“My dear, dear Lord,
The purest treasure mortal times afford
Is spotless reputation; that away
Men are but gilded loam or painted clay…
My honour is my life; both grow in one;
Take honour from me, and my life is done.”
This was William Shakespeare in King Richard 11, published in 1596. That is exactly 426 years today. Now, read those words again and try to situate and relate with the inherent message. Is there anything that literary icon was trying to infer that is out of place today? Is there anything missing in the messaging? What is man indeed outside honour?
The answer is clear. A gilded loam (moulded sand) or painted clay – a decorated piece of earthenware – lifeless – empty! That was and still is the message. It is as germane, potent and instructive today, as it is in those years.
The difference however lies in what role the appreciation of this message plays as a tool to wading through life’s vagaries and discovering its purpose, impetus and essence. That is what separates one man from the other – the reason for countries to thrive and others to crumble and plummet – the different roads to riches and squalor.
Here is what I mean. Anyone conversant with Anammco, in Emene, Enugu, in the 1990s would not forget Rudi Kornmayer. He was the last Managing Director of the company, one of the dreams of Nigeria’s founding fathers. Remember the era of Peugeot Automobile of Nigeria (PAN), Volkswagen of Nigeria (VON), Leyland Nigeria (LN), et al.
What was it that this country didn’t have to make it great? What was it that our progenitors didn’t hand over to us to make Nigeria leap to the zenith of economic and social development? But, let’s keep the lamentations aside for now. That’s not the story. The story is about Kornmayer, the last German top notch to exit that dream company, from where some freshly minted vehicles rolled out, some years back.
In July, 2005, more than a decade after he had left country, the shocking story of his death hit the the newsstand. The shock was not in his death alone. Yes, he was just 53 being a young man and with the life expectancy in his native land he was expected to have lived longer. It was in the manner he died.
It was said that Kornmayer on July 22, 2005, six days after his birthday, drove to an open field and shot himself in his native country Germany. Why? A local media, was said to have reported how he engaged in some corrupt practices while working in Nigeria. Because he couldn’t live with the shame of being linked with fraud, he decided to end it all.
You needed to know about this fine German and the work he did in Anammco, to appreciate the incredulity of his fatal end. Even though the company had started witnessing some hiccups, before his exit, his tenure still counted as part of its golden era, before Nigerians who took over, eventually balkanised, brought it to ruination and finally killed the dream.
What was at the centre of that tragic story of Kornmayer, who, regardless of his glorious era in Nigeria, couldn’t stand a tiny stain to his name? Reputation – honour, the two elements Shakespeare identified as the only essence and impetus to life, without, which man is not more useful than a piece of lifeless object.
Now, have you started getting my drift? I recall, months before his brutal murder, the Cicero himself, the late Bola Ige delivering a lecture at the University of Nigeria Enugu Campus (UNEC). For about 30 minutes of his treatise, he spent it talking about the element of honour and its purifying impact to the soul, as well as being the vortex that propels life, be it of an individual, or, and a nation. So poignant and pungent were his delivery that I had no doubt in my mind that his murder could not be divorced from how tenaciously he held and applied such a lofty ideal.
Now, how does this affect the price of garri and milk? I’ll tell you. It is the reason your country, my country, Nigeria is at its present prostrate position today. If today, there was a grain of honour in Nigerians or in the recent decades – even as tiny as a mustard seed, companies like Anammco, VON, PAN, Leyland, would still be thriving today – Nigeria would be a thriving entity – a land flowing with milk and honey. But you know what, not only does a known thief go before the alter, stick out his tongue and receive holy communion, the most sacred gift to mankind, but actually be proud to throw the money he signed a day before around as the chairman of the church bazaar, with the priest, who knows the source of the money – they should know, because the salaries of civil servants are not hidden – will celebrate him as “pillar of the church.”
Kornmayer might have taken it too far. You might say that suicide may not be the ideal and not all men possess the courage to go that route. But the import of his action, cannot be lost either – that there must be consequences for wrongdoing or perception of it.
Just a few months ago, Andrew Cuomo, then Governor of New York resigned from his exalted office for the simple reason of hugging women. He loved his job and would have loved to hold on. It didn’t matter that his native country, Italy, had a culture of hugging, kissing and engaging in other public show of affection as signs of love, greeting and appreciation. He tried to present that as his defence, but it didn’t jell, because the American society thought differently. And in the US, public perception matters a lot. So, what to do? He relinquished his position. Even his brother, Chris Cuomo, was fired from his plum job at the CNN, for the perception, mind you, not conviction, of helping the ex-governor during his travails, using the medium.
You saw how Boris Johnson exited his position as UK Prime Minister when his cup was finally full. He would have been sent packing earlier for partying in the heat of the COVID-19, when the rest of the British citizens he led, were confined to their homes, but got away with just a slap on the wrist. But when it came to the last straw, of knowingly appointing someone with a record of abusing women into his cabinet, he had no other choice but throw in the towel.
From Europe, America, and other western countries, there are millions of cases to cite to underscore the imperative of morality not only on individual, but more so, public life. Does that say anything today about the difference in the two climes – the West and Africa? Mind you, it’s not that these people suffer less pull from dipping itchy fingers into the common till of their people. The difference is in the consequences. Of course, just like we do here, the system many times exposes such malfeasances. However while those in that clime, prefer to drink hemlock rather than withstand the shame, or at the best, quit their positions, it is a totally different picture here in Africa-Nigeria.
Naturally, it might be a tall order to expect any man to meet the standard of a spotless reputation, the “purest treasure” Shakespeare envisaged. Haven’t all sinned and come short of the glory? But there must be a minimum.
On Monday, December 19, 2022, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, of the Federal High Court, Abuja, took a look at Doyin Okupe, then Director General of the Labour Party Presidential Campaign Organisation (LP-PCO) and told him, that he had to pay the price of ignorance, for accepting money in excess of N5million without going through the bank, as provided by the money laundering Act.
Mind you, she had absolved him of other charges, bothering on corruption, but here, she got stuck. Though she recognised that Okupe had acted out of ignorance, but she had to apply the well-established dictum – ignorance is no excuse in law – all the same. So, the gavel fell and the LP chieftain was handed down a damning verdict of two years imprisonment for what she described as an “honest mistake.”
Now, pan to the LP. You cannot talk about the party and the progress it has made in becoming one of the political wonders in Nigeria’s history without the imprimatur of Okupe. Right from the beginning, he had been there for Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the party. Even when the issue of the running mate was being dealt with, he donated himself as the placeholder for the position.
What would a typical Nigerian politician have done in Okupe’s shoes? He would probably have stuck to his guns using every argument to remain in that office. Any suggestion by Obi to the contrary, would have been interpreted as an affront and show of ingratitude. Okupe would have cited his bragging rights, by reminding all that cared to listen how much he helped to build the house and adumbrated it with the comments of Ojukwu that his was an “honest mistake.”
Of course, having carved out his own swathe of supporters, all with swords unsheathed, he would be ready to wage war against anyone. He would also tell all ears that he still had up to the Supreme Court to prove his innocence. Depending on the thinking of the party, the matter might be treated as an internal affair, in which case, members would take all available public space to urge Nigerians to await the final judgement of the court. The drama will continue and the beat will simply go on.
However, Okupe took a completely different route. He didn’t cling to power. His party, even with a heavy dose of suspicion that this was a case of the evil bird crying at night and the baby dying in the morning, took the disappointment of losing such a critical figure in its strides and now, things are moving on. Recall that this wouldn’t be the first time. It was the same case with John Enenche, the retired General of the Nigerian Army, who also stepped down, when he was called out over the #EndSARS matter. That is the exhilarating part of the new phenomenon being propelled within the LP – the principle of letting go – it has never been part of life in Nigeria.
Now , take a look at the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). If Iyorchia Ayu, the National Chairman of the party, had being an Okupe, would the party have descended into such an intractable crisis today? This was a man, who publicly claimed that if the party produced a northerner as its presidential candidate, he would step down. Has he? Instead, together with Atiku Abubakar, they are rather exploiting all available argument to circumvent and circumscribe the issue.
If you thought for one moment that they’re acting out of their convictions, then the joke is on you. They know that they’re travelling on a wrong route. But they’re unperturbed, because they’re relying on the old way, where integrity and reputation are sacrificed as victims and shame is a stranger. Why? Of course, they’re sure of winning, willy-nilly.
Pan to the All Progressives Congress (APC). What is worse than the Chicago papers linking their presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu to drug business? Yet, regardless of the weighty evidence, including the forfeiture of a whopping $460,000, he has continued carry on with cavalier attitude as if nothing matters. Would this happen any other place in the civilised world? He wouldn’t even stand any media scrutiny. Rather, he organises his own meetings, where he’s sure nobody would stay off-course.
Interestingly, there is always a ready answer to anyone who questions him – go to court. If you don’t know what that means in the Nigerian context, the joke is on you. Ask yourself why the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), that pursued Okupe, never bothered to check the contents of those bullion vans that pulled into Tinubu’s Bourdillon home in Ikoyi, Lagos on the eve of the 2019 presidential election.
Before he moved on, Okupe had some words: “God is not man. The enemies have tried in so many ways but keep failing…Victory is of God. Lies, fabrication and disinformation are their tools. But in the end they will fail and be shamed. Doyin Okupe has not chopped any shishi neither has he shifted base by 1mm!!! We are moving forward till God delivers us all from perpetual raiders of this lost but glorious ark. Naija.”
Kenneth Okonkwo, spokesman of the LP-PCC had told the world that Okupe’s travail, was an ambush by naysayers, with the aim of plunging a dagger in the heart of Obi’s ambition, a development he sees as a failed mission.
Okupe has moved. Obi has also moved ahead with his campaigns gathering momentum. Nigerians, who would be ultimate deciders are also watching. So, is a Just God!
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By Ben Benson-Okoli
Napoleon Bonaparte, 1786-1821, was a French Emperor and General whose brilliant victories over Australians and Russians singled him out and made him practically the master of Europe. Addressing his soldiers in 1796 while entering Italy, he said: “It is my design to lead you into the most fertile plains of the world………you will find honor, glory and wealth.”
This sounds familiar today. In his new approach, Rt Hon Benjamin Okezie Kalu, the deputy Speaker and the highest ranking Igboman in Nigeria currently, seems to be telling his tribesmen the same thing.
Also, in his “Maxims of War”, which he published in 1838, Napoleon Bonaparte sees a true leader, as one that “always keeps the element of surprise up his sleeves, which others cannot grasp but which keeps his public excited and breathless.” This too, seems familiar with the style the young Igbo political leader seems to have adopted. Focused, engaging and unpredictable, yet sustaining the interest of those the lot fell on him to lead, he has ostensibly found a sort of connect through his new styles tactics and strategies.
Back home, the late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Ezeigbo Gburugburu was the indisputable leader of Ndigbo, a position many have continued to lay claims to today, even without anything significant on ground to back it up.
The truth is that if Ikemba of Nnewi were to be alive today and had an opportunity to anoint his successor, it is undoubtful, whom he would have passed the baton to. It would have been a man, whose methods, means and mode fits perfectly into foresight and tremendous acumen. No doubt, he would have gladly raised the hand of BOK.
In my piece last year on the same issue, entitled: Enter Benjamin Kalu, the new eye of Ndigbo in Nigeria’s national politics, published in June 11, 2023, two days before he emerged as the number six man in Nigeria, I had x-rayed the man Benjamin Kalu, and his trajectory, showcasing how every inch seemed to prepare him for the current task thrusted on his shoulders,
May be a little recap: “Nobody knows what influenced his parents to name him Benjamin. But going by the narrative about the original bearer of that name in the scriptures, it seems to be turning prophetic in the place of Benjamin Kalu, the new kid on the block in the trajectory of Ndigbo in the Nigeria political firmament.
“Recall the biblical, Jacob, the father of Benjamin loved Rachael, so much that he had to work for the father for years to marry her. But tragedy came when she died while at child birth, not before she named her son Benoni-child of sorrow. But instead of retaining what would have reminded him permanently of the trauma of losing the loved wife, Jacob had to change the name to Benjamin- child of my right hand, child of consolation rather than pain.”
The journey to remove his people from the anguish of the sorrow of the ravages of the civil war started since June 13, when the lot fell on this deep thinker and purveyor of fresh ideas, Rt Hon Benjamin Okezie Kalu, to lead his people; a people badly bruised, wounded and broken by deliberate pummeling. He may have taken the road less traveled but he exudes the audacity of the Johnny Walker, the lanky fine gentlemen on the label of fine whisky, the man who knows where he is going.
Like a good choreographer, well tutored in Napoleon school, BOK has been hitting the right notes, building the right bridges and forging the right partnerships. He admits that his tribesmen are holding the short end of the stick but thinks that what is critical is providing the enabling environment that will re-birth the new Nigeria we all yearn.
His two pet projects, the PISE-P and SEDC are huge. They have the capacity to calm frayed nerves and engender massive economic growth yet to be seen. Peace in South East-Project (PISE-P), is a five-year initiative of the office of the Deputy Speaker, hinged on a non-kinetic method of solving the insecurity challenges in the SE and further reconciliation among the communities and individuals affected by past conflicts. It was unveiled late last year in the ancient city of Bende, in Abia.
BOK had this to say on its launch: “The journey towards peace is not a destination, it is an ongoing process, one that requires commitment and dedication.” Since then, the Bende Declaration, as it now called, has since taken off and on a sound note and the result is gradually showing with the South East becoming quieter unlike before it was a major theatre of war.
SEDC, the South East Development Commission, is another game changer. The speed at which it got the blessings of the House of Representatives, 54years after similar effort had failed, is descriptive of the enormous hardwork of the man who presented the bill. When established, it will not only become the first genuine effort to give Gowon’s triple Rs a meaning but will turn the South East into a massive construction site and a huge rehabilitation center with funds allocated to it from the federation account to address the consequences of the civil war, that is yet to be recovered from.
Given that there are still some naysayers – elements who seek to benefit from the hitherto restiveness in the land, like the avaricious and dignity-stripped onye Nze, and therefore do not want things to change.
They are the ones selling some of the illogical negative arguments all tailored to keep the zone boiling. They are the ones stoking the embers of the release of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu as the condition precedent for peace, without presenting a pragmatic and workable approach to achieve that end.
Yet, the release of MNK is one of the projects closest to the heart of BOK, as those close to him would readily confirm – a project he is consistently, but quietly undertaking without the threats and noise that had over the years made it impossible for the goal to be achieved. Just like Napoleon, the strategy remains embedded inside his chest.
If anyone had been in doubt about his leadership qualities, the setting up of the PISE-P, remains a demonstrable example. The foresight and precision as reflected in the selection of the personnel for the project, showcases not only his vision but the ability at head-hunting to achieve the goal.
No doubt this quality would come handy eventually in creating the political leadership that has eluded the South East in recent past, which is basically the ability to forging the right partnerships and winning the right friendships needed to take the people to the next level.
Even the naysayers and perennial critics, must now be convinced as to the reason BOK has never lost a battle. His uncanny ability to override all forms of distractions, no matter how strong and audacious remains the fundamental reason for trusting him to deliver at this critical time in the life of his people and in Nigeria as a major political force.
Those who know, have identified him as an eloquent speaker, an astute negotiator, a conscientious agitator, awakened mind and transformational leader, who carries with him the message of peace and understanding of the direction he wants to go and where to take his people. Definitely, just like, “the son of our right hand,” BOK will turn out well. That you can take to the bank!
Ben Benson-Okoli Esq., a journalist and lawyer, writes from Abuja
February 21, 2024 8:44 am
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