By Dare Babarinsa
By the time of the coup of January 15, 1966, the new Premier Lodge in Kaduna, capital of the then Northern Region, had been completed. But Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the Premier (then Nigeria was a federation of four regions: North, West, East and Mid-West) would not move to the new lodge. For him, it was too big, too costly and too luxurious for the leader of the North where the talakawa were in the majority. I don’t know the position of that Premier Lodge now, but it must have been dwarfed to a modest size, not by the feat of any architect or engineer, but by the size and luxury of subsequent buildings by the successors of Bello in Kaduna.
Is there any old Government House now that has been preserved in the original state, where you can smell the aroma of history and collide with the harried frequency of power in ages past? One of my old colleagues was once sent by his editor to interview Chief Simeon Adebo, Nigeria’s first Permanent Representative at the United Nations. Adebo was the first African Head of Service in the old Western Region under Chief Obafemi Awolowo as premier.
He was a contemporary to the first African Cabinet Secretary of the region, the pre-eminent historian and later vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos, Professor Saburi Biobaku. Adebo was the right hand man of Awolowo during the Golden Years of the West when universal free primary education was introduced and the foundation of the present Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, was laid.
The late Chief Alfred Rewane, first private secretary to Chief Awolowo, whenever he remembers those great days, his eyes would glister with the evanescence of youth. In the early 1990s before his tragic assassination, we, Bayo Adenekan, Niyi Afuye, Dayo Adeyeye, Dokun Abolarin (now our royal father, Kabiyesi, the Oragun of Oke-Ila, Osun State) and others, use to meet with Papa Rewane in his sprawling Ikeja residence. He would take us on a journey into the past, full of painful nostalgia while he serves us special tea and delicacies like poppycock. Baba Adebo lived that experience.
When my colleague met with Chief Adebo, he was not in a happy mood. He had gone to Ibadan to visit the reigning military governor at that time when General Ibrahim Babangida was the tenant of Doddan Barracks, Lagos. After their discussion, Adebo sought the powerful man’s permission to be taken to the old Premier Office. He wanted to tread on the footpath of history and re-energise himself with the elixir of remembrance. It took awhile to get someone to locate where the old Premier Office was.
It had now been partitioned into different offices occupied by non-descript civil servants. Adebo was close to tears. This was the same office once used by successors of Chief Awolowo: Chief Ladoke Akintola, Dr Koyejo Majekodunmi, Lt. Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, Colonel Adeyinka Adebayo, Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi, Admiral Akin Aduwo and Colonel David Medaiyese Jemibewon who also became the first Military Governor of old Oyo State. Adebo vowed never to go to Ibadan again.
We thank the Lord for Ibadan, the old war-camp of the Yoruba nation which was founded and built in the early 19th Century mostly by the soldierly class after the collapse of old Oyo Empire, the greatest of the many states created by Yoruba people in the pre-colonial days. The family of Chief Awolowo still preserves the old personal residence of the great man at Oke Bola, Ibadan, from where he operated as the Premier for eight giddy years when the West was transformed.
The old Parliament Building, Ibadan, the grisly arena for great parliamentary debates and battles, is still standing in its original form, the furniture, forlorn with age. The old Premier Lodge which was used by Awolowo successor, Chief Ladoke Akintola, a great journalist and lawyer, is now the premises of the Court of Appeal, Ibadan. It was in that house that Akintola was killed during the coup of January 15, 1966. That was the coup that released the genie from the bottle and changed Nigeria forever.
The Premier Lodge of Chief Akintola is now dwarfed by the new palaces in use by Nigerian new rulers. In Nigeria of today, some Government Houses are more luxurious than the Waldorf Astoria and larger than Buckingham Palace. I don’t know of any Governor’s Lodge in Nigeria that is still standing in its original form.
Every year, you read in the state budget, mind-bugling sums that have been allocated for the rebuilding, the remodeling, restyling and the refurbishing of the Governor’s Lodge or the Office of the Governor. Even at the Asokoro District of Abuja, where most of the governor’s guest houses are situated, you will know that our modern governors know the meaning of luxury living.
Nothing is wrong with that if it reflects the true state of Nigeria. I have my doubts, however. In the past, Nigerian leaders regarded the Government Houses as Legacy Houses to be preserved in their original forms as much as possible. For most of them, a new “befitting” residence or office was not a priority. I remember that Chief Adekunle Ajasin operated from a bungalow office as the Governor of old Ondo State, 1979 to 1983. That office was also used by his successor, Commodore Michael Bamidele Otiko. The Governor’s Lodge then in Akure was a two-bedroom duplex. I am not sure if these legacy buildings have been preserved for posterity.
Learning to preserve the past is one of the best ways to ensure a better future. No 10 Downing Street in London has been the official residence of the British Prime-Minister since 1735. Though it had been remodeled a number of times, but occupants of that famous address are always conscious of history. It would be considered sacrilegious for any Prime Minister to suggest that he would want to demolish it to build a more “befitting residence and office.”
In all these, the Federal Government of Nigeria has been remarkably different. The State House Marina, Lagos, which was used by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s first titular President and his successor, Major-General J.T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi, has been preserved in its original state. State House, Doddan Barracks, which was used as the official residence and office of Nigerian rulers from 1966 – Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Muhammed, Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari – until General Ibrahim Babangida moved the seat of power from Lagos to Abuja in 1992, is also now been used by the Nigerian President as his State House annex along with the Marina State House.
Aso Rock Villa is decidedly different from either the sprawling Marina or the modest Doddan Barracks. The Villa is a well appointed battlement meant for the ruler of African’s most powerful and richest country. When it was under construction, I had visited the site in 1991 only to be arrested by operatives of the State Security Service, SSS, who accused me of breaching the security of the construction premises of a sensitive monument.
Since it was completed, I have been there countless times especially since Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was the chief occupant. In one of my visits, Friday November 2, 2012, I met Colonel (rtd) Sambo Dasuki, the sedate National Security Adviser. When I addressed him as a general, he objected, protesting that “I am an ordinary colonel.” I told him that soldiers are normally addressed by their field ranks. As the National Security Adviser, I said he was a general.
I am surprised in recent days about alleged revelations on Dasuki. He had been trained in the best tradition of the military starting from the Nigerian Defence Academy, Zaria, where he graduated in 1974. I saw the picture of his Abuja residence. It is a palace on a grand scale worthy of a Sokoto prince and a highflying officer of the last government. He is now being accused by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, of being illegally in possession of our common diamond.
I am happy, however, that he would soon have his day in court and be provided the opportunity to defend himself. However, it is open to debate whether a man who has been exposed to the high life, living in palatial mansions and riding in convoy of bullet proof cars as a public officer would not want to replicate the same in private life. With this kind of exposure, the temptation to become Ali Baba is high.
As many revelations have shown since the days of General Sani Abacha, our own Ali Baba never bothers to have a band of 40 thieves like the one in the enduring Arabian story of A Thousand and One Night. He would rather take his diamond alone and if trouble comes, he would hire an army of lawyers to battle the trouble and keep him safe with his loot. So far, despite the high decibel trumpeting of the EFCC, the army of lawyers, in their black robes strutting like giant bats, has been quite effective.
Chief Awolowo once advised that one should not enjoy in public life what he cannot provide for himself in private life. This is harder said than done. But we should not make it harder and harder. Now it is hard time for Dasuki, the first son of Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, the deposed Sultan of Sokoto who was for many years the chairman of the Nigerian Railway Corporation. Colonel Dasuki had a colourful career in the military before he fled into exile during dark days of General Abacha. We should remember that it was Abacha who deposed the senior Dasuki as the Sultan. The then Major Dasuki was also one of the young officers who arrested the then Head of State, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari during the coup of August 27, 1985, which brought Major-General Ibrahim Babangida, Buhari’s Chief of Army Staff, to power. Dasuki was later appointed aide-de-camp to General Babangida.
Dasuki was succeeded as ADC to the military president by Colonel U.K Bello, a handsome paratrooper who was loved by the members of the State House press corps In Doddan Barracks. That was when Double-Chief Duro Onabule ruled the roost as the Chief Press Secretary to Babangida, presiding over the activities of the press corps like a chief priest. Like Dasuki, U.K Bello took his job with profound seriousness and panache and he was loyal to Babangida to the point of idolatry.
In the wee hours of April 22, 1990, rebel troops led by Colonel Gideon Orkar invaded Doddan Barracks intent on toppling the Administration of General Babangida. Bello rallied loyal troops to confront them. He entered into an armour tank, ready to fire away. It was then he realised that there were enemies within. The tank had been demoblised and its firing pin removed. Too late. He was a sitting duck. He was killed without being able to defend himself.
It is now being alleged that under President Goodluck Jonathan we may have been sending our valiant troops into the Sambisa forest to confront Boko Haram with demobilised armour tanks. Our soldiers did not know, just like the late U.K Bello did not know, that the firing pins have been removed. No wonder, President Jonathan in a moment of sober Delphic pronouncement said there were Boko Harams in his government. There is no doubt that the Enemy Within is worse than Boko Haram.
The Enemy Within is fighting for Boko Haram while fully embedded within the battlement of Aso Rock. This is an act of ultimate betrayal. It is good that unlike Colonel U.K Bello, we may be finding out the truth before it is too late. Let the truth be told in an open court.
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Dare Babarinsa/The Guardian