Being a Book Review on the Occasion of the Public Presentation of “The Vanity of ‘Change’ and the Audacity of Truth (A Collection of Uncompromising Essays)” authored by Mr Jude C. Ndukwe, on Wednesday, May 24, 2017, at Merit House, Aguiyi Ironsi St, Maitama, Abuja.
I feel deeply honoured and privileged to stand before this special gathering on the presentation of ‘The Vanity Of Change and the Audacity of Truth’ a book authored by one of the rising champions of democracy in Nigeria today.
My speech will be a departure from the typical book reviews in these parts. I will not spend so much time talking about the book as I will talk about the importance of the role people like Jude Ndukwe play in tumultuous societies such as Nigeria.
I met Jude Ndukwe, long before I met him in person. As a matter of fact, I met Jude in person, interacted with him a number of times without knowing he was the fearless Jude Ndukwe who wrote articles that rattled members of the Nigerian establishment. Such is the power of the media.
When Jude told me that he had selected me to review his book, The Vanity of Change, a book that is already creating waves, rocking ‘the boat’ of the power elite in Nigeria, if you will, I felt humbled to be chosen from a long list of people I would consider more qualified than I to play this important role..
The author of this book and I met online in the course of staring tyranny in the face. We met in person months later, still in the course of working in the trenches to defend our democracy from assault. The truth of the matter is that I cannot recall any major happening in the political landscape of this country from May 2015 till today that we have not engaged at the level of ideas. Sometimes we are aghast, sometimes we find political scenes created by this government quite comical, and most times, we share a mutual anger about the current state of Nigeria’s democratic experiment. Because, we both know that so many things that have gone wrong with Nigeria in the past two years could have been avoided if we had enough Nigerians who really cared about their country.
Cowards die everyday. The brave die only once. I would rather die standing for what I believe in than live a life not worthy of inspiration to my children.
For the past two years, Jude and I have been in the trenches demanding for good governance, resisting the tyranny of the Muhammadu Buhari regime, and demanding for social and economic justice for the victims of the brutality of this government. In the course of the struggle, I have found him to be a formidable ally and a fearless warrior and it has been an honour to have walked with him on this journey to making Nigeria great for every citizen..
The journey has been mostly unpleasant, I must say, largely because of the draconian character of the current Nigerian government..
Just so that you appreciate what we have been up against in the course of working to defend our democracy, let me share the details of a story that continues to shock the global human rights community.
In December 2015, a religious minority group carried out a parade. This is an annual event in the town where the organization is headquartered. The event is a one-day affair and pretty much in the class of the Calabar Carnival or the Eyo Festival. Everybody living in this town knows that on the day of this parade, it might not be a good idea to go out or if you do, you may need to avoid the parade.
I spent part of my childhood in a small town in Illinois in the United States, street parades are common in America. On those days, you either stay at home or come out and join them. But, never does anybody deliberately confront the procession. No matter who that person is.
But in December 2015, General Tukur Buratai, Nigeria’s chief of army staff, decided that he was going to break the parade and visit a school across the town that day.
In what appears like a premeditated provocation, Buratai’s team which curiously, included the spokesperson for the Nigerian Army, now Brigadier General Usman Sani, armed with cameras, approached an obscure part of the procession to demand that they be allowed to pass through the parade. One wonders why the army chief did not call the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria to make his demand. I also wonder why a colonel in the Nigerian Army would decide that people who looked like street urchins, who in no way represented the group staging the parade, were the best people to engage over such a matter.
It is important to note that this is a religious parade. It means something to the organizers much more than a cultural street carnival. Any reasonable person knows that once an issue dovetails into the realms of man and his God, such issue should be handled with utmost sensitivity.
Jude Ndukwe is unflinching in his beliefs, ever ready to confront what he has identified as oppressiveness in the powerful.
Instead of the army chief to remember that he swore an oath to protect and preserve the lives of Nigerians and that those young men who insisted that the parade must go on without interruptions were Nigerians whom he swore to protect, he decided that the best course of action for an army general was to bulldoze his way through a religious procession. The army spokesperson admits that soldiers killed some of the Shi’ite boys as his chief passed through the procession, but he made a dubious claim that there was an assassination attempt on the life of General Buratai.
According to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the very constitution from which Buratai draws his legitimacy, authority, and importance, the now-exposed-to-be-phantom assassination attempt is meant to be reported to the Nigeria Police Force for investigation and possible prosecution. He didn’t do that. Oh, no. He’s a soldier with armed troops under his command and ‘How dare those boys stand in his way!?’
General Buratai, in collusion with the Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, decided that the best way to deal with this “slight” was to invade the compounds where this religious group live, in the dead of the night, and shoot to kill all living things! Women were shot with their babies on their bosom, men, women, children, boys and girls of all ages were murdered in cold blood by troops of the Nigerian Army. This did not happen in Somalia. This did not happen in Adolf Hitler’s Germany. This did not happen in Idi Amin’s Uganda. It happened right before our very eyes, under a democratically elected government (so to speak) in our country Nigeria.
The Islamic Movement of Nigeria alleges that over 1,000 of its members were killed in the pogrom which lasted for two days. The Kaduna State government admits to burying 374 victims in mass graves.
Not only that, the leader of this religious group, Sheikh Ibrahim El Zakzaky, was beaten up by soldiers in his home in the dead of the night, shot several times, bloodied, disrobed, dumped in a wheelbarrow like an animal and pictures of this cleric in a humiliated state were taken and circulated on social media by troops of the Nigerian Army. When I saw these pictures, I wept. My grandfather was a pastor. Up till this day, we have priests and clerics in my family. That could have been any one of them.
This is what I know for sure; that act of humiliating a priest will never go unpunished. It doesn’t matter what name that priest calls God. The way those photos touched me, I believe, is the way they touched God and divine vengeance is sure to come to the perpetrators of this unconscionable crime.
Till this day, despite court orders for the release of Sheikh El Zakzaky and his wife, who was also brutalized and taken away by the rampaging troops under the command of General Buratai and President Muhammadu Buhari, the government has refused to release him and his wife. There are reports that he has gone blind in detention, that he was shot 6 times on that night. There are even suggestions that he may have died in the government’s custody.
This is what I know for sure; that act of humiliating a priest will never go unpunished. It doesn’t matter what name that priest calls God.
Does this story sound like something that could happen in a democracy? The Shi’ites are protected by the Nigerian constitution which says they are free to worship whatever God they wish to worship. They have a fundamental right to assembly to worship their God, they have a right to sleep in their homes and wake up and go about their business and nobody should have invaded their homes and taken their lives and those of their children. On December 12 to December 14, 2015 – the people who so grievously violated Nigeria’s constitution, snuffed out the lives of one thousand Nigerians extra-judicially, and continue to trample on the rights of El Zakzaky and all members of the Shi’ite community will not go unpunished. They must answer for their crimes.
Jude Ndukwe and I both have a gift of telling a story and we share the same passion of using our gift to fight for justice, to reawaken the consciousness of the nation, to call out indolence in the corridors of power, to expose the dangerous propaganda by the government, and to provide a platform for the voiceless and forgotten to be heard. We do all this with the power of storytelling and because of our doggedness and the impact of our work; the dictatorial powers of the day have marked us.
Both of us have endured intimidation, harassment, vilification, character assassination, threat of arrest and even assassination from agents of the Buhari government and we have both agreed that we won’t stop speaking truth to power.
Cowards die everyday. The brave die only once. I would rather die standing for what I believe in than live a life not worthy of inspiration to my children.
I said earlier that I met Jude and spoke with him a number of times, without knowing that he was “The Jude Ndukwe”. So it is often that the public courage of a man creates a larger-than-life persona for him. Looking for Jude through the lenses of the quality of his works and the uncompromising truth-telling leads to a preconceived image of a Goliath.
Both of us have endured intimidation, harassment, vilification, character assassination, threat of arrest and even assassination from agents of the Buhari government.
Alas, Jude has said in one of his essays in ‘The Vanity Of Change’ – “the size of a man is not in his height, it is in his heart”. And I can say that this author has a whole lot of heart.
When you read this book, one thread that you find consistently is the fearlessness of this author. He is unflinching in his beliefs, ever ready to confront what he has identified as oppressiveness in the powerful.
He stands resolutely against the shameless show of nepotism, tribalism, racism, and ethnic favouritism that has been the vanguard of Muhammadu Buhari’s government. He stands against injustice no matter who the perpetrators or victims are. He speaks for the victims of this unconscionable human rights abuses, even as many who should speak for the citizens are undergoing amnesia brought on by the Naira or plain intimidation, and his light shines ever so bright.
One of the prominent thought leaders of our day, a man I consider a mentor and friend, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, who wrote the preface for this book, has already said some of the things I would have said. This book is appropriately titled. Had it not been for the travesty that took place during the 2015 General Elections in Nigeria – where a dangerous dummy was sold to Nigerians in the name of “change”, perhaps this book wouldn’t exist.
It turns out that the “change” that was promised was actually a destructive ideology that has only imprisoned Nigerians economically, socially, and politically. Not only that, it threatens the very fabric and foundation of our democracy and our existence as a country. It is against this backdrop that a book like the one authored by Jude Ndukwe is a necessary intervention.
He stands resolutely against the shameless show of nepotism, tribalism, racism, and ethnic favouritism that has been the vanguard of Muhammadu Buhari’s government.
This book, as the cover indicates, is a collection of some of the author’s essays. The arrangement by subject matter instead of a chronological order makes it easy to follow the author’s train of thought. For example, topics that have to do with former President Goodluck Jonathan and his ailing successor have been arranged near each other regardless of when the essay was written or when the matters being treated came up.
The book exposes the conspiracy that was created by the now ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, to run down the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan and cast him and his party, the People’s Democratic Party, PDP as having failed. Whereas, the true failure is the current APC government evidenced by its numerous failed promises (and even denied promises) ably complemented by an abysmally woeful performance!
The conclusion? Nigerians have been hoodwinked and served a dish of ‘change’ that wasn’t even on the menu. Read this brilliant analysis in “The Idiocy of ‘Change’ and the Conspiracy of Watchdogs” (page 37).
In these essays, Ndukwe has spoken against the human rights abuses not just against the Shi’ite Muslims in Zaria, but against those perpetrated against Christians by the Islamist terrorist group, the Fulani Herdsmen militia. He spoke up for the people of Agatu in Benue, he spoke up for the people in Southern Kaduna. These are two places where the Fulani herdsmen have murdered more than 2,000 innocent Christians in their homes. This terrorist group appears to have government backing or protection as nobody has been arrested for these crimes against humanity..
The author has spoken up for the Yorubas, he has spoken for the Ijaws, he has also spoken for his native Igbo and he continues to speak up for the oppressed wherever they may be and no matter how high and mightier the oppressors may be. This is an attribute of a genuine patriot.
Ndukwe lampoons the immediate past inspector-general of police, Solomon Arase, for his lackadaisical approach to the Agatu genocide even when Arase was still in active service as police IG. This can be seen in “Agatu Massacre, the Police and the Tragedy of a Peace Talk” (Page 164).
The conclusion? Nigerians have been hoodwinked and served a dish of ‘change’ that wasn’t even on the menu.
In the following essay, “Of DSS, Shallow Graves, Sensationalism and Sectionalism” (page 169), he minced no words in taking the DSS to the cleaners over its outrageous and discredited claim that Fulanis were marked, killed, and buried in shallow graves in Abia State by popular pro-Biafra secessionist agitators.
He goes beyond party lines to defend the likes of the Senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki, even when it was not fashionable or acceptable to the executive to do so. He once said that, “once anyone anywhere becomes a victim of oppression, the person automatically earns the right to be defended even if we do not share the same faith, ideology or belong to the same party”. That is the kind of person the author is.
This review would not be complete if I do not mention the passion with which Ndukwe defends victims of state persecution from the opposition especially the likes of former President Jonathan and his family, former minister of aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, among others.
It is the same passion with which he defends the commoners including the victims of the Fulani herdsmen terrorists, religious fanatics, and so on.
Having read more than 80% of the essays in this book, I can easily conclude that the author has achieved his aim of exposing the vanities of the campaign slogan of the ruling APC government and he did so with unrestrained audacity to speak truth to all concerned.
In some ways, Jude is a prophet. Early in the life of the Muhammadu Buhari government, he predicted the carnage and divisions that would be unleashed by the ineptitude and plain wickedness of the leaders of today. Almost all his predictions have come to pass and this underscores the importance of documenting one’s thoughts as they emerge. For taking this bold step to put his thoughts into a book, which he presents to the public today, I commend Jude. He has a valuable and uncommon quality that will take him places.
As Chief Fani-Kayode has written in his preface, this book will remain an important reference point for students of Nigeria’s history because it, so profoundly, captures the mode of the nation in these dark days.
I strongly recommend this book for everyone who has a stake in the future of this great, but traumatised, country.
I end this speech with a message for those who believe it is their birthright to hold onto power by all means, seeking no good or betterment for the people, but only for self-enrichment and pushing down a radical fundamentalist ideology. You have come to the end of the road. The will of Nigerians for freedom has merged with the will of the Creator that all men might be set free indeed.
A New Nigeria has berthed; one in which peace, prosperity, justice, and unity are not mere buzzwords in presidential speeches, but are actually etched into the social fabric of our nation.
Aziza Uko is a Nigerian publisher who is the Executive Editor of The Trent. She is also Chief Executive of Ziza Group, a company she founded in 2009. She is an award-winning graduate of marketing and a marketing communications professional with over 17 years post graduation experience. She is a writer, editor, and music lover. She can be reached on email HERE, on Twitter at @azizauko, and Facebook HERE.