#PENtagon: When will Jonathan condole Shuwa family? – By Jaafar Jaafar
I did not see the death of General Mamman Shuwa coming in this brutal way but I saw the federal government’s levity in handling heroism coming. One always wonders what have heroes and heroines done to Nigeria that their effort is washed into the sewer of history?
Drawing analogy with how late Col. Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu was honoured with state burial and full military honours to boot, I predicted in one of my recent articles, Season of Dichotomies, that the surviving civil war heroes who fought for the nation’s unity would hardly get the same or a semblance of Ojukwu’s honour.
“When Ojukwu was honoured with a state burial,” I wrote in the piece, “another novel instance of dichotomy appeared in our polity. With sense of disappointment, I then thought of Generals Mamman Shuwa, Benjamin Adekunle (the Black Scorpion), Muhammadu Magoro, Col Sani Bello and many surviving military personnel who fought against Ojukwu in order to keep Nigeria one. Will the FG organise state burial in their honour?” Predictably, FG did nothing in honour of Shuwa.
In past few days, I rummaged through newspapers and online news platforms with a view to seeing President Jonathan extending condolence message to the family of General Mamman Shuwa, the slain civil war veteran who fought for the unity of Nigeria. I didn’t see anything like that.
Somewhere in the late 80s, when the nation honoured some of its citizens for their contributions to nation building, one of the names missing in the list was Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, who was not only the first Nigerian but the first African sportsman to clinch the first gold medal in a major global sport event, the Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, Canada in 1956. Despite the fact that he was seen as a felon, the military regime of IBB was criticized for excluding the name of Ifeajuna. The government later apologized and said that it was an act of “oversight”.
Whether it was an act of oversight or PR gaffe by the President Jonathan handlers, what is apparent is that the action was a deliberate attempt to take heroism to cleaners. The presidency can go ballistic on trivial issues but lose voice when the voice is direly needed. When National Assembly or an elder statesman criticize the government, they go gaga, dishing out all manner of statements.
Penultimate week, Sheila, the wife of the late iconic educationist died, and the presidency released a glowing tribute. In what can pass as an epitaph, Jonathan said the nation would miss Sheila’s “unparallel commitment, discipline, expertise, prowess and astuteness”. Perhaps General Shuwa’s ‘lacking’ in similar qualities is what informed the refusal to send condolence message to his family. Nigeria is always a funny country, always full of oddities.
Of course I don’t have problem with describing Sheila Solarin in glowing terms – she was educationist and had rendered contribution to the development of education in the country. My grouse about the issue is the president’s inability to condole the family of the late general. Even if he died in his sleep, the general deserves a tribute from the president – let alone when the cause of his death was this pathetic.
I tried several times to figure out what is under the president’s hat that he forgets things easily. Jonathan’s tragic miscues always tell us the man we have as a leader. He has cheapened the position of a president such that even a busker can boast of taking up the challenge.
During his visit to Jigawa Monday, the president described Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State as “Dr Sule Lamido, the Adamawa State governor.” Anyway, his publicists may argue that even a onetime most powerful man in the world, former US president George W. Bush once mistakenly said at a welcoming ceremony that Queen Elizabeth first visited America in 1776. Good. Even Jonathan’s subsequent gaffes while addressing the pupils of a model school in Governor Lamido’s village, Bamaina, can be likened to Bush’s famous faux pas: “Is our children (sic) learning?” And went on to give a terrible answer: “Childrens (sic) do learn.” You see, Jonathan is not alone, the spin doctors would argue.
Sometimes even clowns like Femi Fani-Kayode strip the comic gear and talk sensibly. In his tribute to the slain general, Fani-Kayode was at best eloquent. “General Mohammadu Mamman Shuwa was not only an absolute gentleman but he was also perhaps the most respected, effective, disciplined, restrained and successful battle commander in the Nigerian Army during the civil war. He was in command of the 1st Division of the Nigerian army and it was the 1st Division that managed to defeat the Biafran Army and enter the east from the northern front.
“Unlike many other commanders on both sides of the war, Shuwa was known for his immense compassion for the civilian population quite apart from his extraordinary courage and fighting skills. It is a matter of historical record that, unlike with other commanders, no massacres of civilians were carried out under him or by his 1st Division throughout the entire course of the war,” said the talkative politician.
But one wonders why the president is short of words whenever his words are needed for healing. Only a day to the president’s recent broadcast, an estimated 30 civilians were massacred in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State and spiritual hub of violent Islamic sect, Boko Haram. A week before the broadcast, the ivory tower had its wave of bloodshed when 25 students of Federal Polytechnic, Mubi were gunned down. The bloodletting streamed down to Aluu, the surrounding community of University of Port Harcourt where four students were extra-judicially killed and cremated. The president did not consider these worthy of mention in the broadcast, which centers mainly on flood. The comical side of it all is that in wake of mounting public outcry, Jonathan smuggled in the condolence on Mubi and Aluu tragedies into his budget speech.
The president should have availed himself of the opportunity of Jigawa visit to fly a few miles to Yobe or Borno State in order to either condole Shuwa family or see for himself the enormity of destruction caused by Boko Haram. Like former Japanese Justice Minister Minoru Yanagida, who said his job was “easy and he didn’t know why he had it,” Nigeria’s presidency is cheapened by a president who doesn’t know why he is there.
If the president would approve a state burial with full military honours in honour of someone who fought against the unity of Nigeria, attend his burial and appoint his widow an ambassador, that same president is expected to at least send a condolence message to the family of someone who fought to keep Nigeria one.
Jaafar Jaafar (firstname.lastname@example.org
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