Unto ‘official tenants’ in government houses
“He sets forth a Parable: a city enjoying security and prosperity, abundantly supplied with sustenance from every place: Yet it was ungrateful for His favours: so He made it taste of hunger and terror (in extremes) …because of the (evil) which (its people) wrought.” (Quran 16:113)
IF the fetus were given insights into the wombs that would bear them, or the land on which they would be raised, or the country in which they would become citizens, it is likely that none would chose Nigeria of today. No human being, living in the 21st century would prefer to live in a country where there is no constant electricity supply, where water is scarce, where security is a rarity.
One does not need to travel out of this country before one knows that what other countries would imagine does not exist actually flourishes here. Nigeria is that country in which the moon rises at dawn and the sun emerges at dusk; this is a country where children grow grey hairs at birth. Nigeria is probably the only country in the world today where an accused would make ‘triumphal’ entry into the court house and would be serenaded by a coterie of vainglorious comrades and compradors. It does not matter how insuperable the infraction is; every evil-doer in this clime is an ‘hero’ in his village.
It did not occur to me that it would be 55 years since this country attained flag independence from the British until I received invitation to participate in a special radio interview whose producer wanted to regal his audience with memories of the distant past. Brethren, each time this country marks its independence, I always suffer amnesia. Each time we are reminded that my country is ‘free’ I become sad over the opportunities those who have once led this country have frittered away.
Brother, a visit to some countries in Asia with which Nigeria attained flag independence in 1960 would remind you of how far behind your country is: the road network in Kuala Lumpur inferiorizes the ones in New York; the infrastructure in Singapore challenges the ones in London. You would ask yourself while you are being driven out of the airport: what is wrong with our stars? Immediately you would remember, in Shakespearan manner, that the fault lies not in our stars but in us.
Thus when my attention was called to the 55th anniversary of this nation, I asked myself: where is the nation? Nigeria of today is like an envelope without any address on it. Until recently, this country has been superintended by men and women some of whom were not fit to take charge of a cottage; Nigeria has had the ill-luck of producing government functionaries whose minds are like a soup dish, wide and shallow; a muskeg of mediocrity.
They travel round the world, spend our national resources in profligate manner only to come back to this country totally incapable of replicating the good things they experience outside the shores of this land. Thus this nation has become, in line with Frantz Fanon, an hungry land: a land which is hungry for food, hungry for water, hungry for shelter and hungry for security. Yes, Nigeria is ‘hungry’ for electricity and good roads; it is ‘hungry’ for dignity. Yes! Time it was when Ghanaians had to come here before they could survive.
Time it was when students in tertiary institutions would have to be waited on by the laundry officers, when students’ cafeterias were full of assorted meals. I equally remember with nostalgia that at a time during my teenage years, condensed milk, Uncle Ben’s rice and other assorted food items some of which have now become ‘monuments’ in our national museum were within reach of the rich and the poor. But those days are gone. This is the reason I now suffer from amnesia.
My sister, aside from other myriad of challenges which continue to face this country, it is axiomatic that ineffective leadership is perhaps the most fundamental cog in the wheel of progress of Nigeria as a nation. If you doubt this, compare Benin or Oshodi of today with the Oshodi and Benin of ten years ago. The point being made is this: we need a Prince who will take this country on to the golden road of Samarkand; a leader who would not sacrifice progress and future development of this country on the altar of parochial political considerations and patronage.
The archetypes of the leaders this country should have are embodied in Islamic history. Yes, we need to have our own “Muhammad”: a man with smallness of means but greatness of purpose. Yes we need to have our own Umar b. Khattab: a leader whose presence would illuminate the dark recesses of our polity. Dear brother, the ambassador of Rome once came to pay Umar a visit. He said, “O attendants, where is the palace of the Caliph, that I may take my horse and baggage there?” The folk said to him, “He has no palace; ‘Umar’s only palace is an illumined spirit. Though he is famous as Commander of the Faithful, his only dwelling is a hut, like that of the poor’”.
But our leaders of today live in pseudo-prisons they call government houses. The President lives inside the “rock”; the masses live inside the “dust”; our governors are “protected” by soldiers who stand at the door, by machine guns mounted at the gate and are accompanied all around the village with armored-carriers. Is it not true that though we have civilian President and Governors, the latter are actually civilians living inside the ‘barracks’ and gated courtyards? Once they get into government houses, the one who was born in the backwaters of our village would quickly forget his origin; the protocol officers would decide who and what he should see, what he should eat and how he should talk. All these ensure that those in charge of our affairs are disconnected from us; they lose touch with reality.
Umar ibn AbdulAziz once heard that one of his sons had purchased a valuable jewel for one thousand dirhams. So he wrote to him: “I have heard that you have bought a gem for one thousand dirhams. When this letter reaches you, sell the ring and fill one thousand stomachs.
Then make a ring out of two dirhams, make its stone out of Chinese iron, and write upon it, ‘God bestows His mercy upon the one who knows his true value”. A governor in one of the states in the South Western part of this country was once informed of the dissolute life being led by one of his children. He then retorted: “Please allow those children to enjoy themselves; they have all suffered with their father before; it is time for them to enjoy”!
If indeed the streets of Madina continue to dazzle and titillate our cognition each time we set our foot on its terraces, it should also awaken us to the fact that humans like us, not angels, are making it happen. This county is like a bird in our hands: whether it will die, survive or prosper, the bird is firmly within our grasp. (08122465111 for texts messages only)