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When self-centered spirit rules…

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A view from outside the United Nations building in New York City. (Photo by Monika Graff/Getty Images)

Set against New York’s clusters of iconic skyscrapers United Nations’ blue-glass building could hardly attract attention, yet the building had an awesome presence. What set the international civil service headquarters apart from other buildings was the innumerable symbols of power flapping lethargically in front of the innocent-looking building. No other building on the globe has half as much national flags on its premises as the UN building. That extensive rainbow of national flags served as a constant reminder that it was therein that the world’s most important decisions were taken. The need for such a powerful body as the UN had essentially derived from both the vicissitudes and lessons of the “Great Wars”: World War I and World War II. Since its creation the world had not witnessed military conflicts on a global scale; there had not been a World War III, in spite of the endless cold wars between the world’s two most powerful nations, United States of America and Russia. These superpowers and their respective allies practically run the UN for all intents and purposes; leaving less-powerful countries to jostle over aligning themselves with one superpower or the other while pursuing their national interests. This had hardly been a dignified experience for many developing countries, which had since looked to the UN as a convenient instrument in the hands of former colonizing nations.

Nigeria was the latest developing country to suffer such indignity. For close to three weeks in January 2006 Nigeria’s vice president and other top government officials of his ad hoc delegation, utterly divested of the airs and graces that became their high rank, had been hustling along the many corridors of the UN headquarters as they went from one conference to the other with anxious faces. The delegation was seeking to influence the on-going debate on the proposed economic sanctions on Nigeria, which had literally come on the heels of the country’s revolutionary if radical petroleum industry policies. But even on the eve of departure for home the mentally fatigued delegates couldn’t tell whether or not their robust endeavours would tilt the outcome of the debate in Nigeria’s favour.

As though a ritual Vice President kazeem Sai’du and Foreign Minister Okechukwu Nwankwo were in the habit of having their nightcap together in the former’s presidential suite, located on the topmost but six floors of Inter-Kontinental’s forty-five storey edifice. This was usually not earlier than midnight as foisted on the Nigerian delegates by the exigencies of their current mission to the United Nations. But on the eve of their departure for home the two men had agreed to call it a night a little earlier than was their wont, the better to prepare themselves for the marathon flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Time was 10:15 pm; temperature outside read sub-zero Celsius; the dense air in the suite rendered all the more dense by the gloom that its present occupants exuded. On American national television a pretty blonde was relaying heart-rending news of some fourteen-year-old school boys who had put the muzzle of their fathers’ sub-machine guns to their heads. The lads had earlier shot twenty-three of their innocent schoolmates in cold blood within their school premises in Denver, Colorado. The crisp voice informed that the latest incident was the third of such in as many months in the world’s most powerful nation.

‘‘Fourteen years old?’’ uttered the foreign minister in sheer disbelief, looking from the television to the vee-pee and back. The vice president’s gorge rose sufficiently to put him in need of their nightly ritual. Promptly he called room-service and placed order with a hint of urgency in his voice. Replacing the receiver Alhaji Sai’du made a rare confession to his companion. The complex forces at work in modern societies were altogether beyond his ken, he said. When he was growing up as a young man in northern Nigeria human life was treated as the most sacred object on earth. Even an all-powerful king could not take the life of any of his subjects without the express approval of an independent court. But not any longer, Alhaji Saidu lamented, ‘‘societies have become so debased by evil that a mere fourteen-years old could casually take the lives of dozens of people and modern man talks dispassionately about it as if discussing a capricious wind blowing across the Sahara.’’

Honourable Nwankwo said he could not agree anymore with the view, adding that modern societies were collectively ‘‘sliding down the frictionless slope of the universal moral mount.’’ Both men had stopped following the television news. Contemplating his compatriot Alhaji Sai’du’s eyes were suddenly alive with light as though the vee-pee’s body was of late plugged onto a secret source of energy. Something on his face reminded the observant foreign minister of the countenance that had preceded the vee-pee’s unbecoming admission on the night they had departed Lagos for New York. ‘‘Okey, I am sad to say that my worst fears have just been confirmed,’’ the vee-pee said, standing up. The minister waited in bated breath; he was well accustomed to the elder statesman’s style of delivery.

Now standing by the double-glazed window and looking down thirty-nine floors at the four chains of lights moving in opposite directions along East 48th Street, Alhaji Sai’du said, ‘‘How unsettling it feels to discover that all those goings and comings are done under the illusory clouds of national security in the backyard of the world’s number-one policeman. If the world’s most powerful nation could not protect her citizens from mere fourteen years old babies, what more evidence do we need to show that contemporary societies are headed for self-annihilation? We are failing individually because we collectively work a self-centered and selfish world.’’ The veteran politician had looked on his present national assignment to the United Nations to rethink its proposed economic sanctions on Nigeria, as an opportunity to add a jewel to his political crown. Thus making his succession of President Ahmed-Obafemi- Nnamdi, at the end of the latter’s second and mandatory last term, a foregone conclusion; but his gut feeling now left him in no doubt that he and his team had come short of their goal. He, the foreign minister and other senior members of his delegation had previously taken indept analyses of the debates on the dreaded proposed sanctions, and concluded that there were formidable forces behind the scenes relentlessly pushing for the sanctions. The glaring selfish motives behind the proposed sanctions had led the vee-pee to repeatedly suggest that those formidable forces emanated from an “evil empire.” The tragic news from Denver, Colorado, once again reminded him of the destructive capacity of such evil empires…
Nkemdiche a consulting engineer, wrote from Abyja


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