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On telling the truth

If David Mulford had met Charles Igoh things might have turned out differently. Chief Igoh, to give him his due, was Press Adviser to President Shehu Shagari in Nigeria in the early 1980s, writes Karan Thapar.

india Updated: Feb 05, 2006 04:50 IST
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If David Mulford had met Charles Igoh things might have turned out differently. Chief Igoh, to give him his due, was Press Adviser to President Shehu Shagari in Nigeria in the early 1980s. It was an era they call the Second Republic, although how different it was to the preceding military dictatorship is debatable. But Charles, as I knew him, was unique. Short, plump, with a prominent cigar in his mouth, he was not a genius but he was exceedingly wise. Sadly, I only discovered this after our relations had started to sour.

At the time I was The Times's correspondent in Lagos. I was 25 and rather inexperienced. So, not surprisingly, my despatches to London were often riddled with mistakes or, at least, infelicitous judgements.

On such occasions Charles would be very understanding. "Naughty, naughty," he would mutter without bothering to remove the cigar from his lips. His gentle admonition never spelt out how wrong he thought I was. Stupidly I never took the hint.

One day Charles's patience seemed to snap although you would never have thought so from his manner or tone. The Shagari government was passing through multiple crises and the Nigerian press was particularly loud and shrill. My despatches to London seemed to echo this cacophony.

Charles rang to invite me for coffee. We met at his office. The cigar, half lit, was reassuringly in its place. But, on this occasion, he seemed disturbed.

"I'm disappointed." Charles paused but I wasn't sure what to say so I kept silent.

He flicked his ash before continuing. "I had great hopes. You're Indian, we're Nigerian. You have caste, we have tribe. I thought you would understand us."

"What's the problem?" That there was one was obvious but I couldn't fathom what it might be.

"Simply this. You're as bad as the Americans. Just because you know the truth doesn't mean you know how to tell it!"

This time I was quick on the uptake. Even combative. "Does it matter? Surely it's the truth that counts? Not how you put it?"