Carrington: A summing-up
Ambassador Walter Carrington, who died recently at 89, was a man who understood the imperative of American power. He was an African-American who believed he had a mission to Africa. He fell in love here and married one of the prettiest girls from Edo State. He was so much at home that his Nigerian friends called him Omowale (our child has returned). He was a child of Africa. Africa also claimed him as one of her own. It was not surprising that Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu, one of the heroes of our struggle against military rule, shortly after he came to power in 1999, renamed the old Eleke Crescent in honour of Ambassador Carrington. He was loved for he loved us. No wonder we mourned him like one of our own.
Carrington was one of the members of the diplomatic corps who were at odds with the shenanigans of the General Sani Abacha dictatorship. I was one of the many guests of Arese and American ambassador at their Ikoyi residence on July 4, 1997. In the audience were many top journalists and leading figures of the human right community and members of the opposition National Democratic Coalition, NADECO. We knew members of the State Security Service, SSS, were also lurking around, but we did not expect them to make any arrest that night. They did not. Among the invited guests was Mrs Stella Obasanjo, wife of Nigeria former military ruler who was then serving a life sentence for his alleged role in the phantom coup plot of 1995.
After we had enjoyed ourselves for about one hour, it was time for the ambassador to make his speech at about 8.30 p.m. Everyone was surprised when Carrington began his speech. He started reading the American Declaration of Independence of 1776, those evocative words that have inspired many generations of people seeking for freedom.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” he began in his baritone voice. Silence enveloped the audience. “Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Carrington was an American who was proud of his Africanness. He was not shy of his involvement in helping Nigerians attain global respectability through the establishment of democratic rule. For me, that night, his rendering of the Declaration of Independence, was his best performance.
“We dedicate to this our life, liberty and sacred honour.
In the early days of military rule, America was shy of getting embroiled in Nigeria’s domestic affairs. However, it started getting more interested when it became apparent that the new military regime that came to power after the overthrow of President Shehu Shagari had little respect for human rights. General Muhammadu Buhari, the man who came to power on December 31, 1983, did not unveil any plan to hand over power to a democratically elected successor. Moreover, his military junta was doing everything to discredit the political class, labelling them as corrupt, inefficient and unpatriotic. Many Nigerians believed the accusations.
Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief when Buhari was toppled by his Chief of Army Staff, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, a likeable man who was regarded in some quarters as an American asset. He had international support and Nigerians loved his easy and charming ways. So much was the adulation that when he travelled to Germany for many weeks for medical treatment, the nation waited for him patiently. Churches prayed for his recovery every Sunday and Mosques joined the prayer chain. Then it became clear that he did not want to leave. When he tried to cancell the 1993 presidential election through judicial rascality, the American Embassy issued a statement, denouncing any attempt to truncate democracy.
The Babangida regime immediately declared the diplomat who signed the American statement a persona-non-granta and expelled him from Nigeria.
But the worse was waiting to happen. Babangida annulled the victory of Chief Moshood Abiola at the June 12, 1993 presidential elections. Chief Ernest Shonekan, a boardroom titan, was shoved-in as the Head of the Interim National Government after Babangida was forced out of power on August 27, 1993. Shonekan was toppled in November that year and the Nigerian Nightmare began with the man behind a dark goggle.
Almost everyone underestimated and misunderstood General Sani Abacha when he assumed power in 1993. To keep the politicians busy, he had inaugurated his Constituent Assembly into which many politicians were elected in an election boycotted by the Awoist Movement led by Chief Adekunle Ajasin, the first elected Governor of old Ondo State. Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who was Obasanjo’s deputy during the military era, led his group in the Assembly to demand that Abacha must announce when he would hand over power to a democratically elected successor.
Abacha got him arrested. The Constituent Assembly ended in disarray. General Olusegun Obasanjo met with Abacha to demand the release of Yar’Adua. Abacha told him that he was not aware that Yar’Adua had been detained! Obasanjo furiously harangued him, but Abacha remained unperturbed. By the time we were having cocktail dinner with the Carringtons in 1997, Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Abiola were in Abacha clutches. Only Obasanjo returned home alive among the three.
Carrington gave courage to the pro-democracy movement. America is a powerful country, one of the greatest and most powerful estates ever created by mankind. It was comforting that an Omowale was in charge of the American embassy in Nigeria. Carrington was so proud of his African heritage, so ready to associate with us and so willing to offer advice.
It must be stated that most of the ambassadors from the Western countries were on the same page with Carrington. In the forefront were the Canadians, the British, the Scandinavians and the Holy See. When it was apparent, after the assassination of Chief Alfred Rewane, that Chief Anthony Enahoro too might be killed, the Canadian High Commission allegedly provided him with a safe house in Lagos. It was from that safe house that Chief Enahoro moved to the safety of Dr Amos Akingba’s house in Ikeja where his escape was arranged by Akingba and his associates especially the leader and founder of the Oodua People’s Congress, OPC, Dr Frederick Fasehun.
Nigerians remain indebted to Carrington and those other members of the diplomatic community, including many Africans, who provided support for our struggle. It was good that many of our neighbours in West Africa, especially Benin Republic and Cameroon, were not particularly friendly with Abacha. The only real friend he had in West Africa was Jerry Rawlings of Ghana whom he paid handsomely. When President Olusegun Obasanjo came to power in 1999, he wrote Rawlings to return Abacha loot with him. Rawling replied that what he was given was only personal gift from a friend which he claimed amounted to a paltry 500,000 dollars. Obasanjo had demanded for 10 million dollars.
Carrington had shown that the international community cares about Nigeria. One hope that the current corps of diplomats serving in Nigeria are also taking notes of those who are endangering our democracy by abuse of power and reckless stealing of public funds. The international community should get these people properly exposed and quarantined or else they would continue to strut about public space threatening journalists and innocent Nigerians who ask them “stupid questions” about their sudden wealth when it is apparent they have no visible means of employment.
Carrington lived a good life of service and sacrifice. We should not allow the Nigeria he loved and labored for to be messed-up by rabble-rousing conscienceless politicians and power mongers.
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