Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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In 1965 a German flew into Nigeria with a dream to find his place under the sun. He did not come with much, only his brain, his dreams and his little suitcase.
He was lucky to have won the bids for the construction of Eko Bridge and was luckier to be introduced to Police Commissioner Joseph Dechi Gomwalk, the Military Governor of Benue Plateau State. The Governor gave him a modest water construction contract. The German proceeded to execute the contract with speed. It was not only the speed but the quality of work that impressed the Governor.
Gomwalk did not hesitate to introduce the obscure German contractor to General Yakubu Gowon, himself an indigene of Benue Plateau who happened to be the Military Head of State at the time. He also introduced him to Mobolaji Johnson, the Military Governor of Lagos. Gowon and Johnson gave the little known contractor some jobs in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria. Again his performance was top grade. Thus started the upward swing of Julius Berger, Nigeria’s construction giant that is reputed for quality jobs and therefore much sought after in the Nigeria of today.
The rise and rise of Julius Berger to some astronomical heights is such that the company will not be wrong to describe Nigeria as God’s own country. In Abuja, the hand of Julius Berger can be seen in such National Monuments as the Aso Rock Presidential fortress, the Federal Secretariat, the National Stadium, the road networks and more. In the early nineties, the Julius Berger construction site in Abuja was described as the biggest construction site in the whole world.
A few years back I was involved in an intricate problem with a family that is very close and dear to me. A gentleman with whom we have been friends for close to forty years was facing a ‘revolt’ by his two female children. The first daughter after graduating in a Nigerian University went to the United Kingdom to do his masters program. There, she fell in love with his classmate, a white American boy and they decided to get married.
Before he got married, my friend confided in me that if he got married and had children, he was not going to allow the children to marry foreigners. He had lost to foreign lands half of his family members who either went abroad to study or got married to foreigners. They have refused to come back and have almost forgotten about home.
For this reason, my friend did not give his consent to the marriage and did not even attend the wedding ceremony which took place in London.
The second daughter also went to do her masters in the United Kingdom. Unlike her senior sister, she completed her studies and came back home intact. She got a good job in Lagos and was making steady progress and for these reasons became an instant celebrity to me and my friend. Then the unexpected happened.
I remember the day I was driving at a suicidal speed to Abuja Airport to drop a friend who was getting late for his flight. My friend’s daughter kept ringing me repeatedly. When I finally picked up the phone, she kept yelling in a manner that was not in her character. I could not comprehend what she was saying because I was on top speed. My pleas that she should stop her screaming until I got to the airport fell on deaf ears. She continued with her monologue until I got to the airport. It was only then that I got the bombshell.
She had found the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. He was a white American boy and her father did not want to hear any such thing. She wanted to bring the boy for introductions but the father warned her not to try any such thing because two of them were not welcome. I calmed her down with a promise to help.
Getting my friend to support the daughter’s marital plans was very difficult. At a point he bought a machete and got it sharpened. He confided in me that he was going to behead the American boy and face the consequences if he ever dared to come near his house. That was how bad he felt about two of his daughters getting married to foreigners and lost in foreign lands.
I set up a meeting with the boy who took a flight from Lagos and we met in secret, away from my friend. He told me he came to Africa and was in Senegal for a few years. When he was transferred to Nigeria and he saw the abundant untapped opportunities here, he took an instant decision: Nigeria was his country, his last bus stop in life. My friend’s fears that he was going to lose his daughter to a foreigner and to a foreign land were unjustified.
After much effort, my friend was dissuaded from beheading his prospective son in law, a proper colorful traditional marriage and white wedding took place; the young couple have three children and are doing very well professionally. Recently they bought a duplex in Victoria Island of Lagos.
So far, I have talked about realized dreams in Nigeria. But this a country of shattered dreams too.
Look at the case of Chief MKO Abiola. Nobody heard of him in the first Republic. When the military took over power in 1966, he managed to ingratiate himself to the powers that be in the military. His businesses were heavily patronized by his military friends in government. He became stupendously rich and decided to take a shot at the Presidency of Nigeria in an election organized by the military. He won that election convincingly.
The same military that made him a multi – millionaire, the same military that organized an election that he won, decided to void the election. In frustration he declared himself President of Nigeria. The military then decided that he was not the president of Nigeria but a prisoner. He died in prison.
Omoyele Sowore should have known that declaring yourself president or calling for a revolution in a coup prone country like Nigeria – when there is a government in place – could attract fire and fury.
Recently, kidnapping for ransom became the most frightening security nightmare in Nigeria. In Taraba, a state that is already on the slippery road to anarchy, kidnapping has been elevated from pure crime to a thriving industry. The mastermind of rampant kidnappings in Taraba, Mr. Hamisu Wadume was recently trapped by the police in Ibi and arrested. He was handcuffed and the police were taking him to Jalingo the state capital when they came under the heavy fire power of soldiers from the military cantonment in Takum. Three crack police detectives who had earlier arrested Evans another notorious kidnapper were gunned down. The military then proceeded to set the notorious kidnapper free.
Some of us who have no other job but to report events in Nigeria are yet to find out the true meaning of this country.