GUEST COLUMNIST: Elnathan John
El-Rufai on Friday – Introducing YOUNG VOICES (3)
I first noticed Elnathan John when I read his “How to Worship the Nigerian God” some months ago. The satirical piece articulated the hypocrisy and dilemma of a theoretically religious people living in a practically amoral country, and concluded that ‘the Nigerian God’ must be different from the one in the Bible, Qur’an and other holy books. Elnathan is a Kaduna-born writer who trained as a Legal Practitioner. He has had both fiction and non-fiction works published or upcoming in ZAM Magazine International, Otis Nebula, Per Contra, and Evergreen Review in addition to numerous Nigerian publications and newspapers.
In 2011 he started the ‘How To’ series of political and social satire, which featured the Nigerian God piece that captured my attention. He writes op-eds regularly and maintains a weekly column on Daily Times Nigeria online. He has just completed work on a new collection of short stories and is currently working on a novel. He currently works as Programme Officer with Right To Know (R2K) Nigeria, an NGO dedicated to information transparency in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Elnathan writes today on something that seems to have been forgotten by our public leaders – the need to take responsibility for acts of commission or omission that take place under their watch. Our nation is today ravaged by many natural and man-made disasters – from flooding that has displaced communities and destroyed infrastructure to a culture of impunity that has led to the theft of billions and trillions of naira. Yet no one has taken responsibility for these or any concrete steps to prevent their recurrence. Indeed, what our leaders seem to be repeating all the time is that all these problems have been in existence before they got into office. Even if that assertion is true, which is not, does that mean that the problems should not be solved by those in authority?
It is my privilege and pleasure to introduce our third young voice – Elnathan writing about something young people look up to us as parents and leaders expect – taking responsibility. He is following the footsteps of Yemi Adamolekun’s”Angry Young Nigerian” and Auwal S. Anwar’s piece on revamping the education sector.
- Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai
“The situation is under alarm; there is no need for control.”- Victor Dugga
I am in my teens. I am angry at having to do more work than my younger siblings. I sulk. It does not make sense to me that as first born I should suffer more, get less. My father explains, ‘One day when I am gone, you will be their father.’ He says that being firstborn is work. I do not care about being anyone’s father. All I want is to be treated like first born.
With hindsight, I can say that I was stupid. Thankfully I can blame it all on childishness. I cannot say how much wiser I am now, in my 30’s, but I understand it when I read Churchill quote: The price of greatness is responsibility. And I understand my father.
By now, a lot has been said about the Independence Day speech. The exaggerations, the untruths, the false hope.
I can safely summarise the speech in three words: We are winning.
Apart from the fact that it is hypocritical to talk of improving the health sector when your own family cannot be treated in Nigerian hospitals; that he glossed over a totally preventable national disaster such the floods; that he totally ignored the aviation crises and allegations of corruption against his own ministers; that he pretended there was no fuel crises; that he showed immense desperation by quoting a non-existent Transparency International report, the biggest problem remains, our president refuses to step up and take responsibility.
It is easy to delude oneself into thinking that there is progress where there is not, that there is transparency where there is corruption, that there is success where there is failure. But it is not easy to delude 160 million people who daily live the reality of the Nigerian situation.
I argue that even if a Transparency International report ranking us as the second most improved country did exist, it means nothing in the face of important public officers who have international reputation for corruption. It means nothing when people with known links to the Presidency are brazen in their corruption. It means nothing when high profile corruption cases end up being stories to excite us with no effect on the parties involved.
Re-reading the speech, I have an idea. Leaving out all the clichés, exaggerations, and unnecessary history lessons, this is how the president should have begun his Independence Day speech:
I must begin with an apology. I apologise that in spite of my efforts at reforming the power sector, improving health, fighting corruption and ensuring security most of you watching or listening to this broadcast are hungry or afraid; angry or grieving; poor or dejected. I apologise that some of you may not even finish watching this broadcast because of power outages. And for this I take full responsibility…
This for me is the only sensible way to begin. It is a mark of strength and not of weakness to admit faults. To admit that the buck stops at your table. To admit that this government failed to heed the NEMA warnings of 2011 to prepare for the floods. That the government ignored the warning of the government of Cameroun about the imminent overflow of the Lagdo dam, leading to the deaths of many in Nigerian territories. That because of the complacency of government, instead of proactively declaring an emergency and assisting states to prepare against the floods it chose to wait until people died or were displaced before ‘assisting affected states’ with blankets and relief materials.
Even more importantly, when you make an apparent error in your speech by referring to a non-existent report to back up fictional claims, do not blame it on a newspaper report or your speech writer. Do not ask threaten Nigerians into ignoring it by calling references to the gaffe, politicisation of the president’s speech. Take responsibility.
This is the story of the Independence day speech: A man had chronic infections. His infections were getting worse because he was not taking the drugs prescribed by one of his many doctors. Unable to sleep and afraid for his life, he called the doctor. The doctor came and asked if he had been taking his drugs. The man shook his head. The doctor asked what exactly what he was feeling. The man, instead of answering, kept repeating, ‘Doctor, I am well. I am well!’
While the truth may be inconvenient, delusions always cause much greater harm. Nigeria’s immense problems will not go away when our leaders sing victory songs at the beginning of the battle. This president can do one of two things: Sit down comfortably in the darkness his handlers have created around him, keep making costly, unacceptable mistakes, turn a blind eye to the corruption of family and friends and totally squander whatever is left of the goodwill he once enjoyed. Or he could stop. Stop avoiding responsibility. Stop acting like we are not at a dangerous point in our history. Show some respect for the citizens he represents and stop saying that there is no cause for alarm.