ANAEKWE: UNSUNG HERO OF DEMOCRACY
With our misplaced values and reward system, there is a continued distortion of nation-building in Nigeria. Contributions to national development are often exaggerated, downgraded or simply not acknowledged because the right parameters for evaluation have not been applied. Take the annual national honours.
Over the years, the managers and guardians of the award have not demonstrated appreciation that it is an honour for distinguished public service. Sadly, the award has been turned into a certificate of appointment. As soon as someone has been elected or appointed to a high office he is decorated with national honour whereas such recognition should come after years of meritorious service in any capacity.
Again, take a look at the naming of public places.
What was the merit of naming the Enugu sports stadium after the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe? Zik's reputation rested on his journalistic and political exploits. Bypassing sports heroes like Emmanuel Okala, Dick Tiger and Power Mike to confer such recognition on someone who at best did one or two amateur sports was incongruous and unfair.
We must take care to use objective indices in defining our landmarks lest our history is distorted. In chronicling the founding of the fourth republic, the nexus between it and the struggle waged in the still-born third republic has not been adequately captured by historians nor appreciated by officialdom. That transitional republic achieved two major gains. First, it dealt a mortal blow to the first systematic attempt at life presidency and by that very fact provided the stimulus for resisting subsequent attempts by Sani Abacha and Olusegun Obasanjo.
Following from there, the Obasanjo presidency emerged in 1999 as a compensation for the denial of June 12 which has since become a reference point in national integration efforts. The legislature, that is, the national assembly of this epoch became the linchpin for advancing the democratic cause.
Agunwa Anaekwe was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives at the youthful age of 36 and in that capacity played a pivotal role in steering the transition process away from the mines laid by reactionary forces. Anaekwe largely succeeded in this mission, surviving as Speaker up till November17, 1993 when Abacha brought down democratic structures, despite well-funded campaigns by anti-democratic agents to oust him.
The national assembly found itself walking a very tight rope. Because the military government headed by general Ibrahim Babangida was hesitant about relinquishing power, it sought to castrate the national assembly with Decree 52 of 1992. The decree divested the parliament of meaningful legislative powers whilst the junta continued with its manoeuvres around the transition programme. To further put the assembly in a bind, it was persistently starved of funds allthrough its one year life.
The financial squeeze was so serious that what would have been the Speaker's second foreign trip in that period was aborted at the last minute. This was an African parliamentary conference which held in Botswana in 1993.
Rather than be cowed by these deliberate pressures, Agunwa Anaekwe decided to stand on the side of public interest and make the assembly the voice of the people. He therefore opposed the agitation for creation of more local governments at the time which though a legitimate aspiration, was likely to be exploited to further elongate the transition process.
Following the annulment of the June 12 election, General Babangida addressed a joint session of the National Assembly on August 17,1993 at which he conveyed his offer as 'a personal sacrifice to voluntarily step aside as commander-in-chief' but without indicating who was to head the interim national government to be inaugurated on August26,1993. However, Vanguard of August 22, 1993 reported Babangida as saying on BBC Hausa Service that 'having addressed the national assembly, he was now waiting for the assembly's response.'
As at Monday, August 23, 1993, the Senate had gone on vacation. The House of Representatives was to proceed on recess on August 25. Earlier, a group of anti-democracy elements had been identified in the House. This group was working in tandem with the notorious and well-funded Association for Better Nigeria dedicated to scuttling the transition programme. Anaekwe put his life on the line and blocked this sadistic scheme.
On the day of this attempted 'coup', the storm troopers seized the mace for over two and half hours. Amidst piercing tension, Anaekwe navigated the House and the country away from the first audacious attempt at life presidency. But for a 36 year old man's firmness and selflessness, heaven only knows what would have become of Nigeria at that time.
I recommend Agunwa Anaekwe for fitting national honour.
•Okeke who did his national service with the National Assembly in 1993, wrote from Garki, Abuja.