Two weeks ago, a man died and there was a minor furor created by the fact that yours sincerely questioned the non-familial people (I think they call themselves ‘citizens’) who mourned that man. That man was the erstwhile President of Nigeria, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Far be it for me to be ecstatic about the passing of a human being from one life to another, but far be it from me to not comment on the unabashed outpouring of support and platitudes which in my opinion were factually baseless, ethically repulsive and frankly, inane.
I understand that as Africans, we place a premium on death - it's one of those things that you don't tamper with, inquire about or joke with. Someone who dies is said to have transcended and thus (perhaps) become a higher being or abodes in a higher (or lower, depending on their standing with God, I’d imagine) place. Typically, all sins are forgiven and all minor achievements discussed in exponential terms once someone dies; even if, as in this case, the nation lives with the effects.
However, I say without equivocation that the masses of Nigeria don’t 'mourn' the passing of any member of our so-called elite. For example, do you think the families hundreds of civilians massacred in cold blood by Murtala Mohammed and his troops in Asaba (circa 1967) mourned his assassination or celebrated it? I wager the latter! If you're in doubt, kindly look up the word 'mourn' in Webster or any dictionary of your choice. So at what point do we "mechi onu" (as the Igbos would say), acknowledge the will of God in such matters and let the real mourners mourn?
Now that I've explained my angle, let's get back to the late Mr. Yar'Adua. You have a leader (indeed, a President) who is dead, so you can well imagine the almost instant deification that was bestowed on his persona. He has been presented to the world - even by his most vocal critics – as a nice, incorruptible “servant leader” whose only crime was that he hung around bad company and had a shrew for a wife. Even Wole Soyinka called him "a tragic figure".
Hey, I get it…
…except it isn’t true.
Paraphrasing the Bible, only by telling the truth can we be set free. Nigerians need to start telling themselves and each other the truth – only then can we make progress as a nation. On that basis, let’s examine each of the adjectives used to describe the late man.
Niceness – Being nice goes beyond a smile and an engaging personality. Being nice also relates to how you treat those around you. I’m sorry for being blunt, but handing your “barely out of their teens” daughters to middle aged men as third and fourth wives is a barbaric practice which is not in the best interest of your children. When those men are mates of yours whom you plan on using to build your political dynasty or extract future benefits from; we are left with a cunning, grasping man whose interest is not in his daughters’ welfare, but his own. Doing it three times indicates inhumanity and selfishness of purpose. Was his wife driving the process? Hmm…who knows? Who cares? Doesn’t the Bible says about marriage - “and the two shall become one”?
Incorruptible – I usually laugh out loud at this one. Other than the fact that his election was a sham (and anyone who had any integrity would have demanded a re-run), this is a man whose assets grew from roughly $600,000 in 1999 to about $6 million in 2007. For those who are too dazed to do the math, that’s a growth of 1000% in 8 years for supposed public official (not including stocks, for those who’ll claim the Nigerian Stock Exchange was going crazy). Yes, you read that right. I know some people hearken to the fact that he “declared his assets” as reason to believe in his incorruptibility, but that thinking is so left-field and myopic that it beggars belief, especially when such people are in the supposed fourth estate (media). Let me ask this question – if a man stole a car 5 years ago and confesses to the car owner 5 years later without returning the car, is he still a thief? I’ll leave that as food for thought…
Servant Leader – If I LOL at his incorruptibility, I ROTFLMAO at this one. The great servant leader who always placed the interest of the country before his personal ambition did not
a) choose NOT TO RUN for office when he was hospitalized for weeks in 2007 during his campaign season,
b) choose to RESIGN from office when he knew that his prognosis was grim and that he was in fact, facing a terminal disease,
c) leave standing orders APPOINTING his deputy in his place or provide provision for the appointment of said deputy in the event of a situation such as in November 2009 when he was rushed abroad.
If our dear servant leader truly believed in the policies of his party, his government and in his hand-picked (or foisted by his godfather, what’s the difference?) deputy, he would have done so. Certainly, the interest of the nation called for that – as evidenced by the political turmoil generated while he was away, the lack of credible government responses to crises (Abdulmutallab, anyone?) and the indecision of matters of state that required urgent action (power, infrastructure development, etc).
We have been witnesses to events in the United Kingdom where Gordon Brown chose to step down as Labour Party Leader (and Prime Minister) in order to give his party a shot at forming Her Majesty’s Government. Why? He believes in the capability of those in this party and in the benefits that his party will provide to the people of the UK. That IS servant leadership!
Bad Company/Wretched Wife/All Other Theories Spun by Sycophants – We’ve heard them all, and they are all baseless. Both scripture and secular life give us guidance in explaining this aspect of Yar’Adua, viz. Bible (by their fruits, you will know them), Secular (show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are).
If Yar’Adua was a ‘good’ man who was simply not strong enough to surround himself with men and women who shared his vision and could help him execute it, then he had no business being the President. In which case, why should I mourn his passing any more than I mourn the passing of the thousands of Nigerians who die on a daily basis because they have no access to healthcare, or because of inadequate security, or because they can’t afford to eat?
On the other hand, if he knew what he was doing, then why do we care?
When we have a leader who is committed to dispensing justice fairly to all and sundry, who is committed to electoral reform to ensure that every vote is counted, who drives aggressive legislation aimed at eliminating corruption in government and business (because then it’ll trickle down to the masses), who is committed to infrastructural and intellectual development so that Nigeria can be equipped to take its rightful place in the comity of nations and who is willing above all, to place the interest of the people above his/her selfish interest; if that leader is called out from this world one day, I and the people will truly mourn.
What are we left with? The man died…and so?