Kogi: The day after
MAY be it is time now to put the late Prince Abubakar Audu in the correct and appropriate perspective. Prince Audu, not to be forgotten in a hurry, passed on November 22 but his manner of death did not allow those who held him in very high esteem to mourn him properly and decently in a manner befitting the status of such a political colossus. He died as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the Kogi State governorship election that was concluded last week.
He died when his party was coasting home to victory. He died at the height of his fame and glory and quit the proverbial stage when the ovation was loudest. He died when he sought most fervently to return to Government House, Lokoja, as three-time governor of the state. His ambition, using his own words, was predicated on his desire to clear the mess that his successors had made of the legacy he laboured to build during the period of his reign.
Audu, I dare say, lived life to the fullest. A self-trained banker, the prince of Ogbonicha rose through the ranks in the then Standard Bank which later changed to First Bank of Nigeria and occupied a pre-eminent position as staff, manager, executive director as well as shareholder. He had been Commissioner for Finance in the old Benue State under Jonah Jang as Military Governor.
But alas! It all appeared to be too good to last. Audu started to falter apparently unable to manage success and to effectively ward off sycophants who, for the love of filthy lucre, sought to equate him with God
When Kogi State took off in September 1991, Prince Audu saw a window of opportunity to ante his political ambition. As part of the nearly interminable transition programme of the military government under President Ibrahim Babangida, two new parties, National Republican Convention, NRC, and the Social Democratic Party, SDP, were created. Audu contested on the platform of the NRC having been selected to be its candidate by a handful of elders, led by Senator Amadu Ali. A few days after he became the party flag bearer, I had a chance meeting with Senator Ali in Audu’s house in Victoria Island.
Two of us saw Amadu Ali off to his car and the prince profusely thanked the Senator for single-handedly picking him to run. But he confessed he had a problem. And the problem was that he did not know how to go about; where to start the process of getting through to the electorate. Ali pointedly advised him to hold on to me, saying something to this effect: this is the boy that brought me to the limelight in this country. Ali was alluding to what I did for him by way of publicity as student on vacation employment with the New Nigerian in 1973 when he served as the first director of National Youth Service Corps, NYSC and later when he became Federal Commissioner for Education and I had become associate editor of the New Nigerian in Lagos. That was the Ali-must-go era when students, protesting increase in meal ticket money, coined the slogan that made Amadu Ali a house hold word.
That encounter in 1991 marked the beginning of my close relationship with Audu. His confession of inability or helplessness that night, even if made out of modesty and respect, was for me the only time I can recall that he would admit that there are certain limitations in human endeavour. It was to run counter, much later, to Audu’s new found never- say- die spirit that would not allow him to contemplate incapacity in anything he set out to achieve.
When he eventually became the first elected governor of the state with massive support from all over the state, he did not disappoint those who facilitated his emergence. To the best of his ability, he embarked on infrastructural development, building roads and bridges as well as low and medium cost housing units for civil servants and other public officers like the commissioners. Some of those houses still stand the test of time today while the latter day ones have become dilapidated. His achievements included the establishment of the Kogi State University. No doubt about it. It was Kogi State’s years of glory.
But alas! It all appeared to be too good to last. Audu started to falter apparently unable to manage success and to effectively ward off sycophants who, for the love of filthy lucre, sought to equate him with God. I guess the unremitting adulation of praise singers was irresistible. I was not surprised, therefore, that it entered his head, and in his delusion of grandeur he began to see himself as the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of success in political and social engineering as well as economic management. It is the tragedy of those in high positions of leadership, either as a monarchy or like the case of Audu, democratically elected public office holders not to be able to make a distinction between genuine advice and flattering sycophancy. At some point in their rule and reign advice became a source of irritation and the so-called advisers either played courtiers or outright court jesters because their survival depended on telling the Lord of the Manor only that which was pleasing to the ear.
With unbridled audacity, Audu renamed the university he built as well as a few other projects after himself. Those who loved him to death did not believe there was anything immodest about it. In politics, as in show business, such people insist, there is nothing like modesty and humility. If you have it, flaunt it. If you are successful proclaim it from the mountain top. Audu, at the pinnacle of his success and achievements, was indeed on the mountain top. Unfortunately a fall from there, with roots and branches, is a fall with tragic consequences.
Precisely, that was the fate that befell him in 2003 when he lost as ANPP candidate and was swept from his Peacock Throne. He lost to the relatively humble and modest Ibrahim Idris, the person Audu loved to deride as a mere carpenter whose proclamation of his ambition to snatch his seat from him in Luggard House was akin to that of somebody suffering from the diarrhoea of the mouth. He made three attempts since then to regain his throne. He died tragically in the fourth.
As in life so it was in the death for this colourful and flamboyant politician. He lived colourfully and lived controversially. And when death came, it was not without its attendant controversy and chaos.
Remember Dr K.O. Mbadiwe, the man of timber and calibre, who morphed into caterpillar when the come comes to become, to borrow his own phrases, before he eventually bowed out of these shores for eternity? I recall that as Minister of Transport and Aviation in the First Republic, the lot fell on him to lunch the national carrier, the Nigeria Airways, into the aviation hub of New York. On its inaugural flight, Mbadiwe, the minister, carried a troupe of the famous Atilogu dancers to add colour and flurry to the flight. On touchdown in York, so the story went, the dancers and drummers and the singers in tow gyrated down the steps of the aircraft onto the tarmac with a colourful display that lingered for long in the minds of the New Yorkers.
Back home, instead of his colleagues in Parliament to give him laurels and kudos, Mbadiwe was pummelled for spending the country’s scarce resources on such an extravaganza. But cool as a cucumber, our inimitable K.O. rose to his feet and thundered out to his unappreciative colleagues. “If this country must be great,” he admonished them, “then it must be prepared to finance greatness.” Case closed.
Audu might not have been a student of the famous K.O. but he was certainly his own student. He created his own curriculum and kept faith with it. Audu created his own brand, the Prince Abubakar Audu brand. The brand, which anybody dares to imitate today with gross financial peril, showed in his colourful dress code, in his passion for excellence and the taste for good things money can buy, in his confidence and the self above everything else, as well as in his ability to move mountains and call off anybody’s bluff. He did not believe there could be limits to anything and he usually set his own goals and his own standard.
When he passed on that fateful Sunday, I knew, for sure, that tragedy of monumental proportion had taken place and it would take long for all and sundry to come to terms with the finality of his exit and the implications of his death on the social cohesion of the state. The death was unfortunate but what was most disgusting, in my humble judgment, was the callous indifference the uncultured and the irreligious political prostitutes showed as they fought openly, without remorse, to succeed him even before he could be given a befitting burial. Even those who should be more sober and more reflective during the period of mourning chose to go fishing in troubled waters.
The truth is that Audu’s place will be difficult to fill. May his soul rest in peace.