Okey NdibeWednesday, October 20, 2004



t a time when the national mood is marked by deep despair, Chinua Achebe's public rejection of President Olusegun Obasanjo's offer of the honourific of Commander of the Federal Republic is certain to lift a multitude of spirits. After Achebe's admirable example, other self-respecting Nigerians would have no excuse for rushing to accept so-called awards from anti-people and ignoble "leaders."

Even so, it won't be long, I predict, before some misguided pundits begin to question the propriety of Achebe's public repudiation of a so-called national honour. Rather than disseminate his now famous epistle, some of the government's apologists might ask, why did he not quietly contact the president and whisper his unwillingness to accept the CFR?

The best answer, of course, is that true patriots have a duty to publicly censure those bent on wrecking the edifice of a nation that cost millions of lives to sustain. For many Nigerians, it is no longer open to debate whether this president is seized of a ghastly agenda. Mr. Obasanjo's record, the litany of his crassness, the evidence of his malicious misgovernance, more than suffice to convict him of the charge of dreaming and doing evil in Nigeria. Achebe, a writer, intellectual and citizen with a track record of investment in the moral resuscitation of his nation, must have felt compelled to spell out his feelings.

For all its soundness, this explanation may not persuade some sticklers for "protocol." In which case we must remind them that the onus was on the man in Aso Rock to first determine that his intended beneficiaries were interested in being "honoured." After all, it is presumptuous of the president to imagine that any citizen he wished to bestow a title on would gladly present him or herself for investiture. It is a mark of Obasanjo's alienation from reality, and his cluelessness about the profound opprobium attaching to his presidency, that he would think himself in a position to dispense worthy titles.

By definition, a besmirched government can extend no graces that an astute citizen would be impressed by. A president whose fealty is to certain dark and evil forces determined to torpedo his nation must know that, far from being able to honour, he can only bring dishonour and devaluation to those he tries to decorate. It was not supposed to be this way. When Mr. Obasanjo was sprung from the dungeon of Sani Abacha's gaol and placed at the helm of his nation's affairs, Nigerians expected him to be a transforming presence. In fact, despite the man's well-advertised shortcomings, we dared to dream of a man transcending his limitations the better to nudge Nigerian history in a different, salutary direction.


Instead, the president seemed determined (and in a hurry) to reveal himself as a yeoman, a man unabashedly at war with democratic ideals, and an ally of all the forces that conspired to bring Nigeria to its knees. Instead of embracing the challenge of leadership, he conceived of his role as a full-time pastor and part-time president. In the face of deep, and deepening, national crises, he told famished Nigerians that the answer was to fast and pray. In the meantime, he and his small clique gorged and became sheeny and rotund. He marked every important national event by flagellating the most destitute sectors of his nation's population. Rather than invest time in thinking up enduring solutions to longstanding national problems, he gallivanted all over the world. In the name of cleaning up his nation's smudged image and attracting foreign investors, he accumulated a huge tourist bill that will take some time to pay off.

His obsession with foreign trips represented a telling metaphor for the kind of leader he set out to be. Deep in his heart, he is an alien, a colonial official whose loyalty is to powerful Western interests and to the indigenous coterie that acts as native undertakers for the carcass that Nigeria daily becomes. As if determined to chase off any investors, he heightened the violence quotient in the Nigerian space, sending soldiers to Odi and Tivland with orders to shoot first and then shoot again. When he had a rare opportunity to deepen democratic roots by overseeing a landmark election, he shocked and awed the world by choreographing one of the most egregious electoral heists even by the standards of African nations. His economic policies have rested on two broad principles: maximise the misery of poor Nigerians and remove the stumbling blocks in the path of those who obscenely siphon away the nation's wealth. A founder and former president of Transparency International, he has operated a system that has earned high dishonour from the watchdog group.

Not only has this presidency been woeful, it has patented the art of emptying all sacred and noble ideas of meaning. It has moved with reprehensible sagacity to devalue human life and violate language. It has given so-called national honours to men and women who exemplify the despoliation of Nigeria. To compound this treachery, it has included a smattering a worthy names on its honour list. That cynical strategy is calculated to lend legitimacy to a patently corrupt and worthless process. By flavouring its baneful list with a few tested names, it has enrobed knaves with undeserved prestige and robbed the eminent of hard-earned moral capital.

Men and women of integrity should be wary of a president with such odoriferous credentials. Achebe is not one to create unnecessary fuss for the sake of it, or to invite attention to himself. But he speaks bluntly, and with uncommon moral courage, when he must. On this occasion, his short epistle explaining the grounds for rejecting Obasanjo's bestowal of a CFR Chinua Achebe struck an unimpeachable and eloquent moral note. Achebe no doubt saw that accepting a national "honour" from the present government was akin to permitting the ravaging of his considerable intellectual and moral assets. A dishonourable government has nothing to bestow apart from dishonour. A prize handed out by a tainted benefactor cuts the insouciant beneficiary down to the puny size of the giver. Achebe, a conscience of his nation and a man deeply wounded by Mr. Obasanjo's abbreviation of Nigeria's promise, recognised the tragedy of appearing to consort with a regime held by most Nigerians in fulsome co! ntempt.

Achebe's letter did not explicitly recommend what the president should do with the spurned CFR. Yet, we can extrapolate a natural recommendation from a point underscored in the novelist's rejection letter. Achebe wrote: "For some time now I have watched events in Nigeria with alarm and dismay. I have watched particularly the chaos in my own state of Anambra where a small clique of renegades, openly boasting its connections in high places, seems determined to turn my homeland into a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom. I am appalled by the brazenness of this clique and the silence, if not connivance, of the Presidency." It is Achebe's inimitable way of saying to the president: "You can't be chummy with elements like Chris Uba and expect me to be in that depraved company." Or, if we wanted to be more wicked, we could ask Obasanjo to hand the CFR to Uba.