Arthur Mbanefo: A fulfilled life of service – Part 1
Arthur Mbanefo’s book is not the usual book of man’s growth from grass to riches. He was born a noble man by noble parents who paid for his fees and those of his brothers to be educated both here and Britain. There is no hint of having suffered any hardship in his upbringing but he certainly was not spoilt. He had a stern father whose footsteps he has followed, even succeeded to the title of Odu of Onitsha. No one will learn much about Onitsha culture by reading this book. Arthur does not even hint at what role the Odu plays, except to describe him as No. 3 among the six top office holders in the Obi’s council.
This is a book big in themes and big on issues. It is also a serious book for serious minded people who want to know about Nigerian life and what Arthur did to and for Nigeria. His humanity shines throughout the pages. Arthur wants to be taken seriously and he comes through as the old African head of family, all discipline and business.
The kinder, softer, cuddly Arthur has been removed; we incessantly hear of discipline, brilliance and dedication to work, yet we know Arthur is full of humour and love, a devoted family man who dotes on his grand children. It is extremely hard to inject humour into a serious work. I wonder whether scientists in their writing can inject humour even if the individual is indeed full of humour.
Arthur’s life of service is a list of long varied excellent achievement. He takes himself seriously and would not allow anyone to forget that. He has affected the fortunes of nearly all aspects of Nigerian life – NEPA, NNPC, Banking, Political Restructure, Corporate etiquette and procedure and so on. Arthur is a brand, stamping his brand on everything he could touch, and he did touch everything.
Politics would have demeaned him; changed him. Because Nigerian politics is not a game of honesty and forthrightness (nowhere in the world is politics a game of honesty and forthrightness); but there are people who can convince you, like the card sharp, (swearing on their mother’s grave that’s what they say– is true and honest) and what you see are the same thing.
Many books have been written on Biafra but this is the best that gives a glimpse of the internal workings of the system, i.e. to reach overseas and how the finances, the weapons, the Air Force, etc were put together. First time I know how Biafra worked and who worked it. The endless diplomatic shuttle, the risks, the cheats, even the negotiations with mercenaries and heads of State in Europe, and Africa.
The story of when Biafra captured some Italian Agip workers in Kwale; freeing the Italians, all had the elements of a thriller, except this is not fiction. The intricacies of the negotiations, between Ojukwu, the Italian Government, the Papacy, and Agip were there to see and the events leading up to the release of the Italians.
There are no polemics about Biafra or against Nigeria in this book; unlike many by Biafrans and Nigerians which are polemical, seeking to justify one view or the other. In Arthur’s book, Nigeria is not condemned, nor is the inevitability of Biafra proclaimed. End of Biafra: beginning of Nigeria – for Arthur. He has written a book with smooth transition. No sentiments – a technical book on how to do business, including the business of war.
Arthur was engaged at several levels with some of the principles that Nigeria still has to grapple with today: the establishment of a true Federation – fiscal Federation. If the earlier arrangements pre 1966 gave too much power to the regions, to the detriment of the centre, all contributions thereafter gave too much power to the centre. The politicians following 1966 had seen how each region could develop on its own and at its pace. They felt that state creation perse was an instrument of development – little realising that the greater the number of states, the stronger the centre and the slower the development of the states. Most fundamental issue was that the states forget to deprive the centre of revenues from oil. This is what has skewed the development of Nigeria. No sooner had we decided that Nigeria should remain one of the fissiparous tendencies of breaking up begins to rear its head. The United Kingdom is really four countries united under a crown hence it is called the United Kingdom. But all such union are subject to some people asking for greater autonomy – hence the Welsh Northern Ireland, Scotland have their own Parliament although they send representatives to London. Last year there was a big referendum in Scotland about whether they wanted to stay in the United Kingdom. They voted to stay. But the ink had not dried on the result sheet, before another movement again seeking Scottish Independence began.
• To be continued tomorrow
• Dr. Cole OFR, is a former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Brazil, among other diplomatic postings. He wrote this as a review of Ambassador Arthur Mbanefo’s book