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Of sycophancy and the Nigerian dream

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Baloney! Balderdash! Those are the words

That best describe the utterance of the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Hameed Ali, when he stated the other day that only lazy Nigerians would claim to be hungry under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Ali, who led members of the Buhari Support Organisation to the Presidential Villa to enumerate Buhari’s purported achievements in agriculture and express a re-election support, was quoted as saying: ìWhat more can we say in terms of growth of wealth?

People say we are hungry. Of course, the lazy must be hungry because if you do not work hard, manna doesn’t fall from heaven.î He went on to state further: ìAll we want to say on behalf of Nigerians is that we are solidly behind you in this second term bid.î

In view of the fact that the bid for re-election prompted the visit of the president’s supporters in the first place, it is clear from all intent and purpose that these statements were made within the context of sycophancy. This being the case, their intended message should be imbibed with caution and careful reflection.

Whilst it is true that such sycophantic comments as Ali’s are irritating, despicable and dishonourable, they also serve as interludes that should jolt the people to critical reflection.

Although it may be annoying that an elder would wallow comfortably in such demeaning drama of adulation, actions like his also reflect the abysmal level of misguidedness and misdirection being communicated to Nigerians.

However, if there is one thing Ali’s comments have done, it is to awaken Nigerians to raise questions about dreaming big in Nigeria. Is there a Nigerian Dream? Why is there not?

What do you need to create the Nigerian Dream? The principle of hardwork, to which every well-meaning nation subscribes, is captured by what popular culture calls the ‘American Dream.’

It is this: If you work hard and play to the rules, the society will take care of you or, at least, make it possible for you to take care of yourself. Does this principle apply in Nigeria in all cases?

Except the likes of Ali want Nigerians to cut corners, exploit the weakness of the system and engage in lawless and ignoble activities that lead to personal and selfish gains, he ought to tell the government of which he is part, the truth about the country.

True, Nigerians are hungry, but their hunger is beyond food. To define hunger as just lack of food, or starvation or deprivation, is to be simplistic about the multilevel hunger that afflicts a country like Nigeria. To say ‘Nigerians are hungry’ is to use a metaphor for hunger in all its ramification.

Nigerians are hungry for economic recovery, they are hungry for respect and dignity of their persons, they are hungry for security, for quality leadership, and for good governance. They are hungry!

In Nigeria where small scale business initiatives are frustrated by the absence of an enabling environment, where doing the right thing does not work for many people, it is insensitive to ascribe hunger to laziness.

Consider the long monthly queues of retired government workers, who are condemned to penury, hunger and lack because their pension is not paid as and when due.

Is it laziness that is the cause of their hunger? What about civil servants, some of whom in many states are owed salaries in arrears of one year? When such persons find themselves in lack and deprivation, is it because they are lazy?

Contractors are being owed huge sums by the government and its agencies; and some of the genuine ones amongst them might have deployed their life savings and borrowed from banks to execute government projects.

When they are denied payment, and they fall into a state of financial insecurity that puts them in hunger, the reasonable question to ask is ‘are they hungry because they are lazy?

What about the market women, who are frustrated by multiple taxes, insecurity, policy somersaults and stone-age infrastructure? What about the threatened health workers and teachers, whose take-home salaries cannot take them home?

These are hardworking Nigerians who have ideas, play by the rules and dream big about a prosperous Nigeria, but are yet to be cared for by the society.

It would be unfair and downright insensitive to dismiss such hardworking Nigerians as lazy, when the state refuses to play its part of the social contract by subjecting them to subhuman circumstances.

Like privileged army generals or officers of his generation, Hameed Ali has lived his life subsisting on the benevolence of the country and on the patience of Nigerians who continuously tolerate his foibles.

The least he can do to give respect to the Nigeria he has served, like some sensible retired generals would, is to cultivate some humility and be sensitive to the plight of hapless Nigerians, whose big dreams are punctured by systemic failure and poor leadership.

To people like him, Chinua Achebe’s words are instructive: Those whose palm kernels have been cracked by benevolent spirits should not take their good luck for granted.


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