So, Senator John McCain finally lost the battle. The war veteran won many battles and lost a few. Notably, he lost the presidential election to Barack Obama. Now he has lost another battle to death, the grim reaper. But, this was one battle everyone expected him to lose sooner or later. So, the real deal is not that he lost the battle to death but that he fought gallantly to the end, as always. One of the greatest features of a courageous life is how we face dangers and uncertainties. And the gravest danger is the prospect of death. We may theorize about death but when we face death we manifest equanimity or lack of it; and that is our courage barometer.
The McCain’s family announced that the courageous fighter had decided to stop his medication and face the prospect of death. The announcement has McCain’s signature clarity of mind and principled action. All his public life, McCain manifested clear-minded commitment to public good. He may have made questionable or disputable policy choices, but no one could reasonably argue that he acted with less passion for the good of the American people and the defense of the values of the American way of life. He was a stateman and public officer par excellence.
Many prominent public officers in the United States were inspired by Senator McCain’s profile of courage in public life. The man who denied him the ultimate victory at the presidential polls, Senator Barack Obama, has penned a respectful tribute to the heroism and principle with which McCain served the American people as soldier and as a six-term senator of Arizona. There is a bipartisan admiration for his life of principle and courage. But McCain’s admirers and proteges are all over the world. In Nigeria. one prominent admirer is the former Senate President, Ken Nnamani.
Many people enjoyed the debacle of the infamous Third Term Plot of the Obasanjo presidency. The plot was a conspiracy by some political operatives to violate the constitutional bedrock of the Nigerian democracy by amending the constitution to secure a third term for President Obasanjo. It was a time Nigeria was dragged into a cliff-hanger. If the plot succeeded, we would most probably have lost our democracy. The nation was divided right to the middle and one man had an important decision to make. That man was the Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Many of the federal legislators have been allegedly bribed with N50million each to say yes to the proposed constitutional amendment. Some legislators, especially from northern Nigeria, have lined up on the opposing side.
As a Strategy Adviser to the Senate President, I had watched the unfolding tragedy and knew we were at the cusp of history, a stage in history when we either display leadership and save the commonwealth or act timorously and selfishly and plunge the country into avoidable conflicts. As they say, in the smokes of war it is difficult to see the path to victory. I agonized on the options and confronted Senator Ken Nnamani with a challenge I thought he would find difficult to handle. But, I was missing something. As I was agonizing about how to deal with the crisis, Senator Nnamani was steeling himself for enormous responsibility of leadership.
My message to Senator Nnamani was very simply: “you are about to become a hero or a villain. If you uphold due process you will be a hero. If you falter you will be ruined”. I suggested to him to deliver a speech that restated the primacy of legislative due process. His role in the debacle will be to act as an impartial legislative umpire and allow the Senator debate and vote in public glare. This led to the introduction of live telecast and the requirement that each Senator openly state his or her view on the proposed amendment. Senator Nnamani rose to the occasion. He delivered his script courageous and saved the Republic from dangerous political brinkmanship.
But, what many never knew was that by the time Senator Nnamani was to make the most important decision of his senate presidency he was reading Senator John McCain book, “Why Courage Matters”. A memorable line there stuck to his mind: “Courage is not the absence of fear but the determination to act in spite of the fear”. Ken etched this counsel in his mind throughout those days of intense threat and seduction. He faced down the threat of the leadership of the party and the government and trudged on the path of integrity. I sent him a note urging him to hold strong and uphold legislative due process, he wrote back to me: “Sam, even if they put a gun to my head, I will not budge”. At that point, I knew McCain has got his man.
It was fitting that when Ken Nnamani had a tour of honour to the US Congress after his exemplary leadership, he happily went to Senator John McCain. We posed for a picture with the legendary senator in his chamber. As we returned to our hotel room, Senator Nnamani never tired of complimenting the courage of John McCain. He reread the speech I wrote for him on the day that the Third Term collapsed and giggled anytime he got to the quote from John McCain. Clearly, John McCain’s heroic life and courageous legislative service inspired Senator Ken Nnamani to try to recover dignity and honor for the Senate and save Nigerian democracy.
We may never understand how much a life of integrity travels or who get inspired to save her universe. Ken Nnamani read McCain and got inspired to save Nigerian democracy. His heroics reminded me of a memorable experience when I served Chief Gani Fawehinmi as legal associate and collaborator in the formation of National Conscience Party (NCP). On the eve of the declaration of National Conscience (NC) we got so many death threats and pleas for Gani to abort the declaration to avoid General Abacha’s brutal repression. As we sat drinking tea in his chamber late at night, like Nnamani, Gani brooded on what was at stake and reaffirmed he would declare a political party in defiance of General Abacha. Once again the truth resonated: Courage is not the absence of fear but the determination to act despite the fear”.
Thank you, John McCain. Good night.