Allison Ayida’s death and our Nigerianicism
Mr. Allison Akene Ayida, a foremost Nigerian “Renowned Sage, Quintessential Public Servant, Corporate Governance Connoisseur and Author” died October 11, 2018 after a grave illness. Of course, this is no longer news -especially since he has since been buried after his well deserved supremely colourful funeral rites. Indeed, the imperial dignitaries and personages, including his “peers, superiors and subordinates” from different walks of life that graced his super-funeral events spoke volumes of him as a supremely distinguished personage and icon of our country. Yet when he died only one big newspaper, Vanguard, chronicled it – as soon as it happened; and even so the newspaper gave it paucity of space and words.
My shrilling reaction to myself was this: “In Nigeria, there is politics in everything, including death and the dead.” A great personage had just died, a great personage of the caliber of Allison Ayida had just gone the way of all flesh, yet our newspapers and television stations were all indecorously and incredibly mute! In other climes such as, for example, the UK and USA the print and electronic media would cast loudly Mr. Allison Ayida’s demise in what I would rightly call a kind of shrill unity. But the departed personage, a brilliant, first-rate public servant of many parts who was among the very best of his Nigerian generation or of generation, from wherever, was from a very micro-ethnic group of Nigeria. Thus he must depart without an everlasting bang, with his rightful nationalistic and patriotic dues and achievements not sustained fully and outstandingly in the forms of media tributes, reports, news analyses, editorials and inspiring catalogues of unflattering eulogies. Our media’s deliberate muteness on the nationalistic and patriotic achievements of Mr. Allison Ayida and his outstanding contributions to the accelerated development of our country leaves much to be desired. I cannot but include this glaringly untenable lapse among the catalogues of diseases and monstrosities that constitute our Nigerianicism.
If Allison Ayida had come from a major Nigerian ethnic group, or if he was a two-kobo, or bad kobo politician, who hasn’t got a kobo-worth of sense, and a scoundrel, to boot, in our country’s politics, all kinds of lickers of boots in and outside our media places would still be attempting over and over again to establish or reestablish what he meant and did not mean to Nigeria.
As I am writing this (on Tuesday November 12, 2018) I can only count five incisive and fruitful tributes given to Mr. Allison Ayida in only the Vanguard newspaper. The authors of the tributes were Abi Ayida, Eric Teniola, Itsekiri Leaders of Thought, Tunji Olaopa and Obadia Mailaifa. The tributes in varying degrees strongly and authoritatively dwelt on Mr. Allison Ayida’s patriotic value and significance to Nigeria in his absorbingly brilliant years of service to this fatherland. In addition to these tributes, there were obituary announcements and advertorials by his business associates and family friends in the Vanguard newspaper. They stressed in different degrees and ways Mr. Allison Ayida’s “quintessential” nature and virtues as a human being, an administrator and Nigerian historical figure committed to the (accelerated) development of the Nigerian nation.
But what of eulogies and essays from columnists and Nigerian heads of state Mr. Ayida served under? What of tributes and words from his associates in our federal and states’ public services? What of words from our current president? What of words from Delta, Edo and Lagos States’ governors? What of words from presidential aspirants such as, for example, Abubakar Atiku of PDP or Obiageli Ezekwesili of Allied Congress Party? And what of eulogies from Goodluck Jonathan, Bukola Saraki, Yakubu Dogara, Boss Mustapha, South-South governors, past and present, and others well known to him? Words, eulogies and statements from these (and other dignitaries such as TY Danjuma who were at the funeral events the Vanguard and The Guardian newspapers carried as photo-news) would provide prospective students and researchers of our nineteen seventies federal civil service, or of the era of our federal super permanent secretaries (and beyond), or of the tenure of Allison Ayida as secretary to government and head of the federal civil service with charming, pleasant doctoral dissertations and books for us to read. But ours currently is a monstrous society and a hellish country where my envisaged plurality of views, opinions, sentiments and thoughts dedicated to a minority icon and historical figure and personage such as the brilliant Allison Ayiada will hardly be given his well deserved objective due. We are a nation of bigots, dissemblers, hypocrites and incurable ethnic jingoists. This is part of our ugly national Nigerianicism.
I have been dwelling on Mr. Allison Ayida from the prism of a Nigerian patriot. Now let me focus on him from the perspective of a member of his Itsekiri ethnic nationality. In this wise I will be brief.
I interacted with Mr. Allison Ayida as members of the Itsekiri Leaders’ Forum (ILF) which he was a frontline initiator in the formation of the august Forum committed to reflecting on Itsekiri problems and finding solutions to them. He led the Forum, and although a man of few words, he was a core interlocutor in its conversations and dialogues. I will everlastingly remember him as an ardent peace activist – on account of the magnetic role he played during the Itsekiri-Ijaw crisis. His magnetic personality destabilized the unit of force among us the hot heads of the Forum. I remember vividly a discussion I had with him in his Ikoyi residence where I disagreed with him on the question of peace between us and our neighbours. In presenting his position, he was quite hortatory. He impressed it upon me that his peace impulse should not stop us from picking stones along the path of peace in order to throw them into the faces of our aggressors. I concurred and added that if we didn’t it was as beggars that we would end up, presenting ourselves as beggars before them – meaning that we would end up begging them to lend us the appearance of existence in our homeland by utilizing us however they pleased. He accepted my position, but added that our people’s “problematic” strictures would be taken care of in the long run (which was significant) through solid education, the seminal weapon that has been at our disposal since the years of our first interaction with Europeans, with the Portuguese especially.
At his reference to the Portuguese, I broached the subject relating to the necessity of training some of our people in Portugal and in Portuguese in order to retrieve precious aspects of Itsekiri lives first-hand and penetratingly. His response? “Find me five to ten committed, serious, brilliant, intelligent Itsekiri youths, students ready to be would-be scholars, I will send them there straightaway at my expense, especially in the areas of history and cultural studies.” In vain did I, as a scholar and the publicist of the Itsekiri Leaders’ Forum, comb Warri, Sapele and Benin for would-be Itsekiri scholars in history and cultural studies as well as anthropology, and related disciplines that would help to give our people the potent magic of freedom and liberation perpetually from our oppressors and aggressors. Every Itsekiri boy and girl I spoke to wanted to “hammer” as thieves in politics and in oil rigs and oil bunkers that are everywhere adding to their misery in the Niger Delta – where the various ethnic groups also exhibit various degrees of Nigerianicism that precluded them from eulogizing Allison Ayida the great public servant (or Chief David Dafinone, the iconic accountant) who has just been buried. Nothing can be more painful and tragic than our own local Nigerianicism in the Niger Delta!
Professor Afejuku, distinguished scholar-poet and Justice of the Peace, is of the University of Benin, Benin City.
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