Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: Will Posterity Ever Understand General Azazi's Nigeria?

Many years to come, Nigerians would come across many things in honour of one of their predecessors -Andrew Owoye Azazi- a citizen who served in the Nigerian Army and like some others rose to the pinnacle of his career. If Nkpogu Road in Port Harcourt ends up a dualized road and not like some of our other roads where construction works go on without end, future Nigerians would wonder how it became Azazi Road. Some research would reveal that it was done by Rotimi Amaechi, Governor of Rivers State at the time. Along Sani Abacha Expressway in Yenogoa, they are also likely to see evidence that "Azazi the Great" was buried at the National Heroes Park near the Ijaw House. They would also find a documentation of the life and times of Owoye Azazi by the Ijaw History Project as directed by Governor Seriaki Dickson of Bayelsa State in 2012. This would no doubt provoke some posers. First, who was Andrew Owoye Azazi?

Born on February 01, 1952, Azazi had perhaps the fastest growing record as a military officer. He served as Director of Military Intelligence, General Officer Commanding (GOC) 1 Division, Chief of Army Staff and Chief of Defence Staff. After retirement he was recalled to serve as the National Security Adviser. In June 2012, he was sacked without reasons. General Azazi had a Masters degree in Strategic Studies and was also a graduate of the Command and Staff College and the National War College where he won the Commander-in-Chief's merit award for best all round performance. He was a recipient of Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR) and was married with five children. His hobbies included reading biographies, listening to Nigerian music and playing squash. He died in a plane crash on December 15, 2012. Whereas this profile is easy to follow, future Nigerians may never get to know why someone like Azazi was at a point in our history removed from office without reasons. All that they may find is that everyone testified at his burial that Azazi was a good man.

Second poser, was Azazi really a good man or were people being kind to the dead at his burial? Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) said Azazi was a man of integrity. The Bishop of Bomadi Catholic Diocese, Vicarage Hyacinth Egbebor, also a member of the Post-Flood Committee in Bayelsa State revealed that Azazi who was chairman of the committee "cherished honesty, justice, transparency, accountability. He said Azazi worked to ensure that all the funds at the Committee's disposal were judiciously expended to those who were really affected by the flood". From the laity, came the voice of one Ifeoma Ifejika a citizen who met the General some years back in a flight. She pleaded for a chance to say that Azazi was a General, an acclaimed Catholic and Evangelist. The Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison Madueke , herself a fellow Bayelsan saw Azazi as a most intelligent analyst with a sense of humility and strength of character which tallied with the testimony of General Alexander Ogomudia a former Chief of Defence Staff who said he appointed the man the Director of Military Intelligence. The Army Chief of Staff, Lt General Azubuike Ihejirika said the late Azazi whom he always saw as a role model spearheaded the transformation of the Nigerian Army. This confirmed the argument of President Jonathan himself that Nigeria would have been a changed place if 50% of its citizens were like Azazi. The President then sealed it all up by saying that Azazi served the nation selflessly. Yet, his burial was undertaken by the Bayelsa State government and not the federal government that he served. Indeed, no honours for Azazi were announced by the federal authorities at his burial.

Poser three- what are the criteria for holding a post in Nigeria or for keeping it or for securing the renewal of an appointment? The only factor that appears clear is ethnicity. Although the politics of 'son of the soil' or 'put our man there' philosophy forever steers the nation in the face, our top political leaders pretend by the day that ethnicity is a non-issue. As this column opined two years back, our successive Presidents and state governors often abandon the state house to go to their 'places' to register and to vote during elections. While in office they site state universities in their villages and divert all 'goodies' homewards. It was for the same over-all importance of ethnicity that Abia state had to disengage from its public service more than 1,800 fellow Ibo workers of Anambra State origin. It also explains why the indigene-settler imbroglio in Plateau state degenerated to the monster it became.

Oh yes, Nigeria's political culture has continued to be premised on competitive ethnicity-a subject that the nation's ruling party- the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) worked around with a new name known as zoning. Painfully, the party could not prevent its side effects of bad blood or the setting of one group against the other hence mutual distrust and deep seated animosity subsist in our polity. Azazi as National Security Adviser ran into trouble for saying so. Those who imagined that the problem was because he said it publicly were wrong. That was not the issue. The real issue was that he spoke the truth which our political class loath irrespective of where, when and how it is said. Therefore, in order not to incur anyone's wrath, many Nigerians speak from both sides of the mouth. Thus, a man who was sacked from office in June was in December of the same year- a space of 6 months, publicly declared as a good man who served selflessly. Indeed, he was a patriot till death working for the nation out of office. According to one of his friends, Governor Uduaghan of Delta State, Azazi was visibly concerned about the kidnap of Ngozi Iweala's mother and called for prompt action to ensure the release because it could have international dimension. So, future Nigerians would have to strive hard to comprehend Azazi's Nigeria because a nation can best understand today for constructing tomorrow after knowing yesterday.

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