To Hell with Protocol – Pendulum By Dele Momodu

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To Hell with Protocol
Pendulum By Dele Momodu,

Email:delemomodu@thisdayonline, 02.01.2008

I love Nigerians. Our ways are just too unique. We have the greatest praise
singers on earth. Not since the time of the griots of the ancient Mali Empire
have we seen the likes of sycophants we find in our dear country. How can
one ever forget the abobaku of the old Oyo Empire who was fed at the expense of
the state to accompany the king on his journey to heaven, and had to be
buried alive with the king. The last abobaku in recent history actually chickened
out of his responsibility and became the subject of many plays including
Wole Soyinka´s masterpiece, Death and the King´s Horseman.

The modern day abobaku are the protocol officers we find around our men and
women of power today. They are unbelievably efficient, and I saw them in
action last week Saturday, at the funeral rites for Pa Lawrence Ebele Jonathan,
the father of Nigeria´s Vice President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, in Otuoke
village, Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. The lucky father had chosen
the best time and the right place to die. Or what better time to die than
when one of your many children had miraculously become the Vice President of
Africa´s biggest nation? And what better place to die than inside the
presidential villa in Abuja?

From the minute Pa Ebele died, he had become a celebrity corpse, though we
never heard of him before then. His funeral was guaranteed to attract the high
and mighty and the movers and shakers of our society, who would never have
dreamt of ever driving to that dusty village, nor risked being held hostage in
that volatile region. As a publisher of celebrity events, I was determined to
witness this rare event first hand, and flew in from Accra where our
footballers were already fumbling, and failed to encourage us to stay back to watch
what should have been a dazzling game. So off to Port Harcourt I went, and
promptly checked into my hotel. In the evening, I made contact with the
Governor of Rivers State and he was graceful to have invited me over to his house
that late evening. It was our first meeting since God catapulted him to that
special position, and was very delighted to see that power has not changed our
simple friend.

In the course of our chat, Governor Rotimi Amaechi had asked how I was
planning to get to the Vice President´s village in the morning and I told him I´
ll be going by road, and he told me he could get me on one of the helicopters
already lined up for some of the celebrity guests. I was very delighted and
left for my hotel. The journey was very scary because of the fear of hostage
takers but there were so many soldiers on the road to safeguard lives and
properties.

I woke up early and drove with my Port Harcourt Bureau Chief, David Iyofor,
to the government lodge, where I discovered there were several governors and
government functionaries, including Professor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State, and
Bayo Alao Akala of Oyo State on ground. They were joined by Princess
Adenrele Adeniran Ogunsanya who represented Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos
State, and was warmly received by Rotimi Amaechi. We had our breakfast with the
Governor and left for the Air Force Base. I was impressed to see that Rotimi
Amaechi did not terrorize his city with too much security and protocol. He
simply entered his jeep and drove off with a few security aides and other VIPs,
and his reasonable convoy readily meandered through the traffic without
kicking the citizens around.

At the Air Force Base, Wale Babalakin, the lawyer and businessman, soon
landed with his propeller jet. Not long after, Nigeria´s senate president, David
Mark also landed on a presidential jet. He was accompanied by his best
friend, Brigadier-General Tunde Ogbeha, as well as former Governor Saminu Turaki,
now a senator, Dr Andy Uba, and Dr Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello and a few others. The
senate president left immediately on the helicopter with Ogbeha and Uba but
there was no space for Iyabo who was later rescued by Amaechi and put on our
own helicopter. The Governor showed himself as a perfect host and gentleman
despite the way he was victimized by the Obasanjo government.

When we landed in the village, we all had to trek to the main venue of the
ceremonies and we noticed the over-militarization of the whole village which
reminded us instantly that we were standing in one of the most dangerous zones
on earth. Believe me, there were soldiers and anti-riot police everywhere,
fully armed to the teeth, as the cliché goes. Some were even dressed like
Ninja, in the action-packed movies, with the full faces covered. Even Lagbaja
would have bowed at the great effort that went into the masked soldiers. The guns
and daggers were mercilessly intimidating. The security guys did not leave
anything to chance. There were soldiers on many boats patrolling the waters,
and I learnt the Navy played a crucial role, just as there was cover from the
sky.

For me the climax was when the security aides and protocol officers of the
governors decided to test their boxing dexterity on one another by exchanging
fearsome blows and tearing at each others throat, all in the name of trying
to secure front row seats for their powerful bosses, and it was practically
impossible to have every governor sit in front. The overzealous agents did not
even respect the fact that the Cross River governor, Liyel Imoke was already
seated as well as the First Lady of Lagos State, Mrs Abimbola Fashola, who
could have been hit in the fisticuff. Also near-by was the Vice President whose
presence alone ought to have driven the fear of God into these irritants.

They almost marred the events and many of the guests had to leave the
vicinity for the fear of accidental discharge. By and large, the event went well as
more and more guests poured in from everywhere to pay homage to one of the
current godfathers of Nigerian politics. As we drove out of the village and
went back to Port Harcourt by road, it became very evident why the Niger Delta
is not likely to witness any enduring peace in the near future. The Niger
Delta is a wasteland, the habitat of the most bitter and inconsolable human
beings who live amidst so much wealth but have nothing to show for it.

The roads are ugly. The houses look as dry as stockfish. Most of the people
appeared drained of quality life. I doubt if all the palliatives being
offered by government can assuage the deep-rooted bitterness of the people of the
region. It is very hard to imagine the terrible conditions they live in. It is
virtually impossible not to be a militant under such outlandish existence.
The issue certainly is not about how much money is pumped in that direction
but the genuine will of their new leaders to work hard on improving the living
conditions of their people. The prodigality of the past irresponsible leaders
must be avoided. Driving from Bayelsa to Rivers State convinced any
unbelieving Thomas that most of our leaders are Godless, insensitive, greedy,
tasteless, shameless, extremely selfish, and acutely wicked. All the roads looked
ancient, in a place where one expected to see super highways of ten lanes,
modern bridges, fast trains, trendy housing estates for the ordinary people,
modern boats linking the communities, beautiful schools for the kids and such
goodies of life. All you see are signs of all manner of useless contracts
hastily packaged and cruelly executed by soulless human vampires who have
shamelessly raped the land of their birth. The roads are without drains. The whole
place portrayed a typical John Conrad´s Heart of Darkness. This was hell on
earth. Everywhere was dirty. The people must have given up and have chosen to
live as squalid a life as possible. Or how does one explain the hopelessness of
the situation.

It is worse than I ever imagined. I still marvel at how a young man called
Donald Duke got the idea for Tinapa, and how he mustered the courage to
execute it. I don´t care if he borrowed too much money for the project or whether
he and his wife Onari helped themselves with some of the money. They have
demonstrated that great things can happen here, that we can build our own Dubai,
or Hong Kong, or Sun City, out of the many sprawling cities in Nigeria. Many
of our brilliant youths are involved in building and developing the many
futuristic cities and monuments around the world. A Nigerian designed the
Stratford Station in London, which is rated one of the greatest architectural
masterpieces in Europe. How come we can´t replicate this feat in our dear country?
Why is Lagos in total darkness, a city that should ordinarily be the New York
of Africa? As your plane descends into Murtala Mohammed International
Airport, you instantly see a city in total chaos. The airport itself is fast
deteriorating. Two days ago, I was in transit from London to Accra and was ashamed
at how many times the lights went off at the airport, and the conveyor belt
failed to work. About two weeks ago our huge A3 printer disappeared without a
trace till today at the same airport, and without anyone being able to tell
us when and where it was last seen or handled. Our tarmacs still look
extremely antiquated, and only God is watching over us.

If I had any hope that Nigeria will witness a drastic improvement soon, it
evaporated last week. I only pray our leaders will feel challenged by their
place in history and do what is right. God bless Nigeria.

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