Death And The King’s Horsemanship – by Okey Ndibe @okeyndibe

Published:20 Aug, 2012

Death And The King’s Horsemanship – by Okey Ndibe

It’s good, I believe, that President Goodluck Jonathan and numerous Nigerian officials traveled to Ghana last week to attend the funeral of John Atta Mills, that country’s immediate past president. The death of any man of power always strikes me as an occasion for other powerful men (and women) of power as well as their would-be counterparts to contemplate the finiteness of their lives, and to come to terms with their ultimate feebleness in the grand scheme of things.

By media and eyewitness accounts, Ghanaians gave Mr. Mills a decent send-off. Reports in Ghanaian and foreign newspapers portrayed the solemn air of the man’s funeral. Ghana’s political class, including many prominent members of the opposition, offered a harvest of celebratory tributes. Numerous foreign dignitaries chimed in with statements that highlighted the deceased president’s quiet grace, intelligence and capacious pacifism.

For me, however, the most reliable measure of a leader’s stature must be taken, not from the predictable – and obligatory – plaudits that issue from the equally high and mighty. There’s often something inherently self-serving in the tone of sentiments that come from such exalted quarters. Few prominent politicians or public figures are willing to risk publicly professing their unflattering views of a peer brought low by death. To give vent to abusive (or plain frank) thoughts about a deceased leader is, for the politically or socially elevated, to court scandal and trigger a frenzy of repudiation and chastisement. It’s not in the nature of well-placed figures to speak with brutal directness about the foibles or flaws of their dead peers.

Luckily, the generality of the populace is not hampered by such strictures. Yes, there’s the ostensible convention that the living must refrain from unkind remarks about the dead. One wonders, however, if this so-called tradition is legitimate, or represents one of those myths that, left unchallenged, begin to resemble reality.

My own experience is that, on the death of any fellow whose conduct was widely viewed as unrelentingly sinister, people frequently intersperse emotions of awe with bold (even if whispered) references to the deceased’s record of infamy and contemptible life. My experience is that people hardly ever ascribe virtues to patently evil men and women.

My experience is that, when a so-called powerful politician passes on, the streets are apt to be infinitely more honest than those who haunt the rooms and corridors of power. So, last week, I rang a friend of mine who has lived in Accra for more than ten years. He testified to a marvelous, spontaneous outpouring of grief by the Ghanaian populace.

If Ghana were like North Korea, I would have suspected that my friend’s palpable portrait of bereavement was a choreographed performance, a feigned and overhyped display, a farce mandated by the state. As leaders go, Mr. Mills was far from a genius. But people hardly ever expect their leaders to rise to the stature of geniuses. It suffices that a leader be fueled by a vision of transformation, and lends himself, the best he can, to the realization of that vision. It is often enough that a leader tries his best, and is seen to do so. Mr. Mills failed to do many things as leader. Some critics assailed him for going to sleep as Ghana slipped into a kind of ethical doldrums, with the corruption index creeping up. Yet, he was hardly accused of pursuing self-enrichment through questionable means. Some within his own party found his style too uninspiring, and did not care for his reticent, self-effaced personality. He was a rare politician who seldom raised a voice to speak in anger, irrespective of the decibel of verbal abuse his opponents heaped on him.

I’d be curious to discern what lesson, if any, Nigeria’s President Jonathan and his delegation picked up from the funeral for Mills. As they viewed the inert remains of the former Ghanaian leader, did they reckon that this – that is death – is the destiny of us all humans, including the supposedly powerful? Did they have the eyes to behold the cloud of sorrow that had enveloped Ghana, the pulse of sorrow that had quickened the hearts of the Ghanaian people? Gazing at Mr. Mills’ stilled body, did they figure out that vanity is the sorriest, scariest bane of any human, but of leaders especially? Did it occur to them, finally, that they themselves – like the rest of us – will one day draw a last breath, and thenceforth be subject to the unscripted judgment of history?

The first draft of that judgment is always written in the hearts of fellow citizens, and our first intimation of its shape and content is glimpsed from the streets’ reaction to a powerful man’s death. Former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha spent several years in office engaged in depraved, primitive accumulation of riches. When he died – by many accounts, in the company of several young women, foreign and local, he was about to ravish – Nigerians exploded in a bolt of celebration. Anybody who today suggests that Mr. Abacha was anything but a knave would be arguing against the unambiguous verdict of history.

I always like contrasting Mr. Abacha with former Tanzanian leader Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. Unlike the Nigerian, Mr. Nyerere was an enlightened, visionary and articulate man. Deeply human, he made numerous mistakes as his country’s leader. Yet, for every mistake that Mr. Nyerere made, Mr. Abacha committed several crimes. Unlike General Abacha, whose central ethic was to gut and pauperize his country in order to fatten his own pocket (and his minions’), the Tanzanian’s missteps derived from policy and ideological choices that were well-meaning but – in hindsight – inhospitable.

After leaving office, Mr. Nyerere had to take out a loan from a bank to build himself a modest house in his village. Since he never stole from the people, he had no need to ensconce himself in a hilltop mansion, isolated from the reach of fellow villagers. No, he delighted in living among his people. Each morning, neighbors and other visitors would stream to his unfenced home to sit, drink, eat and converse with the man they affectionately called Mwalimu, Swahili for “Teacher.” When Mr. Nyerere died, with little in his bank account, Tanzanians did not take to the streets in orgies of jubilation, as Nigerians did when Mr. Abacha, our billionaire ex-dictator passed away.

Mr. Nyerere’s luck was to grasp an enduring truth, that a true leader is distinguished by the quality of his/her leadership, his/her impact on the lives of his people, not just the coterie of rogues that are called “stakeholders” in Abuja. When Mr. Nyerere heard that a tested leader should be invested in the L word, he knew that the letter stood for Legacy, not Loot. He knew that the quantity of a person’s loot, the size of ill-gotten wealth would not be reckoned with in the inevitable, final account. Today, no serious Tanzanian historian would suggest that Mr. Nyerere was less than a great leader.

The vast majority of those who pass themselves off as Nigerian leaders are puny crooks capable of prying open a baby’s hand to steal its bottled milk. Sold on the crappy creed that people are defined by the sum of their possessions, these men and women chase after lucre with such deranged zeal that they forget to ask the question: What, then? After looting all the funds they can get their hands on, buying all the expensive toys that there are – then what? Can money buy any magic to stay Death’s cold hand? And is there ever enough money to whitewash infamy, to deodorize a stinky legacy, or to bribe history?

Did the Nigerian delegation at President Mills’ funeral learn any chastening lessons? Or did they leave Accra as obsessed with indulging the desires of their vain minds as ever?


Okey Ndibe

Please follow me on twitter @okeyndibe

via SaharaReporters

Okey Ndibe

Okey Ndibe  was born in Yola, Nigeria, in 1960. After a career as a magazine editor in Nigeria, he moved to the US to be the founding editor of African Commentary, an award-winning magazine published by the Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe. A visiting writer-in-residence and assistant professor of English at Connecticut College, Ndibe  has contributed poems to An Anthology of New West African Poets, edited by the Gambian poet, Tijan Sallah.

He has also published essays in a number of North American, British and Nigerian magazines and writes a weekly column for the Guardian, Nigeria’s most respected daily newspaper. Arrows of Rain is his first novel. With it, he says: ‘I felt I was grappling with an important human drama that just happened to be set in Africa… I wrote it while I was out of Nigeria. It would have been a different book if I had written it while in the country more angry, less meditative.’

4 thoughts on “Death And The King’s Horsemanship – by Okey Ndibe @okeyndibe”

  1. muslim says:

    God bless you, once again.

  2. Elesho Abidemi says:

    Thank GOD we still ve people like u around 2 emphatically stress the need why people should not allow their conscience to be smitten whenever they are opportuned to be at the helms. This should be a daily devotion for every helmsman.

  3. ibrahim danladi says:

    Most stories about abacha were lies and over he was not found in the mist of ladies. And if I may ask what has abacha that that successive govts including this one have not done worst.tell me.

  4. Daniele says:

    Asking questions are actually fastidious thing if you are not understanding something completely, but this article provides
    good understanding even.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts

Recent Posts

Judges Accused of Corruption Should go on Compulsory Leave – NBA

The Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) has advised judges facing allegations of corruption to proceed on compulsory leave until their innocence is proven. The judges are Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro (supreme court); Adeniyi Ademola and Nnamdi Dimgba (federal high court); Mohammed Tsamiya (appeal court, Ilorin); Kabri Auta (high court, Kano) and Muazu Pindiga (high court, Gombe). On October 8, the Department of State Services arrested the judges after raiding their homes, claiming it recovered huge amounts of money,...

How Amaechi Begged me to Help Nullify Fayose’s Election – Judge

A Justice of the Supreme Court yesterday accused Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi and Science Minister Ogbonnaiya Onu of being the architect of his travails. Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, who was arrested by Department of State Services (DSS) operatives for alleged corruption, blamed it all on his refusal to cooperate with the duo, who he said had requested him to influence some electoral cases in their favour. He alleged that Amaechi and Onu asked him to assist them in relation to the...

Trevor Noah Pulls Out of The 2016 MAMAs

Stand-up comic and host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” Trevor Noah has pulled out as host of the sixth edition of the MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMAs) due to a severe upper respiratory and ear infection.   A day before the awards ceremony is set to take place in a 2-hour telecast at the Dome in Johannesburg MTV announced that Bonang Matheba will replace...

Fulani Herdsmen: Confiscated cows to go for ‘stomach infrastructure’ – Fayose

Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose has declared that any cow confiscated under the State Grazing Regulation Law will be slaughtered and shared to the people as part of the “Stomach Infrastructure” policy of his administration. The governor who disclosed this on Thursday in Ado Ekiti during the inauguration of Ekiti Grazing Enforcement Marshals (EGEM) said herdsmen caught grazing their cattle beyond the 6.00 pm risks six months jail while their animals will be confiscated. Fayose explained that the setting up of...

BREAKING: Arrested judges to step aside pending trial.

The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, on Thursday, asked all the judges being investigated over their alleged involvement in acts of corruption to excuse themselves from further judicial functions or proceed on compulsory leave, until their innocence is fully and completely established. The legal body said such step was not only necessary in order to protect the sanctity and integrity of judicial processes that may involve the judges concerned, but to also safeguard the public image of the judiciary as an...

Recession: CBN, Heritage Bank disburse N930m to 310 entrepreneurs.

The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, in conjunction with Heritage Bank Plc, yesterday, commenced the process for the disbursement of N930 million to 310 young entrepreneurs under the Youth Entrepreneurship Development Programme, YEDP, so as to help address the rising unemployment situation in the country, empower the youths and reactivate the economy. Speaking at the commencement of the loan disbursements to the beneficiaries, comprising members of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, graduates and artisans, the Governor of the CBN,...

Scammers impersonated police officer, duped victims in Abuja.

The police on Thursday arraigned three men before a High Court in FCT, Abuja on a six-count charge bordering on impersonation and advanced fee fraud popularly called 419. Stanley Onwuka, Henry Ushi and Moshood Stephen allegedly impersonated Donald Onwuma, a Police Public Relations Officer attached to the peace keeping unit and duped unsuspecting civilians and police men. They allegedly collected various sums of money electronically from civilians and police officers with a promise to send them to police foreign mission in...

Exxon Mobil to commence drilling in Liberia.

Liberia’s hope of being an oil producing nation has been renewed with the announcement of plans to commence drilling by the Texas headquartered Exxon Mobil. The company said on October 19 it would start drilling its first exploratory well off the coast of Liberia in November, report said. “ExxonMobil Exploration and Production Liberia Limited, an affiliate of ExxonMobil, plans to drill a deepwater exploration well on the Liberia-13 Block, located about 50 miles offshore Liberia, beginning in November 2016,” a spokeswoman...

Reps summon CBN, NNPC over forex, aviation fuel.

The House of Representatives Committee on Aviation has directed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to appear before it today to explain its role in the challenges facing the aviation sector. Meanwhile, a leading financial institution, Access Bank Plc, has successfully raised $300 million via a Eurobond from the international bond market. The aviation sector is currently battling challenges associated with operations of foreign and local airlines in Nigeria. According to the Chairman of the...

France Airbus Group to open office in Nigeria

The efforts of the current administration in the aviation sector have received a boost with the coming in of Airbus Group of France to set up an office in Nigeria The Ambassador of France in Nigeria, Mr Denys Gauer who led a delegation of the Airbus Group to the office of the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika in Abuja yesterday, confirmed the coming in of the Airbus group to Nigeria. Gauer informed the Minister that the largest aircraft...

Kanye West Says Jay Z Didn’t Want to Be on Drake’s “Pop Style” Out of Respect for Meek Mill

Kanye West’s Saint Pablo tour continues to float on into the fall, stopping in Seattle, Wash. Wednesday night (Oct. 19). In terms of on-stage chatter, Kanye has been a bit more muted this go around, but prompted by some unknown force, he decided to shed some light on the feature spots he and Jay Z leant to Drake’s “Pop Style.” When the song first dropped back in April....

2, 850 successful applicants set to be recruited into the Nigerian Navy.

Two thousand, eight hundred and fifty (2,850) candidates out of the number that applied to enlist in the Nigerian Navy are successful in the exercise. This was the update released by the Nigerian Navy through its director of Information, DINFO, Commodore Christian Ezekobe, Wednesday, in Abuja. Ezekobe, however, said that the successful candidates would be trained in two batches, Batch A and Batch B respectively. He said while successful candidates in the first batch would commence training on November 6, those in...

Ogun State: Striking workers have no brains – Amosun

Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State, has lambasted workers of the state civil service who have threatened to go on strike over unpaid allowances and wages, saying they have no brains. This is coming after the organized labour, on Wednesday, made real its threat to commence total strike in the state. The workers had snubbed a meeting initiated by foremost traditional rulers in the state. At a town hall meeting organized yesterday by the Ministry of Budget and Planning at June 12...

IMF Report: Nigeria’s economy is the biggest in Africa.

A new report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected Nigeria as Africa’s biggest economy, in spite of its current challenges. Nigeria is placed ahead of South Africa and Egypt which are second and third respectively. In August, Nigeria was reported to have lost its position as Africa’s biggest economy to South Africa, following the recalculation of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But the IMF’s World Economic Outlook for October, puts Nigeria’s GDP at...

Islamic group warns Christians against dragging Emir over forceful marriage.

An Islamic group, ‘Jama’atu Izalatil Bidah wa Iqamatis Sunnah’, JIBWIS, has warned those dragging the name of the Emir of Katsina, Alhaji Abdulmumuni Usman, into the controversy generated by the marriage between Habiba Isiyaku, the 14-year-old girl who was allegedly converted to Islam and forced into marriage by her alleged abductor, Jamilu Lawal. The Katsina State branch of the group, on Wednesday, clarified that the royal father had nothing to do with the ‘forceful’ marriage. Recall that the Emir of Katsina,...

2 commissioners arrested over funds from Diezani.

Two commissioners in Enugu, Charles Egumbe and Rita Mba, have been arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Punch reports that the commissioners were arrested in connection to their alleged involvement in a N23billion allegedly disbursed by Diezani Alison-Madueke in the run-up to the 2015 general election. Before their appointments as Commissioners for Water Resources - Charles Egumgbe and Commissioner for Tourism - Rita Mba, the politicians held sway as the chairman and secretary...

30 years on, ghost of Dele Giwa continues to haunt IBB.

October 19, 1986 has to be one of the darkest days in Nigeria’s history; hot on the heels of the horrors of the civil war of the ‘60s and ‘70s and the Boko Haram bloodletting in the North. It was the day Dele Giwa, a journalist, was assassinated via a parcel bomb right inside his Talabi home in Ikeja, Lagos. It was 11: 40am. Giwa was 39 years of age at the time of his assassination....

Judge Ofili-Ajumogobia Busted In Fake Hospital Admission Scandal

A Federal High Court judge, Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, has been busted by detectives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in a hospital admission racket in Lagos. Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia on Wednesday morning told EFC officials by phone that she was on admission in a Lagos hospital in Ikoyi to explain away the reason she could not respond to the anti-graft agency’s invitation for interrogation in the last two days. A Federal High Court judge, Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, has been busted by detectives...

Drama as nominee for NCC Board seeks scrapping of Senate.

During the screening of the nominees, a member of the committee had confronted the nominee asking why he once led a protest for the scrapping of the Senate. The member told the nominee that he was appearing before the same Senate he wanted scrapped. Abubakar, in his response, insisted that the cost of running the Senate was high and therefore should be scrapped. The nominee noted that a situation where the senators had been receiving huge transport, wardrobe and dressing allowances and...

Kaduna residents to pay N3,000 monthly for waste collection.

The Zoom Lion Global Alliance, a waste disposal company, says residents of Kaduna state will soon begin to pay between N200 and N3,000 monthly levy for door to door waste collection. The company’s Managing Director, Mrs Abiola Bashorun, disclosed this during an assessment tour of dump sites and transfer station in Kaduna on Wednesday. Bashorun said her company had been given the approval by the Kaduna State Government to embark on smooth waste management as well as improve the state’s internally...

Full List: President Buhari appoints Mamora, Tallen, Ibeto, others as ambassadors.

President Muhammadu Buhari has sent the names for 46 persons to the senate for confirmation as non-career ambassadors.   Some of the names on the list are Musa Ibeto (former deputy governor of Niger state),  whose nomination as minister in 2015 was withdrawn by the president; Pauline Tallen, former deputy governor of Plateau state, Olorunnimbe Mamora, a former senator from Lagos state, and George Oguntade, a former justice of the supreme court, also from Lagos state.   Below is the list of nominees: Abia...