Saturday, September 24, 2005

On the passing of Chima Ubani

I join many Nigerians and lovers of freedom and justice worldwide in mourning the death of Chima Ubani, Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Organisation who died this week in an automobile acciddent, after a protest rally against the increase in petrol price in Nigeria to N65.00 (about 26p) per litre. For a country where over 70% of the population still survives on about 75p per day, paying 26p per litre of petrol is not amusing.

Obviously the people surviving on 75p per day probably don't have their own vehicles, but there is a knock-on effect. Public transport operators and taxi drivers who will pay more for petrol will no doubt increase fares. Cost of transporting goods will increase forcing prices of everything in shops.

It is easy to say that Nigerians should appreciate the global rise in petrol prices. The stuff is nosing towards £1 (about N250) per litre in the United Kingdom for instance. However, it is not easy to convince a people whose country is the world's 8th largest oil producer that they should be paying so much for petrol.

What I am not sure about is if this unfortunate death of Mr Ubani will make the Nigerian government reverse the price increase. It is very unlikely that this will happen. If the increase is a necessary and unavoidable financial drive, it most likely will stick. We will see.

As for Ubani, I never met the man personally. I saw him several times at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, but we were never introduced and never spoke to each other. I liked his politics however. He had spirit and power and a courage that seemed at odds with his small build. People who admired him and revered him made comments like 'great things come in small packages' while the more cynical said 'Small shit wey dey spoil nyash'. Not everybody likes a great one amd Ubani was one. I recall that when my friend Benedict Iheanacho who has since joined the US Army, took part in student union demonstrations and were cracked down by the government's security forces, we teased him and asked him if he thought he was Ubani. In a way, the man's name became synonimous with protest and with resistance against the unjust.

What I can say is that having read the mountains of tributes written to the fallen hero in the press, and in discussion groups, it goes to show why we must make our time on earth count. Look at the end, at our funerals, when our days stop breathing, what will people say? Will they have only good words for us, or would they say 'good riddance'?.

Everybody has good words for Chima Ubani today, except perhaps for some goons of the Nigerian government who felt that he was a thorn on their side. I hope for the safety of their souls that Ubani indeed died in an accident and was not killed as his widow, Ochuwa, alleges.

I wish you, Chima Ubani, a speedy return to live your earthly live again.


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