The charming and confident middle-aged man had savoured what he thought was the greatest moment of his life. Before the full glare of television light, he had been sworn in as a member of the Constitution Review Committee, CRC, by President Ibrahim Babangida. The ceremony, he recalls, was very elaborate. Elite ceremonial guards had turned the scene at the palatial NICON Noga Hilton Hotel, Abuja, into something of a Buckingham Palace. Floral decorations, dangling chandeliers, as well as glossy green-white-green flags, danced gently inside the exquisite conference hall. Seated already with him and chatting in whispers were fellow CRC members, their relations, top officers of state and a large crowd of pressmen.He remembers the brisk and colourful arrival of the president, escorted by a cavalry of ceremonial guards. “Ladies and gentlemen” a dashing protocol officer had announced, “the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” A standing welcome. The national anthem. Everyone was back to his seat.
He remembers himself standing before the president, sober and happy, with a Bible in his right hand and the text of the oath in the other hand. He can still hear his strong sonorous voice ringing through the microphone: “I, Asuquo Sam Inyang, do hereby swear… So help me God.” The applause that followed and the signature he scribbled on the register are still very fresh in his mind. Most of all, he remembers the president pumping his hand in congratulation and the private discussion he and other CRC members had with the president soon after the ceremony. Pensive, he also remembers the horde of reporters and photographers seeking interviews and struggling to take his picture. He sighs, pulls himself together and tries to sleep off. He couldn’t.
His mind wanders further. He remembers the joy that descended on his family when he returned from the swearing-in ceremony. His mind flashes back to the celebrations and congratulatory letters he received from his friends, colleagues and relations. In agony, he turns once more on his bed and tries to figure out how his wife, children and family can quickly handle and overcome the embarrassing situation. No solution. He sighs again, and tries to sleep. Again he couldn’t. Daybreak.
For Inyang, 47, the headmaster of the Army Children School, Rainbow Town, Port Harcourt, trouble started on the night of September 2. He was watching the network news with his family, when the names of those appointed to serve on the CRC were announced. One of the manes was A. S. Inyang. “They were my full initials and surname, and many people who saw it started coming around to congratulate me,” Inyang said. Somehow, Inyang managed to maintain his calm, asking those who wanted the appointment to be celebrated to wait till he could confirm it.
The next day, the same names appeared in most newspapers. Greeted by a barrage of congratulations everywhere he went, Inyang headed for the federal ministry of information’s office at Port Harcourt to find out whether he was, indeed, the appointee. The ministry did not know. Inyang was advised to try the governor’s office. The governor’s office did not have the list either.
A rather cautious person, he decided to wait for his letter of appointment. But his friends told him that appointees were notified via television, radio and newspapers, to report at the NICON Noga Hilton Hotel, Abuja, September 6, for the swearing-in on September 7. On his persistent argument that he knew nobody who would have recommended him, many people reminded him that he is a teacher of pupils, some of whose parents are ranking army officers in the government. They may have wanted to compensate his 14 years as a teacher of their children, the argument went.
On September 6, Inyang left for Abuja. On presenting himself and his identity card at the hotel, he was checked in along with other appointees. A decorated elevator lifted the man to his exquisite fifth floor suite. “It was at that point that I thought if I was not the right person I would have been so told,” Inyang recalled.
At the swearing-in ceremony the following morning, the man took time to pronounce his names in full. “I, Asuquo Sam Inyang…” There was no sign something was wrong or out of order. In an interview with Newswatch in his tastefully furnished suite that evening, Inyang did not hide his appreciation for the unknown person who recommended him. “I am still surprised,” he said. “I feel deeply honoured to serve my country at this level. Another member of the CRC, Awwalu Yadudu, a lecturer at Bayero University, Kano, spoke in the same vein: “I am quite surprised. I was very reluctant to come here. There are so many Awwalu Yadudu and I may not have been the one appointed.”
Yadudu was right. There was another A. S. Inyang, too. One month after Inyang was sworn in, the other Inyang surfaced. As it happened, he was the right Inyang.
After the CRC’s inaugural session the committee took a four-week break to enable the public to send in memoranda. On resumption October 4, Inyang returned to Abuja. He was accorded all the protocol due all CRC members and was checked into the Agura Hotel with his colleagues. Thirty minutes later, he heard a tap on his door. Trouble was knocking. Thinking it was probably one of his CRC colleagues, he put aside the constitutional documents he was reading and opened the door. A stern-looking man, who said he was an officer of the CRC, walked into the room. “There is a mix-up somewhere, Sir. You have to check out of the hotel now. You were wrongly sworn in. The right person in Anyang Sylvester Inyang.”
Inyang, for once, wished it was all a dream. It wasn’t. He paced around the hotel room, shocked and consumed by distress. “I became restless. I tried to say something but was so confused. Then I managed to tell the man, they should have written to me at Port Harcourt during the break since they had my address. Then I tried to phone some of the CRC members. It was the height of embarrassment in my life.”
On October 10, Inyang, still restless, wrote to L. M. Okunnu, the cabinet office permanent secretary in charge of the CRC. He got no reply. Five days later, the headmaster telephoned Okunnu, again to ask for an official explanation of his predicament. The woman told him not to “bother” her, but to wait for the letter. On November 19, more than two months after Inyang had been sworn in, the letter finally arrived in Port Harcourt. It said Inyang’s swearing-in was an “error.”
“Look at the situation this way,” Inyang told Newswatch, “I took six months to leave of absence. A colleague was appointed to take my position as headmaster, on an acting basis. Then, suddenly, everything crashed. How do I explain that? I feel ashamed. I need something to take me out of the scene for a while. Really, I need the break, if you know how I feel.”
The case of the headmaster is not unique. It has only attempted to bring into focus the unfortunate system of making key government appointments via television and radio, without the slightest consultation with those appointed. A few years ago, a prominent community leader in Kwara State was hospitalized after an experience similar to that of headmasters. His name was announced on television and radio as one of the newly appointed commissioners. That night, the entire community and his friends as far as Ilorin, the state capital, descended on his house.
There was a big party, which lasted throughout the night. The next day, the man, accompanied by his family and a large crowd, went for the swearing-in ceremony. Shockingly enough, he was not the one appointed and virtually had to be dragged out of the venue of the ceremony by the security men. Late Obafemi Awolowo, the respected Nigerian statesman, rejected an “appointment by radio” in 1976 to serve in the constitution drafting committee because he was not consulted. As one observer argues: “This is a very disrespectful way of making key appointments. This is certainly not a serious way to run a government.”