Tugendhat’s Allegation Against Gowon: Who Will Bell The Cat?

There is no denying the fact that the idiomatic expression, “Who will bell the cat?” is relatively an old idiom which means to perform a dangerous or a risky task. For the sake of clarity, it is expedient in this context to explain that when someone is asked, ‘who is going to bell the cat?’ the questioner simply sought to know which individual has the courage to do something dangerous.

Once upon a time, there lived many mice in a grocer’s shop. There in the shop, they ate delicious wheat and rice, pulses and nuts, bread and butter and biscuits. They grew fat day by day.

At this juncture, it is expedient to recall that the idiom etymologically came into usage when on a particular day, a grocer thought about the heavy losses that he had to suffer because of the menace of the mice. This angered him so much, that the next day, he brought a big fat cat to his shop. The big fat cat began to catch and kill the fat mice by each passing day.

Against the foregoing backdrop, the mice became worried. They called a meeting to discuss the problem.

"Let's get rid of this cruel fat cat," the leader of the mice said. "But how?" the other mice asked.

All of them began to think. Then one mouse said, "We should tie a bell round the neck of the fat cat. So, whenever she would move towards us, the bell would ring and we will run into our holes immediately."

All the mice became very happy to hear this. They began dancing with joy. But their joy was short-lived. An old and experienced mouse interrupted their merry-making and shouted, “Fools, stop it and tell me, who’ll bell the cat?” No mouse had the answer to this big question.

Analyzed from the perspective of the foregoing views, it is pragmatic to say that not few Nigerians who have the perception that former Nigerian head of state, Gen. Yakubu Gowon is endowed with unsurpassed humility, and that his humble disposition unarguably came to light when as a former head of state went back to the classroom as an undergraduate.

In his birthday wishes to the former head of state, when he turned 86, President Muhammadu Buhari described him as “a gallant patriot whose commitment to national unity is beyond comparison in the annals of our chequered history.”

The president who conveyed his wishes for Gowon in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said that “the role General Yakubu Gowon played in our political history and infrastructure development is etched in stone and cannot be rewritten. “General Gowon is one of the fairest leaders I have ever known who has inspired so many future leaders.

“Even in the context of Africa, many leaders in the continent draw inspiration from his adroit handling of the outcome of the civil war through his policy of ‘No Victor, No Vanquished’,” he said.

According to him, “as he marks 86 years of age, Nigerians cannot forget Gowon’s immeasurable contributions to the unity and development of Nigeria”.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the president’s perception of Gowon is equally been shared by many Nigerians, including this writer.

To those in the Christendom, the former head of state is highly revered for forming and leading the “Nigeria Prays” ecclesiastic project. At a parley in the past, he said the project was born out of the need to put an end to the various problems plaguing Nigeria.

However, without resort to vilification, despite his highly revered personality as exemplified in his public perception or rather his image, his personality was in the last few days cast aspersion at by a member of the United Kingdom Parliament, Tom Tugendhat, who alleged that he fleeced the country for half of what its Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was worth before relocating to London.

Tugendhat, chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee representing Tonbridge and Malling, said it was time to start sanctioning those responsible for Nigeria’s endemic theft and poverty.

“It is a tragedy that we are all witnessing. The pressure this time is not foreign colonialism, the pressure instead is corruption, violence and attempts to control.

“We need to call out corruption. We need to use powers we have in this country to stop those who are profiting.

“Some people would remember when General Gowon left Nigeria with half of the central bank, or so it was said, and moved to London,” Mr. Tugendhat said on the floor of the parliament.

Mr. Tugendhat said UK “banks, sadly, have been used” to proceeds of ill-gotten loot of Nigerian politicians, saying it was time to begin targeted sanctions.

“The UK is in an almost unique position to actually do something against those who have robbed Nigeria,” Mr. Tugendhat said.

In his reaction, the former head of state has described the allegation as “rubbish”.

Given the grave allegation, not few Nigerians are of the view that merely responding to the allegation as “rubbish” is not enough for him to be exonerated.

At this juncture, it is germane to cast our minds back to when Gowon literarily blew his own horn in 2018 when he said if succeeding regimes had checked corruption as his government did, Nigeria would not be swimming in graft with the attendant socio-economic and developmental problems.

The former military leader made the statement as President Muhammadu Buhari said the $320 million Abacha loot from Switzerland would go to poor Nigerians. Gowon, who said the condition he found himself after his ouster from office in 1975 might have changed the attitude of Nigerian leaders to corruption by deciding to “prepare for the future.” He added that he and his officers did not indulge in corruption. There were, however, mixed reactions from some elder statesmen to Gowon’s claims. While former Anambra State governor, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, agreed with the former Head of State, Chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay; founder of Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, late Dr. Frederick Fasehun; former governor of Kaduna State, late Alhaji Balarabe Musa, and Senator Femi Okurounmu, among others, disagreed.

It would be further recalled in this context that while speaking at the Eight Annual General Meeting and Conference for Heads of Anti-corruption Agencies in Commonwealth Africa, in Abuja, that Gowon joked that he “did not prepare for the future,” because “it was some of my staff who attended the OAU meeting with me (when he was overthrown) that contributed their estacodes to let me have something to live on.” Gowon’s claims elicited a deluge of comments from Nigerian elder statesmen, most of who disagreed with him, countering that corruption started under his stewardship.

Given his somewhat larger than life image, it is expedient to ask again, “Who will bell the cat?

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Articles by Isaac Asabor