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Boma, take a bow

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Boma Goodhead (left) and operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) at the National Assembly main entrance in Abuja …yesterday. PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA

As we put the year 2018 to sleep and it winds its way into history, we have a right to do some stocktaking and some introspection, these being an annual ritual of sorts.

One ritual that has gained global currency especially within the media is the naming of the man of the year, someone who in their estimation has done something worthy of being remembered for kindly or honoured or venerated or celebrated.

Choices obviously differ because perspectives differ and perspectives are determined by people’s world view and the values they cherish most. I am obsessed with people of conviction and courage.

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In that pantheon of the privileged few I name Nelson Mandela, the man who chose to stay in prison for 27 years out of the conviction that apartheid had to be fought with all means available to South Africans; Colonel Fajuyi, military Governor of Western Nigeria who had a choice of betraying his guest General J.T. Aguiyi-Ironsi and saving his life.

He chose death over the betrayal of his guest and Nigeria’s head of state.

There is the 15year old Dapchi school girl, Leah Sharibu who preferred punishment at the hands of Boko Haram terrorists to changing her religion from Christianity to Islam.

She is still in captivity somewhere that is far beyond the reach of her parents or even the Federal Government of Nigeria. She is a true heroine of Nigeria’s existential dilemma.

My man of the year 2018 is a woman. To conform with the global imperative of gender correctness we shall call her person of the year. Her name: Ms. Boma Goodhead, a member of the House of Representatives from Rivers State.

On August 9, 2018 armed and hooded men in black from the Department of State Security had invaded the National Assembly in Abuja and blocked the staff and parliamentarians from going into or stepping out of the hallowed precincts of the parliament.

One of the parliamentarians who arrived early for work that day was Boma Goodhead, a 48-year-old woman from Buguma city in Rivers State.

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Her father, Mr. Melford Dokubo was a respected high court judge in Rivers State while her brother, Mr. Asari Dokubo, is one of the courageous freedom fighters who have for years put their lives on the line for the oppressed people of the oil rich Niger Delta region.

The invaders of the Parliament had gathered there in their numbers, armed to the teeth with heavy artillery and determined to prevent the parliamentarians from gaining entry into the facility for the day’s business.

It was some kind of curfew imposed by the intruders and enforced by them for the benefit of their sponsors.

This was a flagrant violation of the sanctity of parliament, of the rules of parliamentary behaviour. They operated only with their own rules which were, plainly speaking, closer to the rules of the underworld than to those of proper democratic governance.

Their rules were not approved either by propriety, or decency or an appropriate authority.

A small crowd of workers, parliamentarians and onlookers had gathered, looking helpless and wondering whether what looked like a coup was possible in broad daylight. They did not confront the intruders but they used their cellphones wisely capturing the scene and forwarding the pictures to the world.

When Boma Goodhead arrived at the scene she knew the intruders were on the wrong side of the tracks, and that the onlookers who had formed a half circle were afraid to face the intruders and their instruments of annihilation. If Boma was afraid she did not show it.

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This lady, tall and big, built like a bully, was not interested in pleasantries, nor in asking questions and waiting for answers.

She knew that that place was not their place of abode, it was her own, the parliament to which she belonged and they didn’t belong.

With a hint of sulky truculence, she raised her voice and shouted “shoot this gun”.

She was ready to meet their fire with her voice. Her voice was fire, not too loud, a woman’s voice is never too loud no matter how she raises it.

But her voice was like a gun, like the booming of a gun, it carried weight, the weight of dissent, the weight of propriety, the weight of opposition, to crudity, to coarseness, to illegality, to intrusion. She had hit home.

Her words, those three words “shoot this gun” had power, enormous power, power to provoke, power to wound, wound like a gun.

It must have wounded the pride, the audacity, of those who clutched those guns, those guns dangling in their hands. Those guns seemed to lose their power, their gun-ness, their potency.

The guns did not do what they were created to do because her voice, the voice of parliamentary correctness, was a superior voice.

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That voice killed the guns dead, the guns remained numb, dumb, unable to speak their murderous words or to spit out their murderous content.

Her eyes and their eyes were locked in open warfare as if they were in some contest to determine who will blink first.

She did not blink, she did not smile because this was no occasion to smile. What would have been a smile stayed away, locked away in the closet of her mouth.

A smile, a plea, a pleading, would not have made a difference to those who had been sent there on an illegal and illegitimate assignment.

Why was she not afraid that they might pull the trigger and bring her life to an end? It is because she had courage, she displayed no cowardice because she knew that as William Shakespeare said “cowards die many times before their death”.

Her courage had reduced the episode to a war between her and the intruders.

She took up the gauntlet on behalf of her colleagues, on behalf of democracy, on behalf of Nigeria. She said matter-of-factly. “it was not about me but Nigeria”.

She was an individual but she was ready, willing and able to fight for the collectivity called Nigeria and for the form of government called democracy.

She seemed to have been empowered by the view that the ground on which she stood was solid, legally, legitimately and legislatively and the ground on which they stood was quick and legally, legitimately and legislatively.

The cause she was fighting was not personal, was not something she planned for.

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Many battles are planned for. This one was not in her schedule of duty that day, it just happened and she approached it as if it was part of her legislative territory. Or wasn’t it?

People of conviction, people of courage, like Boma Goodhead do not offer excuses in order to avoid uncomfortable or dangerous situations.

They do what they have to do in defiance of danger considering that the benefit to be derived from so doing is higher than the burden they may bear for doing it. She had a duty to spike their guns. She did that duty the way a true warrior for a better society ought to do.

She reduced those fellows with those words of defiance to pantomime dragons, paper tigers, because they knew they were wrong to be where they were, they were wrong to try to remove a brick from the parliamentary edifice.

The cause she was fighting was larger than her but she seemed ready to fight it on behalf of all of us.

She may have thought that what she did was simply to challenge people who came to block her from going to work. But she went beyond asking them to go away so she could go to work.

She may not know it but the message was that the enemies of democracy are within our door, that we must be vigilant, that we must not hope that this democracy will run efficiently on autopilot.

We snatched this democracy from the jaws of the military with blood and tears. We must keep guard over it, if necessary, with blood and tears.

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The tragic irony is that it is the politicians themselves who are the worst threat to the survival of this democracy by the crass exhibition of inordinate and vaulting ambition.

Their attempt to control the levers of government by hook or crook as exemplified by their shenanigans in the recently concluded primaries is a loud testimony to their recklessness. They are the ones who sent the hooded men to the National Assembly to truncate the affairs of parliament.

By default, they woke up the heroine in Boma Goodhead. Any person, even a coward, with a gun can act tough. But anyone who acts tough, like Boma Goodhead, without a gun in the face of overwhelming danger is a person of courage.

As that drama was unfolding and the world was watching it no one knew how it would end, no one knew whether Nigeria’s democracy was going to be put through the shredder and dumped in the dustbin of history.

One woman stood up against the brutal antics of the nihilists and her courage, her bravado, even her foolhardiness, saved the day. She faced the danger on behalf of all of us. She is a believer in a better society.

A better society cannot emerge by happenstance. It can only be created by those who are ready to show courage in the face of overwhelming odds, people who are ready to say No to nihilism.

The fight for the soul of Nigeria will always be between those who believe that a better society is worth fighting for and those who are only interested in having the meal of the moment.

It is because Boma Goodhead showed exemplary courage where she could have stood and stared or shrugged and walked away that is why this column names her the person of the year 2018. Madam, please take a bow.


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