By OBINNA EZUGWU |
There is a reason many Nigerians are in awe of him: Senator Enyinnaya Harcourt Abaribe has emerged as a very courageous man, and has won the hearts of many with his resolve, eloquence and his ability to stand for what is just even in the face of heavy odds.
Now widely regarded as the sole voice of reason, courage and opposition in a senate chamber whose eagerness to acquiesce to every demand of the executive has caused it to be derided as rubber stamp, the Abia South Senator is, in many people’s minds, the only silver lining. His speeches are often captured in videos and shared widely by Nigerians on social media, much to their admiration.
But there is often a price to pay. More than once, Abaribe has been hounded into detention by Nigeria’s security forces in apparent attempts to cower him, and he admits, as he sits down to share his thoughts with BusinessHallmark, that he sometimes has concerns over his own safety, and that of his family, but regardless is never discouraged.
“Of course I’m mortal and I worry about my safety, and my family does so always,” he tells this writer. “But I have always felt that life is not worth living if there were no challenges.
“Nigeria tends to discourage people but as a leader we all have a duty to resolve issues that confront us. In my book I showed that we had a Nigeria that was better than what we have today but the possibility of our dream country still exists.”
On March 1st, Abaribe launched his autobiography, ‘Made in Aba: A Life of Coincidences,’ in a well-attended event that coincided with his 66th birthday at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja. A book from a senator who is reputed for his courage would naturally be expected to be a no-holds-barred account of his personal life and journey into the murky waters of Nigerian politics.
It is, and particularly tells gripping accounts of his time as deputy governor of Abia State, from 1999 to 2003, during which period, he was made to swear an oath of allegiance, not to the people of Abia State whom he had been elected to serve, but to a principal who had apparently placed himself and his interest above the people.
It is also a telling recollection of how diabolism and sycophancy reigned supreme on the corridors of power while the state descended down the slope. It’s an unfortunate episode in the history of the God’s Own State, one which it’s yet to recover from.
But the book is also about his life’s journey, from Aba through the spontaneous decision to study economics at the University of Benin, to the time he joined politics. And for him, the idea behind the book, which according to him, was inspired by his own father, is to document the journey for his children.
“As I stated in my foreword in the book it was inspired by my late father. He fought in Burma as a soldier and never related to us his children what he must have gone through as young man from Africa fighting in Asia,” he says. “So I resolved to tell my own story of my life’s journey to my children.
“As for the title, it came out of the floor of the senate. I had promoted ‘Made in Aba’ products to my colleagues to such an extent that they jocularly call me ‘Made in Aba.’ As an ‘Aba Brought Up’ it is axiomatic that the name reflects Aba.”
From Abaribe’s book, it is obvious how poor leadership by individuals who saw their positions as opportunities for self- aggrandisement, nearly brought Abia to its knees. And as Nigeria teeters on the brink on account of mounting security and economic challenges, Abaribe says the Abia challenge is similar to Nigeria’s challenge.
It’s a country where poor leadership has ensured that it has gone from a potential African giant in the 60s, to practically a failed state in 2021.
“I think in the forewords written by both Dr. Chidi Amuta and Prof. Utomi and expatiated by Segun Adeniyi in his review they expressed the clear lessons from the book about the paths not taken which has brought Nigeria to this sorry pass,” he notes. “Failure of leadership has been the bane of Nigeria as our sage Chinua Achebe opined.”
Abaribe recalls a better Nigeria; a time when, although he had secured admission into the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, he suddenly opted for the University of Benin where he read economics and subsequently became a lecturer. It was for him, a time when tribalism and ethnic rivalry had not become a huge problem.
And although it still caught up with him somewhat, when he wanted a scholarship but was denied because it was for sons of the soil, he observes that the issues have become much worse, particularly under the present government.
“Nation building has suffered a serious setback under present government and has led to the irredentist movements all over Nigeria,” Abaribe observes “It’s a call to duty for every citizen to work towards a better leadership that will embrace all Nigerians.
“Fairness, equity and justice engenders patriotism otherwise we will still see ourselves from the prism of our ethnicity. The beauty of democracy is that it gives an opportunity for a change in leadership peacefully.”
Obviously, Nigeria is a country at the crossroads. Insecurity has become a monster, ethnic tensions are rising, and the economy is nose-diving, the Abia South senator insists that if things are not done to quickly reverse the trend, the next generation will have only a crisis ridden geographical space to inherit.
“The primary duty of government should protection of life and property so every citizen should worried about the future of this country,” he notes. “My worst fear is that if we don’t get a grip on the situation we may be handing over a country in ruins to children.
“The Buhari regime promised the country that they will deal with the matter of Security, Economy and Corruption. Sadly, each of these vices has intensified under his watch and seems to be worsening with no end in sight. We have become again a debtor nation with even more debt than before.
“Insecurity has expanded from only two states in the northeast to the whole country and ungoverned spaces have multiplied. Corruption seems to have quintupled with even heads of anti-corruption agencies indicted. The government should have been less insular and nepotistic.”
Calls for a president of Southeast or Igbo extraction have been gaining momentum, going into 2023. Many argue it will offer the country an opportunity to heal and finally put the grudges of the civil war to bed. But for Abaribe, what is more important is that the country be restructured into a true federation, with component units having the power over their own affairs. This, he said, remained the only way to reverse the continuing slide into anarchy.
“I believe that we should pursue restructuring first before any other thing,” he says. And speaking of his own political future going into 2023, he says he’d rather wait on God to lead and provide a pathway.
“Like I said in my book, my life has been full of coincidences where God leads me. I’m sure He will also lead me on the right path in 2023,” he says.
But Abaribe owes Nigeria another book. ‘Made in Aba’ focuses mostly on his growing up and experiences as deputy governor, with little or no reference to his time in the Senate, where he has been for nearly 14 years, having been elected into the red chamber first in 2007. The second book, he assures will come in due time.
“Segun Adeniyi suggested this in his review. Since I’m still in the senate, I think we should expect another book after my sojourn in the senate,” he assures. “It has been 20 years after my being elected as Deputy Governor. If there was a statute of limitations it has also passed so I can clearly look at the past and point out our foibles and mistakes.”