The departure of change agent, Gorbachev

The Ram

By Abdu Rafiu

So, the curtain is drawn on the life and times of Mikhail Gorbachev, the colossus who tore off the masks from faces of a great many fellow human beings across the globe and brought down the proverbial iron curtain that separated the Eastern Europe from Western Europe. I am referring to the man who lit the fire of freedom in millions of souls to recognize the political chains and economic bondage in which they had nestled. When Gorbachev took the world by storm in 1990 to remake it, although he mounted the throne in 1985, I wrote my first article on him and two others subsequently—when he won the Nobel Prize of that year and when he stepped down as President of the Soviet Union two years later, 1992. He came with such gale that swept through the world to halt the march of autocracy and punch the ugly face of authoritarianism in his far reaching reforms. I wish to reproduce two of the write-ups as this column’s tribute to a man of destiny, to a man of history. Captioned “Gorbachev Forces,” published on February 8, 1990, my first article reads:

“The face of the world –not the geological face yet, not, if you like, the physical geography—is changing, and breathlessly, too. How many times will one say this? But look at it. Perceive it. You hardly finish absorbing the blow on the one side of the once impregnable structure than another occurs. And the singular agent of that change is Mikhail Gorbachev. Not a single shot he fired. Not a long and winding speech that requires three pints of lager to calm down did he make. All he had was a vision of a world, confidence and courage of his conviction, all wrapped in two words—perestroika and glasnost.

Wherever the two words were blown by the wind had the steely communist gate giving way and freed men poured into the streets, sometimes not knowing where to go or what to do next. It is as if the prison gate is suddenly opened. When perestroika-glasnost reached China in May, Mr. Deng-Xiaoping ensured that the storm that ensued did not sink the boat of state in his turbulent sea. Tanks were moved over students who had gathered at a public square, wishing that the storm were stronger. Many of them were sent to prison. It is being claimed that there are still about 10, 000 of them in jail. Mr. Yan Shangkun and Mr. Chen Yun adept with age at managing storm were on hand to help Comrade Deng. But perestroika-glasnost will not relent. It aroused a new consciousness in Europe, touching off rebellion and bringing communism crashing relentlessly and at great, confounding speed.

The journey of perestroika-glasnost is more familiar. It began in Poland in March last year when Solidarity Leader Lech Walesa and 10 of his lieutenants met with President Jaruzelski at talks called to participate in a remodeled political structure which would share the legislature with opposition with 65 per cent of the seats going to the communist-led alliance. The issue was resolved through the ballot box at which Solidarity won 99 of 100 seats in Senate. As of August 22, Mr. Gorbachev telephoned the communist leadership urging it to let Solidarity form the government in the interest of their national unity.

Hungary and Poland had been struggling for reforms. It was only to be expected that Hungary would welcome perestroika. Eric Honecker of East Germany quit, forced to resign on October 18. About three weeks later, November 9, the Berlin Wall fell. Then came the turn of establishments in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania. In Gorbachev’s native country, demand for independence mounted in Lithuania and Baltic republics of Latvia and Estonia. There was sectarian shoot-out between Moslem Azerbaijan and Christian Armenia. Our own Republic of Benin, yes, the Republic next door, quickly dumped the socialist toga. Mr. Fredrick de Klerk of South Africa has very sharp sights and is quickly reading the handwriting of Gorbachev phenomenon on the Western Cape prison wall. Nelson Mandela is to be released without preconditions later this month. Mr. De Klerk is strenuously urging his kins, the Conservatives to accept the inevitable, warning them that the risk of staying in a dead end street is far higher.
“’Everything we do we do to avoid revolution. In Rhodesia the mistake was that the opportunity for constructive negotiation was not exploited. They waited too long. We are determined not to repeat that mistake”, he says. It does appear that, as a matter of fact, such is the situation in South Africa that it is Mandela who is now to spell out the terms of his release because he is resolved not to be released at all costs. And two of the conditions he wants met are an end to the state of emergency in the enclave and freedom for all political prisoners.

Mr. Gorbachev is not done yet. Addressing Communist Party leaders in Moscow, he urged them to brace up for a multi-party political system. As far as he was concerned, a multi-party arrangement was a reality in the Soviet Union and all that was left was the legal backing for justice. His vision of the political arrangement is that in which the monopoly of power by the Communist Party will end and other parties will enjoy the same rights to power as the Communist Party and have those rights protected by law which will replace Article 6 of the Soviet constitution. He is pressing that his own position both as President as well as party leader be split.

General Babangida has been drawing attention to goings-on in Eastern Europe in his speeches to the intellectual community. Prince Bola Ajibola is fortunate that Mr. Alao Aka-Bashorun, the revolutionary at 60 has vacated the centre-stage by the time Gorbachev headed towards Africa. Aka-Bashorun was just warming up when his time was up, leaving Gani Fawehinmi alone to worry about Gorbachev’s lesson notes on Decree 2. Mr. Gorbachev has let loose forces he himself will not be able to reverse. Just consider the delegation that flew to Switzerland with shopping briefcases for investments in their respective countries: Deputy Prime Minister of the Soviet Union, Mr. Leonid Abalkin; President of Yugoslavia, Mr. Ante Markovic; Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia, Mr. Mariam Galfa; Prime Minister of East Germany, Mr. Hans Modrow; Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Mr. Andrei Lukanov; and Vice Premier of Hungary, Mr. Peter Medgyessy. They flew in to catch 800 businessmen from the Western world who were gathered for World Economic Forum.

The Gorbachev phenomenon is not all bread. There is a great deal more to it and this is why I agree with Tony Momoh, the Information Minister, when he said the other day that the events in Eastern Europe are no victory for any system. I am sure my friends and colleagues, Edie Madunagu and Kayode Komolafe, both Karl Max disciples, would be happy to hear that. It is victory for man who is struggling to fight free from all bondage—social, cultural, religious, economic and political. The human spirit will be the victor of tomorrow.

Below is the second article I wrote which I refer to earlier on this page. Captioned “Exit of Gorbachev” and published 30 years ago, on January 23, it reads as follows:

Exit of Gorbachev
“Mr. Mikhail Gorbachev has finally left office as President of the Soviet Union, now of blessed memory. He was seen for the first time in public last week Tuesday since he resigned four weeks ago in the wake of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. He returned at the head of a think –tank he had set up in Moscow. According to reports, the outing brought him to a meeting with Henry Kissinger, the erstwhile United States Secretary of State, alias Mr. Shuttle Diplomacy.

“After he has accomplished creditably the task of liberating millions of human spirits from the shackles of the state, from one part of the globe to the other, it would seem befitting that he works in his International Foundation for Social, Economic and Political Research as a way of keeping himself mentally alert. Mr. Gorbachev will go down as one of the greatest figures in history. There will be hardship in the Republics for some time to come. This is inevitable. When a house is being rebuilt some inconvenience is bound to be experienced. It is an irony that the wilderness from which the erstwhile Soviets are returning the Europeans seem headed in the European Community which has been pressing for a political union.

“The consistent sane voice among the European leaders before the plunge has been that of Mrs. Margaret Thatcher who waves the banners of her Englishness with exceeding pride. She has said it loud and clear she was proud to be a Briton and would like to remain so. Even if it takes 200 years it is that voice that will triumph, for all unnatural unions will disintegrate in the end in accordance with the immutable principles of life. It is not an accident that some are French, some are Britons, and some are Germans etc. Inherent dissimilarities among peoples who form or were forced to form a union, when glossed over, lead inexorably to what political scientists sometimes refer to as inherent contradictions. What is inherent refers to the basics, the principle which means source, origin or spring. Chambers 20th Century Dictionary puts it beautifully: essential nature, a fundamental truth. The essential nature of man is his core, the spirit. Varied inequalities in the world derive from varied levels of its development among peoples. The unclouded spirit makes for a strong man. The strong man moves to the table of Nature, the table of the Lord, and has his fill. What nations may do is trade and cooperate among themselves, but not seize the sovereignty and identity of others.

“Each people will struggle free with time and restore their identity as the case of the Germans has shown. A homogeneous people can never be kept apart and those that are dissimilar, not together. The matter goes beyond the surface—beyond the point many have regarded as settled and given. There is order in life, in the world, which we human beings can do nothing about. We can all observe around us, if we care, the Law of Similarity which ensures that tilapia fish do not mix with salmons, nor do monkeys with grass-cutters or Zebras with deers.

“Mr. Gorbachev has set his people and millions of others free, to stand independently, and take decisions about their own lives the consequences of which they will personally bear. Those who obey the Law of decency and morality, and work hard will certainly know peace and prosperity. Their talents will unfold, and they will, each people, build a strong nation.”

That is the imperishable legacy of Mikhail Gorbachev’s life when he departed earthly life at 91 a week ago.

The passing of Duro Onabule
Durojaiye Onabule whom we called Duro Onabule, and more fondly hailed as Double Chief, has discarded his earthly vessel to leave for the Beyond. He left our midst without warning. The media world has lost a walking encyclopedia. He was an exceedingly informed journalist, borne out of voracious reading. As we were taught in journalism schools, a journalist must read everything in print. LKJ, Lateef Jakande was wont to say that a journalist must know something about everything and everything about something. What crosses the mind when one thinks of Duro Onabule’s wide knowledge is the title of Chief Justice Atanda Fatai Williams’ memoirs: Faces, Cases and Places. Duro was informed not only on matters about Nigeria but the world. The mirror of his soul was always set and quick to file goings on to his cerebellum, the part of the brains that keep memories. Onabule would effortlessly mention names, places, events and dates—who did what, who said what, when and where.

Duro Onabule began his journalism career at the Daily Express now long rested in 1961. He moved from there to be a pioneer staff reporter of Daily Sketch in 1964. He attended College of Journalism, London during which he doubled as London correspondent of Daily Express 1969 -1974. On his return he joined the Daily Times in 1975 as a staff writer from where he was redeployed to Headlines as deputy editor of Headlines with Angus Okolie as editor. It was in the features his path and that of Doyin Abiola first crossed. When Dr. Doyinsola Aboaba, the Features Editor and leader writer who was later to become Mrs. Doyin Abiola left for National Concord, Onabule, Dele Giwa and Sam Oni soon joined her. Mrs. Abiola was editor and later Managing Director of Concord in succession to Prince Henry Odukomaiya, a former star editor of the Daily Times and who became the pioneer Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief. Onabule was at various times pioneer features editor, during which he was a member of the Editorial Board of Concord; deputy editor then editor in succession to Doyin Abiola who became managing director. Dele Giwa was editor of Sunday Concord.

Onabule was sold to President Babangida upon his assumption of office in August 1985 by Moshood Abiola, MKO, his bosom friend, following the ouster of General Buhari from power. A serious-minded fellow it did not take long as Chief Press Secretary before he attracted the trust, respect and love of Babangida. It was with the same depth of love and degree of trust he was held high by Chief Abiola his publisher. Onabule was soon to find himself at a crossroads, between the devil and deep blue sea. General Babangida annulled the 1993 election regarded as the best in Nigeria in terms of transparency, orderliness and fairness and in which MKO Abiola, Onabule’s erstwhile boss was coasting home in indisputable victory. Onabule was thus torn between loyalty to Abiola and loyalty to Babangida for whom he had additionally developed fondness. What he should have done is now academic. However, he was to learn that justice is the fountain from which loyalty flows out. Without justice loyalty collapses. The argument was did Abiola win the election or not? What did the cause of justice dictate and what was in the national interest? Onabule was fearless and he could be alone taking an independent position even if unpopular in debates among friends and peers or in taking a political stand. He was deputy editor of the Concord when the newspaper mounted distasteful campaign against Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s bid for the presidency of the country in 1983 and he was chief media adviser to Babangida when he blocked Abiola’s way to become Nigeria’s President. The influence of higher correlations of life at work at the time would seem inappropriate to discuss at the moment. Onabule could not live down the thoughts that his courage failed him in the greatest trial of his life. Exceedingly warm hearted, he would blurt out his fond words: “Look here; listen my friend.” He was given to laughing heartily.

Onabule was a Zikist to the core right from his days at CMS, Grammar School, Lagos, the first secondary school in Nigeria. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was his hero. The relationship was such that if you requested to have an interview with Dr. Azikiwe at Nsukka or do a story on him, he would ask that you clear with Duro Onabule or Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya in Lagos. Onabule got Babangida to approve naming the press centre at Dodan Barracks Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe Press Centre. Till the end, all you needed to see Babangida in Minna was a note from Onabule. Their friendship endured till his last moment. For 22 years, Duro Onabule ran a column with considerable following in The Sun newspaper where he displayed his writing skills and knowledge. President Buhari, too, appointed him chairman of Nigerian Television Authority in his first term.

The Nigerian media will miss an icon and a leader in the industry. Father of five, four of them now young men, Onabule was made Jagunmolu of Ijebu in 1985 by the Awujale, Oba Sikiru Adetona. And true to his chieftaincy title, Onabule could be a fighter where, as Dr. Azikiwe would say, the enemy was clearly identified.

Re: ASUU, The way out

By Professor Abhulimen R. Anao

I took time to go through your piece on the prevailing ASUU strike, especially because it relates to my constituency.  I agree totally with your views on the issue of how to avoid some of the pitfalls in the way universities (especially federal and state-owned universities) are run in this country.

I think the fundamental problem that we face here, like in every other facet of life in this country, is the prevailing philosophy of governance which emphasizes uniformity and over-centralism.  This attitude also affects our entire educational system, not only universities and polytechnics.

At some point in my academic career, I got to know that for higher education (nay, the pursuit of knowledge) to flourish it must be imbued with freedom, diversity, creativity and inventiveness.

In 1989 I was privileged to receive from a USA organisation an award which required me to visit and interact (by way of lectures and seminars) with fellow faculty members in eight top US/Canadian universities.  I was amazed at the striking difference which exists between the university system in North America and its counterpart in Nigeria.
Tertiary education in the USA for instance flourishes on the foundation of freedom, diversity, creativity and inventiveness, which is reflected not only in the curriculum design of university programmes but also in the manner in which the universities themselves are administered and funded.  The US Federal Government, for instance, owns only one university (Howard University) and this, only for historical reasons!  Here in Nigeria, the Federal Government is obsessed with establishing more and more universities every day and even expropriating existing ones from their previous owners. And in the end, having a plethora that it cannot fund satisfactorily.

The idea of uniformity and complete tuition and maintenance-free university education also negates the pursuit of excellence and is manifestly unsustainable.  As you suggest in your write-up, what is needed is for opportunities for scholarships, bursaries and loans to be made available to only those that cannot themselves bear the cost.

The idea of uniform salary scales and the operation of a centralised payroll system such as the IPPIS proposed by the Federal Government are absolutely absurd.

I found during my lecture/tour of eight US/Canadian universities that there are no uniform salary scales for academics.  Each academic negotiates his own terms with his employer and they both agree on what the particular academic is worth in terms of his scholastic achievements. If any academic feels that he is worth more than he is getting in his present university, he simply moves to another where he can get higher remuneration.  Because of this, there are no staff unions, and therefore no question of national strikes which cripple the entire university system in the country.

In the USA Research funds are competed for from a national pool which evaluates each research proposal in terms of its usefulness to society and national development. Is there then any wonder why USA seems to have a monopoly on Nobel Prize winners?

I believe that for our university system to function optimally, it has to be fundamentally restructured to make universities autonomous.  This will encourage competitiveness and productivity. I doubt if the envisaged system can evolve or organically grow out of the existing paradigm. The present system has first to be scrapped completely and a new one developed to replace it.

This new system will also not likely emerge from a governance system such as the one that we have in the country which runs on the foundation of uniformity and centralism. And I do not see the governance system that will emerge from the 2023 elections being any different from the present one.

I have held these views ever since my lecture tour of US/Canadian universities in 1989.  My convictions in this regard became further reinforced during my tenure as Vice-Chancellor.  I found the system which I had to preside over quite sub-optimal but I could not do much about it.

I thank you immensely for the very illuminating piece which you did on this important subject in your last week’s serial.

Congratulations and please keep the banner flying.

  • Professor Emeritus A. R. Anao, former Vice-Chancellor, University of Benin, writes from Benin City.

The Guardian

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