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USAfrica: Basil Nnanna Ukegbu lived a life of excellence. By Emmanuel A. C. Orji

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A TRIBUTE TO BASIL NNANNA UKEGBU

By Emmanuel A. C. Orji

Special to USAfrica and USAfricaonline.com  @USAfricaLIVE

It is with a deep sense of loss that I received the sad news of the passing of a fellow Patrician, Basil Nnanna Ukegbu, who did our alma mater, Saint Patrick’s College, Ikot Ansa, Calabar (SPACO),  proud.

“Excellence is a difficult concept to communicate because it can easily be misread as neurotic perfectionism or snooty sophistication. But it is neither. On the contrary, it is the stuff of which greatness is made. It is the difference between just getting by and soaring – that which sets apart the significant from the superficial, the lasting from the temporary. Those who pursue it do so because of what pulsates within them, not because of what others think or say or do. Authentic excellence is not a performance. It is there whether anyone ever notices or tries to find out.” According to Aristotle, “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but, a habit.” And so it was with Basil.

A personification of habitual excellence, Basil Nnanna Ukegbu, PhD(Lond), born 88 years ago,  under very ordinary circumstances at Immerienwe in Ngor Okpala Local Government area of Imo State, had always manifested excellence since his infancy. His studies at  St. Patrick’s College, Ikot Ansa, Calabar (SPACO), brought out the best in him. Whereas students spent five years ordinarily to do the Senior Cambridge School Certificate examination, Basil sat for and passed London Matriculation (known to be superior to Senior Cambridge School Certificate) after only three years sojourn in SPACO,  a  rare academic feat. On leaving SPACO, he took up teaching appointment, while studying for a degree by correspondence. In record time, he sat for and passed the Bachelor of Arts degree of the University of London.

A great believer in education, rather than join the civil service, as was fashionable at the historic time, he founded a secondary school modeled after SPACO at  his home town of Immerienwe. The great and broad mind that he was, rather than name the school after his home, he called it Owerri Grammar School, a clear manifestation of his largeness of heart.

In furtherance of his life ambition to promote science and technology in Africa, it is on record that he was the first Nigerian to think of a private university and in fact opened a technical university at Immerienwe. However, lack of vision, jealousy and ignorance conspired to sabotage his efforts.

A man that was always  driven by his own conviction, he moved at his own pace ignoring all distractions and defying all negative forces and scaling through all obstacles in his avowed belief that we can be beaten not by circumstances,  but only by ourselves, and that if we fall down seven times we should get up eight.

In public service, he excelled demonstrably beyond all Nigerian expectation. As Chairman of the Governing Council of the Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Owerri, he proved that, in Nigeria, public money could be judiciously used, when he built the many hostels in the college at about half the cost of those built before his tenure. He accomplished this feat within six months through his resource conversion efficiency maximisation strategy. Impressed by that performance, the Academic Board decided to name the hostels after him,  but he rejected the offer on the ground that it would be immoral to do so while he was still in office. Thus, when he was rigged out of election that he contested for governorship of Imo State, those who blocked him out of the office were the greatest enemies of  progress in Imo State.  He would have made all the difference through his well articulated economic  programme which could have struck a miraculous chord.

His life ambition was to lead a bloodless revolution to transform Africa to catch up with Europe and America technologically in this millennium. Even as he  aged and  progressively wore a frail body, the revolutionary fire in him did not dim.

Basil was an indefatigable civil right crusader and he started being so from SPACO where he resisted corporal punishment by his immediate senior students of just one class above his own (of which I was one),  which he saw as a violation of his fundamental human right. When Abacha frightened Nigerians, Basil dared and defied the brutish maximum dictator when he staged a one-man demonstration by even sleeping in the open opposite the Assumpta Cathedral in Owerri.

As a member of the Federal House of Representatives, he was a fearless legislator who presented his views with courage borne out of knowledge and patriotic conviction.  On January 12, 1966, even as Chief Whip of the then ruling party, he moved a vote of no confidence on the government for failing to address a serious security situation in Nigeria of  the historic time. Three days  after he moved that motion, on January 15, 1966,  the army struck. A man of principle, he rejected a ministerial appointment offered to him by the then Administrator of the East Central State, Ukpabi Asika, himself an old boy of SPACO.

To summarise, Basil was an erudite scholar, a patriotic parliamentarian, a fearless and selfless leader of people, a human right crusader, an accomplished academic giant, a man full of what President Bush the father calls “the vision thing”, a practical community worker, the best governor that Imo State never had, and above all,  a Patrician among Patricians,  who did SPACO proud by living up to the highest ideals of our college motto: cor mundum, manus firma, verbum constans (Clean heart, strong hand, reliable word).

May the good Lord who heals broken hearts take care of Basil’s family and all those who are touched by his death.  May He help and comfort them always, increase their faith, dispel their fears, revive their hope and lift them from the darkness of their grief to the light of His presence, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

And may the soul of Basil and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

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AFRICA

Gabon President Ali Bongo recovering from an undisclosed illness in Saudi Arabia

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Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba is recovering from an undisclosed illness in Saudi Arabia and still performing his duties, according to a statement released on Sunday amid mounting speculation about his health.

The issue is a particularly sensitive one in the Central African nation. When Bongo’s father died in 2009 after more than four decades in power, Gabonese officials angrily denied French media reports of his death for almost a day, and shut down the internet in the country for several hours.

The statement said that Ali Bongo was suffering dizziness at his hotel in Riyad, Saudi Arabia on Oct. 24 when he sought medical care at King Faysal Hospital.

The information about the president’s health is “extremely reassuring” and the president “continues to perform his duties,” the presidency said.

The communique came amid a swirl of rumors over the president’s health back home in the Central African nation. Some media reports suggested that Bongo had suffered a stroke, though government spokesman Ike Ngouoni cautioned people about “fake news”.

“It would be in his interest entirely to make his presence. I think they’re not putting him in front of the cameras intentionally,” said Douglas A. Yates, a Paris-based Gabon expert.

One of the world’s largest producers of oil, Gabon’s wealth is far from evenly distributed. About a third of the population, estimated to be below 2 million people, live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

The elder Bongo, who ruled the oil-rich nation from 1967 until his 2009 death, was viewed by many as the father of the nation. His time in power, though, was dogged by allegations of corruption and the use of oil profits for personal luxuries, including properties in several European and American cities, and lavish trips abroad.

Ali Bongo won a special presidential election that was held a few months after his father’s death. The opposition claimed it was rigged.

In 2016, protesters took to the streets of the capital, Libreville, and the Parliament building was burned after Bongo’s opponent, Jean Ping, accused Bongo of vote-rigging. The European Union, the United States, and France also expressed concerns about some of the results. Gabon’s constitutional court later upheld Bongo’s victory. AP

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Nigerian army posts Trump video to justify shooting muslim Shiites

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Nigeria’s army (has) posted a video of US President Donald Trump saying soldiers would shoot migrants throwing stones to justify opening fire on a Shiite group (last) week.

In the video, Trump warns that soldiers deployed to the Mexican border could shoot Central American migrants who throw stones at them while attempting to cross illegally.

“We’re not going to put up with that. They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back,” said Trump in remarks made on Thursday.

“I told them (troops) consider it (a rock) a rifle. When they throw rocks like they did at the Mexican military and police, I say consider it a rifle.”

Nigeria’s defence spokesman John Agim told AFP that the army posted the video in response to criticism that its security forces had acted unlawfully.

The Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) said 49 of its members were killed after the army and police fired live bullets at crowds who marched near and in the capital Abuja. The army’s official death toll was six.

Amnesty International said Wednesday it had “strong evidence” that police and soldiers used automatic weapons against IMN members and killed about 45 people in an “unconscionable use of deadly force by soldiers and police”.

The United States embassy in Nigeria said Thursday it was “concerned” and called for an investigation.

“The video was posted in reaction to the Amnesty International report accusing the army of using weapons against pacifist Shiite protesters…. Not only did they use stones but they were carrying petrol bombs, machetes and knives, so yes, we consider them as being armed,” said Agim.

“We intervened only because the IMN members are trying to harm our people, they are always meeting us…at security check points and trying to provoke us, they even burned a police vehicle.”

Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, is almost evenly split between a mostly Muslim north — which is predominantly Sunni — and a largely Christian south.

Experts have warned the government that a heavy-handed response to the group risks sparking conflict in a volatile region where poverty is widespread.

IMN leader Ibrahim Zakzaky has been in custody since 2015, when an army crackdown killed 300 of his supporters who were buried in mass graves, according to rights groups.

Zakzaky is facing a culpable homicide charge in connection with the 2015 violence. He remains in jail despite a court order granting him bail.

On Thursday, 120 of 400 IMN members arrested by police on Monday were  charged with “rioting, disturbance of public peace and causing hurt,” said a court official in Abuja on Friday.

According to court documents seen by AFP, the IMN members had been ordered to disperse but they “refused and started throwing stones at the police officers and other members of the public and thereby caused them bodily harm”.

All the suspects pleaded not guilty and were granted bail with the court hearing to resume on December 5.

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U.S calls on Nigeria to investigate killings of Shiite muslims by soldiers

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The United States embassy in Nigeria said on Thursday it was “concerned” and called for an investigation after supporters of an imprisoned Shiite cleric were killed in clashes with security forces.

The Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) said 49 of its members were killed this week after the army and police fired live bullets at crowds who marched near and in the capital Abuja, calling into doubt the military’s official death toll of six.

“The United States embassy is concerned by the deaths resulting from clashes between Nigerian security forces and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria in areas surrounding Abuja,” said the US embassy in a statement.

“We urge government of Nigeria authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of the events and to take appropriate action to hold accountable those responsible for violations of Nigerian law. We urge restraint on all sides,” it added.

Amnesty International said on Wednesday it had “strong evidence” that police and soldiers used automatic weapons against IMN members and killed about 45 people.

“We have seen a shocking and unconscionable use of deadly force by soldiers and police against IMN members,” said Amnesty’s Nigeria director Osai Ojigho.

Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, is almost evenly split between a mostly Muslim north – which is predominantly Sunni – and a largely Christian south.

Experts have warned the government that a heavy-handed response to the group risks sparking conflict in a volatile region where poverty is widespread.

IMN leader Ibrahim Zakzaky has been in custody since 2015, when an army crackdown killed 300 of his supporters, who were buried in mass graves, according to human rights groups.

Zakzaky is facing a culpable homicide charge in connection with the 2015 violence, and is in jail despite a court order granting him bail. ref: AFP

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