Our Lack of Sobriety Will Kill Us

BAMIDELE JOHNSON

Before the interview-his last ever, as he was killed a week or so after-Chief Bola Ige, a man of high-voltage charisma and no little arrogance, was in fine fettle. He joked with the five people with him in the room-myself, Goodluck Ilajufi Ebelo, who were to interview him for the now rested TEMPO Magazine; Messrs. Odia Ofeimum, Kunle Ajibade, our boss; and TELL’s Dare Babarinsa, who arrived a bit later. The three other men were his disciples, so to speak.

The interaction opened with bonhomie, careered into the tetchy territory when the interview began, with Ebelo making a menace of himself and testing Ige’s notoriously inelastic patience via Afenifere-themed questions; and back to the genial zone as the interview wound down. Babarinsa, reputed for his knowledge of Yoruba political history, raised an issue that attracted the attention/ire of Ige, Ajibade and Ofeimun.

It was about journalists’ rote description of Ibadan as “ancient city”. Cheesed off by it, he complained that journalists were failing in their duty of accuracy, arguing that Ibadan-on account of when it was founded- does not merit being described as ancient. Ige and Ofeimun fired darts at journalists, accusing them of laziness.

The conversation would dogleg into HIV/AIDS, with Ige warning Ebelo and I to stay off women if we visited Benue State, from where he had just returned. HIV/AIDS, he said, was ravaging the state.

His warning was delivered in words too coarse to repeat here, but I guess we can all understand the message. Then, another dogleg. This time into how bereft of sobriety the country’s leaders are. He instantiated this with a personal experience. On arrival in Abuja to resume as Minister of Power, Ige said, he got off the plane to meet 17 vehicles waiting for him at the airport. He travelled alone, so was surprised to have such a large number of vehicles waiting to pick him up.

He was compelled to ask who they had come to pick. “You sir,” replied a senior official of the ministry. “Only me?” he said he asked. “Yes sir,” said the official. This, for a man raised (politically) by the austere Obafemi Awolowo, was immodest opulence. Hollywood-style. It was too much for him. Way too much.

Sat in one of those vehicles on his way to his office, Ige said he started wondering how deep our national culture of waste was. All the vehicles, with most occupied only by their drivers, must have been fueled for no other reason than to be at the airport.

The drivers, he said, could have been elsewhere doing something more meaningful, as they had no one to carry. He thought of how the situation was the same in every ministry, department and agencies and decided to raise the matter with the permanent secretary of the one at which he was just resuming.

He later gave many examples (some of which we know) of how people in government behaved (and, sadly still do) like drunken oligarchs. These, we must remember, was when the country was still earning big from oil.

Fast-forward to these straitened times, which should make our leaders sober, and we are still the same way or worse-and at every level. I fear that when the federal, state or local government gets more money, those at the helm will freak out the more.

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