Flow­ers for Shet­tima Ali Monguno

Daily Trust - - OPINION - Wole Olaoye

Iwas out of the coun­try when one of the pub­lic of­fi­cers I most ad­mired as a young man passed away. His pass­ing didn’t come as a shock for he had lived to the ripe old age of 90, but can mor­tal man ever come to terms with the in­evitabil­ity of death?

In those heady early 70s when men and women of hon­our held im­por­tant po­si­tions in govern­ment, I was billed to see Mr. At­tah with whom I was to dis­cuss my de­ci­sion to “en­ter the world”, hav­ing opted out of sac­er­do­tal train­ing. Mr At­tah was a men­tor of sorts and he worked at the Fed­eral Min­istry of Trade, lo­cated in the fa­mous Six Storey Build­ing on Broad Street, La­gos. As I waited for the el­e­va­tor, sud­denly there was a buzz: an entourage of three peo­ple, one of them in po­lice uni­form, was ac­com­pa­ny­ing the Com­mis­sioner for Mines and Power, the as­cetic-look­ing Shet­tima Ali Monguno.

As the po­lice­man tried to com­man­deer the lift for the ex­clu­sive use of the Com­mis­sioner, the big man him­self spoke up: “No, no, no. Let them join me. The lift can still take five more peo­ple.” That was how I found my­self in the same en­closed space with the re­spected com­mis­sioner. Lifts took for­ever to climb from floor to floor in those days, but if you were in dis­tin­guished com­pany as I was, there was no hurry. I stole a cou­ple of glances at the man. Some­thing about his mien re­minded me of Ma­hatma Gandhi. Many decades af­ter, I can now say with con­vic­tion that that fleet­ing Gandhi im­age was real. Monguno did not join the band of trea­sury loot­ers and favour seek­ers. He died a sim­ple man with­out the trap­pings one would ex­pect around men who have held high of­fice.

Ev­ery­one who has met Monguno would prob­a­bly have their own anec­dotes to share, but one of the sto­ries that at­tracted my at­ten­tion af­ter his death was the one ex­plain­ing how he man­aged to build a house in Maiduguri. He was Pe­tro­leum Min­is­ter. He had no extra source of in­come apart from his salary. He ap­plied for a loan of N40,000 from the bank but the bank in­sisted that he must get a guar­an­tor. He ap­proached Gen­eral Gowon, the Head of State, for a guar­an­tor’s let­ter. The Head of State said it would amount to abuse of of­fice if he guar­an­teed Monguno’s loan to build a per­sonal house. Even­tu­ally, Monguno reached an agree­ment with the con­struc­tion com­pany, Julius Berger. The deal was sim­ple - Berger would build the house and let it out for as many years as nec­es­sary to re­cover their costs be­fore hand­ing over the house to Monguno. That was how Monguno built his Maiduguri bun­ga­low.

I don’t want to think what a con­tem­po­rary politi­cian in Monguno’s po­si­tion would have done. (Check out his other achieve­ments: Chair­man, Maiduguri Metropoli­tan Coun­cil 197778; Mem­ber Con­stituent As­sem­bly 1977-78; Pres­i­dent of OPEC 1972-73; Pro-chan­cel­lor Uni­ver­sity of Calabar 1978-80; Pro-chan­cel­lor Uni­ver­sity of Nige­ria 1980-84; Na­tional hon­ours Ethiopian Em­pire, Re­pub­lic of Egypt, Su­dan and Cameroon 1970; Trustee Girl Guides As­so­ci­a­tion of Nige­ria 1970-90; Deputy Na­tional Chair­man Na­tional Party of Nige­ria De­cem­ber 1980-84; Na­tional Hon­our - Com­man­der of the Or­der of the Fed­eral Re­pub­lic, CFR, 1982; Chair­man Borno Ed­u­ca­tion En­dow­ment Fund 1986; Hon. Cit­i­zen of Ok­la­homa State, USA).

These days, they even make an­tic­i­pa­tory dec­la­ra­tion of as­sets: they sim­ply sub­mit their wish list to the Code of Con­duct Bureau in place of phys­i­cal as­sets, know­ing that they would ac­quire those as­sets with stolen funds as soon as they were sworn in. When you con­sider how in­tegrity and good breed­ing have been pum­melled to sub­mis­sion by the lowlife re­jects we al­lowed to cor­ner power at var­i­ous lev­els of our na­tional life, you will know that the gen­er­a­tion of Shet­tima Ali Monguno is not just old school; the val­ues his gen­er­a­tion stood for are grad­u­ally go­ing into ex­tinc­tion.

We have not al­ways been a na­tion of low stan­dards or eth­i­cal arid­ity. Once upon a time when we had peo­ple like Michael Ok­para, Obafemi Awolowo, Ah­madu Bello, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa and their gen­er­a­tion in charge, po­lit­i­cal of­fice was but a means of do­ing good to the great­est num­ber. Today, it is the quick­est route to bil­lion­aire­dom. If the likes of Shet­tima Ali Monguno are not re­placed by men and women of con­science, the coun­try is doomed. That is why it is im­por­tant to high­light - and in­deed show­case - the lives of up­right pub­lic ser­vants of yore with the hope that it will rec­om­mend it­self to the present gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers, es­pe­cially the klep­to­crats among them.

I am al­ways in­ter­ested in learn­ing lessons from hap­pen­ings such as the demise of a grand old pa­tri­arch. Ab­dul­rafiu Lawal, a Bos­ton-based com­men­ta­tor and fel­low ad­mirer of Monguno, spoke my mind when he wrote:

“Monguno passed on at a time Borno is in dire need of lead­er­ship and words of wis­dom, six years af­ter Boko Haram took the state forty years back­wards. I once asked him why he sold his only house in Abuja to build a fe­male hos­tel for the Uni­ver­sity of Maiduguri. He told me the story of how he grew up in the house of a district head and how the colo­nial­ists had asked the tra­di­tional ruler to en­rol one of his sons in school then, but think­ing it was an at­tempt to con­vert Ka­nuri chil­dren to Chris­tian­ity, he sent Monguno in­stead. Monguno added that his fa­ther never left any­thing for him and he went to school free of charge. Hence he has no plans to leave any in­her­i­tance for his chil­dren, but good ed­u­ca­tion.

“Baba died peace­fully in his home, was never moved from one hos­pi­tal in Lon­don to an­other in the United States - as is the case with most Nige­rian elites. To me, this is grat­i­fy­ing even though it is a big loss for Nige­ria.”

May his soul find sweet re­pose.

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