In this article, Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of a Nigerian minister in these words:
“Dr. Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, he had big sleepy eyes and seemed to come from another time in the past when old-fashioned integrity was easy. His simplicity surprised my father. He was not interested in the usual carousing of the powerful, no late nights and drinking and trysts, and my father did not have to guard any secrets for him. He ate breakfast with his family every morning, and took walks with his wife in the evening, and played tennis with his children on weekends. He listened attentively, those half-closed eyes so intent that my father, at first, felt uncomfortable when they were trained on him.
…In my father’s village, the Minister walked around with his assistants, meeting people and asking them questions and listening to them. He showed women how to mix sugar and salt and clean water to give their children who had diarrhea and he told them about washing their hands with soap and he told them the Universal Primary Health Care center would be open in a month. Once it was open, every baby would receive vaccines.
He showed them photographs of bright-eyed babies in Lagos and he told them immunizations were like small precious gifts for babies. They cheered and clapped. In the eyes of the villagers, my father was a star. No minister had ever come to them before.
Who even knew that our small village existed? But my father kept telling them that he had done nothing, that it was the minister who insisted on coming. Years later, when my father told me the story, I could still see his eyes full of things I could not name.
‘The Minister treated all of us like human beings,’ he said. ‘Like human beings'”
Nigeria’s Presidential elections are around the corner and there are good reasons to be apprehensive. I have watched with interest people passionately defend their candidate of choice on Facebook and elsewhere. Some Facebook users, I understand, have gone as far as ‘unfriending’ their friends who do not share their political ideology. Nigerians’ active participation in the debate of which candidate is a better choice for the country is a welcome development in that it strengthens our democracy and provides an avenue for people to inform (or unfortunately, misinform) the electorate. Such debate, depending on who is making one, actually sheds light on what for example, an incumbent has done to improve the lives of the people as opposed to what he claims to have done. Testimonies coming from people who actually use the services like roads, etc, provided by a political leader are obviously more reliable than ones given by the same leader at conventions and rallies to secure another term.
Many Nigerians, and understandably so, have expressed disappointment at the choice of the two leading candidates for the presidential elections. One person aptly said that she is uninspired by either candidate, that with the many talents Nigeria has, we could have done better. I share the same sentiments not because I do not believe that neither of Jonathan or Buhari can deliver – Nigeria’s economy seem to have improved under the former and the latter has a record for discipline – but because some candidates with better potentials were passed over by their parties merely because of their tribes and religion – affiliations often made not by choice but by accident of birth. Undoubtedly, if we continue to emphasize the things that divide us as against the things that unite us, we will make little progress in Nigeria. In the end, Nigeria needs a leader who can tackle the current security issues in the country while putting the needs of the country before his. We need leaders like the Olikoye in Adichie’s story.
And while it is necessary that we criticize our leaders, constructively not disparagingly, it is even more important that we understand how uneasy the head that wears the crown lies. We should appreciate how despite his good intentions, a leader may not deliver as expected, what with the many challenges a county like Nigeria struggles with. In other words, we should pray more for our leaders and play our part by engaging in actions that will move Nigeria forward. For example, nothing stops a wealthy Nigerian from building a library in his community to help less privileged young Nigerians who otherwise cannot have access to books. A rich CEO, instead of leaving all his wealth to children who will squander whatever he left behind once he is dead, can set up a trust fund to give scholarships to brilliant but poor people in his community. Actions speak louder than voice. We need people who will light the darkness. We already have enough people cursing it. For me, my friend who sacrifices part of her decent salary to give back to students from her alma mater is a better Nigerian than those of us doing all the talking. Another, a young female attorney (an Igbo living in Northern Nigeria), who uses part of her meager salary and donations from friends to buy things for prison inmates and widows, inspires me. These are Nigerians worth celebrating; these are Nigerians whose stories should be told more often. No country can make progress without help from the private sector. United States has several private museums and hospitals rendering free services to people. Such organizations also get donations from the public. So while we wait for the government to wake up to its responsibilities, we must look inward to see what roles we can play for a better Nigeria.
Civil and public servants must also understand the unique privilege they enjoy in that they have more resources to touch more lives than private individuals. I commend INEC for its videos and other programs dissuading youths from engaging in violence in the coming election. Unfortunately, the people who need to hear these messages of peace are unlikely to have access to them and that is why we must strive to educate all Nigerians. When I read Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, a book that detailed the horrors of the Biafran war, I wished that every Nigerian could read it to understand what can happen when we allow an ugly history to repeat itself.
Come the day for the presidential election, we will have a chance to decide if we will continue to live in peace as one country. We will have an opportunity to show the world how committed we are to our democracy. I pray that God will help us choose wisely a leader that can move Nigeria forward. More importantly, I pray that whoever emerges the president, we will resist the temptation to make utterances that can incite the less educated ones to violence. We must work together to support the new president. That is the only way can we show that we are truly democratic as doing otherwise will be forcing our will on others.
Long live Nigeria!