The epochal month of January 15,1966,fifty-eight odd years ago,was an unforgettable fateful day that marked the end of an era,a fatal abortion of a dream,a moment of forlorn hope, that heralded the demise of the first post-independence experiment at civil democratic polity,a memorable era of the good,the bad,the ugly,but the good faring more in proportional dominance over the bad and ugly.
It was therefore a day evoking a passionately gripping nostalgia of the good old days,the golden age of Nigerian politics, irrespective of its major notable draw-backs,if for no other reason than the distinctively conspicuous cutting edge it commands over the putrefying socio-economic decadence of successive administrations even to date.
Notable glitteratis, conspicuously dominant on the political radar in those days – defining in one dimension or the other,the political order then prevalent, were the likes of K.O.Mbadiwe, popularly known as “the man of timber and caliber”,the Great Zik of Africa,the Late Samuel Ladoke Akintola,the flamboyant Ahmadu Bello,Awo the Great Sage,Adegoke Adelabu,the diminutive stormy petrel,Alhaji Aminu Kano,the reverred patron saint of the Talakawas.Nigerians indeed long for you!
Those halcyon days of yore,they stormed the stage.Today all gone.Vanished with all the glamour, color,humor and intellect they deployed into the political arena in those unforgettable era,and things have never since remained the same again.
Looking back today,it was beyond doubt that they bequeathed a heritage of politics,not only actuated by the sublime vision to serve,but also the politics of color,creative humor,and glamour,all of which combined to make it the golden era of Nigerian politics.
Those indeed were exemplary helmsmen and inspirational luminaries in the political firmament who loved their people and their people not only loved them,but were ready to die for them.
To be sure,a good number of them may not be enamored of wider national interest, what is however indisputable was that they loved their people and with every fire of passion too,quite unlike the contemporary caste of unconscionable free-booters,actuated neither by the love of the nation or even their primordial constituencies, safe for the exclusive nitty gritty question pertaining solely to their own stomach.Neither here nor there,they loved neither the nation nor even their own primordial kith and kin
While it was true that the First Republic was bedeviled,less by the rambunctious rape of material corruption – as a good number of leaders, especially of the eminent top-cadre bracket were somewhat to an extent above board, even though not saints — however,the principal shortfall of ethno-tribal chauvinism preponderating the political space for want of leaders with transcendental cosmopolitan world-view as encapsulating the nation – however,the intellectual creativity, humour,color and glamour, which they brought into play in that memorable epoch,remain an irresistible allure and exciting hallmarks for which this turbulent but golden era of Nigerian politics would be remembered with nostalgia.
The relative success which the Gowon administration was able to achieve, coupled with the minimum level of corruption then prevalent,at least compared with the military and civilian administrations in successive consecutions to date – due to the disciplined code of modesty of the celebrated political figures of that epoch – indubitably stand out as a tribute to the brilliance and patriotic animation of these better-off breeds, whose talents Gowon successfully harnessed in steering the ship of state, particularly at such critical moment immediately coming after the civil war.
This is quite unlike subsequent epochs when the absence of the creative humor ingredient,color, glamour, intellect and patriotism had stripped the political firmament of vital life-essence,thereby reducing the essentially exciting art of politics to arid hum-drum.
This is not to talk of the high-wire corruption unfolding in ominously astronomical proportion as a definitive constant casting a transcendental darkly pall defying the most adept in spiritual exorcism.
At this juncture,if we may embark on specific random references defining the exciting moment of that much cherished era – cherished at least for want of a preferably premium option – then one essentially recalls an exhilarating narrative by no less a personality than Walter Carrington,former American Ambassador to Nigeria who attested at a ceremony of tributes – I personally covered as a reporter – in memory of the Great Zik, at the Law School Auditorium,Lagos,in October 1996 – to how children of his uncle who worked with the Nigeria Railways during the colonial era,and later coming back home,after their father’s retirement,reeled out exciting real tales and legend of the Great Zik.
Those were the days in which the teeming generality of Nigerians surged forth in hysteria to hear the Great Zik speak and adorned their treasure-vault of vocabularies with pyrotechnical lexicons like “egalitarianism” “eldorado” “determinism” “Risorgimento” amongst sundry jaw-breaking neologisms delivered with impressive demagogic artistry that was his familiar identifying trademark
Former chairman of Daily Times,Laban Namme, heard one of his powerful and electrifying speeches delivered in 1946, at the Glover Memorial Hall,during the hey days of the nationalist ferment.So overwhelming and irresistible was that experience for young Laban Namme,that he veered into the exacting world of politics and journalism in emulation of the Great Zik.
In those days,when the Great Zik spoke,he electrified his audience stiff and held them spell bound with his oratorical dexterity.
No wonder the yorubas, irrespective of party affiliations,especially his massive numbers of stalwarts in the NCNC, animated by an awesome reverence for his immense persona, ingeniously tinkered with his name as “Asiki-Iwe”- literally meaning “the gift of book” – asiki meaning “gift” or “talent”,and “Iwe” “book” – both connoting awesome
scholarship,erudition and intellect – just as they equally tinkered with Mbadiwe,the political titan from Arondizuogu – as “Mba-diwe”- “Mba” in Yoruba, meaning “I would have” and “diwe” meaning “become a book”
Take again,the case of Awo.Woven in the Awo persona,were various myths,legends and supernatural tales of omnipotence, which apart from the proven ability to fore-tell future events with uncanny accuracy,was the belief then that he had the key to the earthly firmament.
Apart from the fore-going,was the mass hysteria to “sight him in the moon, holding the key to the earthly firmament,” as was then being popularly bandied.
Apart from these was the color he injected into his campaign stunt as he traversed the geo-political landscape with his helicopter.
I’m addition were his robust political programmes,their egalitarian messianism,and its inspirational appeal in the eyes of the teeming mass of his fanatical supporters,his organisational wizardry,his uncanny intellect,and the resonating echo of A-w-o-o-o,! often reverberating far and wide,which his charismatic presence often inspired in those halcyon days of yore.
Yet were others in the mould of Mazi Mbonu Ojike,comrade Mokwugo Okoye,Chike Ekuyasi,Raji Abdallah,Osita Agwuna,Babs Fafunwa,Tunji Otegbeye,Ikenna Nzimiro,who though were all zikists, however,left an indelible mark with their impetuos,but progressive youthful dash,radical vigor, exuberance and idealism, intellect and oratorial zeal,once stretched to such unbearable extent that almost got their leader Zik into trouble with the British colonial suzerains on the allegation that it was no other than Zik their leader who had often goaded them into an unbridled fit of implacable anti- British over-zealousness.
It took a public denunciation of their action by Zik who dismissed them as “rascals” – a move that was roundly condemned as traitorously unbeffitting of a leader against his supposed loyal disciples – for the British colonial suzerains to be pardonably appeased towards Zik.
From the vastness of their creative intellect,sprang forth the inexhaustible bag of humor,they deployed to pragmatic effect in the drive to carry the people along,even in critical moment of hubbub.
Take the case of the Ibadan-born stormy petrel,the Late Adegoke Adelabu,with his romanticising shibboleth of “Penkelemesi”- ingeniously inspired in a denunciatory fit of umbrage, against his perceived “peculiar mess”of a political opponent – it is therefore no wonder how the immensely talismanic spell of the eleven-lettered dittyramb – has continued to evoke,even till today,the ecstatic ambience of those inspirational good old days and the nostalgic longing for its revival.
Of the Late Samuel Ladoke Akintola of the “Wild, Wild,West” fame,his jocose wit, corruscating banters and wise-cracks – despite perceived political draw-back of any hue – will forever endear him,at least on that score – to the hearts of friends and foes.
Take the case of Zik visiting the European city of Helsinki,which the famed wordsmith interpreted as “Zik going to hell sinking” – or his derogatory sarcasm in distortion of names of hated political adversaries and opponents – like Chief Dennis Osadebe, the then leader of opposition in the old Western Region – imagine how this Yoruba tribal-marked master craftsman literally mutilated his name to “Lagoon-turns-beans” – Lagoon in Yoruba,meaning “Osa” and “ebe” – meaning “beans” but adding the letter “d” with its linguistic connotation of “become”,the word “Osadebe”would syntactically translate to “Lagoon-turns-to Beans” or “Lagoon-becomes-Beans” – which the famed lingual technician will in his usual fit of mischievous witticism,stretch to the hilt – in the irresistibly risible humor – “Eeehn! Ti osa baa debe,eje a fi oko ko o” – “If the Lagoon turns to beans,let’s use our hoes to weed it off.”
Indeed,it was no less a personality than Awolowo himself who once expressed his utter bewilderment at Akintola’s remarkable skill in equivocation – a mercurial propensity by which he was often able to defend with equally amazing ability,views which were diametrically opposed to the one, which only yesterday,he was known to have upheld with equally spirited vigor.
For instance, when the going was good between Akintola and his erstwhile leader,in the person of Awolowo, Akintola held Professor Sam Aluko,a fore-most pro-Awo stalwart in the very highest esteem,but the moment he fell out of the Awo-led Action Group,he would have nothing but spite and disregard for the Ekiti-born professor of blessed memory.
Corroborating the fore-going according to popular grapevine narrative, Akintola once embarked on a campaign mission to Ekitiland,where Aluko hailed from – and before you knew it,this man who only yesterday had reserved nothing but the highest esteem for the renowned professor of economics – had dramatically re-invented the trademark “integrity”of Sam Aluko with the perjorative epithet:”Aluko t-e-g-i-r-i-t-i”- an onomatopoeic synonym for scandalous obloquy and disrepute into which in his imaginary magisterial whims,he was wont to bedraggle the renowned professor.
Indeed, not just a few longed for Kingsley Mbadiwe’s “when the come comes to become…”. Further to this, when Obasanjo resolved to handover to civilians,by lifting the ban on politics, Mbadiwe flatteringly described him as “an institution.”
When after the election,and the NPN’s electoral perfidy,followed by the subsequent comic declaration by FEDECO – the then federal electoral umpire – of Baba Sala victory in favor of the preponderantly populated Hausa-Fulani NPN – with spontaneous celerity – Mbadiwe,the self-imposed,politician-turned “afobaje” (kingmaker) dramatically lifted Obasanjo – gbaaam! – from a lesser fry status of an “institution,” to the Almighty stature of a “juggernaut”.
“Obasanjo is a juggernaut” he chanted with juvenal excitement, in his characteristic horrisonant voice,as avid readers of newspapers,and particularly keen watchers of the TV, who captured that dramatic moment,would remember very vividly as if it were just yesterday.
When sometimes during the Shehu Shagari era, Obasanjo was exempted from the list of personalities who were to answer before the panel appointed to look into the allegedly missing 2.8 billion naira oil money – at a time when mounting popular public outcry concerning the issue attained a critical point – on the ground that he (Obasanjo) was an “institution”,the general mass of Nigerians ever glued in unwaveringly unflinching obduracy on the critical issue then occupying the front burner of public discourse – could not but come to their senses as it eventually dawned on them that Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe,the titan of all titans,the revered “Afobaje” (kingmaker of all kingmakers) the man from Arondizuogu,in Orlu senatorial district of Imo State,was after all no clown.
Rather, they saluted his visionary acumen as the man who saw into the future.The Nostradamus incarnate of our time.The only point of grudge however,was the benumbed sense of reservation,as to why they couldn’t go the full hog in updating his chieftaincy apparel in beffittingly apt development with the newly acquired “juggernaut” chieftaincy deservingly conferred, by Ozumba Mbadiwe,aka “man of timber and calibre” one and the only Afobaje of Africa,the man from Arondizuogu,Orlu Senatorial District of Imo State.
We miss at least their color, humor glamour, and excitements,with which they carried along the people at turbulent moment,unlike the deficiently uncreative contemporary bunch of nit wit grossly deficient in delivering the goodies,yet lacking the creative humor,color, glamour,and brilliant churchillian oration of the likes of the great Ziks,the dramatic finesse of the Adelabu Adegokes,Ozumba Mbadiwes and co,to carry the people along at critical periods as these times demand.
We cherish our departed titans of old.They remain ever fresh in evergreen memory.May their great soul continue to rest in peace
*KOLA JOHNSON IS A WRITER AND JOURNALIST.
N.B.The above write up is an expanded version of the same topic earlier written and published in This Day edition of January 14, 2006.