by Wole Olabanji
I am however confident that Alkay’s appointment is no accident at all. I have known him for upwards of 14 years and have often saluted him Ranka ya dade (long may you live) to which he invariably responds, mu dade tare (may we all live long).
When Alkasim announced his appointment into the presidential committee set up to rehabilitate the victims of the Boko Haram insurgency, I didn’t congratulate him. I offered a prayer instead: that he would be given wisdom by God to discharge the responsibility in a way that God will approve.
Of course I am quite pleased at his appointment. My relationship with Alkasim predates facebook and twitter; it goes far deeper than exchanging occasional likes and retweets. My refusal to ‘congratulate’ him is largely because I feel that if we are to stand any chance at reclaiming the meaning of several concepts which are necessary to building a more progressive society, we have to overcompensate for the deep abuse we have dealt those ideas.
I have no doubts at all that several of the folks who tweeted back their congratulations meant it in the most honest and altruistic sense. I am however also convinced that when a decent person is given an assignment to function within or as an extension of the Nigerian government, the congratulations should primarily go in the direction of the citizens who perhaps by that appointment get another chance at taking a step forward. The Nigerian government as we have known it is extremely allergic to decency and decent people go into it at considerable risk to their character and reputation. While it is legitimate to feel some sense of accomplishment in being so recognized by one’s country, given what government is in Nigeria, I would nevertheless view such an assignment as being analogous to a soldier being promoted into a rank that comes with marching orders to lead his platoon into Sambisa forest. At best, he will get muted congratulations with agonizing prayers for survival.
In the culture warp that we have created however, congratulations can easily reach a din for a platoon commander heading to fight barbaric insurgents because we are focused more on his new ability to commandeer the supplies than the troops. It is unfortunately such a mindset that produces some of the hearty adulations that greet such appointments in our clime. With the stakes higher and a little more cash at our disposal, some of the effusive twitter mentions we saw yesterday will quite easily translate into bill boards and full page newspaper adverts like the kind taken out to congratulate delegates to the ongoing national conference.
And so as Alkay becomes a proper rankadede, the event lends itself for use as an opportunity to reflect on the question of what it means to be given authority and to lead.
To start with, rankadade; more correctly rendered as ranka ya dade is a Hausa expression said exclusively to the wealthy and powerful. To observe its usage, especially the grovelling sycophancy with which the well-heeled are saluted with this expression, a person who speaks no Hausa would easily assume it was some adulation appropriate only for the accomplished. In reality, it translates ‘may you live long’. This usage inadvertently reflects the false dichotomy that we have created between the value of the rich man’s life and that of the poor. May the rich live long; and the poor? He may live.
This example is not an innocuous occurrence; the truth is that a people’s language flowers from the roots of their cherished values irrespective of what sound bites highly paid PR consultants churn out to the contrary. In reality, our culture is permeated with disdain for the truth of the intrinsic worth of human life and the attendant uniqueness of the individual irrespective of their status in life. Although the more odious examples of this disdain are gradually fading away – like sacrificing humans as part of the burial rites for a king; its millennial models continue to thrive in more ways than we realize.
While we are increasingly chanting the one-man one-vote mantra for instance, what plays out more often than not in our political space is one-man one-vote one-veto. Although we may no longer openly bury people with the dead king, the living kings are still able to aggregate and bury the worth and uniqueness of the collective in themselves. That is why for instance, irrespective of the circus that APC made out of registering members across Lagos, the decision as to who will fly the party’s flag in the next gubernatorial election will more than likely be made by one individual.
This Orwellian construct which constrains us to relativize the value of an individual life provides the template which allows us to denominate the value of people in Naira and Kobo or its positional equivalent. Consequently, we can deploy as many policemen to carry a madam’s bag as we make available to secure a thousand citizens.
One might be tempted to try to wave this phenomenon off as a natural and relatively harmless consequence of power dynamics which has no impact outside of politics, but that would be very poor judgement. Fela alerts us to the far reaching impact of this false dichotomy when he sang “Imamu na gbaladun, Bishop na enjoyment”, which clearly demonstrates the corrupting influence of this concept even in religious settings.
Critically, what we find is that this incredibly lopsided allocation of value invariably results in a scenario where we have a madding race to the ‘top’. In response to our natural need to be valued, Nigerians do everything to get to the only place in life where it seems you can be considered of any real value by Nigerians; the ‘top’.
Thus you will happen upon many a man in our midst who having been promoted by the accident of history into an office to which he is unable to rise and fill, will yet spare no machination in remaining in that office. We do not resign here. Who wants to become an ex-somebody?
I am however confident that Alkay’s appointment is no accident at all. I have known him for upwards of 14 years and have often saluted him Ranka ya dade (long may you live) to which he invariably responds, mu dade tare (may we all live long). I am confident that he can fill this role. In his case, I believe the appointment is an endorsement of his previous accomplishments and in that respect, congratulations are in order. Nevertheless, I shall withhold mine for now and say a prayer for wisdom and courage, but when this duty is fully discharged, then it shall come.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.