Remembering Azazi, Yakowa And Oronto – An Enigmatic Twist Of Destinies

Remembering Azazi, Yakowa And Oronto – An Enigmatic Twist Of Destinies
December 14 16:45 2016 Print This Article

By: Godknows Igali, PhD

It is four years ago this season and we again have reason to forebode our inevitable duel with fate as we remember that the lives of two of Nigeria’s most cherished statesmen and others came to a melodramatic end, following the ill-fated helicopter crash which occurred in the creeks of Okoroba, Bayelsa State on 15th December, 2012. One was Nigeria’s most decorated military servicemen, Owoye Andrew Azazi, while the other, Patrick Yakowa was a debonair politician and seating Governor of the all-important Kaduna State as well as the two crew, and two others who were all on board. The story of the plot regarding these two men remains hanging until the related account of the life of the inveterate rights activist, Oronto Natei Douglas (OND) is retold.

As fate will have it, both Gen. Azazi, then aged 60 years, and His Excellency Yakowa, 64 years, the two main protagonists in what appears like a typical “tradegy” in Ancient Greek drama, died while returning from the funeral of Pa Tamunoobebara Douglas, father of Oronto. Oronto himself became totally shocked and subdued by the toll of fortune that left all thoroughly paled at the ominous outcome of what was otherwise a celebration of life of a good old man, remembered by all as a bellwether of peace. But then, fate did not spare Oronto many years of continued living in that mournful state as he soon fell to the cold hands of death just two years later on the 9th of April, 2015, at a much younger age of 48.

Like an Oedipus trilogy which often climaxed in doom, one is left to ask, could all these have been mere coincidences, scientifically and empirically determined? Or could the hand of destiny, inevitable and predetermined, as it seems to be, have played a mysterious role? Recapitulating on the course of events on that ill-fated Saturday afternoon and the aftermath, one’s scientific reflexes and modernistic instincts, easily crumble in the light of the compelling metaphysical and spiritual explanations.

Who were these Nigerians?

Patrick Yakowa who, originally was an administrator par excellence was unarguably, one of Nigeria’s most interesting politicians up to the time of his death. He was always graceful, affectionate, and ever smiling politician with a happy mien that was positively infectious. A fine gentleman, sweet spirit, humane, simple and detribalized. Unlike most other top echelon of the Nigerian Civil Service, Yakowa had a peculiar experience of having started from the Local Government Level rising through the system to becoming a Permanent Secretary and a Commissioner at the State Level. He later transferred to the federal service as a Director and eventually made it to the vaunted rank of Federal Permanent Secretary (Director General) in 1999. It was from there that he answered the call into politics which quickly rewarded him as Secretary to Kaduna State Government in 2003. But then, the machinations of destiny left series of vacuums which soon acted out their ominious scripts.

The first was the death of the then Deputy Governor of Kaduna State, Steven Shekari, a fellow kinsman from Southern Kaduna in July 2005. In the precarious balancing of the delicate ethnic matrix of Kaduna State, this resulted in Yakowa becoming appointed as Deputy Governor to serve out the former’s tenure. Subsequently, he became Deputy to then Governor, Architect Namadi Sambo and worked peacefully and diligently together until fate struck again. This second time, the fortunes of life showed up tragically in Abuja and placed the entire Nigerian state in mourning following the death of then sitting President, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Unplanned and uncontemplated, Yakowa found himself entering the shoes of his boss, Sambo as Governor of Kaduna State in May 2010.

Really? Yes, in that wise, he became the first person of Christian faith and indeed from “Southern Kaduna” to rule over a city and state considered the political capital of the Muslim North of Nigeria. Indeed, even presaging Nigeria’s independence from British colonial rule, Kaduna under the late Sardauna of Sokoto, the venerable Sir Ahmadu Bello, had carved out a reputation for itself as a city of intrinsic political manoeuvring, horse trading and nocturnal power calculus. Interesting enough, most the over 1.2 million votes in the 2011 Governorship Elections which he recorded in that poll, came from predominantly Muslim areas showing the worth of the man and the mass appeal of his trustworthy character and refined personality.

For the period he ruled until he met his death, he took Kaduna State through a season of unprecedented growth and development. A pious and reverential Catholic who saw greater worth and benefits in religious harmony and mutual reinforcement for a peaceful Kaduna and Nigeria. Against all odds, he left an unbeaten record in maintaining relative restraint and appreciative harmony and tolerance between Muslims and Christians and at another level, between Sunnis and Shiite Muslim extractions within the state. The fact that he was the only Governor who went to the creeks of the Niger Delta to commiserate with Oronto, spoke volume of the personae and mental orientation of this global citizen.

As for General Azazi, in his native Ijaw language name, his first name Owoye means “what is ours” and his life truly depicted that he belonged fully and wholly, not only to Bayelsa State but to the whole of Nigeria. Azazi personified what has now become euphemised as “I belong to all”. Besides his family who had a special place for him, Azazi could in a word be described as “Mr. Nigeria”. He was unarguably one of the finest and most professional military ever men produced in this country. He received the best training in the world’s most elite military and defence institutions.

Azazi always carried the day and remains the only Nigerian officer that had the benefits of being thoroughly trained by the leading security and intelligence houses in the world, including CIA, MI6, Israel’s Aman Military Intelligence, and the French Direcion Generale de la Securite Exterieure. He therefore had his contacts in all these countries, an asset which he always brought to the protection of Nigeria’s national interest. He kept an unbroken record as perhaps one of the best crack intelligence officers that has served this country. In the same way he served in some of the most challenging tasks and roles ever undertaken by any service personnel.

Azazi rose systematically through the ranks of the Nigerian army, at every stage, outpacing all his peers and contemporaries, adorning all the prestigious epaulets that were available for grabs. He remains on record as the first Nigerian officer to have risen and occupied, almost back-to-back the positions of GOC Division, OMI, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Defence Staff and National Security Adviser. In cause of this period of service, it is generally acknowledged that Azazi played a major role in formatting the national security and defence policies of Nigeria.

But more than that, Azazi was just an ordinary Nigerian highly detribalized, enlightened and amiable. He specially had a very deep love for his fishing community, Peretorugbene. A lover of culture and great patron of the arts, all of which he promoted at every given opportunity. Just like Yakowa, Azazi’s high and intimidating profile did not prevent him from serving God as a very devoted Roman Catholic and in mixing with all, great and small, irrespective of creed or tongue. No wonder the two men were close friends. So, although Yakowa came to Okoroba in his own chartered helicopter, he hand-in-hand with Azazi, boarded the Nigeria Navy helicopter which was there to pick the decorated four-star general and went down together.

On his part, OND was an intellectual warrior as well as a human rights, people’s rights and environmental rights lawyer. He had cut his teeth, under the tutelage of the ace environmental martyr, Ken Saro Wiwa, before his foray into local and national politics. In public service, Oronto’s forte remained his intellect and character. When his erstwhile boss, Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha, Governor of Bayelsa State was removed from office under rather opaque circumstances, he easily turned down an offer from Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the successor Governor of Bayelsa State to continue as Commissioner. This is even when he shared some kinship bonds with the later as both come from the same Ogbia Local Government Area in Bayelsa State. It was only when Dr. Jonathan became Vice President of Nigeria and later on President, that he accepted to join him as a Senior Aide.

Oronto had in the years preceding, been diagnosed with cancer of the stomach. But even in the face of such illness, he continued to serve humanity till the very last minute. When it was obvious that his last hours on earth had come, he reached out to almost all his friends and associates who were available to share copies of some of his writings, some of which have not been made public and discuss point after point, his passion on various national issues.

Like Saro Wiwa, Oronto believed and was an actual practitioner of non-violent resistance against what was perceived as authoritarian exploitation of the oil and gas resources of his home Niger Delta and the wanton despoliation of its environment. Although one of the leaders of Ijaw youths, and a signatory of the famous Kaiama Declaration of 1998 by which the option of a more militant struggle was adopted, he remained dwelled on nonviolent resistance, something much akin to what has become known as Prague Spring Revolution of 1968 which helped forestall wholescale Soviet invasion and annexation of then Czechoslovakia.

The mystery of whether what happened on the humid Saturday afternoon in December 2012 is destiny, fate or fortune or just a simple mechanical occurrence like many other cases, will remain a sour point of thought and reflection. A well serviced military helicopter simply gave way and these two heavy giants and national heroes bowed to the call of nature. On the average, the crash rate of helicopters is 9.84 per 100,000 hours every year around the world; maybe this was one of them. If what happened is one of such cases, it is very sad that two of the country’s finest had to go that way. And if that were the case, what an irony that they will both die in a heavy oil producing community like Okoroba close to Oloribri where oil was discovered but yet can only be accessed by boat or helicopter like much of the oil rich Niger Delta, no roads.

But some others are more inclined to reason that none needs to mourn and bemoan but at times like this, only remember with unreserved elation Azazi and Yakowa as well as their host, Oronto, because these three lives are all truly fulfilled and accomplished their courses. Indeed the fate of these three Nigerians only shows the reality of human existence which places all in the hands of destiny. Even in most traditional societies, there is a strong belief in the concept of destiny. More importantly, in the dominant monotheist religions of the world, Christianity, Islam and Judaist, there is a clear belief of pre-destiny in the sense that the lives of men are in the hands of the Almighty God.

God decides men’s times from when life starts to when it ends. Indeed, some hold strongly that everything that happens to man is within God’s purview and that was why King David said in one of the most quoted Psalms “my times are in your hands”. In other words, it is God’s mighty hands that determines all that happens on earth. He may not want to suffer man or in this case the whole country through pain and loss of so dear persons, but what has occurred is not beyond Him. He saw it, allowed it and it is always for a purpose.

Therefore, Yakowa, Azazi and Oronto whose fate and destiny became tied together, although could individually be eulogized, have not left us in vain but came, saw and conquered. They performed their full courses and left indelible marks in our personal lives and all around our country and the world. Like any other seed, their good works will germinate, grow and come to positively impact generations unborn.

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