Something akin to an epiphany happened to me this morning. I was at the Owerri airport yesterday, bound for the 1PM DANA AIR flight to Abuja, which was eventually cancelled around 8PM, after we had waited for well over 7 hours, and rescheduled for 9AM today.
The ensuing problem was how to get a hotel around the airport, pass the night, and still make it back to the airport early enough to beat the “sit at home” clamped by IPOB on the Southeast to spite the visiting President; the consequences of being nabbed violating such ESN/IPOB decrees are deadly, as everyone now knows.
It turned out that all the hotels in the vicinity of the airport were fully booked. But we found one at Naze, near Owerri, on the Owerri – Aba Road, and eventually went to bed around 1AM. Before going to bed, I read a comment by Uzukwu Patrick Eze suggesting that the President was no longer coming in person, but had detailed Vice President Osinbajo to represent him. My spirit sank tremendously at the news, and I was sad, and appalled; appalled that the President had yielded to fear, and more appalled that in spurning Buhari inspite of the faint gesture of friendship embodied by the proposed visit, after a long frosty relationship, the Igbo had let bitterness define them.
That was the state of mind in which I went to bed, worrying that I might oversleep and miss my 6AM appointment with the airport taxi driver. ESN gunmen eventually solved this particular problem for me: on our way to the airport, they confronted us. One well – aimed shot to my forehead shattered my skull and woke me from my deep slumber around 5AM! Trembling, I jerked myself up from the bed, as reality dawned on me that it was all a dream, and proceeded to the bathroom to shower.
During the early morning trip back to the airport, we sighted from afar a group of “gunmen” along the expressroad, and my heart almost leapt out of its casement. You can imagine my relief when it turned out they were policemen!
At the airport departure hall, people gathered in groups, discussing how IPOB had prevailed, and forced Buhari to abandon the visit; most of them were Abuja bound DANA passengers who had passed the night at the airport, as a precaution. The mood was sombre.
We were in that mood when two white presidential jets landed in quick succession at the airport, and taxied to the presidential wing. I joined the crowd that surged out of the departure hall to the nearer precincts of the tarmac to catch a glimpse of the August visitor, who we all assumed was the Vice President.
As the door of the larger presidential aircraft opened, and the tall, ramrod figure began to descend, bedecked in a royal red cap and the Isiagu dress, holding aloft an elephant tusk in greeting, there was no mistaking who he was, even from that distance! I am no admirer of this President, as everyone knows, but I found myself joining, inexorably, in the spontaneous applause that ensued as we beheld the magnificent figure of Muhammadu Buhari, President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
Buhari’s visit to Owerri reminded me of late President Anwar Sadat’s November, 1977 historic visit to Israel, during which he addressed the Israeli Knesset. As the Egyptian President addressed that August Jewish body, the first by an Arab leader, after centuries of wars and hostilities, he held in his right hand an olive branch, while a holstered pistol was visibly strapped to his waist.
I thought I saw an “Olive Branch” in Muhammadu Buhari’s Isiagu dress!
Kenneth Ikonne, SAN