with Olu Obafemi
Refflections SMS only:08033341157, [email protected]
(Yohanna is seen emerging from the bedroom of the same suit in Sherahilton sipping a cup of coffee and a stick of cigarette in his hand. He dragged to the window side again, as in the earlier scene. The sound of Dan Maraya’s Goje oozes from the microphone buried in the walls with very refined sound quality. Miriam tiptoes, stealthily from the bedroom in a transparent nightgown, until she puts her hands around Yohanna who does not move)
Miriam: Joseph the dreamer at it again? Who came to your dreams this morning?
Yohanna (Speaking very slowly at first).
I wonder what he will be thinking now. I wonder how they feel, those heroes who fetched the fires from the gods.
Miriam: Who? Which heroes? What fires?
Yohanna: Ha! He ordered the movement of the capital to this huge territory at the foot of the hills, away from the cluster and raging waves, those life-threatening swash and backwash of the lagoon. I just wonder whether this plastic, these ephemeral cardboards in the name of structure were his dreams.
Miriam: (Puts her head gently on the flap of his shoulder-blade, and smiling)
You mean the soldier who made the whistle-stop at the corridor? Do let him sleep in peace.
Yohanna: (Turns sharply and faces her, with a lot of anxiety)
Tell me, Mariamu, tell me. Do you think Muhammed will be happy with the way things are today—all these opportunities and endowments, poured prodigally down the drain?
Miriam: Does it matter anymore? He came and did his best in a jiffy, in a brief- candle pace. He got away with it all and he is now a folk-hero, after just six brief months. He should be celebrating his luck wherever he is.
Yohanna: You…are cynical aren’t you? You don’t sound convinced about his heroism.
Miriam: I am. Why do you think I am not? Unless you think heroes are saints, without flaws, without blemish. Not even the gods make that claim. Read your history. Recall your mythologies. Which of them was faultless among your own gods, the Greek gods, the Egyptian gods?
Yohanna: You lost me. I am talking of that charismatic visionary who rescued the nation from drift, from those who enthroned corruption and had no clue about how to spend those huge petro-dollar from sold crude
Miriam: It is so difficult to discuss with you when you are in this your flights of passion. You simply divert and overwhelm with digression. All I am saying is that heroes are humans and they have blemishes, including your hero.
Yohanna: (Grabs her hands as if to prevent her from fleeting away.)
Don’t misunderstand me dear. No doubt, these leaders were by no means saints. They had their faults, blemishes and short-comings like all mortals. People like Muhammed had their faults of course. But listen. What marks these people out is the balance of probabilities, which when put on relative scale, make them dwarf the rest of us in the stature and profile of the value and quality they bring unto our lives. It is within that context that we remember Muhammed. Can you compare him with the rest who only came and stole Africa black and blue…
Miriam: I know, I know and he is my hero too, only that we must acknowledge those faults before we erect saints out of mortals. Look at his role as a coupist, who once preached secession of the North from the rest of the country. Look at his excesses in the command during the Civil War, especially the recovery of the Mid West from Biafra—a feat accomplished with so much ruthlessness and killing of innocent citizens, leaving very bitter memories in Asaba and Benin where his soldiers were said to have looted the bank. His quixotic crossing of the Niger with disastrous human casualties among his forces also put some blight on his military careerism.
Yohanna: Very debatable claims, you must admit. Many of these things were the handiwork of his lieutenants, on the field as commander and in the power-house. Wars are not picnics. But, this is not holding brief for a man who acquitted himself before our very eyes. Look at the speed of his recovery, the power of critical self-retrieval and self-cleansing which he demonstrated in a manner that is unprecedented in the history of national leadership. All these unquantifiable deeds began to restore value, believability and conviction in his leadership of those seven brief months!
Miriam: Tell me, how did he do this? Concretely?
Yohanna: Good, I will tell you. He began by shedding all genuine and doubtful material encumbrances—property and wealth, houses, bank accounts and all— which he acquired once he took the leadership of the country and lived a simple, uncorrupted life thereafter, to the extent that he left scant survival means for his relatively tender family, at his death.
Miriam: Okay, he atoned and came out a new person, if that was possible…
Yohanna: His art of charismatic leadership, commitment, simplicity, discipline and decisiveness in governance during the short span of his governing aegis of the country until he was cut down by the assassin’s bullet through an unpopular and abortive coup, earned him instant popularity and visibility across the country.
Miriam: Okay, alright. Agreed. What made him different? What difference did he make?
Yohanna: He inherited a state already in the clutches of frustration, disillusionment and despair as the government he took over from failed to convert the abundant human and material resources of the country to the benefit and fulfillment- yearnings of the people. Look at all that oil-wealth, unprecedented in the nation’s life. Look at the result; stinking opulence of the few rich amid abjection and screaming poverty of the majority.
Miriam: And what did he put back in its place?
Yohanna: Memories are so short. We need books to be written for our children on our history. Muhammed ran a dynamic, decisive, forthright, purposeful, action-packed and programmatic regime. His administration’s signature tune was ‘with immediate effect’. It ramified all his actions. He whittled down the civil service, set up a 50-man Constitution Drafting Committee, put aside the falsified 1973 census and adopted the 1963 census figures for official use.
Miriam: I already told you that many of the people he threw out were victims of revenge and vendetta. Anyway, how did he and his people conduct themselves in power?
Yohanna: He established a low profile style of governance, shunned of ostentation and opulence that characterized national ruling by his predecessor. … But what cannot be forgotten quickly is his ramifying indigenization of the commanding heights of the economy, which also saw to the highly popular nationalization of BP Petroleum Company. All these and more in six brief moths!
Miriam: Well, I think the battle is over. You won. I was expecting you to mention that he tended towards socialism, didn’t he, like Roldos , Castro and Torrijos in Latin America.
Yohanna: And for which reason many believed he was cut down, like the two you just mentioned, even though he genuinely put together a transition programme to make the military quit.
Miriam: Four years was too long, he would have chased all the multi-nationals out of the country and taken back all the oil-fields.
Yohanna: Any third world leader who wanted to self-determine, put his country back into the hands of his own people is a communist and must be removed. That is standard practice. Add this, added to his Afro-centric foreign policy, which was by and large the most dynamic in Africa. He threw the weight of his country behind the liberation struggles in Southern Africa. With all of these, he was courting death and attracted the displeasure of the United States of America and Britain.
Miriam: Hm. They both frowned at the Communist links of the ruling party of Angola…
Yohanna: (Looking at her with utter bafflement)
On which side are you now? Do you know what you are saying?
Miriam: Don’t get me wrong. I did not say he was not a great man. I only said he was not a saint, as you tried to paint him. Anyway, why was he so naive?
Yohanna: Oh, about getting killed? I told you he was not a calculating ideologue. He was a pragmatist, totally committed to his people. And just see the popularity.
Miriam: Yes, his people worshipped him. They could almost eat his shit.
Yohanna: He gave new meaning to their lives. They saw that his love came from within him. They could die for their hero.
Miriam: And he forgot to watch his back, while the Empire was stalking. How simplistic!
Yohanna: How genuine and trusting you mean? It was like death did not matter to him once his vision was on track
Miriam: They said he shunned security and moved freely among the traffic
Yohanna: And some drunken hired hirelings from the military wasted him. Let’s go in. I am cold and my guilt descends again.