South Africa's High Commissioner to Nigeria, Jeremiah Kingsley Mamabolo, and his wife Eleanor were recently conferred the chieftaincy title of Ugwumba N' Nri and Onaedo N' Nri na Ana Igbo. It was colourful with the culture of the ancient Nri Kingdom on parade, laced with music and dignitaries, good food and wine, an experience Mamabolo says has endeared him permanently to the country.
When Ambassador Kingsley Mamabolo South Africa's High Commissioner to Nigeria sets sail for New York as his country's permanent representative at the UN next February, he will not forget Nigeria in a hurry. Fond memories will be made of his experiences these past three years.
Agreed, Nigeria and South Africa have been in this contest of supremacy as to who really is the leader of the continent, plus South Africa being accused recently of harbouring some phobia for her Nigerian residents, Mamabolo dismissed this as one of those inevitable issues that exist among great nations and which should not becloud the pluses, that far outweigh the minuses when the gains of true friendship are counted between both countries.
Members of the IBB Gulf Club Abuja agreed with Mamabolo and resolved he was not leaving the country without a memento, some parting gift for a man who in his early twenties abandoned school to join forces with the African National Congress in the war against apartheid on the diplomatic turf, traversing African countries with his diplomatic briefcase, and arguing his way through on why apartheid must be nailed.
According to Chijioke Mek Iloghalu, Mamabolo is one ambassador who with his wife Eleanor, used his tenure to impact positively on many people who came across him. Which was why Iloghalu, a royal, proposed the title of Ugwumba N'Nri Na Ana Igbo. How did Iloghalu go about this? "I decided that since my background is royalty, I needed an institution that can give a man an honour that is more encompassing and my fellow member of the royalty and friend of the family and king of the ancient institution known as the Nri Kingdom, the ancestral home of Ndi-Igbo as history told us, the Nrienwelana ll of Nri Kingdom, His Majesty Eze Obidiegwu Onyesoh. We got talking and he said, since I am to give your man, who has so much distinguished himself in our country by bringing love and harmony between the South-African people and Nigeria, the little we can do was to honour him for this so that both cultures can meet to move Africa forward."
The date was fixed and invitation cards sent out. Now you can imagine what the parade of dignitaries was like. Nigeria's former Vice President Dr Alex Ekwueme, and Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Commonwealth Secretary General and Nigeria's Minister of External Affairs under President Shehu Shagari's second tenure, graced the occasion. Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo former PDP chairman was not left out. Mamabolo was invested with the title of Ugwunba N' Nri Na Ana Igbo meaning, the dignity of a people while Eleanor was titled Onaedo Na Ana Igbo or the golden bracelet of Igboland. During the same ceremony, Dr Peter Deshi, special Adviser to the Senate President received the title of Ezinwanne N' Nri while Lady Obianuju Deshi was invested with the title of Adaejieje Mba N'Nri.
Adds Prince Iloghalu, "I think this is the background of the occasion; the idea was to compensate a man who has contributed tremendously to the growth of the golf club through which he networked so well with eminent Nigerians who came across him."
Mamabolo nodded in the affirmative, admitting it was one memorable event that would remain indelible in his mind many years after. "It was colourful, with traditional music and a 24 gun salute, something I think ordinarily is reserved for generals whose exploits at the battle front guarantee such welcome notes. I mean, it was so colourful and there was much to eat and drink and every body was happy."
But then, Mamabolo has been a warrior fighting the generals of the apartheid regime to a standstill. At the young age of 23 in 1978, he was appointed deputy head of mission of the African National Congress to the United Republic of Tanzania and while in exile held various leadership positions. Thus between 1978 and 1994, Mamabolo had risen to become head of mission of the ANC in such countries as Mozambique, Cuba and Zimbabwe, living in exile for 18 years. Mamabolo returned home to join the South African Department of Foreign Affairs heading the Zimbabwe Mission, he was later appointed permanent representative to the OAU, and special envoy to the Great Lakes Region before his appointment as high commissioner to Nigeria. Only recently, President Jacob Zuma named him Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the United Nations.
Mamabolo almost left out school while engrossed in the anti-apartheid cause. However in between his exploits on the diplomatic scene, Mamabolo pursued a diploma programme in social sciences at the Moscow School of Social Sciences in 1982, proceeding to study journalism at the Harare Polytechnic in 1986. Not done with academics, Mamabolo enrolled for a post graduate programme in public administration at the University of Pretoria and made it 2009. The choice of Moscow is not left out to the discerning mind since the ANC was always a radical school of thought that was ready to embrace socialist principles in its war against man's inhumanity to his fellow man. We shall not be surprised if Mamabolo ultimately grabs a doctorate some day just to fill that yawning vacuum that was there early in the day.
Back to Nri, Mamabolo was at home with the signs and symbols that were reflected at the ceremony. For him these were faithful reminders of the depth of culture and tradition that define the African whether in Igboland or among the Kwazulus, the Setswanas, Xhosas, French, Spanish, or the Sothos, tribes and countries he has so well mastered their languages and patterns. We need not add that Mamabolo has a fluent command of language, especially English, if only to justify his long standing fraternal camaraderie with journalists and journalism, even without practising the profession.
He dropped a rhapsody only fit fort an illustrious son of the king's cabinet: "This is one experience I am taking away with all the responsibility of belonging to the king's cabinet. I will always remember I am now a part of the Igbo and I am one of the chiefs of the land. There is no much difference between the traditional and cultural myths of our people and I will always be home in this new cultural setting. I am now the cultural ambassador of the ancient Nri kingdom and by extension of Igbo land, and the import is that I am bound by the culture and tradition of Igbo culture where ever I go."
The new permanent representative to the UN sees so much similarity between the two cultures he has been exposed to. Respect to culture and tradition, to the custodians - the kings, remains critical to the people. and that, he insisted, is the point of convergence. "There is so much similarity between the Zulus and the Igbo. We may not be the same people, but, in many ways we approach issues of tradition from the same perspective, in particular in the way we conduct our selves."
Mamabolo leaves the country as a goodwill ambassador of Nigeria. He settled here with possibly some old prejudices. But not anymore. Mamabolo insisted Nigerians were among the most loving people in the world. Perhaps, there is definitely room for improvement in many departments of human endeavour but these, he said, should not becloud our ranking of a people and their way of life. "Nigerians are very proud of any thing Africa and being African. They stand tall in promoting the African cause and I think that my stay here has been one great event made possible by those I have met whether in the streets or high places."
For Ambassador Mamabolo, Nigeria and South Africa stand to benefit from each other in this unfolding symbiotic relationship. "There is no way we can learn from each other when we make a mountain from insignificant issues. We must make sure that we are able to unite and fight the promotion of African consciousness. I always believe that this is our time, our time to take our place globally both politically, economically. We can actually take our time now that the rest of the world is having economic problems, this is the right time to take our place and we can only do this by coming together and by recognising that there is an African agenda."
South Africa has been in the news over issues of wages and human rights violations of mine workers by the South African police, reminiscence of what ought not to be, of apartheid. However, Mamabolo said all was well and that the panel of enquiry set up by government, would definitely drive the country to greater height, helping the ANC leadership in placing the grassroots on a better footing.
"What happened was unfortunate. It is true we now have political power. Our next destination is the attainment of economic power and I can tell you that government has done so much to improve the lot of the people these past years. However, there is so much impatience on the part of the people since everybody wants immediate results. Somehow, you can't really blame them for nobody would want to remain in the same condition forever. Let us also know that there is no government that would want to maintain the status quo without evolving a game plan to raise the people's standard of living. It's unfortunate it was violent and it should be condemned. The panel of enquiry will surely show the way forward."