Love the unlovable: The Nigerian politician’s admonition to everyone — but himself

Credit: Mike Asukwo

I think it was Pius Adesanmi who wrote in one of his books about how Nigerians love the “big man” so much that when he arrives at an event hours after it’s started, it would be sacrilegious (or do we say ‘treasonable’) for the Master of Ceremony not to pause the programme “to acknowledge the presence of…”.

If you are looking for the source of Nigeria’s problems, the key to our Pandora’s Box, look no further than this act and what it represents.

How often do you attend an event and top politicians and policymakers, who had been invited to give a talk, stroll in late yet gleefully without as little as an apology? How often have you seen organisers of events or others try to drown the voice of someone who protests such treatment? I have. How often do you attend an event where the few standing fans available, the only source of ventilation, are directed towards the so-called high table, where those whose actions and inaction have plunged Nigeria into darkness are seated?

Simply put, the problem with Nigeria is the leaders are too comfortable — thanks largely to an enabling environment facilitated by those bearing the brunt of their mediocrity. Our problem is we are so obsessed with foreign products that we’ve also imported the Stockholm Syndrome from Sweden and given it a new home.

In September, I was invited as a journalist to the Naija Youth Talk event organised by UNICEF. Also at that event were two media aides to the president, including Femi Adesina. Mr Adesina decided to devote the best part of his speech to reprimand Nigerians for not loving their country and lecture them that they have nowhere else to go where they will be treated as first-class citizens.

“I will like to stress that for us to get the country we want, we must love our country and our country must reciprocate by loving us in return,” he sermonised.

“Nigeria in its past and maybe present state may be unlovable, but it remains our country… We have a stake in the success of Nigeria. We have a stake in a Nigeria that works, and a Nigeria that works is the Nigeria we want. We must play a role in that by loving the unlovable; loving Nigeria with all its faults.”

All lovely and nice-sounding words, but what the senior presidential spokesperson forgot to mention is how those he slaves for habitually disregard this same advice. And, sure, you are not expecting any bird to fly with only one wing. Even man-made birds have yet to pull off that stunt. We can’t keep telling the common man change begins with him while we ignore the big man’s unhealthy fixation with the status quo.

The unwillingness of our leaders to make sacrifices is the reason lawmakers think they deserve billions of naira worth of new luxury cars and millions of naira worth of hardship allowance while at the same time telling Nigerians to “live within their mean” and that the “misrule of 16 years cannot be undone in one term”. It is the same reason the government would rather increase taxes than cut salaries of overfed public office holders and plug huge leaks in the treasury that end up in private pockets.

The hypocrisy stinks to the high heavens (and that is the “body odour” truly worthy of our condemnation).

At the office a few days ago, some of my colleagues commended the Kaduna State governor for taking the uncommon step of enrolling his child, Abubakar Al-Siddique, in a government primary school. We wondered how, in many of our “top universities”, the only “celebrities” we typically boast of having in our classes are sons of faculty deans and daughters of Deputy Vice-Chancellors. You would be lucky to even have the Vice-Chancellor enrol his kid in your institution’s post-graduate school. So, where are all the sons and daughters of society’s big men? Are they home-schooled or they’ve all decided to rather train to become artisans? Certainly not. They are at one Ivy League university or the other, with access to quality education, waiting to be placed in one juicy position or the other either in government or in the private sector — positions you can only dream of despite flawless credentials and a robust work experience.

The big man has not only forsaken our schools like a plague, the hospitals suffer a similar fate. One would think those who seek their services go there not to be treated but to sign their death warrant. He also avoids as much as possible the roads he has refused to have built to taste or repair. He flies. And when it is not convenient to fly, he simply cannot stand having to drive on the same road as you, the ordinary man. His bodyguards, learning from no less than legendary Moses, have become experts at paving way where there seems to be no way.

The Nigerian politician tells you to love the unlovable, he tells you to buy made-in-Nigeria products, he tells you to stay and fix your country, while he runs to other countries at the slightest chance for relief and relaxation. That exactly is the problem with us: double standards! And until we stop expecting more from others than we expect of ourselves, nothing is ever going to change. Of course, this applies to everyone, elected or not, wealthy or not, famous or famous, everyone has a responsibility to make Nigeria better today than it was yesterday.

And if you are too lazy to make that happen, at least do not make it worse for everyone else — and do not seek for political offices where you can get paid for doing absolutely nothing significant.

This piece was originally written in September as a magazine article.

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