A review by Casmir Igbokwe
Last Monday, we started a review of ‘The Powers That Be’, a book written by the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Sun, Mr. Onuoha Ukeh. It is a compilation of Ukeh’s thoughts and reflections on people, power and politics as published in The Sun over the years. Today, we conclude the review. Enjoy.
In chapter 2, Ukeh reflects on some godfathers and people who can’t be ignored in Nigeria. They include such personalities as Ikemba Nnewi, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu; former Abia State Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu; former Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi; former Akwa Ibom State Governor, Godswill Akpabio; Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike; and Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson.
Ukeh sees Orji Kalu as a fearless leader who condemns what is not good and fights for the rights of his people. He endorsed him for president in 2007, saying he had formidable political structure and deserved the support of those who loved surprises, consistency and can-do spirit. But could Ukeh have actually done otherwise?
He also eulogises Peter Obi as governor of Anambra State, saying he came, saw and conquered. Wondering what Nigeria will be if Obi is president, Ukeh says the cost of governance, at least, will be reduced.
It’s not all praises for these personalities. The immediate past governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, receives some knocks for the way he ran Imo State. The writer says Okorocha has fallen flat to the extent that many see him as a jester in government. Part of his legacies is establishment of ministry of happiness and purpose fulfilment.
Writing on the bankrupt states of the federation in chapter 3, Ukeh opines that many governors embark on projects which massage their ego rather than positively touch the lives of the people. He wonders, for example, why Ekiti and Osun would ever think of building airports when some of the existing ones are not viable and when there is not much business in the states to command air traffic. He advises the governors who have financial management problem to attend the Peter Obi School of Economics to learn to be prudent.
In chapter 4, Ukeh dwells on the good and bad sides of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. He talks about the third term agenda of the former president and notes that using the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to fight opponents of government didn’t start today. The then government used the EFCC to harass people like Atiku Abubakar who was the then vice-president but who indicated interest in succeeding Obasanjo in office. He calls it EFCC and motor park justice.
In chapters 6 and 9, you will discover that Obasanjo’s letter writing skills did not start today. The author describes the letter Obasanjo wrote to former President Jonathan in 2013 as sinister and that the intention was to belittle Jonathan and provoke odium and hatred against him. The former president had also written a series of letters to President Buhari, lampooning him as being ineffective, nepotistic and weak.
Chapter 7 is about the Igbo and Biafra question. Here, the author highlights the exploits of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, and the subsequent ‘Operation Python Dance’ the military launched to dislodge his group. He regrets what he calls Igbo political obituary, attributing it to the selfishness of Igbo politicians. This manifests partly in the fact that in eight years of Obasanjo presidency, the Igbo produced five Senate presidents. Consequently, since the inception of this democracy in 1999, the South-East has been playing second fiddle and remains the only zone yet to produce the president of the country. He recommends that the zone should forge alliances with other zones to make their political future brighter.
Chapters 8 and 12 highlight the drama and intrigues of 2015 and 2019 elections respectively. Buhari’s certificate saga was an issue in 2015 as it was in 2019. Although the Supreme Court has settled the matter by saying Buhari is ‘eminently qualified’, the author in 2015, wondered: “Can you imagine going to Shell, Chevron or United Nations and when you are asked to tender your certificate, you present a sworn affidavit. And after many questions, your school presents a statement of result. Do you think you will land the job? It’s only in Buhari and the APC pretenders’ republic that this is possible.”
The phrase, ‘pretenders’ republic, accurately captures the recent statement credited to the Minister of Works, Raji Fashola, who said federal roads were not as bad as people said. In a piece in April 2016, Ukeh reminded Fashola about the signs the Lagos State government erected when he was, at some point, Chief of Staff to Bola Tinubu and as governor. Then, the PDP was the ruling party at the centre while Lagos was under the control of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). At that time, various bad locations in Lagos had this sign: “This is a federal road. Please, bear with us.” With the bad state of many federal roads today, has nemesis not caught up with Fashola?
Two major attributes the author exhibits in this book are truth and courage. For instance, on page 395, Ukeh notes, “The country under Buhari is gradually descending to autocracy, whereby the will of one man in government would prevail above the generality of the people who surrendered the country’s sovereignty to him through votes. Now, people are no longer free to talk, as the government considers criticisms, more or less, as hate speeches. Government can impound anybody’s property, as provided in Executive Order 6, on the suspicion of corruption. Journalists are being harassed, arrested and detained for doing their job of holding the government accountable. And the freedoms provided in a democracy are being eroded, while the president is saying that this is in ‘national interest’. This is impunity of the highest order.” This same impunity is an issue in chapter 13 which revolves around the atrocities of herdsmen in different parts of the country.
To drive home his points, Ukeh uses different techniques. Every chapter, for instance, lures you with a thought-provoking quote. I find the quote at the beginning of chapter 10 by American media executive, Oprah Winfrey, particularly interesting: “Learn from every mistake, because every experience, particularly your mistakes, is there to teach you and force you into being more of who you are.”
Also of interest in the book is the use of humour to spice up the mood of the reader. In the piece, ‘Achebe’s Dead But His Manhood’s Alive (March 29, 2013), the author plays on the word ‘manhood’ which a certain woman innocently used in her tribute to Achebe. The woman “while trying to underline the fact that although the man had died, his legacy lived on, told the deceased’s wife: Although your husband is dead, his manhood is alive.” Don’t get it twisted please.
Occasionally, the author also spices his articles with proverbs and figurative language. You will see an instance of this on page 41 where he expresses his views on the pro and anti-Buhari protest of February 2017: “Let the eagles perch; let the hawk perch. Whichever that says the other should not perch, let its wing break.”
Besides, on page 443, he uses the phrase, “scent of apologies” to describe the soothing effect of the spate of apologies by people like Yakubu Gown for some atrocities committed in the country.
Nevertheless, the author’s occasional resort to spiritualism or preaching reduces the impact of his message. Writing about Rev. King who was sentenced to death in 2007 for murder, Ukeh says, “The scriptures are unambiguous about the second coming of Jesus Christ. When Jesus Christ would come back, everybody would see Him descend from heaven in His majesty. That is what the scriptures say and that is true.” Is this also true for Muslims and atheists?
While not dissuading the writer from spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ as a good Christian, I believe it’s always better to face the facts and avoid preaching in a serious discourse of this nature and when addressing people of different faith.
Besides, there are some errors which punctuate the smooth flow of this beautiful narrative. Some of them could be attributed to the printer’s devil. For instance, on page 168, internally generated revenue (IGR) is written as internally generated review. On page 207, the word ‘say’ comes out as ‘sat’ in the sentence: “Politicians should mind what they sat at political rallies.” The last sentence on page 401 has ‘only’ written as ‘oly’. The word ‘sack’, as used on page 338, should have read ‘sacking’ because the word is used as a noun and not a verb. And on page 44, the phrase, “The PSC had no choice than to comply”, should have read, “The PSC had no choice but to comply”. The author should do well to note these errors and correct them in the second edition.
By and large, column writing is chronicling of history in a hurry. I doff my hat for Ukeh for his commendable effort. I enjoyed reading the book and I recommend it to all friends and lovers of truth, equity and justice.
- First published in the Daily Sun of Monday, December 9, 2019.