Can one moment of madness undo a lifetime of hard-earned reputation? This question is at the heart of Nigeria’s relationship with former Zimbabwe President, Robert Mugabe, who passed away last week at the age of 95 in Singapore. Why Singapore, by the way, and not nearby South Africa or Europe? The old man didn’t trust many in those places.
Not many people know that Robert Mugabe and Nigeria once had a very cordial relationship. Things were so rosy that the authorities caused an honorary doctoral degree to be awarded to him by Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria in the early 80s. But things went south and sour because Nigeria let him down.
Prior to that moment Nigeria could do no wrong. Her reputation was sky-high. And it was not necessarily because of her huge contributions to the Liberation Committee set up by the Organization of African Unity, specifically for the liberation of Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and other countries. Clearly, the Liberation Committee was the biggest catalyst in Zimbabwe’s quest for Independence.
Mugabe was so impressed by the intelligence and work of Nigeria’s Lamine Mathiden, the secretary of the Liberation Committee that he specifically requested for him as Nigeria’s ambassador to Zimbabwe, a request which Nigeria obliged him. He became Nigeria’s first ambassador to Zimbabwe.
Other things about Nigeria impressed Mugabe until the moment, when a dead fly was found in the apothecary, as it were. Until the moment when what he considered a wrong decision smeared all he once admired.
Can one moment of madness undo a lifetime of hard-earned reputation? The answer from history, is yes! We could lose all, squander all goodwill, and a great reputation in one moment of madness.
For Mugabe, that moment of madness for Nigeria was the coup of December 31st, 1983. He lost every respect he had for Nigeria after that incident. He discounted whatever reputation Nigeria once had in his books on the altar of that moment. Nothing Nigeria did afterwards appealed to him. That was his level of disappointment with Nigeria.
Unfortunately, as time passed, until the time of his departure last week, Nigerian couldn’t quite regain the previous high in his books. Maybe because we felt, he was not qualified to pontificate on matters of reputation. Or on matters of disappointment or letting down others. You know what they say that he who comes to equity must come with clean hands. Perhaps, many are emboldened to indulge in acts of impunity if they believe they are not the only guilty ones. Is there any possibility that we didn’t regain the previous high ground because of this attitude? That feeling that no one can point a finger at the rest of us. That we are all
together guilty? That Mugabe could not talk about disappointing, betraying or letting down others seeing what he, himself had done to the founder and leader of the ZANU party, Rev Ndabaningi Sithole, while he cooled his heels in prison on the orders of Ian Smith. That Ndabaningi Sithole, felt exactly the same way, he claimed he felt about the 1983 coup. It may not have been called a coup but didn’t Ndabaningi Sithole feel betrayed and disappointed when Mugabe carved out the Patriotic Front from the ZANU party, and rode the platform to victory, defeating him and others at the presidential elections?