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
(okeyndibe@gmail.com)

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.’

  • muslim

    God bless you, once again.
    (

  • Elesho Abidemi

    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.

  • ibrahim danladi

    Most stories about abacha were lies and over exagerated.eg 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.

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

Related Posts

Recent Posts

Man arrested for threatening to kill Trump at inauguration

A man in Florida has been accused of posting online that he would kill US President-elect Donald Trump at his inauguration on Friday.   “This is January 6, 2017. I was requested to type this in and post it,” Dominic Puopolo said in a video posted on Monday.   “Yes, I will be at the review stand, the inauguration and I’m going to kill President Trump, President-elect Trump today.”   Puopolo, 51, was arrested on Tuesday and allegedly admitted to making the threat.   He was ordered...

A misguided tour and the plight of Boko Haram victims – By Musa Hassan-Tom

As the battle against the book haram terrorists draws close to an end, the Muhammadu Buhari led Federal Government should not allow itself to be cornered into a situation of winning the battle and losing the war by pandering to vested interests. While the battle to defeat the insurgents has largely been successful, the task of attending to the needs of both internally displaced persons and refugees in neighbouring countries with a view to ameliorating their plight in the short...

Gambian state house website displays Adama Barrow as country’s new president

With gale of resignations hitting his cabinet in its last official days, President Yahya Jammeh’s endgame is probably near.   The latest indication of that is the display, as at press time, the picture of the man who brought Jammeh’s 22-year rule to an inglorious, Adama Barrow on the official website of Gambia’s State House. But it is unclear if the website was hacked.   Barrow is expected to be sworn in today. Where it will be done, is yet unclear as Jammeh...

Adama Barrow to be sworn in at Gambia’s embassy in Senegal

The in-coming president of the Gambia Adama Barrow is to be sworn in at Gambian embassy in Senegal today, his spokesman said on Thursday.   “It is going to take place at the Gambian embassy in Dakar, they have changed the venue, at 4:00 pm (1600 GMT),” spokesman Halifa Sallah said.   Barrow himself tweeted the information earlier the today.   https://twitter.com/adama_barrow/status/822000166454620160   Organisers had planned a large ceremony in a stadium in The Gambia but were forced to change plans due to...

Masterminds of Nigerian – Turkish school kidnap arrested – Police

Two suspected masterminds of the kidnapping of pupils and staff members of the Nigerian Turkish International Colleges have been arrested by the police Apart from the ringleaders, Philip Kakadu, aka General Kakadu, and Romeo Council, aka Raw, other suspects were also said to be undergoing screening in connection with the abduction. PUNCH Metro gathered that 29-year-old Kakadu and Council, 40, were apprehended in Warri, Delta State, by operatives of the Inspector-General of Police Intelligence Response Team, led by ACP Abba Kyari. Some...

JUST IN: President Buhari to proceed on a 10-day vacation

President Muhammadu Buhari is set to proceed on a 10-day vacation beginning from Monday January 23 to Monday February 6, 2017.   Buhari disclosed this in a letter, read by Bukola Saraki, the senate President, Thursday, during plenary.   The letter read that the 10-day period formed part of his annual vacation for 2017.   According to the letter, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is to act as President during the period, which Buhari would be away.

A Case For The Young – By Tosin Ashafa

“Our answer is the world's hope; it is to rely on youth. The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. It cannot be moved by those who cling to a present which is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement of danger. It demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality...

JAHDA Clothing Unveils ‘JAGABAN 2017 Collection Featuring Woli Arole

Popular celebrity stylist and designer OPUSUNJU DANIEL YINKA popularly known as JAHDA clothings releases pictures of his new designs tagged the JAGABAN STYLE which features popular comedian WOLE AROLE and himself. OPUSUNJU DANIEL again raised the bar of casual native dresses in the fashion industry with these exciting and amazing new collections. According to the designer, he claims to have wanted to bring in the fusion of both the AGBADA and...

Gambians to embark on civil disobedience against Yahya Jammeh

The West African Civil Society Forum, WACSOF, has expressed concern over the intention of outgoing leader of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, to plunge the country into disarray over his refusal to step down from office having been defeated in the December 1, 2016 presidential election by the opposition candidate, Adama Barrow. In a statement delivered at a press conference at its secretariat in Abuja, WACSOF acting secretary general, Auwal Musa, called on the international community to make sure Mr. Jammeh...

UPDATE: Yahya Jammeh’s lawyer flees, asks him to step down.

Edu Gomez, the lawyer of outgoing leader of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, has fled the country to neighbouring Senegal after penning the president a letter to step down from office in the interest of peace. Mr. Gomez who represented Mr. Jammeh and his party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, APRC, in their failed attempt to have the country’s Supreme Court overturn the victory of the President-elect, Adama Barrow, and stop his inauguration as President. In his letter, Mr. Gomez...

Labour Party drags Governor Amosun to court over road projects

The Labour Party, LP, in Ogun State has dragged Governor Ibikunle Amosun to court for details of the contracts for all road projects awarded by his administration since 2011.   The party in the suit filed at the State High Court, Abeokuta, joined the state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure as respondents.   The suit was instituted on behalf of the party by its state chairman, Arabambi Abayomi; secretary, Oginni Olaposi; and two members, Olufunmilayo Oginni and Sabur Aroyewun.   The applicants are...

Gambia army chief says troops will not fight intervention

Gambia’s army chief said Wednesday he would not order his men to fight other African troops if they enter Gambian territory, speaking as Senegalese and other troops massed on his nation’s borders. The Senegalese troops backed by other African forces are on standby to move into The Gambia as President Yahya Jammeh approaches a midnight deadline to stand down or face military action after refusing to leave at the end of his term. “We are not going to involve ourselves militarily....

Butcher allegedly kills colleague over cow leg

A Tug of war between two butchers over who will buy a cow leg from a customer at a slaughterhouse at the popular Abraka Market in Asaba, has resulted in the death of one of the butcher. He was stabbed by his colleague in a fit of anger. The deceased butcher, Mr. Akin Sahid, 34, from Kwara State and a father of two met his untimely death yesterday when he went to buy cow meat at the abattoir in company...

Nigerian Navy seaman’s wife allegedly commits suicide by ingesting ‘Sniper’

The wife of a naval rating has allegedly committed suicide in Igando, a Lagos suburb. The woman, whose identity was said to be unknown at the time of filing this report, allegedly drank sniper, a local insecticide, on Sunday evening after a disagreement with her husband, Seaman Band Omojoye.   It was alleged that the couple had an argument after the man discovered that the woman lied to him. She was said to have left the house and told the husband...

EFCC arrests OSOPADEC boss, three others over alleged corruption

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) yesterday arrested the Chairman of the Ondo State Oil Producing Areas and Development Commission (OSOPADEC), Pastor Johnson Ogunyemi and three other principal officers. The officers included the Secretary, Dr. Dele Durojaye, the Director of Finance, Sola Orisamoluwa and the Director of Account, Vincent Ikuomola.The Guardian learnt that the officials of the anti-graft agency stormed the headquarters of the commission yesterday afternoon and locked the main gate before heading to the chairman’s office. The main...

World’s first 3-parent baby delivered in Ukraine

A baby boy has been born in Ukraine to an infertile couple after the first ever use of a new technique using the DNA of three parents, the head of a Kiev fertility clinic said Wednesday. The boy was conceived using DNA from his mother and father but also from an egg donor in a technique called pronuclear transfer, said Valeriy Zukin, director of the Nadiya private fertility clinic in Kiev. “It is the first delivery (using) pronuclear transfer all over...

Government gives traders two weeks for Ladipo Market demolition

Barely a week after the Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, paid an unscheduled visit to the Ladipo auto spare parts market in Mushin, the state government has given traders two weeks notice to quit some sections of the market already marked for demolition. The notice was announced to the leadership of the market under the umbrella of Ladipo Auto Central Executive Committee (LACEC) on Tuesday by the state government at the stakeholders meeting held to fine-tune arrangements for the proposed...

Federal High Court grants bail to Sambo Dasuki’s ally Edidiong Idiong

A Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, has granted bail to a businessman, Mr. Edidiong Idiong, in the criminal charges brought against him by the Federal Government. Idiong and two others were arraigned yesterday on an 11-count charge of alleged possession of funds meant to purchase arms by the National Security Adviser (ONSA), Sambo Dasuki. The court, presided over by Justice Gabriel Kolawole, dismissed the objection by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that it was unmeritorious to grant...

FG will NOT increase pump price of petrol, says NNPC

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has advised Nigerians not to engage in any panic buying of petroleum products. Ndu Ughamadu, spokesman of the corporation, issued a statement late Wednesday to dismiss the report of a likely increase in the price of the products. He said the corporation had a 1.3billion litres stock of premium motor spirit (PMS), otherwise called petrol, which is sufficient to serve the nation for more than 38 days. “This plea comes on the heels of reports that some motorists...

UPDATE: Senegal troops move in on Gambia

Senegalese troops have been seen moving towards the Gambian border in a show of force to pressure President Yahya Jammeh to stand down, according to BBC. Senegal gave Jammeh a midnight GMT deadline to quit and Nigeria has sent an air force contingent to Senegal in support of the possible intervention. Wednesday was meant to be Jammeh’s last day in office but parliament extended his tenure by three months. This stops the inauguration of President-elect Adama Barrow, who is currently...

POLL: Obama leaves office as 3rd most loved American president

Outgoing US President Barack Obama will leave office on Friday with his highest approval rating since 2009. A new CNN/ORC poll finds Obama’s approval rating stands at 60 per cent, his best mark since June of his first year in office and majority said they would miss him when “he is gone’’. Compared with other outgoing presidents, Obama lands near the top of the list, outranked only by Bill Clinton’s 66 per cent in January 2001 and Ronald Reagan’s 64 per...