Everyone is someone’s friend or foe

I first penned down this expression by the mid-90s when I crafted a speech for my buddy and co-publisher, Col. William G. Walbe (rtd). He is late now… God bless his memory. He had been invited to deliver a speech at an occasion which his bosom friend and fellow soldier, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, was at the centre of. Col., as we simply called him, and Buhari were contemporaries in the Nigerian Army. They were both commissioned as 2nd Lieutenants at the same time and they served together in Abeokuta. So close were they that they called each other by the nickname: “De Gaulle”. Remember former French President, the late Charles De Gaulle?

“We live in a world where everyone is someone’s enemy.” That was the line I crafted to capture the mood of the occasion. It has been such a long time and I can’t even remember what the occasion was all about that warranted the quotation.

In this life, someone will like you or hate you for no reasons: “I just like him/her or I just hate him/her and I don’t know why” is commonly heard. We have heard of love at first sight. And since love and hatred are two sides of the same coin, there is also hatred at first sight.

Hatred has been inherent in mankind from primordial times. In most cases, it is driven by envy. Remember the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible? The two siblings offered sacrifices to their Maker. The former’s offerings were rejected because he was stingy with his substances. But Abel was very generous. While the smoke from Abel’s altar marched straight to heaven as a proof of acceptance by God, that of Cain was buffeted around by wind. Cain, who was the elder of the duo, became envious and angry. He fell over his brother and murdered him. When God appeared to him and enquired about his sibling, he queried Him thus: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

I was the editor of The Nigeria Standard between 1985 and 1986 and ran a vibrant weekly humour column known as “The Man From PPC” in the Sunday title. There was a change of government in the country and that produced a new general manager in the company. The new general manager was a fellow professional, respected for his courage and incisive commentaries when he edited one of the Lagos-based national dailies.

One day, a colleague and our chief photographer, Isyaku Iliyasu, now a monarch in Southern Kaduna, put a call to me from our Kaduna office. He told me that the new boss was swearing to kill all the columns running in the two papers because some individuals had become more popular than the products of the company. We both knew I was the target because no column was as popular as mine. When I transferred the column from the daily paper where I was the chief sub-editor to the Sunday title following my reassignment as the deputy editor, the circulation jumped from 30,000 per week with mountains of unsold copies to 50,000 copies with less than 500 as unsold copies.

I was prepared to rest the column, after all I was not getting any extra income for keeping the column which was selling the paper like hot cakes and attracting adverts for it which was a rarity because advertisers hardly patronised Sunday papers. To shorten a long story, the new general manager killed the goose that was laying the golden eggs out of sheer envy. When his tenure was truncated following another change of guards occasioned by a coup d’état that was rampant in those days, a new chief executive, who was the head of Army Public Relations, Lt. Col. Victor Ogbomo, was seconded to the company.

One day, there was a drama in Ogbomo’s office. He ushered me into his toilet away from his other guests and begged me to bring back “The Man From PPC”. He said it would be one of his greatest achievements. Col. Ogbomo and I were close friends. So, I caved in, brought back the column and sustained it until I bowed out of the company in August 1988.

Another drama played out ahead of my exit. Mr. Solomon Ewuga took over from Col. Ogbomo. He regretted my leaving the company at the time he was taking over the mantle of leadership. The board chairman, Nde Gideon Barde, invited me to his house one Saturday morning and preached against my decision. Chief Joshua Chibi Dariye, who was the chief accountant, also weighed in but I stuck to my guns. Nde Barde then pleaded with me to retain “The Man From PPC” in the paper. I gave him my words but it was difficult for me to maintain the column after my exit because of the new challenges I plunged myself into.

Now, this is where I am heading to: When Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari’s appointment filtered into the public domain about a week and a half ago, as the new Chief of Staff (CoS), many saw it as a mere rumour crafted and flung on the social media by purveyors of fake news. All the top guns in the Presidency, from Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Gida Mustapha and the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Femi Adeshina, to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, kept the rumour mills grinding on top speed. They denied any knowledge of the long-awaited appointment. But less than 24 hours later, the rumour re-emerged, wearing the garment of authenticity!

Then, all hell was let loose as public affairs commentators and social media warriors went to work. They were all shell-shocked because the new appointee did not fit into all the equations. Several names like Governor Nasir el-Rufa’i of Kaduna state, Amb. Babagana Kingibe, former Foreign Affairs Minister in the Abacha regime, Malam Adamu Adamu, the incumbent Minister of Education, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transportation, Col. Hamid Ali (rtd), the current Comptroller-General of the Customs Service, and even the SGF, short of adding my name, were toyed with as the possible successors to the late Chief of Staff, Malam Abba Kyari.

The Yoruba ignored the middle name ‘Agboola’ and accused Mr. President of nepotism as they slammed Hausa identity on Gambari. The Hausa sneered and said Gambari is a Yoruba man. The Igbo were less impressed, describing the new man as Fulani. Gambari is now an enigma. We live in a clime where every appointment is viewed from tribal and religious prisms. Few loved Abba Kyari. Many loathed him. From the outpourings of messages since his appointment was made public, many love Gambari. They have been singing his praises to high heavens. And since we are friends or enemies of some folks, a few have tarred the new technocrat of international repute and an intellectual avatar with the brush of anti-June 12, pro-Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni Eight execution and betrayal as sermonised by Amb. Dapo Fafowora.

After the rumour of Prof. Gambari’s appointment hit the airwaves, a colleague and I ruminated over the new development. Both of us are from Kwara state and we were wondering whether he would not feel too superior to accept that position, given his pedigree… more so that some sources at the Presidency had denied any knowledge of the appointment. I could not help telling my colleague that the new Chief of Staff and I are distantly related. I did not know this until about two decades ago because I hardly visited home.

My paternal grandmother was from the Gambari lineage who went to marry in Offa. Fulani folks are mobile by nature, and everyone knows that. My maternal grandfather was also a Fulani man who migrated from Ilorin to Inisa in the present-day Osun state. But he came to the neighbouring Offa town to marry my grandmother. So, I am also a Fulani in Yoruba’s clothing!

I wish my brother well in his new task, even though our paths are yet to cross. After the kind of gauntlets the late Abba Kyari ran through as the CoS, no one should envy Gambari let alone hate him!

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