Chief Philip Asiodu has had his career, helping to run Nigeria the best he can. Perhaps, the result of all his labours and those of his confederates is that they have taken Nigeria to her greatest heights or just ran her aground. Well, the jury may not be out but there are sounds of their footfalls.
That is the impression one gets reading an interview Asiodu granted the Daily Trust (30-10-16). The interviewer asked Asiodu: “…You also played prominent roles in the economy, first as special adviser to former President Shehu Shagari; again in the Ernest Shonekan Interim National Government and later as chief economic adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo. From your experiences, what would you give as reasons… the Nigerian economy is still in a shambles?’’ Perhaps, the good natured interviewer forgot that Asiodu started playing for the power game by serving and servicing the blood-caressing dictator, General Gowon.
And Asiodu tried to tell tales of how things fell apart. In the cause of doing that, Asiodu delved into swaths of Nigerian history. No sooner he began than he indulged in (audio) fiction writing. Apparently in his retirement he has given up his self-acclaimed obsession with national development for the age-old vocation of telling lies, here historical lies. Before any guy gets agitated we have it on good authority that being a mythologist “is a polite way of saying one fabricates, that one is a liar… that’s part of one’s profession.’’ And this insight comes from Tennessee Williams, perhaps, the greatest of American playwrights. And Mr. Williams was characterising his great friend and fabulist, Truman Capote. So, there is the profession of being a fabulist, which is quite honourable, we are told. Apparently Homer, Adichie… Soyinka, are all members of this esteemed profession even if of a different genre.
In answering, Asiodu made some outlandish claims, apart from his deliberate distortion of sequence of events. Let us just give one example: “So, a delegation of permanent secretaries had to go to Ikeja. Gowon was the adjutant-general; in the absence of Ogundipe, the deputy to the commander-in-chief, he was the most senior available officer, who had escaped being killed in the first coup in January.’’
“In the absence of Ogundipe’’ is how Asiodu explains away the momentous miracle of Gowon short-circuiting civilisation, jumping order and hierarchy to emerge a dictator? Now, these caveats taint Asiodu’s fictionalising: What did Gowon and confederates do to restore hierarchy and national unity, which Asiodu claims, he, Gowon and confederates love so much, when Ogundipe later showed up with his presence? This is especially so in the light of one other claim of Asiodu’s: “But when the delegation [including Asiodu] of permanent secretaries went to Ikeja, the sentry at the gate shouted, “Which tribe are you?’’ And the delegation answered, “We are civil servants.’’ And that was enough. Though they were fighting tribe in the army, they spared civil servants. Among the delegation were northern, Igbo, Yoruba permanent secretaries and others.’’
Is Asiodu conjecturing that the civil service is a distinct, even if fictional, Nigerian tribe like coup makers? And it is worthy to recall that the military goons in seizing power made such outlandish, false and forged claims for the armed forces too. Yet after several dictatorships, coup-maker heads of state, have one and all made their claims of a non-tribal Nigerian armed forces seem nonsensical. Today, data shows that the whole apparatus of the Nigerian security system is peopled by those the president can trust, according to his aides. And just about all of those happen to be northern and Muslim. What else is tribalism, is nepotism? So, all these claims are dubious, farcical.
Anyway, was it that the counter coup soldiers, who were willing and under instruction by Gowon and goons to seek out and massacre Igbo wherever they were found, suddenly spared [all?] Igbo civil servants or a select number, including the irrepressible Asiodu? When this is counterpoised with the fact that the same soldiers, who spared Asiodu brought and levied death on other Igbo, including, ironically, pregnant women, toddlers, children too innocent to know who they are, then one wonders how good Asiodu is at his task as a yarn maker? We know exactly what happened, but since it is Asiodu who is fudging the tale, he has to reconcile his fiction to look believable, even while being a lie.
Perhaps, Asiodu is trapped in a time warp or frozen illusion. He speaks as if he is still a vizier to his beloved dictator, Gowon. In those historically accursed days, there was only one source of truth. And it was what Gowon or his viziers approved. Now Gowon is completely out of power, in fact, was dismissed from it by the equally bloodthirsty General Mohammed. Thus their fictions have to pass the veracity test to mean anything. So, these Asiodu fables, which are internally inconsistent cannot hold water or serve truth.
This is where the genius of novel writing would have served Asiodu better. At least, it is a dictate of the genre that one’s story should be internally consistent. That is how Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is so believable, even when nothing in that novel is true as fact. In fact, the Achebe miracle is so compelling that we can recall this. A certain Jewish-American colleague, Dr. Loel Berstein, came visiting. At our country home, the first thing he asked was that we show him Umuofia village. It took a while to tell that the reality of Umuofia is only in Achebe’s genius.
Apparently despite Asiodu’s other gifts, he has none for yarn fabrication. It is thus advisable he gives up the post-retirement career of being a fiction writer. His skills as a vizier to dictators may be as astonishing, but they are not of the same genus as those of an Achebe.