Arthur Mbanefo: A fulfilled life of service – Part 2

Arthur Mbanefo

Arthur Mbanefo

Continued from yesterday

Canada had a referendum as to whether the French part of Canada wanted to secede. They voted to remain one. In Pakistan, East and West Pakistan voted to split in Bangladesh and Pakistan as did Malaysia which broke up into Malaysia and Singapore comprising Borneo, Sarawak and Saba. Sudan was divided into North and South; Yugoslavia was divided into four countries, Chekosklovakia into Slovenia and Check Republic.

In Nigeria when people feel aggrieved that they are not getting a fair share of the national cake, they demand more states but the states are now temporally unviable. Yet we have no statesmen to see that the situation is temporary; that if we tried to be our brother’s keepers we might succeed as a country. But to do this we cannot have a knee jerk reaction to those who may want a different arrangement; thus the agitation for Biafra is merely a deep seated cry that justice and fair play are not done; that some people are perceived to benefit more from Nigeria than others and worse still, that the powerful intend to continue their dominance. The basis of a good marriage is not to sit down even so often to ask – why are we in this marriage, especially, when children and other economic and psychological bonds exist between husband and wife. I am deliberately stirring the bee’s hornet because the next sensible question is who is the wife and who is the husband in Nigeria?

Nevertheless, we must treat each other fairly and justly. It may interest you to note that after General Aguiyi Ironsi, the next Chief of Army Staff was General Ifejirika – a gap of over 50 years. By the way, General Akinrinade was the last Yoruba Chief of Army Staff. He was appointed in 1979.

President Julius Nyerere in a letter to The Observer recognised the State of Biafra: he said Unity can only be based on the general consent of the people involved.

The people must feel that this State, or this union, is theirs, and they must be willing to have their quarrels in that context. Once a large number of any such political unit stops believing that the State is theirs, and that the government is their instrument, then the unit is no longer viable. It will not continue to receive the loyalty of its citizens. For the citizen’s duty to serve, and if necessary to die for his country, stems from the fact that it is his, and that its government is the instrument of himself and his fellow citizens. The duty stems, in other words, from the common denominator of accepted statehood and from the state government responsibility to protect all the citizens and serve them all. For states, and governments exist for men and for the service of man. They exist for the citizens’ protection, their welfare and the future well-being of their children. There is no other justification for states and government except man”. Is it a pipe dream? (Excuse the pun since oil was the basis of the civil war)!!

Arthur had an incredible networking: apart from the Pope and the Vatican – nearly all the leaders of Europe – Sweden, France, UK – and the United States, Diplomats, business men, clergy, military as in the photographs and the narrative in the book. Arthur made friends in all avenues of his life and impacted many people by his generosity, his wisdom and above all his service. He was the Chief financier of Biafra – raising funds all over the world to support the fledgling state.

As a roving envoy, he was able to bring financial discipline to the various embassies Biafra established overseas. He was the father of the Biafran Air Force. He teamed up with a Swedish dare devil pilot Count Von Rosen who, with the help of the French was able to refit even single engine planes with extra fuel tanks and guns which Biafra used to devastating effect in Benin, destroying the Nigerian Air Force planes parked there. He acted as the father confessor of Ojukwu who is humanised through Arthur’s account of his periods of bomb blast and humility and even depression; we learnt of Ojukwu’s brutality in quashing all opposition and yet of his largeness of spirit and compassion in the tortuous negotiations to free the captured Italians of Agip Oil Company.

His book is so balanced that he gave prominence to a lot of non-Ibos who worked in Biafra. Biafrans had many non-Ibos in its camp as Nigeria had also quite a number of Ibos supporting the Federal Government. In these days when people talk about the Biafra war they forget that many people were conflicted, having friends and relatives on both sides of the war.

Mbanefo is a finely crafted versatile instrument, employing his ingenuity to all tasks set before him, with precision and gravitas, with grace and sensitivity. He returned to Nigeria in 1972 and went back to work for Akintola Williams, the first and foremost company of Chartered Accountants in Nigeria. His professional life is characterised by the ingenuity he brought to the profession; reorganising the profession, raising its standards, creating Nigeria wide professional body, ICAN, seeing to the growth of the Institute, the building of its offices in Victoria Island, the encouragement of its general membership. He represented Nigeria at the international level at IFAD where his contribution was considerable. He continued to build the profession across ECOWAS countries and would have loved to have an African Continental Institute or Association of Accountants, by encouraging regional associations in Southern Africa, East Africa, and the Magreb. This ambition has still not been fully realised but it is progressing slowly.

A rare combination of versatility with originality – yet the substructure – the core of Mbanefo, the DNA, and Nucleus remain familiar and unchanging – familiar in the sense that I know this man: these things he can do, these other things he cannot do. Arthur is originality without rigidity. You may not like him, but you respect him. He does not overwhelm you or dominate you as some people can but he demands your attention. You cannot ignore him, not because of his size; you cannot ignore his perspicacity, his wisdom, the clarity of his vision and presentation. Yet with all of this Arthur has an easy going elegance.

To be continued tomorrow

• Dr Cole OFR, is a former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Brazil, among other diplomatic postings. He wrote this as a review of Ambassador Arthur Mbanefo’s book

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