By ‘Timi Alaibe
We have been in this season of bad news for too long. When are we getting out of it? When will death give up on us? Who can stop death from claiming our best — in business, in politics, in leadership, in the military, in sports, in everything? Where did we go wrong?
No death is good news. Every life has its value. God created everyone for certain divine plans and purposes. Why should death keep us in constant tears? You never know who is next on the line until the phone rings at an ungodly hour, or the news media screams: breaking news!
From daybreak to midnight on Monday, August 16, nothing pointed to the fact this would happen. No one saw it coming —except the Almighty Himself. Then suddenly, something snaps. An era ends. A life passes on. The nation weeps. Tears roll down several cheeks. A wife is widowed. Children become orphans. We are left speechless and disconsolate.
When the phone rang in the midnight of Tuesday, I was still awake —though far from the Atlantic Coast. I knew it was early morning in Nigeria. Somehow, I had an instant feeling of some news coming in. But what manner of news it was, I could not predict. The number was familiar.
As I picked the call; and heard the tone of the voice at the other end, I wasn’t impressed. Bad news has its peculiar tone. This one was no exception. Before the words spilled out, the contents were obvious. Death, the mysterious intruder, has struck again. It has taken away one of our very best.
“Have you heard?”
“Heard what” I was obviously impatient, curious, within a split second.
“Ibrahim Mantu is dead”
“What did you say?” I heard him quite well. He did not stammer. There was no network problem. But I just didn’t want to hear what he said.
“I said Ibrahim Mantu is dead. He passed on just about two hours ago.”
I became dumbstruck. It didn’t sound like a joke. Death has never been an ingredient for pleasantries. The news hit me with all the complements of unbelief. Ibrahim Nasiru Mantu, dead? Just like that? What? How? Why? I couldn’t make sense of what he said.
Till now, I can’t recall what I said next. My thought was on alarm. I can’t even tell how the phone left my hand. Time passed. The tea got cold. I lost appetite for everything, except tears.
My thought travelled—not in kilometres—but in years; across seasons. I was quickly reminded by my sub-consciousness about the first time I met Mantu physically—just about 23 years ago. He had a soft, almost inaudible voice. His eyes were sharp—just like his intellect. His pace of understanding knotty national issues was quite unimaginable.
How did I know him? His nephew was my friend. He had secured admission to study abroad; but had no cash backing. He approached me. I helped out. After all, what are friends for! The young man went and told his uncle (Mantu) about me and what I did. From that moment, Mantu insisted on meeting me in person. He called, we spoke on phone. He sounded excited.
In 1998, I finally met him in Lagos. It was a beautiful encounter. He radiated an unhidden friendly mien. We ate and drank as though we had met before. I was a banker. He was a politician. He asked about my future career aspiration. I told him I was tired of banking. I needed something in the public sector. He promised to keep his eyes and ears open as democratic governance was by the corner.
A year later—just after the 1999 elections—Mantu was now a senator. He called me to set up a meeting. He told me about a top opening at what is now NIMASA. I told him I was interested. He took my CV to Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who seemed obviously impressed by my profile. But he had other ideas.
The VP told me about plans to establish the Niger Delta Development Commission. He said as someone from the Niger Delta region, I was fully qualified to occupy a higher position at the Commission.
That was how the journey to my appointment as executive director, finance and administration, at the NDDC, commenced. Mantu volunteered and personally took me around to introduce to many senators for a buy-in and acquiescence to my Senate confirmation and approval for appointment.
Beyond that little assistance I gave his nephew, I don’t know what he saw in me that ignited his interest in my person. But Mantu’s love for me was instant. He unhesitatingly adopted me as a God-given son. He later told me that he saw in me what he would love his children to be. I was flattered; but I loved it.
At every opportunity, I honoured him as a father. He respected and treated me as a beloved son. Anytime NDDC needed a covering fire from the National Assembly, I rushed to him. When we needed attention from the Villa, considering his close relationship with President Obasanjo, we knew who to talk to.
In friendship, he was reliable. Wait a minute! Did I just say ‘was’? What does that mean? He is no more! What a loss! What becomes of his wonderful, motherly wife? What about his cherished children!
In politics, Mantu was quintessential. Yes, that’s the word. He was an embodiment of political activism. He lived politics. He spoke politics. He understood politics. He loved politics. That was Mantu! He had his weaknesses because he was human. But his strong points dwarfed all of that. The expression: ‘I’m sorry’ was always close to his lips.
I am still trying to make sense of the news. Mantu dead? I’m still trying to wake up from the shock. This death is a serious crack on the walls of never-give-up brand of politics. Mantu moulded great minds in leadership. He affected several lives by lifting the fallen. We will surely miss him. We will miss his politics—the old school politics of persuasion.
To his beloved wife, be strong. I know the shock. It’s a familiar feeling. It doesn’t go fast. The hand of the Lord comforts you. To the children, take delight in who your father was. Walk in his footsteps. Be strengthened in the Lord. Adieu!
Alaibe, a former Executive Director (Finance & Administration) at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) wrote from Yenogoa, Bayelsa State.