By AMINA SALIHU
Since the events of the December 25 bombing, to the fuel ‘subsidy’ removal and the follow-up trauma, strikes and rallies, some of us have had little to laugh about but have, at best, thrived on satire. I had a bitter laugh recently as I watched a coterie of top police officers with six of them inspecting the premises of the Police HQ, Abuja. The retinue of police officers was shown on Channels TV, aired on January 25 in a news slip announcing the retirement of Alhaji Ringim as Inspector-General of Police and the appointment of Abubakar as the former’s replacement. Ringim and his team were shown making the rounds after the bombing of the police headquarters of 2011 by the Boko Haram sect. With him were five police officers, each spotting potbellies that seemed to compete with one another.
Their physical look may be a small matter well, yes? No! For what kind of police leadership is it where nearly everyone spots a potbelly? Since when has that become a symbol of fitness? How can anybody be inspired to think that such a leadership, made up of bloated individuals, can protect anybody? To fight a battle, you need the agility of mind, body and soul. One without any of these is incomplete. We must, therefore, have a police force fit for the purpose and which can inspire respect. The leadership must symbolise that capability.
The easiest way to know a person who is in control of his life is in his physical look. It is not about a sense of fashion but more about carriage, composure, neatness and ability to inspire confidence. When we let ourselves go the world, let’s go out of our own desire. When we do not inspire confidence, we do not show and prove that we can do the job. We may, in fact, become a euphemism for decadence and corruption.
This is not to cast aspersion on people who are naturally big-framed. Obesity, for instance, is a different condition all together. There are people who have a natural tendency to be overweight – but usually they have an even distribution of fat and so do not belong to the genre of the potbellied class I refer to here. But then, they usually would not apply to work in the police force anyway.
I use the Police leadership as an analogy not because the potbelly is typical or limited to them. It is a decadence that cuts across most of our upper class. I refer to the police right now because it is important; it is an institution in the eye of the storm and one which we need more than ever before to get its act together. An institution that seeks to reinvent itself must begin with its image. So, as the AIG Parry Osayande committee begins its work of restructuring the police, the issue of moral and physical fitness of the top echelons of the police must top the agenda. It is not by accident that you would have to search far and wide to find a member of the rank and file of the police working on the street sporting a potbelly. Majority of them are lean, spare and some even to the point of emaciation such that you would want to give them something even if they do not say the notorious, ‘Anything for the boys?’
Please, do not tell me that the senior personnel are rotund because they sit behind their desk all day. That is not true. First of all, the job of policing is not a 9 – 5 sit-on-your-buttocks-all-day job. It is or should be one of constant alertness, supervision and monitoring and constant conversations with your team and citizens, all of which should require movement. Secondly, sitting on one spot has never been the single causative factor of weight gain, especially around the midriff. The obvious cause of weight in the midriff for either a woman or man, with the exception of a woman whose body might change due to childbirth, is indiscipline. This is the inability to know what to eat, when to eat it and how much of it to eat. Even when we know, the inability to control our desire to gouge is a big factor.
The tragedy is that this form of indiscipline will also manifest itself in other kinds: laziness and lethargy to pursue one’s dream and to work hard, inability to think coherently and, possibly, depression and a fallback to more of the wrong kind of food and lifestyle of ‘junk’. Junk food, by the way, is not just eating buggers and talking coke, all those vilified monosodium glutamate and sugar-loaded food, everyday, before the TV. Junk food is also sitting down for hours drinking beer or wine or whatever alcohol and eating pounded yam and suya and pepper soup even after midnight, indulgence craved and enjoyed long after the body has gone to sleep and can no longer process the manure we are feeding it. Some of our ‘big people’ who spot potbellies do not necessarily eat a lot of food but, instead, take to a poor lifestyle, eating the wrong kinds of food at the wrong hours.
Thirdly, the rise of the potbelly is exacerbated not by age but by a lack of exercise and limited physical exertion. We move from air-conditioned rooms to equally air-conditioned cars, into the air-conditioned elevator, out into the car again and finally load ourselves onto a posh dinner table to eat a seven course meal which our body does not need, even as our poor neighbour in the shanty near us barely has a bowl of corn to eat. We are killing ourselves softly with our money.
If the goal of the rich and powerful is to stay that way for a long time, then the measure of our wealth must not be found in the quantity of junk food we eat simply because we can afford it. Wealth should rather confer an ability to reason, to choose wisely and to eat the right kind of foods and keep a healthy lifestyle. It should confer humility to stay without food sometimes, to cleanse ourselves and test our self-restraint.
It is better to give away what you do not need than to hoard it. When your neighour’s stomach is filled, you are safer than when it is empty. Some day, the poor will have nothing to eat but the rich.
There are rules to everything we do in life, including what we ingest. Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, admonished all to fill their stomach with one-third food, one-third water and one-third air, meaning you only eat two-thirds of the capacity of your stomach. It is equivalent to the Japanese philosophy of hara hachi bu. This is an Okinawa principle of eating mainly a diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains only until we are 80 per cent full. Food guru, Michael Pollan, says in his book, Food Rules, that food which is on one leg (vegetable, fish) is best, followed by that with two legs (birds, e.g. chicken) while that with four legs (beef, mutton, etc) comes last. This moral of a life of moderation will ensure that we are able to balance our work, our ethics and our physical and spiritual life. This is the balance we need for success. I want to love and respect the police force of my country but I need them to prove to me that I can.