The English poet and painter William Blake (1757-1827) once said, “A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent.” In Nigeria today, truth is one of the scarcest commodities, especially, in public life, even though it is something we must have to give meaning to our existence. The Bible says in John 8: 32 (KJV), “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
The Bible does not say that you shall be born with the truth, rather it says you shall know or be acquainted with the truth.
One of the biggest problems with governance in Nigeria today is the illusion among political leaders or public officials that they have the whole truth and anyone who tries to see any other truth is simply an enemy of the leadership or does not mean well for the country. Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe’s quarrel with Wednesday’s remarks by Senate President David Mark and House of Representatives Speaker Aminu Tambuwal at the presentation of the 2013 budget fits perfectly into the above description.
At the budget presentation by President Goodluck Jonathan to the National Assembly on Wednesday, Mark and Tambuwal had shared deep reservations about the executive’s commitment to a thorough implementation of the current year’s budget. Mark told the president not to expect the lawmakers to “robotically pass budget estimates as presented,” with Tambuwal adding, “Mr. President, let me restate our assurances that the National Assembly wants you to succeed and I say that for every legislator here today. The stakes are certainly high and as representatives of the people we know exactly how bad things are.”
To many Nigerians who watched the budget presentation ceremony that Wednesday, the National Assembly leaders’ remarks were fair-minded observations made in an atmosphere of camaraderie. The president himself seemed to be touched by the genuineness of the observations when at the end of Tambuwal’s vote of thanks he walked up to the speaker and personally collected the speech.
But the full and frank discussion of national issues that took place on Wednesday was tainted by the exchange of brickbat instigated by Okupe the following day.
“What was clearly a masterly presentation of a commendable development agenda...was nearly marred by some unnecessary scathing remarks by the leadership of the National Assembly,” Okupe stated at a press conference in Abuja. It was clearly one of the most pointless and contradictory ripostes by a presidential aide since the Jonathan presidency, perhaps, second only to Dr. Reuben Abati’s musings last February over a presidential stoning.
But Okupe contradicted himself when in his statement he recognised that stakeholders in any free society will continue to worry at societal problems until they are resolved.
“In a healthy democracy there is exchange of ideas and deliberations over various national issues until reasonable agreements are made,” he stated. If he realised that much why then did he hold court just to belabour those who had proposed ideas to enrich the national discourse?
The truth is that most Nigerians see and feel the things those who can speak and be heard complain about the Jonathan administration. Nigerians want change and improvement in the way they live, and it is only when the issues that stand in the way of positive change are subjected to debate in the public space that suitable solutions can be arrived at. The phobia or aversion for debate and criticism among Nigerian public officers is robbing the country vital opportunities for development. The penchant for lying – even to self – and covering the truth is not doing Nigeria any good.
Recently, for instance, United States President Barack Obama acknowledged he had a “bad night” during a presidential debate. It was a truth that the whole world saw and Obama knew trying to prevaricate around it would have been a very injurious adventure.
Jonathan and his men must give truth free rein for the integrity of the leadership and in the interest of the country. Truth, no matter the bad intentions the president’s men may see behind it, will always prevail over the lies that hold the system in bondage.
—Vincent Obia firstname.lastname@example.org