provide accommodation and other logistics for them, on a mission to protest the planned return of one man to a party he joined others to found. It sounds bizarre to the ears. Is there more to it than meets the eye?
I had initially decided against writing on this issue for obvious reasons. But on reflection, I thought otherwise. All right-thinking Nigerians must rise up and condemn this gestapo politics that is being introduced in Abia. It is indecent, and assaults the freedom of association as enshrined in our constitution. It is anti-democratic and imperial to shut the doors against any person or attempt to conscript the political space for whatever reasons. It is within the legal and constitutional rights of any Nigerian to join any association of his choice. No man no matter how powerful he may believe he is can mobilise against that. Pray, what has this country turned into? A banana republic? Why should a group of people arrogate to themselves the right to accept or screen out any person desiring to join a group whenever he so pleases. Are we in apartheid South Africa? Only a person that has been convicted of a crime can be legally excluded from associating with a group. To base your exclusion campaign on a purported return is the veritable definition of abuse of power, a nonsensical, whimsical flight of fancy which should have no place in a democracy.
The Orji versus Kalu tangle has come to assume an embarrassing situation in our polity which should truly depress all Abians, and Ndigbo. For a better part of three or more years, the Gov. Orji ‘storm troopers’ have made ‘operation destroy Kalu’ a major project. The man can hardly drink water in peace; he can hardly speak up without being lampooned and derided; he can hardly do anything right in the eyes of his traducers. His offence? He allegedly became overbearing after he handed over power to his former chief of staff for eight years. If he had been overbearing and T.A Orji has gone ahead to ‘ liberate’ Abia as he and his admirers claim, why continue to demonise his erstwhile boss? I thought the reasonable thing to do was to continue to offer the state ‘development’ as his vision allows. If Abians are pleased with him as he and his aides proclaim, why then make the ‘Kalu project’ a cardinal plank of his administration?
To be sure, Abia is not the only state where the incumbent governors soon fell apart with their predecessors on assumption of office. From Zamfara to Enugu; Lagos to Kano, you name it, the fire has been on. In the case of Lagos, the situation was so tense and all manner of allegations hurled at the doorsteps of Gov. Fashola’s political mentor and predecessor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. At a point, Fashola’s second term ticket became uncertain. But at no time did Fashola openly denigrate his former boss. At no point did he sponsor or encourage phantom groups and overzealous aides to take paid pages in the newspapers to abuse him. That is the definition of political sophistication and maturity. In Abia, to show relevance and loyalty to the Orji administration, all kinds of aides are running wild to punch Kalu in the face and rub his head in the mud. What manner of politics is that? Gov. Orji must call his attack dogs to order in the name of decency.
Whenever any official of government, including the governor , uses derogatory or dirty words to attack ex-Gov. Kalu, it is not his person that is being dragged on the floor, but the office of the governor of Abia State. Whatever anyone says or thinks of him, he once presided over the affairs of that state for eight years. It makes no difference if people of the state believe his administration was purposeful or not. The incontrovertible fact on ground is that he was once a two-term governor of the state. No one can wish away that fact.
I have met Gov. Orji a couple of times or so. He appears calm and restrained. He comes across as a gentleman, that I sometimes find it difficult fathoming how he could be at the head of an administration that makes a song and dance of trampling on his predecessor and former boss, whatever his perceived malfeasances.
I suspect one of two things. Either he had always nursed a hidden disdain for a man he served for eight, long years or he has been hijacked by forces beyond his control. They are everywhere in government, those who want to ‘chop’ and see every troubled spot as their opportunity to make a kill through advertorials and sponsored interviews. If there is no battle between T. A and Orji how are they expected to make ends meet? They either have to create some imaginary feud or add fuel to an innocuous statement to provoke a needless crisis.
My gratis advice to Gov. Orji is to take heed of such hangers on, those who stoke the embers of war at any given time for their personal profit. They can only lead him, as they are doing now, into a needless feud with his predecessor. Those who are screaming his name all over town today, calling him the ‘great liberator’ and ‘OchendoAbia,’ are certain to turn against him in three years from now, on his exit from power. Who knows, they may even have a new name for him ‘governor go-slow’ or ‘Ochendo nehi-mmiri’ (the leaking umbrella of Abia).
It is obvious that it is the phobia of one man that led to the farcical visit to Wadata plaza, to block his anticipated return to the ruling party. But those who persecute others only make the persecuted strong. Kalu may have Gov. Orji and his group to thank for enhancing his profile through their bashings. He remains the issue in Abia politics. Lucky man.