My Short List of Greatness

My Short List of Greatness

I once told Olumuyiwa Adejuwon and Simon Itodo about this. I face the mirror in certain times to scale my power of oratory. I am not planning to face Goodluck Jonathan in a presidential debate, the law and my present calling (BudgIT) won’t allow me. My effort usually ends up in mimicry of Barack Obama. I start on smooth sail with few familiar lines. I begin to rush into incoherence or even completely stammer empty words. I would peer of the lines of Martin Luther King, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton, Reagan et al wondering how men could craft words so apt. But I will get there. I am someone who believes that if you can’t win be talent, why not be persistent with effort?

This is my height of inspiration when I see poetic cadences either in speech or fiction flow with so much grace. But most importantly, I am that person in search of narrative of greatness which I believe words have a huge share. I am mostly unmoved by popular narrative of greatness. They seem the affirm the thoughts of the expedient. I mean people would tell you about Obafemi Awolowo and his glowing wave of change that put the west ahead. I run ahead of such raft to peer at the men behind the veil. The Emmanuel Alayande, Simeon Adebo, Bode Thomas and Ladoke Akintola and many more would not bask in same glory. Not that I derob the Ikenne sage of his immense place in history. It is just a restless me finding peculiar heroes who remain unsung or not draped in immaculate glory.  Let me tell you of my new heroes who lived in great times:

Thaddeus Stevens:  Maybe this makes me loves a close brother named Thaddeaus more but Thaddeus Stevens is a man you need Google. No better way to tell the legacy of this man than watch the new movie titled Lincoln. We were five in the whole Silverbird cinema who watched this movie. If this was a Timberlake ‘Friends without Benefits’ you will see colour-blocked ladies falling over their heels. Such is my generation.

Thaddeaus was a white man who spent his entire life campaigning for racial equality. He was bruised and abused for it and in those fiery days when blacks were regarded as three-fifths of a human being, when justice was blind to color and education was elusive to the colored race, Thaddeaus married a black lady. The emancipation of Blacks might have penned by the majestic pen of Abraham Lincoln but here is a man who hangs the millstone on himself to ensure that blacks are free. In the end, the Thirteen Amendment which frees all slaves was passed by a thin margin. On that night of victory January 31, 1865, when he told his black wife to read the Original Amendment to him while he slept, I left the cinema in tears. That’s greatness.

I will tell you about Bram Fischer. Possibly you never heard of him. He had no fancy airport named after him like an Oliver Tambo or not in the ranks of eminence like a Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and others. Bram was an Afrikaner and guess who the tormentors of the blacks were – The Afrikaners. They were the Botha, Vorster and Verwoerd of this world who believed the black man was socially deficient and cannot lay claim to common rights of life and liberty. At the Rivonia trial when Nelson Mandela gave his final address April 20, 1964, Bram Fischer, his lead counsel stood firm by him not because of the quick wages but because it affirmed his lifelong drive to see blacks free. He stood by his belief and went even to Robben Island to visit Mandela after losing his wife in a week. Hounded by on the surface of the earth and underneath, he was finally sentenced to confinement, where he met death through cancer. These are the words of Nelson Mandela on Bram Fischer  “bravest and staunchest friends of the freedom struggle that I have ever known. From a prominent Afrikaner family, he gave up a life of privilege, rejected his heritage, and was ostracized by his own people, showing a level of courage and sacrifice that was in a class by itself”

So what do we give up for greatness? I have many more examples to tell of Robert Graetz and Clifford B. Durr who were whites but were scaled beyond the planks of passiveness to make it a lifelong cause to support Black freedom.  They might not be a Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks who are forever lauded today but this people in their own rights and many unknown more stood on the side of defiance – disrespect to the status quo. They were committed in the face of ridicule and death. So what’s greatness? Is it having a lifelong battle to do something different even the popular narrative seems to be on a diverging course? Is it following your trail of justice and liberty not at the convenience of ourselves but for others and many more to grace the face of the earth. So my list can be short, there are many more unsung who toiled upwards against the norm the polluted their society. In their unmarked graves or present lives, these are great people. Let me end with Martin Luther King’s stinging words:

One of the prayers that I prayed to God every day was: “Oh God, help me to see myself in my true perspective. Help me, oh God, to see that I’m just a symbol of a movement. Help me to see that I’m the victim of what the Germans call a Zeitgeist and that something was getting ready to happen in history……Oh, God, help me to see that where I stand today, I stand because others helped me to stand there and because the forces of history projected me there.  


The Accidental Public Servant – My Review


Accidentally, I found myself at the launch of Nasir El-Rufai’s book now overtly referred to as controversial and full of insider details mysterious to the common citizen. I wanted to say goodbye to Jackie Farris of Musa Yaradua’s center and unknowingly, I launched into a midst of fellow labourers who toil in the digital and offline minefield, trying to raise active citizens. Standing the gallery peering at Nasir who was about to cry at his own book launch, his little frame struggled to fit into the grand agbada and one might wonder if  that small stature counts for a man whose narratives are being presented  in giant print.

Allow me by starting with that mild abuse, but this is overly fair to Nasir who in his book fought hard to neatly depict his characters.  He had words for Charles Soludo as ‘ Charles would wear expensive bespoke suits, complete with bright red tie” and  for the early days of Umaru Musa Yaradua as a man “ that never worked a day in his life,  that had lived off and been kept by his brother Shehu, that he was a free thinker for a period, and believed more in marabouts than his professed  religion’. It was that clear level of description that he wound up around characters either on his good memory – Nuhu Ribadu, Tunde Bakare, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – or those he peered through the dark lenses such as Ahmed Yayale, Atiku Abubakar and Ibrahim Mantu.

A narrative that hauls canaries into the present by reciting his account of the past, The Accidental Public Servant (TAPS) comes as brilliant read for folks not only interested in public service but finding a meaning to complex interplay at the top they possibly aspire to. Not the canticles of public service but reaching to the stand of a seminal publication, Nasir’s personal account unintentionally throws a reader into disbelief with sighs, wondering aloud if this isn’t stranger than fiction. These stories around the power play, serial tests of loyalty and forceful ambition of men throws recent happenings of the fourth republic to debate. To the unknowing future generations, this could be the single narrative of this era unless the ‘fallen’ such as Mantu and Zwingina step forward with their plausible side of the story.

A reader notices that the whole power space lies in the small junction of haphazard connected individuals. Nasir easily places a phone call to the familiar names that regurgitate in our country. He was that close to power. The 627-page book of which only 489 who counts as the main narrative starts with the story of the Third Term Agenda- the overt perpetuation of the old guard who still peered Africa through the lenses of the Big Man. The accounts of Obasanjo yes-men (Andy Uba, Ahmadu Ali, Tony Anenih ) who tried all means to arm twist a reluctant legislative leadership to their bidding were well written. In those banal moments, Nuhu Ribadu was hushed and cash was freely shared to power the gravy train. Even the ‘incorruptible’ Nasir was privy to the bounty given legislators overseeing his FCT Ministry.

The book went on to document his early losses in life, the choice of career, his rare early qualification as a Chartered Quantity Surveyor and how his early company faced crisis of ownership. Nasir kept a significant mention of Barewa College – a Northern institution that produced likes of him, Umaru Musa Yaradua, Yakubu Gowon and Murtala Mohammed. TAPS does not project Nasir as a self-made man because consciously, he revealed how he was lifted on the wings  of friends, seniors and peers. He would constantly remind readers on influence of his elder brother Bashir El-rufai, Hamza Zayyad, Economic Management Team, BPE and FCT employees and Barewa College friends.

Seemed the death of Abacha unearthed his moment to public service as he documented his steps from being a transition committee think tank under Abdulsalami Abubakar, BPE Agency boss where he had running battles with Atiku and schemed to give a lifeline to the EFCC and also as a FCT minister. He would even ascribe to himself the unofficial title as Obasanjo’s vice president in the last days of that tortuous Presidency due to the enormous responsibilities hurled at him.

Interestingly, he gives a good account of the pains of change, especially making Abuja a working city that fights the ghosts of Lagos. His attempt at the land reforms, justification for his last minute Abuja land approvals and his account that his wife had a prior application for a land in Abuja before he came the FCT minister were all listed. A lot to instruct the reader which include the story of flesh hankering after sleazy fortunes, the sale of government houses, running battles with Bashir Sambo,  the chase to prove equity in demolition exercise, his running battles with Umaru Musa Yaradua which forced him into exile and also harrowing account with the courts. His moments with Goodluck Jonathan and how he ended up supporting General Buhari were carefully written. In end, you miss too little in the timeline of Nigeria’s center during this 4th Republic.

Succinct lessons lie on interactions among the intellectuals who though see it as a lifelong battle to save the country, yet won’t rise above petty ego to forge a common front. He goes ahead to document the four mistakes of Obasanjo which includes fraudulently underpricing Transcorp shares to people in the government. This book offers insights and lessons on the challenges, pitfalls and common battles of a technocrat in public service . While Nasir may have told a story to prove that he stood incorruptible in the midst of brazen theft, it is left to the reader to subject the TAPS to independent reasoning and further research. Well edited by men of towering calibre, in its giant font, TAPS is silky to read but at the terminal pages, one feels sad as a father lost Yasmin, a promising daughter and grip of the polygamous family, to massive seizure in the bathroom.