Recently, Professor Akinjide Osuntokun, the eminent historian and former ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, sent me a quotation of Nelson Mandela, the Wise One of South Africa. Said Mandela: “The world would never respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The black people of the world are looking up to Nigeria to be a source of pride and confidence. Every Nigerian citizen should be made to understand this.”
When we consider leadership, it is often that we think only of political leadership. Yet, in the period of serious political and social challenges, the leadership of Nigeria had never been left to politicians alone. So it was during our struggle against military rule, especially when the late General Sani Abacha was our self-appointed ruler.
Following an illustrious tradition of clerical interventions in politics, that was the era that brought the then Reverend Father Matthew Hassan Kukah to national prominence. I was invited to come and deliver a lecture at the Catholic Secretariat, Lagos, where I met this cerebral, courageous, but soft-spoken and always smiling reverend father.
Kukah was in charge of the secretariat along with his colleague, Revered Father George Ehusani. Both of them were not unmindful of the danger of confronting a brutal military regime, but they were ready, willing and able to damn the consequences.
Military regime ended in 1999 and yet Kukah did not disengage from his staging post. He remains the sentry of our democracy. His pungent pronouncements and daring analysis of social and political issues remain central to our country’s search for our path to greatness that the great Mandiba envisioned. When I celebrated my 50th birthday in 2005, Kukah sent me a special gift, the African Bible, which I cherish till this day.
Two years ago, when we were starting our monthly magazine, Gaskia, I approached Kukah, now, His Grace, the Lord Bishop of Sokoto Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church, to contribute an essay for us. He joined two other prominent Nigerians, Bolaji Koleoso, a retired Major-General, who holds a doctorate degree from the University of Ibadan and Dr Kayode Fayemi, the Governor of Ekiti State. Kukah is a provocative preacher. He pulls no punches. Yes, he uses parables like Our Lord Jesus Christ, and his parables preach to the poor, the needy, the lowly and the lost. He always brings a message of hope.
“I personally like trouble, constructive trouble,” he declares in his Gaskia essay published in the August 2020 edition of the magazine.
“When I read Steve Biko’s Asking for Trouble, it hit me really hard. When I speak of trouble, I am referring to the trouble that ignites righteous indignation that says, this is not right. It is the type of trouble that led those who accused the apostles of turning the world upside down (Acts 17.6). It is the trouble inspired by the cross of Christ against injustice. Rev. Martin Luther King referred to this trouble when he called on his people to openly dramatise the shameful condition of black people in America. It is why he insisted that the bank of justice could never be bankrupt. It is why he told his people to reject the tranquillising drug of gradualism. The elders serve this drug when they say: The youth are the leaders of tomorrow!”
During the celebration of his 70th birthday in Abuja on August 31, the bishop also danced Buga to the famous tune of Kiss Daniel, the young Nigerian music icon. Yet the aim of the gathering was to raise fund and awareness for Kukah’s post retirement foundation, the Kukah Centre, from where he hopes to continue to engage the Nigerian people for many years to come. It is to ensure that far beyond his years on the pulpit, he continues to have a staging post to address the troubling aspects of our great nation. For Kukah, the years ahead may still remain the Years of the Troubles.
Our country was in trouble indeed when Ayo Aderinwale, the Executive Director of African Leadership Forum (ALF) Otta, fled Nigeria and relocated to Ghana. His principal, General Olusegun Obasanjo, had been arrested, hauled before a Kangaroo Military Tribunal in 1995, accused of plotting to stage a coup against Abacha and finally ended up in Yola Prisons. Aderinwale was the young man in charge of the ALF, Obasanjo’s intervention body to try and encourage African nations at democratisation. After his arrest, everything fell apart. It is to the eternal credit of Aderinwale and his few yeomen and women, that when Obasanjo returned in 1998, he still met enough on ground to pick up the thread of the Obasanjo Story.
The young Aderinwale is not so young anymore. On August 29, he celebrated his 60th birthday. He had been involved, along with the legendary Nyaknno Osso and later Vitalis Ortese and other people, in the building of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL), Abeokuta, the first of its kind in Africa. He has done well for himself and moved into the business world. He is now the chairman of the expanding JustRite group of superstores. He is a living testimony that leadership in Nigeria is beyond the threshold of politics.
One clear leader in his field is the legendary Segun Odegbami, the incomparable right winger, whose career delineated the Golden Era of Nigerian and African soccer. When you think of Odegbami, you also think of his contemporaries like Muda Lawal, Best Ogedegbe, Christian Chukwu (Captain), Peter Rufai, Rashidi Yekini and many others. His group brought honour to our country and filled our hearts with joy and excitement. They were the avatars who gave meaning to Nigerian statehood. Congratulations Odegbami. May the future be filled with good surprises for you.
But how do we categorise Chief (Sir) Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion, a man who has been in the national limelight for half-a-century? On October 19, 1986, Dele Giwa, the pioneering Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch, was assassinated through a parcel bomb, believed to have been delivered by those close to the military government.
There were agitations and suggestions that as a media martyr, Giwa should be buried at the premises of the Nigerian Union of Journalist (NUJ), Victoria Island, Lagos. The government was fiercely opposed to the suggestion. It was then decided that Giwa’s body should be taken to his home village of Ugbekpe Ekperi in Edo State. It was at this time that Igbinedion joined the fray. He donated to Newswatch one of the jets of his Okada Airline, to fly Giwa’s body to Benin. Thus, the mourning party was able to get to Benin in relative comfort.
On Sunday September 11, Igbinedion would be marking his 88th birthday. He remains anchored in the red soil of Benin. His philanthropy and generosity remains the stuff of legends in the ancient city. A man of modest formal education, Igbinedion started his career as a policeman during the colonial era and ended up serving as a faithful orderly to Oba Adesoji Aderemi, the Ooni of Ife who became the first African Governor of the old Western Region. His service in Ibadan exposed him to the intricacies of power, the unpredictable weather of politics and the malleable loyalties of politicians. He left the police early and went into business. He also became a good student of the power-game. Now he is a Grandmaster.
He is also a moneymaker who dared to sail in uncertain waters. When Igbinedion started his Okada Air, in 1983, he was 51 and on top of his game. No Nigerian has ever started an airline before. Then Igbinedion came and pioneered an industry that required serious capital and rare competence. He brought Okada, his home village, into national consciousness.
Who else too would dare put a university in a village? In the late 1950, Queen School was established in Ede. Many teachers refused to take up employment in the place until the school was transferred to Ibadan, where it is till today. So, to imagine a man taking a university into a remote village like Okada, which you can never find on any Nigerian map up to that moment! Okada is now on the map, thanks to its greatest son, Chief Igbinedion, the Esama of the Benin Kingdom. Igbinedion University became the first private university in Nigeria when it was established in 1999. Today, it remains one of the best universities in Nigeria.
Insisting on the best has been the formular for Igbinedion’s roaringly successful life. He pays attention to details and insist on the best and often gets it. He has operated from his base in Benin and from that provincial city has become a giant on the national and international stage. Igbinedion’s career is an affirmation of Nigeria’s possibilities. Nigeria’s destiny is beyond the Acts of its politicians. The Acts of Igbinedion is an affirmation of Nigeria’s greatness.