“I hope it would not be said of the confab that when Rome is burning, Nero is fiddling. If need be, let the confab be brought to a halt until there is improvement in the security situation. Holding a minute silence does not appear to be working. Drastic situation requires drastic action.”
- Tunde Bakare
“A Daniel has come to judgement and unto us a statesman is born” or so we thought, when with his words he tickled our fancy and with his lines he serenaded our motherland. Never before had we heard such an inspiring speech from Mr. President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, as the one he gave at the inauguration of the National Conference. Hear him:
“… I have chosen to act on the sincere conviction that in the truly democratic nation we are striving to build, we must never ignore the loudly expressed views of the majority of ordinary Nigerians.
I have heard that majority say, that we need to rebuild trust by involving them in the process of developing a guiding document of our national political relationships which is more acceptable to all sections of the country.
I have heard our people say that we need to openly and frankly discuss our problems and seek acceptable solutions instead of allowing them to fester and remain sources of perennial conflict.
I have also heard them say that, as the elected representatives of our people, we must never arrogate to ourselves all knowledge and wisdom regarding the development of our country. And I am in full agreement with our people. The power we hold is, without question, in trust for the people. Sovereignty belongs to the people. Their voices must be heard and factored into every decision we take on their behalf.”
These words were undoubtedly inspiring, not just in style, as the president deployed the best of anaphora in his repetitive use of the phrase, “I have heard …” but in content as it portrayed him as a listening president whose preoccupation is the people.
Promoting national unity against the sectional biases that have plagued Nigeria hitherto, which, one would agree, include ethnic, religious, regional and of course, partisan biases, Mr. President went further,
“… As we start a new century of nationhood, we have an obligation to reshape and redirect our country for the benefit of our children. There should be no room for divisive cleavages and ethnic jingoism. There should be no room for selfish considerations that defeat the purpose of national progress. There should be room only for the national interest.
I know the task before you is onerous; but there must be only one winner, and there can only be one winner if we do everything right, and that winner must be Nigeria. I urge you therefore to focus strictly on the Nigerian Agenda.
While we recognize that groups and communities are the building blocks of our nation, we must also emphasize that we need one another to build the solid and prosperous country of our dreams.
We cannot join hands together to build with a collective vision if we continue to harbour negative biases and prejudices against ourselves.
Yesterday’s prejudices should die with yesterday. Today is a new day. This is the dawn of a new era. This is an opportunity to think anew. We must jettison the poisonous mind-sets of the past, which were built on unhealthy competition among our diverse groups and peoples.
We need a new mind and a new spirit of oneness and national unity…”
But alas, Just when we were ruminating on the president’s speech and savouring the message thereof and just as delegates had concluded their eulogy of the speech, the nation woke up to a rude shock of a dastardly bomb blast that took the lives of some of those “ordinary Nigerians” the president spoke about. Then, the president visits the hospitalized victims and merely retorts, “we will get over it”. Hmmnn! So much from a president who had, in his speech, said,
“We cannot continue to fold our arms and assume that things will straighten themselves out in due course, instead of taking practical steps to overcome impediments on our path to true nationhood, rapid development and national prosperity”.
But, one might argue, practical steps have been taken – the declaration of state of emergency and the deployment of troops. True. Yet, in Borno State – the heart of the insurgency and one of the states in which a state of emergency has been declared with troops on ground, a day after the blast and a day after Mr. President assures us that we will get over it, over a hundred secondary school girls were abducted by insurgents with security apparatus unable to stop them.
But one might again argue that the president has done what he should by deploying troops and that fifth columnists may be responsible for the loopholes. Possibly, but such allegations would be the job of intelligence experts to unravel.
But the most disappointing of these developments regarding the president’s response is, barely one month after the president inaugurated the national conference with those inspiring and unifying words, barely a day after the wanton destruction of lives by insurgents in Abuja, and barely few hours after young innocent Nigerian girls were abducted by the insurgents, Mr. President holds a political rally celebrating inter-party defection and makes a not-so-respectable, not-so-statesmanlike and not-so-unifying statement about the Kano State Governor not having voted for him in 2011.
Worse still, in what may come as a shock to proponents of his statesmanship and bridge-building capacity, Mr. President subtly embarks on petty ethnic defensiveness as he refers to his Ijaw hat in these words:
“Some of you would be asking questions why the President did not wear PDP dress in the rally; I decided to appear this way because there is somebody here in Kano that said anybody that wears hat is a devil”
At a time when we need to throw off sectional inclinations to come together to solve this critical national problem that borders not only on the security and progress but the very survival of our nation, and at a time when the nation is mourning and losing lives in bewildering rapidity, participating in that rally itself, not to mention the statement attributed to the president, was unbecoming of the statesman that we thought the president was becoming. Perhaps, with actions that are inconsistent with speech, Mr. President has forgotten that communication is 97% nonverbal and that actions speak louder than words.
To make matters worse, the president, with his high-powered political entourage, leaves Kano for Ibadan for the celebration of the Olubadan who clocked 100 years. Indeed, we thank God for life and health and we understand that the president should rejoice with those who rejoice as he mourns with those who mourn, but ought not the whole nation pull back in sober reflection for the state of the nation and for the lives so gruesomely lost? Surely, the Olubadan would prefer to leave behind a better Nigeria when he, as they say, joins his ancestors.
To make matters even worse, as the president leaves Kano, Rabiu Kwanwaso, the Kano State Governor, in this shameless and insensitive politicking towards 2015, leads his team to the rally ground to sweep off “Jonathan’s badluck” thus thickening the divisive line already drawn by the president.
Meanwhile, delegates at the National Conference, as has been the case with the National Assembly, have been performing the rituals of one-minute silence and sending condolence messages while the massacre continues.
As such insensitive politicking goes on among political leaders and as elder statesmen look on in one minute silence as the nation boils, we indeed hope that it will not be said of Mr. President, of our political leaders, of elder statesmen and of the confab, what was said of an immature king who played the fiddle while his city went up in flames, “Rome burns and Nero fiddles”.
“A politician thinks of the next elections. A statesman, of the next generation” – James Freeman Clarke
- By Communications Unit, SNG.