By TEMITOPE OYETOMI
In my growing-up years, I had a particular liking for the Jeffrey Archer novels – First Among Equals; Kane and Abel, The Prodigal Daughter, Shall We Tell The President, and others. I would admit today that something deep in me has always been fascinated by political dramas and intrigues, both fictional and real.
This past week, I phoned a friend who posted some stuff online, which I felt were uncomplimentary to the person and office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. My line of thought has always been that it is not the best to speak lightly of the presidency, not particularly because of the names of the person holding the post, but more for the greater good of our country’s honour. The twist, however, is that my friend asked me whether I think Mr President bothers about the country’s honour as much as I do. While I instinctively answered, “yes” to that question, I queried myself whether indeed I believed my own answer. As a matter of fact, I can’t really answer for Mr President and cannot compare how much I care about the country’s honour with how much the president cares, as there are no measurable bases for comparison.
In February, I had posted the cover of my book Fellow Nigerians, I Wish You Good Luck on my Facebook page and also posted the preface and first chapter online. I created a website goodluckbook.com and began to upload chapters of the book to it in their raw unedited forms. These were supposed to be pre-publication buzz for the book but little did I know I was courting serious trouble. Some friends “un-friended” me from their Facebook contacts. Some immediately started to aggressively canvass for some other presidential candidates. I posted a question about whether people were making their choices based on the parties or the personalities. I got quite a flow of angry reactions. Several of my acquaintances thought I had received some financial motivations from the presidency and I was doing a campaign job. In fact, it wasn’t so and I made a point of the fact that the “Good Luck” in the title of my book is two words, while the “Goodluck” in the name of Mr President is one word. That little distinction didn’t matter to my audience. “The face of President is on the cover of your book,” someone said to me, “a single picture speaks louder than a thousand words. You are pro-Jonathan.”
Indeed, the pre-election period was a very tricky time for me. I was struggling between the fact that I should maintain political neutrality in public on the one hand, and on the other hand the fact that the face of one of the candidates is prominently on the cover of the book I was writing for the elections. But much more, I was forced to answer questions as though I was a staff of the GEJ Campaign Organisation; and also endure hearing stuffs that could be unprintable. A friend wrote: “three things are evidential. Jonathan will never be able to provide Nigerians with: Public Safety, Youth Employment, and Manage Corruption.” I felt personally hurt at these insults. Naturally, like every writer, I had developed empathy for the main characters of my script. If you are not a novelist, you won’t fully understand this feeling. Guys were catching their fun at yapping the President in what I considered an obscene and unfair manner.
First, I could bet that these people cannot have the courage to use these same words if they were to meet face-to-face with Mr President. As for me, if there’s anything I won’t be able to say to a man’s face, I avoid saying it behind him. Second, I understand that the job of a president in any country is extremely challenging, because he merely represents the faces of myriads of decision makers of which he is the primal one, though. One day, I had to request that someone kindly take the step of printing out the stuff he had written on ` about the President and send it to the State House through the post if he was bold enough to do so. He cunningly declined. Eventually, my friends and I resorted to pursuing two alternative channels to bring our grievances and desires to the attention of the President. My friends would stick to yapping the president on their Facebook pages and in their blogs and in their homes (where I’m sure that neither the President nor anyone close to him could hear or read their yappings). On the other hand, I would not yap the President. Rather, I would resort to sending letters once every while by courier to Mr. President, offering advice and perhaps constructive criticism. In the end, we would see whether one or both of these methods would achieve the desired objectives, which is for us to witness a transformed Nigeria. Each side is currently active in the quest.
In my own quest, one of my recent notes to Mr President included a quotation I took from the Lion King movie, “Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant, to the leaping antelope.” I added another quotation from another king in the Bible. The reply came back from the State House informing me that Mr President “has taken due cognisance” of what I wrote to him. I wondered if that was true at all. Not too long after, I read a piece in TELL magazine where the President was quoted as saying “Somebody will want the President to operate like the kings of Syria, Babylon and the Pharaoh – all powerful people that you read about in the Bible. They want the President to operate that way; unfortunately I am not one of those.” Wow, the President must have been reading about kings in the Bible. He then must have read about King Ahasuerus – the powerful emperor, who in spite of all his power made a point of never for once making any move without first consulting his “wise men” for what ought to be done “according to the established law.”
Very recently, my friends and I got into a gist. One of them made a big point of stressing that the President hasn’t really understood how powerful he is. He started to yap the President for not taking decisive actions about certain issues in the country. He laughed scornfully at the fact that the government avoided public celebration of the recent Independence Day anniversary for fear of MEND and Boko Haram. He mentioned escalating prices of local commodities and the proposed withdrawal of the fuel subsidy. He made jest of instances in which the federal government seemed to have made some hurried decisions only to reverse them soon afterwards. For once, I was strongly tempted to join my friends in the unholy laughter that followed the yappings. But I refrained. Stoically.
To join them in yapping Mr. President is to lose my personal bet and become like them. That’s too cheap. Yet really, I need to find a way to say to Mr. President by any means in which he could take personal cognisance – not that some folks should take cognisance on his behalf – that “Mr. President, you are the king.” And that takes me back into the Lion King movie in which Nala, the young lioness, had found the exiled Simba and recognised him as the king, but Simba said, “No, I am not the king.” The answer is “you are the king. The hyenas have taken over the Pride Lands” (possibly, including Aso Rock and the rocks of Legislature and Judiciary). “Everything’s destroyed. There’s no food, no water. Simba, if you don’t do something soon, everyone will starve.” Now, get back on the Pride Rock and be the king that you are.
Now, Mr President, if you can hear me over there, all those kings of the Bible that you mentioned in your retort were heads of state. You are also head of state. Therefore, it is still the same job, although by another name. You are the king, Sir. Reign as one. You bear the ultimate responsibility to see that everything is done in this land “according to the established law.” Use Ahasuerus as a model. Consult the law from time to time and always insist that things must be done accordingly. Wherever you find the law inadequate, make the draft of a new law and send it to those whose duties are to write it into the canons. You have no other responsibilities besides these. Be regal at protecting and enforcing the law and justice. A wise king once wrote, “He that rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.”
If Disneyland won’t mind this: I will recollect another soundtrack also from the Lion King movie: “He’s holding back, he’s hiding. But what, I can’t decide. Why won’t he be the king I know he is, the king I see inside?” And then you might also wonder who I am. I’m not a big shot, I am not a lion, I am just a black-bummed baboon and I am content so to be. The king has a transformation dream and is seemingly being confused by the hyenas about interpreting it, but there are several of us who have the detailed interpretation of that dream. Interpreting dreams is what monkeys like us do, if only Mr. President would know that he is indeed the king and reign like one in true justice by the law.
(Oyetomi lives in Akure)