Dan Agbese mines history gold with The Six Military Governors
The style adopted by Dan Agbese in his compilation of the interviews he conducted in The Six Military Governors, Voices of History: Reminiscences of a Reporter (MayFive Media Limited, Lagos; 2018) as a rookie is novel.
His tributes to both the institution, New Nigerian newspapers, and its editor, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, who discovered and mentored him shows his appreciation for the way and manner these two jointly “conspired” to make him the celebrated writer of books on the profession he hardly knew about before they tapped him.
The author traces the history of New Nigerian newspapers into which Mallam Adamu Ciroma, administrator-turned-editor, recruited him.
Agbese had no previous training in journalism and saw his entry as a stint, from which he would exit within a reasonably short period of time.
That was on July 6, 1967. He is still in the profession and sees the publication of this book as a means of showing his gratitude to the profession, to the organization and to Ciroma who exposed and trained him.
Ciroma made a journalist out of a trained teacher, and Dan will never forget him for making him believe in himself. Dan recalled: “Ciroma was one of the most broad-minded Nigerians it has ever been my luck and privilege to work with. He was a kind and patient man. And he always showed a tremendous understanding of, you guessed it, my non-stellar performance as I struggled to learn the ropes. I could not have had a greater and more kindly mentor; I followed his guidance every inch of the way.”
One of the challenges Mallam Adamu threw at Dan on assumption of duty has resulted in the publication of this book.
Within three months of his assumption, Mallam Adamu threw the challenge to Dan to prepare himself to interview the six newly appointed military governors of the six states carved out of the former Northern Region.
Dan portrayed all the six military governors he interviewed as simple, humble and committed to developing the states the Head of State, Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon had put under their charge.
Gowon, it appeared, had known personally or shared similar perspectives (by attending the same secondary school) with over 60 per cent of them.
There was no issue of confidence deficit.
There was such simplicity around either the governors’ offices, or wherever Dan had an appointment to meet them.
Dan did not fail to mention this issue for each of the interviews he conducted.
Five minutes or less was the longest period he had to wait on his presence being announced by the protocol officers. This issue of humility and simplicity in governance cannot be over-emphasized.
This new style is a national calamity. Dan observes the importance of executive humility when he concludes thus: “It bears repeating: it was a lot easier to see military governors in those early days of the military regime than much later in the life of the administration.
It seems to me that in those early months of their appointments, the military governors strove not to be prisoners of the overzealous security and protocol personnel. They were more inclined to feel free – like military and police officers.”
The seed of our modern intolerable executive impunity and ostentation within the premises of government houses and intoxicatingly intimidating ownership of our roads and highways as the security of those we voted for chase us off the road was sown by the time the first set of military rulers were ousted.
Subsequent military rulers nurtured, expanded and deepened the culture of impunity.
All the six governors, with the exception of one, Kwara inherited serious management and or manpower deficit. Not only in numbers but also in capacity and in capability.
All the governors emphasized administration and education as their priority areas of attention.
One area that is common to all was gender inequality, especially in politics and governance generally.
By the time the civilian government was overthrown, only southern Nigerian women had the right to vote and they voted for the overthrown government.
For the women in the North, who formed nearly 50 per cent of the voting population, the government in power, under the leadership of Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardaunan Sokoto, though in favour of granting the votes to women, demurred to do so because, according to him, his followership, northerners, needed greater awareness to appreciate such a social revolution.
In his auto-biography, My Life, the Sardauna said, “I dare say we shall introduce it in the end here, but – and this is important – it is so contrary to the customs and teachings of the greater part of the men of this region that I would be very loathe to introduce it myself.”
The premier had felt that there was a direct correlation between literacy and franchise and as such he would wait until the level of literacy of women was high enough to warrant such a change.”
The only military governor who stepped out of line of the accepted gender inequality in the former Northern Region was Lt. Col. Abba Kyari, governor of North Central State. Dan noticed the revolution and wanted to delve into the background of such a paradigm shift: “Lt. Col. Abba Kyari created a precedence,” Dan stated, “when he appointed a woman
into his executive council.
I asked him why he did it, being fully aware of the status of women in the North.”
The governor’s reply according to Dan showed “The pride of a progressive man.
” He said, “I think women in this country are no longer what they were regarded. I also believe that given the opportunity, they can do as well as the men in the services of the nation. They cannot be relegated to the background all the time. I therefore took the step to set an example for other people in the country and to make all women in this part of the country fully aware of their growing responsibilities to the nation.”
Dan’s interview indeed revealed that these six military governors, especially members of the armed forces and one police officer, had harbored silent but provocative feelings against the way and manner the nation was being administered by the civilian regime. Lt. Col. Musa Usman was clear in his mind that he saw nothing wrong with politics but blamed “the way people play politics in this country is not healthy enough.”
Kyari was more poignant in laying the blame on the politicians and went on to show support for the coup without necessarily shedding anybody’s blood, which he considered “murderous.”
“The abuse of the ballot box,” by the civilian regime, he said, “caused their downfall. If they had respected the ballot box, we would not be in this trouble today. But they did not. They made a mess of the constitution of the country and ignored the will of the people.”
Governor Bamigboye was silent but futuristic by saying that in avoiding the mistakes of the past, “we must not allow for mediocre politicians. We must not allow corrupt, ambitious and greedy men.”
Sorrowful as the situation was, Dan, as usual, intermixed the sorrowful with the humorous.
As media houses expand, it becomes necessary for the current managers and future investors in these institutions to strategize as to how to build the human capacity that would manage the media houses.
There is a serious dearth of training materials, especially books, for our teeming mass communications faculties in our universities and polytechnics.
Dan has been in the forefront for the provision of books for these training institutions. He has written nine books and The Six Military Governors: Voices of History is a welcome addition.
* This review was excerpted from Adamu’s preface to the book