Okello Oculi
Executive Director

The tragic crashes in Nigeria of Bellview and Sosoliso airlines in
which 117 and 107 persons died
have aroused various emotions ranging from deep anguish to disgust
and a sense of betrayal by
governance and the culture of conducting public affairs. Nigeria's
Senate avoided interrogating the performance of its own Committe on
Aviation, while rushing to call for the Minister of Aviation to

The matter of resignation by government officials is linked to the
principle of honour in governance. Such calls are often muddied by
appeals to associate Nigeria's culture of performamnce by officials
to those found in "advanced countries", or "more civilized
countries", or, simply, Britain. Such invocation often alienates
those who sense racial doubt or contempt complexes in such calls,
thereby fogging their merit.

There are, however, rich historical records to turn to. Historians
have asserted that in 18th and 19th century Yoruba kingdoms through
"ORIKI" praise-poems "Great Men" (be they kings or chiefs) had their
ranks, appearance, achievements, personality, "and above all (their)
individuality" sang publicly. The other face of the coin was the
expectation that a failed leader
would commit suicide. The "Eso" generals of Oyo kingdom's cavalry
were required never to "survive defeat". Both honour and shame were
deeply enmeshed and celebrated in collective community life and

In neighbouring Dahomey a "defeated commander was not expected to
return alive", while the leader of the youth saw his honour in his
age group pledging to and cultivating the fields to feed the king,
and build houses for his subjects. Among the Ashante in nearby Ghana
comes the example of Opoku Frefre (1755- 1826) committing suicide,
from the high position of being
the head of the Asatehene's civil service, when he was defeated in
battle. Among the Luba, Lunda and Kuba of Central Africa (stretching
from Angola to Zambia), honour was defended by an accused person
"cheerfully drinking poison" (from a plant's roots) in order to clear
his name.Among the Tiv "sheme" is used to affirm honour in an accused

Among the nomadic Fula/Peul/Fulani, Masai, Shilluk, Shona, etc. (from
Senegal to the lowlands of Ethiopia, the East African Rift Valley and
today's Zimbabwe), the "paalaku" code of honour has remained
rigorous, austeer, and demanding of taking pain without wincing or
twitching even involuntarily as an educational device for preparating
youths for assuming public
responsibility and "manhood".

This varied and deep rootedness of the value attached to honour as a
vital value in governance, has not been readily transferable into
post-colonial administartions. This failure is captured in the widely
known condition that government is regarded by most communities as
"not their own". From 1999 to the present Local Government officials
were often watched from a distance by their various communities as
they misappropriated public funds sent over from the
federation account. As Professor Adebayo Adedeji has remarked, a
widely held gap is perceived to exist between affairs of local
communities and that of
"local government administration". Through this gaping
gap have gushed torrents of corrupt practices and
consequent loss of faith in governance rooted in
honour or communal "constitutionalism".

In the circumstances following the plane crashes, the remedy to this
condition is clearly not to appear to lightly use the Minister of
Aviation as a scapegoat. The blame grease must smear a whole
generation of "leaders" at local, state, federal and private sector
levels for their failure, in the last fourty years of
Nigeria's independence, to look back with profound
intellectual rigour and profundity to their ancient
traditions for ropes of honour with which to hold the
stubborn goats of governance. These generations have
too readily adopted the easier root of merely
borrowing constitutional formulas from other people's
histories; peoples, who (as in the case of the United
States) are probably younger at the game of creating
communities and, in anycase, are humble enough to see
their nation-building formula as works -in-progress.

It is unstandable that a mother who lost as many as three children in
the Sosoliso plane disaster was shown on television and print media
swinging from blaming President Obasanjo personally to doubting her
Christian God whom she had been urged to "trust". The tragedy is that
there is no collective community fabric of honour for her to turn to
as an anchor in the "modern" political arena called Nigeria. It is an
arena peopled by brutal and wicked silences; long
silences whose fabric officials use as callous and untransparent
curtains for shielding themselves from ancient demands to either
commit suicide, or
"cheerfully" rush to drink poison to cleanse their
failures from the records of their families.

Historians have also written that in Yoruba and Hausa cultures the
"universal custom" was always that "whenever a chief is out (of
power), all his subordinates must go with him". Chinua Achebe, the
celebrated novelist, aptly called those out of power as those
standing in the rain while others ate soup and mountains of pounded
yam inside the house. Such rules of power, patronage and clientage
can easily blind the eyes from loyalty to honour in both the
offender and "his people". The challenge in social engineering, as
Nigeria gropes towards good
governance, is clearly to tame this culture with lashes from whips of honour.