Remembering Shehu Yar’Adua 20 years after – Part 2
Shehu had barely reached Kaduna when we phoned him to come back. He did, arriving Jos at 3 am. We smoothened everybody’s feather before he left again for Kaduna at about 7 am or 8 am. I kept meticulous account of the money we spent, gave a full account and once at Jos we had such surplus money that it took the bank and my guys two days to count the balance, which was paid back to the bank. At that time the highest denomination was N20 notes.
Let me finish by highlighting some funny scenarios, which need some recognition. General Shehu led a delegation to North Korea. He arrived in Pyongyang as guest of Kim II-Sung of North Korea for Nigeria Economic bilateral talks. The practice is that usually the communique for such meetings was written soon on arrival and definitely before the meeting began – since we would have sent a delegation ahead to discuss the agenda and agree on most points. Kim II-Sung was the spiritual leader of North Korea, believed to be God-sent to lead his people against those who wished to destroy them, especially the US.
The city was an example par excellence of planning decorum and syncopation. At 6 am, music would blare out throughout the country for contemplation and prayers for Kim who had also devised a series of exercises for the people to keep them fit and their minds clear and relevant. No one had told us when we arrived and we were ensconced in one massive palace that we could not go out. At about 8 pm after dinner, I set out to leave the compound for a stroll. In less than three minutes I was surrounded by soldiers all shouting their hands off in a language I did not understand. To my utter confusion, I thought something terrible had happened – until our minder ran out to say we were not allowed to go out of the palace even for a stroll.
I went back inside in an absolutely inconsolable rage. While still boiling, I went to report to Shehu whom I found with a doctor and a nurse. They were trying to take blood and urine samples and were even asking for a stool sample. I asked them why they wanted the samples and they said they had to test everyone who wanted to meet Kim ll Sung. I refused to allow them to proceed: we did not travel 8000 miles to be examined by a Korean doctor because of a meeting with Kim ll Sung. But they already had the General’s blood sample. They stormed off and I thought I had created a diplomatic incident.
Next day, we were to have a meeting with the Great Leader. In the anteroom, they gave us gloves. I thought it was again a Korean custom until our guide said the skin of Kim ll Sung was so sacrosanct no person touched his flesh, even in a handshake. I said, with the General’s permission, in that case, we won’t shake hands with him. We would stay 12 to 20 feet away, bow our heads respectfully and sit down to the meeting, which was to be followed by lunch. A flurry of activities ensued; we waited and after a few minutes we were ushered in, told where to stand. The Great Leader himself then walked in, shook our hands and we proceeded to the meeting and to lunch!!!
I do not know how many of you have seen the film Zorba, the Greek. In Greece, they have a custom of eating and dancing and then throwing the plates to break up in or near the fire place, just like Russians throw glasses of empty vodka to break against the fireplace. The General and I went to a Greek restaurant. As the evening wore on, the clientele except the general were drinking ouzo. As we drank, the music of Zorba the Greek started and people started dancing and throw plates. The custom is that you could dance on top of the table and as the music moved, you throw plates to smash on the floor and the fireplace. I was interested in seeing what the General would do. I had ordered for a pile of breakable plates and started throwing plates with complete abandon when suddenly, my friend stood up on the table and even with more abandon threw dozens of plates while vigorously dancing on top of the table!!! It was an exhilarating experience. We need plates in Nigeria now to express our frustration.
General Abacha had called a constitutional conference and what Shehu Yar’Adua did during this conference, including gaining a 13% derivation agreement for oil producing states which hitherto got 1%, although there was a 3% environment fund is well known. During this conference, Yar’Adua and myself had just returned from Salah in Katsina, when on arriving at the lobby of Hilton Hotel, Alhaji Abdulram told him that he did not like what he had just heard from Aso Rock. Shehu drove there immediately to find out what was happening. According to General Abacha, he thought there was nothing wrong only for General Shehu Yar’Adua to be arrested early that morning at about 3 am from Apo village. Inuwa immediately phoned to tell me.
The General was detained. Later on, he was sent to Enugu. I tried to get a permit to see him from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, I was denied. He was moved from prison to prison until he arrived at Port Harcourt where as usual the General organized the prisoners into clubs for tennis, football and table tennis and other sports after repairs and supplies for these games. The prisoners were all better fed, the kitchen was revamped and the Warders were taken care of on the express order of the General. Fortunately, Deputy Warden was my cousin and what I could not get, i.e. permission to see the General, was made so simple. I saw him often; gave him his favourite Benson and Hedges cigarettes, spent long hours with him in the Deputy Warden’s office, before he was taken away somewhere else to be poisoned.
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