By Dele Momodu
“The loss of any soul, no matter the religious persuasion or ethnic background is always an occasion for collective mourning and abstemious reflections.”
Your Excellency, when I wrote my last letter to you about three weeks ago, little did I realise I was going to write another so soon. But events of the past two weeks have happened so rapidly, and in such dramatic fashion, that it left me with no choice than to come back to you, anon, Sir.
I believe the first thing to do is to once again commiserate with you on the death of fellow Nigerians in that fatal helicopter crash. It is always sad, sombre and sobering when we witness such tragedy of monumental proportions in our clime. The loss of any soul, no matter the religious persuasion or ethnic background is always an occasion for collective mourning and abstemious reflections.
On a personal note, I was absolutely shattered even if I did not have a close relationship with any of the unfortunate victims. I was a great fan of Lt. General Owoye Azazi, in particular, after the brilliant speech he gave at his controversial outing in Delta State, where he lampooned and lambasted Nigeria’s reckless ruling party as being responsible for the spate of violent crimes in the country. Since then and until he paid the ultimate price and became a reluctant statistic of the failings of our nation, life had never been a bed of roses for him. He instantly became a pariah and was treated like a recalcitrant baby in the family.
One did not have to be a soothsayer to know he had touched the tiger by the tail and it is not in the nature of such beasts to condone and forgive acts of impudence. It was only a matter of time before he was eventually booted out of the corridor of power even if, as now seems apparent, he remained in the periphery somewhere. It is tragic how the end came so suddenly and quickly.
I never met Patrick Yakowa, the late Governor of Kaduna State. His rise to power and influence was beginning to mirror your own. Indeed he had become Governor of Kaduna State as a benevolent beneficiary of the good fortune for which you have become widely acclaimed because you chose his boss, Namadi Sambo, then Governor of Kaduna State as your Vice-President. His miraculous ascent to power was therefore similar to yours. He was Commissioner, Deputy Governor and then, Governor; without personally contesting election. Indeed some were also beginning to tout him as a potential Presidential candidate, a possible bridge being a Northern Christian. As they say, man proposes but God disposes. Glowing tributes have been paid to his memory and I assume he was deserving of them all.
However, it is usual at times like this for Nigerians, particularly our leaders to forget the aides and pilots who died with them. It is my hope that you will give pride of place in your grief to Dauda Tsoho, Commander Muritala Mohammed Daba, Lt. Adeyemi Sowole and Warrant Officer Mohammed Kamal. In particular, the latter three officers should attract commendation and glowing tributes from you for they are the ones who truly died in the service of their nation. They were sad victims of a terrible system that made it possible for big men to use and abuse government facilities and personnel for non-official duties and totally private engagements. I hope that you will find the time to pay condolence visits to the families of those four gentlemen and encourage your darling wife and members of your Government to do the same as they have no doubt done with respect to the two more distinguished gentlemen who lost their lives. These officers and aides are not lesser mortals merely because they did not attain the higher offices of those compatriots that died with them. They must be treated as fallen heroes in obeying the last order.
I know how deeply these untimely deaths must have hit you on a day one of your closest aides, my dear friend and brother, Oronto Douglas, was burying his dad, and barely a week after you buried your own dear beloved brother in the same Bayelsa State. This strange and calamitous string of tragedies is highly regrettable. However, you may feel, Sir, they portend ominous signs of darker days ahead and it is time for you to think of even commencing fasting and prayers. You may need to solicit the spiritual intervention of a syncretic combination of Pastors, Imams and Marabouts from far and near, and I’m not joking. Even as I write this, there are nationwide reports of unprecedented disasters, fires burning here and there, sporadic explosions, road accidents and air disasters involving senior government officials, medical complications with Ministers and Governors disappearing and reappearing. Only recently, we were on our bended knees praying for the safe return of your dear wife, our beloved First Lady and Mother of the nation, from a rumoured treatment in Germany. No one has deemed it fit to tell us the true story!
Sir, when such occurrences happen, with the current rapidity, I believe it is time to look inwards. We must take a comprehensive glimpse at our home and check where the roof is leaking, because these are no normal times. They are spiritual warnings that, perhaps, if we had done the right things at the right times, we could have avoided some of these ugly catastrophes. If you ever read my articles in the last few years, you would have recognised my constant distress and disappointment at the total collapse of our ethics and our infrastructure.
I had lamented regularly, like the Biblical Jeremiah, about the road from Port Harcourt to Yenagoa. I had wondered why that important road has remained unrepaired, even if only to make merely motorable, despite your influence and humongous power. You are the only Nigerian I know who has been permanently in power since 1998, or thereabout, as board member, Deputy Governor, Governor, Acting Governor, Governor, Vice President, Acting President and President. One would have expected that given your unique occupation of these offices, the road to Yenagoa would have transfigured into a super highway, befitting an oil-rich community. Alas neither the road nor indeed the State remotely qualifies for any kind of superlative description. Your state remains one of the most squalid in the whole of Nigeria. It remains as terrible as it was before their son attained the highest level of power. I dare say it is not something you can be proud of. For the amount of money being pumped into the Niger Delta project, the land should be paved with gold by now. The United Arab Emirates is a veritable example of what responsible, visionary and determined leadership can do and achieve with prudent management of resources. The amount you spent on your presidential campaign last year was about what it took Dubai to build The Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.
If it has been impossible for you to resolve, or fix that disgraceful Port Harcourt- Yenogoa road, indeed, I wonder who would do it and by what magic or miracle. This should have been your priority since charity begins from home. Sir, I insist, you cannot say Nigeria has not had the money and requisite resources to build a modern nation we all can be proud of. The problem I can see is the lack of will on your part to challenge fate and change how government business is run in Abuja and Nigeria in general. The politics of patronage we practise here has been our albatross. The resources we should deploy for our common good are often shared by a few aides and acolytes.
There is no reason we can’t work on our infrastructural decay. We’ve lost too many lives to our criminal carelessness. The solution is not as difficult as we make it look in Nigeria. We have too much money from all available and symptomatic evidence. No poor nation would ever spend money the way we do. We are wasting resources that would have turned many African nations into paradise. One way to save some money is to reduce the Presidential fleet and global travels. The other is to arrest our irrational awards of over-inflated contracts. We can know the true cost and worth of projects by simply checking online. Nothing is secret these days. What’s worse and sickening is the fact that we are even borrowing money to fund frivolous, substandard, obsolete and abandoned projects. None of our current roads would meet international standards for approval. Why can’t we just tighten our belts and do what reasonable people do, reduce the excesses that have wasted many generations and more to come?
The roads from our airports tell the stories of who we are. We have spent years and good money trying to expand the road between Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport and the gate of Abuja city. Our shame as a nation is further confirmed and compounded by our flagship Murtala Mohammed International Airport that has been in permanent state of disrepair and rehabilitation. Despite the billions of Naira being made and spent on it, the place presents a foretaste of hell on earth. Once upon a time, we had trains that criss-crossed our cities and made it easy to move people and goods in different directions. Why has our rail system collapsed and all we can do is to make an open mockery of our country by running on prehistoric engines? We continuously hear that things will soon get back on track, but when?
How come we’ve stopped developing our villages and only visit for funerals and similar dire tragedies like consoling victims of natural disasters and man-made calamities such as deaths from pipeline infernos? Why is it that there are no longer weddings and similar celebrations in our villages which attract the cream of society? Why can’t we see that mass unemployment is always an impetus for misbehaviour and mass disenfranchisement? Why can’t we see that corruption begets societal rot and abuse of office always ends in tears?
There are several things you can do to imbue confidence in the system. You will do this by shaking off the lethargy for which you are now becoming notorious, reshape your cabinet, abandon the frill, thrills and paraphernalia of office which only serve as a distraction to you and members of your government and roll up your sleeves. Shutting down cities and villages during your visits is never a good way to endear yourself to the people. The fear of terrorism and terrorists is no excuse to further disturb those struggling to eke a living in a particularly difficult terrain. Your security must be retrained in how to give maximum cover with minimum disruption to lives and properties.
You will lead by example starting from your household. You should tell Madam that she has to reduce her retinue of hangers-on and refrain from inconveniencing the citizens when she travels through our roads. Of course this message will be easier to pass on to everyone in your Government if you do the same. You are not any safer simply because of the number of sycophants and battalions of security who accompany you. Deploying the military might and arsenal at your disposal does not translate to safety from avenging recruits. Your best forms of security, as I have always said, are your people. When they love you, nobody can touch you. When they tire of you no army can save you. Those singing your praises now will be the first to jump ship. That is the Nigerian way.
Next you must fight the cankerworm of corruption and you can only do this if you do not mind whose ox is gored. There must be no sacred cows. Again your leadership must be by example. Do not hide behind any constitutional loophole and refuse to publicly declare your asset. Be true to yourself, your nation and more importantly your God by revealing your true worth.
Ask for the nation’s forgiveness and return anything which is more than you could reasonable have acquired whilst in Government. Your people are a forgiving people if they discern genuine remorse and sense the sincerity of purpose that you would have shown. You will be amazed by the rush to follow suit from members of your government and public servants. They will know that times have changed and the old order has collapsed. Your people will ardently support you as you really pursue your transformation agenda. You will surely have truly metamorphosed into the God anointed leader that the manner you have been thrust into the leadership of our great country suggests.
I continue to pray for you and our dear Country. God bless us all. God bless Nigeria. Amen.