@emmaugwutheman: We need an Almajiri President

by Emmanuel Ugwu

Goodluck Jonathan relishes being projected as eligible to the corner of leadership greats. He fancies the flattering comparison that he equates with legends of higher ideals. Men whose personal sacrifices inspire a feeling of indebtedness in the lands they served and far beyond.

He approves of being bracketed with Nelson Mandela, Lee Kuan Yew, Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama. Men whose shadows stretch across successive generations.

When the streetwise hear an outsized untruth, they blurt out a hearty salute to the deceived infatuation: ‘for your mind’.

It should be obvious. Standing beside towering giants does not upgrade the stature of a man of modest height. If anything, the proximity accentuates the span of disparity and invariably dwarfs him! Same goes for one who measures himself against icons whose shoes he is naturally unworthy to unloose.

But it is this ironic contrast – that is qualitatively nearer sarcasm than hype – that formed the President’s prime TV ad.

The promotional tribute, in the first encounter, alarms anyone with a fair appreciation of their value and sacrifice to history. The unequal yoking of President Jonathan with these figures was created to earn him greatness by association. But it effectively trivializes their hallowed legacies.

He has yet to disclaim the ad as he did when a foreign newspaper rebuked him for winking at the cruel caricature his agents made by tweaking the Chibok outrage.

It was mostly on the point of our President’s preferred comparative company that the operators of that website erred.

They purportedly looked through the transparent purses of African heads of states and determined the fellows who have exempted themselves from the beatitude of the poor.

The pretenders to omniscience catalogued our aspirant to legend wrongly. They numbered him among notorious state plunderers like Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Equitorial Guinea’s Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. He placed sixth in the top ten of the mimicked Forbes’ list. Charged as having creamed 100 million dollars off Nigeria’s vaults.

And the President pleaded with urgency and pathos. Like a shocked innocent swept along with a robbery gang by the police.

I no follow!

He hastened to advise the publishers to subtract him from the infamous brotherhood. Or he would arm his lawyers. He would not consent to being crucified among thieves.

But he declined to disprove the accusation by pulling out his purse from under the bushel and baring its modest content – if only to indulge the voyeurs.

The authors wilted – in fast booting time. They put eraser to the webpage. Like a mistaken pupil.

The website had no bulwark against his challenge. They apparently had little or no concrete evidence to support his inclusion in the robbers’ rank. Or if they had any, they chose the peace of surrender above the cost of battle, out of deference to caution.

So this President that had declared that he didn’t give a damn about declaring his assets was provoked to belligerence when some people behind a computer hazarded a guess.

There is a ring of joke in the incidence.

Igbo culture has an institutionalized system for generating behavioral change. The society maintains a framework of communal accountability that holds out the mirror to members. The premise hinges on the notion that humans are innately conceited and disinclined to initiate confrontation with even their most apparent flaws.

In this setting, people who share congeniality subscribe to an unwritten pact that entitles every person to give and receive frank correction merrily. They mete out humourous truth at the psychological moment. There is democratic equality and a spirit of healthy respect among the fellows.

At the core, it is jokey peer review. Rather than exposing errors to shame, charitable reproof prevails.  They present obvious truths in a creative way that compels attention and study. They make verbal cartoons to produce introspection and awareness of a cause for reformation in character. They tactfully administer the therapeutic truth as seasoned pills.

That RichLifeStyle.com publication might be an Njakiri  truth of sorts.

Coming from America, it’s a potential gift of candour from a distant continent. Perhaps, free from the colour blindness of a neighbour, free from the allegiance of a friend, free from the prejudice of an enemy.

Now, the website buckled under the President’s threat. But that has not absolutely exempted him. It is likely that the compilers analyzed their disadvantage against a President who sits on barrels of petrodollars. Summoning the stamina and the money to fight a duel with him could bankrupt them. So it might be that the coward of Chinua Achebe’s proverb procured longevity with caution.

The President’s plea that his cashed-up portrait on the web conflicts with the reality of his means suggests an alternative truth. This is it: That if a more thorough purse check were to be conducted all over the continent, he would be found languishing at the bottom of the list of the poorest African heads of states! That he would be deemed a deprived Almajiri in the class.

Of course, the more feasible reality is easy to surmise.

Everyone knows that claim, share and access to the treasury increases as one climbs the rung from the councillorship up to the Presidency. Evidence abounds in the countless instances of the overnight transformation that materializes when the guy next door lands a political appointment or scrapes through an election.

He changes clothes. Shoes.  Cars. Houses. Women. Buys a chieftaincy title. He leaps into a high life.

Our very civic ecosystem baptizes anyone who assumes certain key positions into riches. Most offices, by dysfunctional design, have overpowering default settings that channel unearned gains to the office holders.

It is realistically inconceivable that President Goodluck Jonathan approximates to less than or equal to the sum of all his legitimate wages.

The presidency, the country’s most coveted position, enriches its occupant. And on an infinitely larger scale.  He exercises the power to make wealth. As the custodian of the yam and the knife, he presides over the largesse and decides its eaters and their rations.

Our prevalent view of an invitation to serve in a powerful public office is not that of self-mortification on behalf of country; it is one of come and chop. It is the maiden’s entry into the fattening room. The initiate is under obligation to acquire escape velocity.

Within the period of your stint, even your Pastor and Imam expect you to busy yourself with a robust wealth boosting programme. Your kinsmen recognize success on the job as the measure of abundance you squeezed out of your tenure. Not the some problems you eradicated.  And you cannot afford to earn the brand of an anathema by retiring into a relatively less more glorious fortune.

This is the shadow that accompanies the many pages of paid congratulatory messages that make the newspaper of the day after minister’s swearing-in unusually bulkier.

Just in case the new public official loses his good sense to protracted euphoria or becomes too zealous in scrambling to acquit himself in the position, relatives, friends and well wishers take turns to correct his focus. He must make looking after number one his foremost priority. He must make the most of the opportunity to take a quantum leap. His mind is sooner saturated with these toxic tunes.

And sure enough, he renounces his original goal of patriotic martyrdom. He starts filching- like a naïve pickpocket. And as he succeeds, he grows more ambitious and audacious. He begins to push the envelope of looting. He finds himself engrossed in the science of the art. He begins to experiment with how much he can pack into the least space of time.

This impoverished mentality of primitive acquisition fixated on amassing money for the afterlife turns an otherwise decent person into a self-centered, greedy and grasping thief. He only gets to spares a thought for his principal task when he needs to salve his conscience after the latest heist.

In recent times, our two heads of state have retired into opulence. And they made the point of setting their respective mansions on hilltops. For all eyes to partake in the loot by tourist wonderment!

And they rest in peace:  Confirmation that we don’t judge the rulers harshly – after all, their oath of office doesn’t bear the footnote of a vow of poverty.

We don’t begrudge them rulers their blessing. We are content to watch their Promised Lands from afar. And to fantasize that someday in this revolving earth, our turn will come.

So it might be a long while before the beautiful ones are born. Right now, we are struggling with the confusion of meaning. We are grappling with the lexical challenge of defining which of Corruption and Stealing is the lesser good.

By the way, was President Jonathan incensed at being accused of corruption or stealing?


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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