Few, very few men and woman genuinely deserve the honor that has been bestowed on them. In fact, I would posit that only twenty-five, at the most thirty-five men and women, in the last two decades actually deserve such honors.
And so when the great Chinua Achebe recently declined to be bestowed with one of such cheaps, millions of sane Nigerians were relieved and happy. But of course Professor Achebe did not allude to the nonsensity and the cheapness of the awards; he instead gave others reasons: the chaos in Anambra State, fetid socio-economic and political condition that is pervasive and commonplace in today's Nigeria. Achebe's refusal was an indication of his displeasure with the state of the nation -- particularly the gross failure of government under the leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
For such a brief letter, Obasanjo let loose his poodles and they expectedly went after Professor Achebe by questioning his loyalty and patriotism. What would they have done if Achebe had released a five-page letter? Hang him high and dry?
It is unfortunate that President Obasanjo has not changed his ways. Take the case of Professor Aluko. And mind you, Aluko is not an ordinary Nigerian. He is a foremost economist and was unquestionably one of Nigeria's great. Here was a statesman man who gave Nigeria his best. But what did he get in return? A mere OON (not GCFR or even GCON) and to crown it, President Obasanjo heaped insults on him and called him unprintable names. Is that how civilized nations treat their statesmen?
And when Professor Oluwole Soyinka crossed Obasanjo, the president let loose his henchmen who threw all sorts of jabs and punches, innuendoes and fabricated lies at the Nobel laureate. Consider also the invectives that were thrown at Colonel Abubakar Umar. There are other examples, too. However, this manner of behavior is not new on the part of this president. Who can forget what he and his government of old did to the illustrious Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Chief Gani Fawehinmi and a great many others? This president has shown, again and again and again that he is uncouth, intolerant, unpolished, antieducation and antidemocratic and therefore not beyond wrestling in a sewer.
This is a president and a government that has no regard for excellence, truth, hard work, honor, and exemplary character. This is a government that has no regard for the nation's rare and remaining heroes -- the like of Achebe, Umar, Soyinka, Aluko, and the recently murdered Jerry Agbeyegbe. And many others.
All is not well with Nigeria. There is fire burning in some of the federating states. And where there is no fire, we have abundant decay and decadence! In Bayelsa State for example, we have a band of incompetents running the government. And in Anambra State, according to Achebe, "a small clique of renegades, openly boasting its connections in high places, seems determined to" turn it "into a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom."
The charade in Anambra is of course a source of concern to many. It was in light of this that I had – several weeks before Achebe's letter -- sent a private missive to Rudolf Okonkwo lamenting:
"As someone who is reasonably familiar with Igbo culture, land and politics -- I can't help but wonder: how did someone like Chris Uba get to be relevant and became a kingmaker in Igbo politics? When I think of all the men and women that have come out of Igbo land, haba, it is a travesty, a sin, an abomination to have a man of his status moving mountains, redirecting the way the wind blow and having people tremble before and after him…" Over the years -- with the qualified exception of General Yakubu Gowon's government -- successive Nigerian governments have shown disdain, contempt and disrespect for the masses. Obasanjo, Babangida, Abacha, and again Obasanjo – are all men of no mean feat when it comes to corruption, lack of vision, and a complete lack of high standard in leadership. Both the de factor and the de jure governments, at the center and at the state level, have continuously abused and neglected the vast majority of the people.
Fortunately, the feeling is mutual. It is for this reason that I posited not too long ago that:
"There can be no gratitude to a country that assassinates its best and brightest? There can be no affection for a country that encourages an atmosphere of fear and death. There can be no loyalty to a country that does not provide security, employment and other public goods for the vast majority of the populace. There can be no trust between a people and a government that is adept at encouraging mediocrity, favoritism and ethnic conflicts. Furthermore, because the government has never done anything worthwhile for its people – it is not in a position to repeat J.F Kennedy's mantra of "ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." Nigeria has not earned this right" (Sabella Abidde: Is Nigeria Worth Dying For? July 2004).
This Obasanjo -- what in the world is going on in his head and in his heart? And as for Femi Fani-Kayode, well, he is just an errand boy -- an area boy doing the bidding of his master. Otherwise, he would not have had the temerity to open his stench-filled mouth at Professor Achebe. May we never witness such calamity and disgrace again as a nation.
Professor Chinua Achebe, like Chief Gani Fawehinmi, is not a mere mortal. Achebe is a national treasure. Achebe is an institution. He is the man from whom we draw our inspiration. He is one of the beacons that guide us when we are lost. And in our moments of melancholy and sadness…Chinua Achebe is the man who gives us hope, clarity and strength. He is our man!