At last, our young friend, Festus Keyamo, has been honoured with the laurel of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, the highest honour of the legal profession in our country. If you are not a SAN and you are a lawyer, you remain a member of the crowd. Once you are a SAN, you are now a red-cap chief and your bank alerts would indicate your new status. Since the return of democracy in 1999, the SAN club has witnessed many worthy entrants and few could be more worthy than Keyamo. In his set this year was Olusola Oke, former governorship candidate of the Alliance for Democracy in the last election in Ondo State. Oke, a modest man of spectacular professional achievements, practices his law mostly in Ondo State.
Indeed, few professions have been able to create a special elite class as the lawyers have done with the SAN club. I remember those days of serious legal combats between two giants of the bar, Chief Rotimi Williams and the irrepressible Chief Gani Fawehinmi. Many times, Chief Williams would be the only one on the front row reserved for senior lawyers with the SAN title, while Fawehinmi and other lesser mortals occupied the second and other rows.
Once at the Supreme Court in Lagos, Fawehinmi was quoting from the Laws of the old Western Region to back up his case, while the judges, including Justice Kayode Eso, were listening attentively. At the end of Fawehinmi’s submission, Chief Williams was asked to respond.
“We wrote those laws,” he said. The court exploded in laughter. Those were the days of Otutu Obaseki, Mohammed Bello, Eso, Chukwudifu Oputa, Bolarinwa Babalakin and other legends. When the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee would not honour Fawehinmi with the coveted laurel, students of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, honoured him with the title of Senior Advocate of the Masses, SAM. I cannot remember now whether any other lawyer won that title which was like tee-shirt Number 10 in the Brazilian football team, meant eternally to represent the incomparable Edson Arantes do Nascimento, alias Pele.
Of course, Keyamo represents a new kind of Fawehinmi. He is courageous, sometimes reckless, often combative and always in support of the underdog. Keyamo graduated from Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, in 1992 and was called to the bar in 1993. At the height of the June 12 struggle, he joined the chambers of Fawehinmi where he learnt the art and science of legal wrestling. As we have seen, he was an outstanding student of the Fawehinmi school. Since he established his private practice, Keyamo has attracted many politically sensitive cases. He was the one who got the taped confession of the alleged killers of Chief Bola Ige. He was also the one who took the Presidency to court over the appointment of Service Chiefs.
Indeed, Keyamo is a revolutionary of a different kind. However, he may not have agreed with the iconic Chinese revolutionary hero Mao Zedong that “power grows out of the barrel of the gun.” Keyamo is a democrat who prefers the eloquence of the ballot box. It would have been good if we could send Keyamo to China to learn more about Mao, the revolutionary, and why our country is so different from China now.
In recent weeks, we have been learning more about the ability of the Chinese to perform wonders of engineering. They are building the largest dam for Nigeria on the Mambilla Hill that, in six yearstime, promises to generate 3,050 megawatt of electricity. The dam is estimated to cost $5.8 billion with China paying for 75 per cent of the cost. Nigeria is going to bear only 15 per cent. Great bargain you will say.
The government-owned China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation, CCECC, which is handling the dam project, is also involved in many other constructions across the country. It is the flagship of the Chinese involvements in our country, especially in the building of public projects. They are building the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. They have projects across the country. Indeed, there is probably no governor in Nigeria who has not visited China. We are told now that the future of Africa is in China.
It was Mao, however, who secured the future for China. At the beginning of the 20th Century, China was as backward as Nigeria. The country was divided by several colonising powers, especially Japan and Britain. Though the puppet emperor was toppled, foreign influence was still dominant despite the nationalist uprisings. Mao became one of the founders of the Communist Party in 1927, the year the Chinese Civil War started, and the fledgling movement was soon pitched against the entrenched regime of the Kuomintang led by Generalissimo Kai-Shek. The Civil War was fought with profound ferocity and after 22 years of struggle, the Communists came to power on October 1, 1949. That day, at the Gate of Heavenly Peace in Beijing, Mao declared: “The Chinese people have stood up.”
Mao was a communist and he believed that the communist super power, the Soviet Union, would help China to industrialise. Soviet experts came in to help build roads, rail lines, airports and schools. They not only wanted to control China, they wanted to own it. China-Soviet split was inevitable and by 1958, China was struggling for freedom from its strong friend, the Soviet Union. The country was an anathema to the West at that period, which recognised Taiwan, the small island where the Kuomintang had established a government, and now it was facing a painful ditching by the Soviet Union. It was this split that made China to re-discover itself.
As they were pulling out, the Russians dismantled factories, ripped off rail lines and destroyed electric pylons and rendered the Chinese economy comatose. China became an isolated country, with only Albania, as its friend as most of the other communist countries sided with the Soviet Union. Faced with this great crisis, Mao decided on both the short term and the long term solutions. In the short term, China decided to rely on its inner strength, knowledge and resources. In the long run, it sent its students to study in the best universities in Europe and the United States, to acquire knowledge that would help to transform China into a modern country. By 1972, American President Richard Nixon visited Beijing and ended the era of Chinese isolation.
Today, China is the second largest economic power. Its investment in knowledge acquisition all over the world has paid off. Its students continue to dominate many top universities in the world. The rulers of China focused on the imperatives of planning, persistence and implementation. They know that for China to join the league of developed nations, it must provide employment, encourage skill acquisition and improve the standard of living. Today, China manufactures everything from toothpicks to torpedoes, from cars to aircraft carriers. Today, Nigeria imports everything, including power generating sets and the ceremonial uniforms of its generals.
But in Nigeria, it is our governors and other top officials who keep going to China “to attract foreign investments!” They want the Chinese to come and help us build our country; build our dams, our roads, our hospitals, our bridges, our airports and our industries. We did not ask the simply question: Was it the Americans who developed China? Or was it the Japanese or the Koreans?
Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the first Premier of the defunct Western Region (now balkanised into Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Lagos, Ondo, Ogun, Osun and Oyo) said the first requirement for good leadership “is the capacity to think.” He called it “mental magnitude.” I have no doubt that our leaders have the capacity to think. The problem is what they are thinking about. Are they thinking about the future of Nigeria or just the next election? Or are they thinking of what Diezani Alison-Madueke used to think about in that era when she was the Dragon-Queen of the Jonathan Court?
We have now seen where a state governor would decree the establishment of a university without any thought about the future of that institution and what would happen to its products. In one of the states where the number of vehicles is not more than 20 per cent of those owned by the Dangote Group, the state government has already committed a substantial part of the state resources to many years of building an overhead bridge. Yet, the governor, a frequent visitor to China, has not been able to attract one Chinese investment (or any foreign investment for that matter) into his state. Yet this is a state where at least 60 per cent of youths are unemployed. It is one of the states where many okada riders are university graduates.
Mao was ruler of China for 27 years until he died in 1976. For that long reign, he travelled outside China only twice. Let us start by putting a six-month moratorium on foreign travels for our governors and ministers and let us see whether we might save enough foreign exchange to import rice for one year. By 1979 when Shehu Shagari was elected our President, Nigeria was the largest producer of rice in Africa. Today, we are the largest importer of rice on the continent, spending an average of One Billion Naira daily on the importation of the magic grain.
Let us send Keyamo to lead our youths to China and acquire knowledge on how to build a country. If we do this, we may learn to build many things instead of consuming so many things, including tea from China. We may even end up building military vehicles that would be useful for the future Operation Tortoise Speed