Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Man of the People 1.

I remember reading “A man of the people” by Chinua Achebe when I was in SS3. For some reason that book has stuck with me. I think about Nigeria and I remember a “Man of the People”. To my mind, the book is a must read (i.e: go get a copy or borrow from a library). Though Achebe wrote the book in 1966, the story still rings true in 2012. For all its chauvinistic flaws, there are many lessons to be learnt from the book and this post is my first sermon.
In the book Odili (the co- protagonist) recognizes the ironic nature of our system-where we know the misdeeds of politicians especially with public funds yet we rationalize their actions. He said “As I stood in the corner of that vast tumult waiting for the arrival of the minister, I felt intense bitterness welling up in my mouth. Here were silly ignorant villagers dancing themselves lame and waiting to blow off their gun powder in honor of one of those who had started the country off down the slopes of inflation. I wished for a miracle, for a voice of thunder to hush this ridiculous crowd and tell the poor contemptuous people one or two truths. But of course it would be quite useless. They were not only ignorant but cynical. Tell them that this man had used his position to enrich himself and they would ask you- as my father did- if you thought that a sensible man would spit out the juicy morsel that good fortune placed in his mouth”. 
The only difference between Nigerians and the villagers is that we know those who enrich themselves corruptly but say things like “at least he/she is working”,  “if you get there you would do the same”, “that is the way our system is… it is not the people”. Some people even argue that the Bible says that you eat from where you work! (In all the Bible translations I have read, I am still looking for that verse). Last week, Delta State government’s comment on the Ibori sentencing was that “it is a private matter”. Really! The man stole money that belongs to the people of Delta State. 
 As a people, we cannot move forward if we encourage greed and dishonesty. Considering the outrage against PDP in January, it was surprising that PDP won re-elections in Kebbi, Bayelsa, Cross River, Adamawa and Sokoto States. What does this say about us? This tells me that we "love" the people that lead us. We encourage our politicians to be corrupt and not do as they should when we do not hold them accountable by voting out those who do not perform. We encourage our politicians to be corrupt when we expect and demand that they pay our children school fees, cater for our parties and attend to our sundry needs. We encourage them to be corrupt when we roll out congratulatory adverts for them in return for future favors. We encourage them to be corrupt when we arrange thanksgiving services and chieftaincy titles for the newly appointed. We forget that the system of waiting for your turn i.e. waiting for your person to get there so you can have your share of the “national cake” is not sustainable. For instance, "my person" is in government for 8 years. After his/her turn is over, what then? We insult and ridicule politicians who are not corrupt and want to go by the book. I can never forget the accusations against Chief Bisi Akande when he was governor of Osun State. His crime was he was too honest and he got voted out of power. We praise people who are corrupt and cry witch hunting and tribalism if a “our person” is accused of corruption. It is amazing the way corruption is defended and saddening that clerics have joined the bandwagon. 
 Why do we encourage our politicians to be corrupt? We do it because we are selfish and we support selfishness. Case in point: in the book was when Odili was campaigning against Chief Nanga and the police men in the village said they would support Chief Nanga because they “get some crumbs” from him. 
 We need to do away with this selfishness-what-is-in-it-for-me, leave-as-is-I-am – enjoying attitude. There are ways we can address this problem of selfishness. First as individuals we need to rethink our idea of self interest and may be develop “enlightened self interest” if not for anything but to save the decadence already caused by the need to know somebody before a service, a job, a contract, or a scholarship can be secured. There is a peace of mind that comes from knowing that a system is fair and just. Secondly, as a very religious people who are quick to call God into everything. Our clerics need to take a stance on corruption and walk their talk. It is not just preaching against corruption, it is refusing to honour and acknowledge people those who are corrupt. Maybe then who lead us would realize that they do not have to steal public funds for their fourth generation. 

 On another note: It is commendable that people are using new media to demand accountability by the government especially on the fuel subsidy report. This report I believe proves the success of the occupy riots. However, twitter and facebook would not make GEJ sack any minister. Why? Because those who are truly affected ( I am not saying that people like me are not affected by the level of graft on this issue but there more people worse off than we are) are really not bothered to demand accountability by the government. I think it is time for civil society to make market women, artisans and “villagers” understand the need to look beyond their daily survival and demand for a change.

1 comment: