Sunday, March 8, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: A Lady By Birth

How To Revive Nigeria's Dying Dream

By Anthony Akaeze

Alani Akinrinade, retired lieutenant general and former chief of army and defence staff, at a lecture in Osogbo, Osun State laments Nigeria’s wasted opportunities

There are times when the star event at an occasion suddenly turns out to be something different from what was earlier advertised, thereby taking the shine off the main issue. That was the situation in Osogbo, capital of Osun State, March 4. The occasion was the public presentation of a book titled A Lady By Birth, which is a biography of Betty Bakare, an accomplished banker, administrator and public servant who also hails from Osun State.

The atmosphere that day was one of conviviality and merriment, with hundreds of friends, well wishers and family members of the celebrant in a happy mood, because the event also coincided with the 70 birthday anniversary of Bakare.

But many people’s mien at the Women and Children Development Initiative Foundation Centre, WOTCLIF, venue of the book launch, soon began to give way for soul searching and sober reflection once Alani Akinrinade, a retired Lt General and indigene of the state, started presenting a paper entitled Taking Stock of Our Nation. It turned out to be a sad commentary on the state of affairs in Nigeria.

For a start, the retired army general, who was also chairman of the occasion, took time to praise Bakare, whom he had known for a long time. Describing her as a remarkable and formidable woman who has made stellar contributions to Nigeria’s national development, Akinrinade said the book, which chronicles the subject’s life from infancy to adulthood, is a permanent tribute to a woman who has achieved so much in her public career.

Then he delved into what could best be described as a treatise on Nigeria, taking a swipe at Nigeria’s successive leaders for the failure of leadership in the country, for their inability to turn around the fortunes of an unbelievably gifted nation like Nigeria.

In choosing to discuss Nigeria at such an auspicious occasion, Akinrinade informed the audience that “birthdays, particularly of senior citizens, are part of our political and social history” and therefore, “are our window to the past and door to the present.” That afforded the General the ‘licence’ to educate members of the audience about the promise Nigeria once held out, compared to now. “Our nationalists, who fought for the independence of this country, had big dreams for it and its people. They believed in their collective capacity to build a great, united and prosperous country that would truly be the giant of Africa. Forty nine years ago, that dream was almost tangible. We felt it and we could almost touch it,” recalled Akinrinade.

But he added that “the dream and the promises of independence,” soon “turned into a series of national misfortune for the country and its people,” leading to an arrested national development. “Our collective dreams were turned into our collective nightmares,” due to corruption, incompetence and moral bankruptcy. And so, “a country so richly blessed by God finds itself in a state of self induced confusion and apparent helplessness. Its leaders at all levels are thus unable to deploy its unbelievable human and natural endowments to serve the noble end of the common good.” He then asked: “Are we not embarrassed when we see our oil rich nation numbered among some of the poorest countries on earth? We should be embarrassed. We should be ashamed.”

For a proper analysis, the General traced Nigeria’s descent to its current state. Nigeria, he said, has seen a lot and been through a lot in nearly 49 years of independence. “We had nearly twenty-nine years of self styled corrective regimes that corrected and compounded some of our national ills and exacerbated others. Military rule came with the promise of a revolution. If it was a revolution, it was a failed one because it failed to make the nation rediscover itself as a country of laws and not a nation of political jobbers. The problem was that the military rulers pandered to the petty geopolitical, ethnic and religious interests. These interests are often at variance with the needs and interests of the nation.”

Although some people expected that the current democratic dispensation which began in 1999 would usher in a season of hope, growth and development, that, sadly has largely turned out to be a pipe dream as Akinrinade explained: “Some powerful individuals, the so-called political godfathers and their godsons are feeding fat on our collective misery. Ours is a democracy with a difference. Democracy is supposed to be a government of the people by the people and for the people. But ours is a government of the few by the few and for the few.” He said the antics of these political godfathers, godsons and their collaborators, are responsible for the electoral fraud that has characterised Nigeria’s elections in recent times. “The cynical subversion of the people’s will is comprehensive and common place. Two years after the conduct of the 2007 elections, which, so far, are the most disputed in the history of our country, the courts are still enmeshed in deciding who really won and who really lost. Those elections were roundly condemned for failing to meet the basic regional standards for free and fair elections. More than 1,500 suits were instituted to challenge the elections from presidential elections to the elections in the state houses of assembly. Nigeria should lead the rest of black Africa in its democratic journey. Is it not a matter of grave national shame that our country has lost its assumed position and now holds the candle to Ghana and other countries on the continent?,” asked Akinrinade.

Such sad state of things, in Nigeria, he continued, is the reason people like him cannot afford to keep quiet, for to do so would mean to resort to cold complicity: “One thing Nigeria cannot afford at this point in its life is to continue to live a lie. It is for this that some of us refuse to be silent when we see things going wrong. When we see no evil where is evil, hear no evil, where the voice of evil is loud and when we refuse to speak against evil in order to protect our individual, political, economic and other interests, we push our country towards the precipice. Wherever we are gathered and whatever might be the occasion, let us speak truth to power.”

For Nigeria to be great, Nigerians must pause at regular intervals to ponder the future of their country by telling themselves the bitter truth. Akinrinade called on President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to show courage and, among other things, reform the faulty political system that brought him to power. That will be the best way to kickstart Nigeria’s march to greatness, a move that first began with Nigeria’s founding fathers and their succeeding generation of which Bakare is a part of.

Olagunsoye Oyinlola, Osun State governor, who is the brother of Bakare, praised the woman’s qualities. Describing her as “my amiable and darling sister,” Oyinlola said the celebrant has experienced life in its various forms, leading to her reaching the milestone age of 70. “I congratulate Princess Betty Bakare. I’ve had the worthy opportunity of growing up with my sister. She’s an epitome of industry and selflessness…a loving, caring but no nonsense woman who does not suffer fools gladly, someone who dedicated her life to the service of humanity.”

He praised the authors of the book which, apart from shedding light on the hitherto unknown aspect of the subject's life, is the newest addition to the world of literature.

Lekan Ogunyemi, the book reviewer, praised the efforts of the four persons who authored the 150-page book. He said the book captures the “events and circumstances of a lady who can aptly be described as a personification of multiple factors,” and that the work would be “useful as a teaching and reference material by lecturers and practitioners in education, industry, politics, civil service, religion, judiciary and those that are genuinely committed to preventing our society from within and outside entering a state of moral and academic barrenness.”

Other dignitaries who attended the event are Olusola Obada, Osun State deputy governor, Ayo Otegbola, traditional rulers and top government officials from within and outside the state.

The book, which was written by Kayode Adedire, Sunday Odedele, Kayode Akinsola and Akinola Owolabi, was launched by Oyinlola, with the sum of one million naira.

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