(Vanguard of Sunday, March 25, 2007)
Let me tell you what happened the day I was 40 years old. It was a Sunday. I prepared for the Hour of Worship and drove myself to Iju. I used the official vehicle, an Audi 100 GLS belonging to the Daily Times of Nigeria Plc.
There was no reason, therefore, many people told me later, why I should have risked my life protecting a vehicle that did not belong to me. What if I had died? Well the truth is that I did not die.
But what was it that happened? I had been driving in the air-conditioned car, the inspirational music pulling me out of here, upstairs where your consciousness is heightened.
There, at Ishaga, a car drives right in front of you and you are pulled from up there down to the environment of the intruder. Your first thought is, “these useless and reckless drivers”. But someone hops out of the red Peugeot 505car blocking your way and points a submachine gun at you.
You wind down and ask him what he wants. He points the gun at your chest, and orders you out of the car or he would kill you. You ask him again what he thinks he is doing. He cocks the gun. Calmly, as if nothing strange was happening, you open the door of the car; make to step out of the car, but with one foot still on the floor of the car.
As you step aside, something in you says fight, and you lounge at him and his gun. Two of you struggle for the submachine gun. The driver of the vehicle that blocked your path wants to take off when the gun drops on the floor and neither the attacker nor the one being attacked had it in their possession.
Your well-ironed agbada had been torn during the struggle for the sub-machine gun. People are now rushing towards you two, but it is obvious who they want, not the one being dispossessed of his car, but the one playing God because he had a killer weapon in his hand. But with the weapon down on the road and people now safe enough to inflict instant justice, you hear yourself praying for him not to be hurt. You do not want him to die even if he had meant death for you!
The invisible spotlight that had glued both of you to a spot opens for him to escape, as he weakly shouted, duro demi, duro demi o. He crawls into the car that was speeding off, without the submachine gun, and without a wrist watch. It turned out that the gun had been seized from two anti-riot policemen who were guiding the house of a commissioner of police in Ikoyi. The robbers had burst the skull of the policeman they seized the gun from.
The police showed up smartly after the event and asked for the gun. I said I would not hand over the gun to the police in protest at the insecurity of lives and property in the country. I must meet the Lagos State Commissioner of Police himself. I did not get to meeting Muhammadu Gambo, the Commissioner of Police, but he did say later that if everyone could do what Tony Momoh had done, we would have less problems with destabilizers of due process.
People took the cue and became bolder in confronting the abusers of order and discipline. Within two weeks, armed robbers in Ishaga area of mainland Lagos had been dislodged. Even two brothers who were well known in the area for car snatching had their three-storey building burnt down. Necklacing became the keyword in dealing with thieves. People caught you, hung a car tyre on your neck and set you on fire. It almost went out of hand and Gambo had to plead that robbers should not be lynched or burnt; that they should be handed over to the police.
Fifteen years later, armed robbers came to my house and shot me because I refused to take them round my house. They put a gun to the head of my son and threatened to blow him up if I did not give them money. They were four in number. I told them I had no money that I am associated with books, not money, and in any case, many of the books I had were for sale.
I had just published a book anchored on my father whose 50 years of leaving this plane of existence we were going to mark. I did not take them round my house nor was I ready to part with any of my property. We fought and they fled without a pin, leaving behind the boot one of them I wrestled to the ground had left behind.
No, I am not a man of inordinate valour, but I will not stand oppression. You cannot hold a gun to my head and force me to do what my spirit frowns at. I know this earth is a place for me to experience this phase of my life, that it is not my home. I know that there are billions of places to traverse in this wonderful creation of the Lord.
In comparison with time and space, I am stepping over this little grain of sand in the trillions of beaches which the ocean of life flaps. The grain of sand is this earth, this little planet lit by our sun which is a tiny little dot in the milky way galaxy. It is a most critical phase in our journey through creation, being the only place we have the good, the bad and the ugly living together, messing themselves up, instead of the bad taking the opportunity of this relationship to learn the ways of the Light.
But this earth is not our home. It has never been. It can never be, and those who would rather die before they let go their hold on an infinitesimal portion of it need prayers for the widening of their horizon.
Creation is the work of the Holy Spirit and He is directly in control of it, using those who are willing to live peacefully in it to advance His Will. The irony is that those who are not willing to advance His Will are also being used to prove a point – that order is the first law in heaven and the disobedient ones will be those the Quran says will drink boiling water when they are judged. And everyone is being judged by what they do. There is no waiting for tomorrow. These days, the judgment comes almost automatically with the deed.
Professor Maurice Iwu, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) stands under the judgment of the Most High and he should ask his Catholic Church priest what this means. He may well have been recommended for appointment by Andy Uba who is so close to the president that Baba confessed that when he is tired, as he should be after a grueling daily routine, Uba even undresses him! He is the first to see the president in the morning when he wakes up and the last to see him at night before he goes to bed. I saw the president say so in the live coverage of PDP campaign rally in Anambra state.
If Andy is so close to our president that he must be helped to access power in Anambra State, to stay in the rebuilt facilities that Chris, his brother, was accused of burning down, can the methods to get him there be so flagrant in frontal abuse of due process? Can it be true that Iwu went to see Uba where he ran into journalists interviewing the PDP gubernatorial aspirant for Anambra State and that he told Uba, “Sorry sir. I didn’t know you were granting an interview. I will come back sir. Sorry for disturbing you!” What business can Iwu have with those he is setting exams for? What business has he with Uba?
To report progress in preventing his opponents from standing elections in the state? If this story is true, Iwu cannot be a fit and proper person to conduct any credible elections in this country and he should not wait to be disgraced out of office. He should quit.
The president recommends the Chief Justice of Nigeria for appointment and swears him in after the Senate of the National Assembly has cleared him. The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission shares that honour with the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the justices of the Supreme Court.
For reasons only slaves can appreciate, Iwu is ignoring court orders to let those who have sought justice to be included in the list of those to contest. Iwu says it is the Constitution that is disqualifying people, yet the same Constitution speaks only through the courts. How then does Iwu become a spokesman of the Constitution or its interpreter? Or is Andy Uba or his political father the constitution Iwu is interpreting?
The people of the South West were driven to the wall in the 1965 elections to the Western House of Assembly which the NNDP fragrantly manipulated. The results were being announced from Government House at Agodi, Ibadan. When the West exploded, everyone took cover, including the police and other security agencies that those in power thought they could depend on. In 2003, results were written up and downloaded.
The abuses were acknowledged world-wide. This time around, Nigerians must take charge of their country before it is stolen from them forever. This taking charge has nothing to do with violence. The vote is the weapon, and massive defence of that vote is part of securing due process.
Last week, I told the story of the river bathers. There is more to it than I was bold enough to tell. Why? Because I did not want to cause undue panic. This country is in trouble and those in charge must save it, even if they have to lose their temporary places of material advantage. Because it has a mission, not just a future, those who think Nigeria will break up will be disappointed. Time will tell whose visioning was clearer, that of those who play God or of those who strive to do His Will.
(Published in Vol. 2 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 298 – 302; Lagos, 2008)