Last week Doyin Okupe, an Adviser to the President shared,on Twitter, his thoughts on an encounter he had with Obiageli Ezekwesili where she declined his offer to shake hands. According to him, ‘we may disagree but it ought not be personal’. If the number of retweets is anything to go by, many agree with him but under current circumstances, maybe that is the problem. We don’t take things personal.
Surely it is personal when those in government use the security apparatus which belongs to all Nigerians to intimidate those who share a different perspective from them or disagree with their policies and politics? Surely it is personal for those whose sons are mindlessly murdered in a school which should be well protected by a One Trillion Naira security budget and a state of emergency? Can it be business as usual when daughters and sisters are kidnapped by terrorists and held as sex and domestic slaves? Some would prefer to see these harsh realities as isolated to only those it is happening to, after all, in a country of 160M maybe it is not important that over 2000 have been killed by Boko Haram this year alone. But this thinking is flawed because when a corner of a roof is on fire, the inhabitants of the house would be making a serious mistake to think only those directly under the fire are to worry.
Thousands of Nigerians have been killed and maimed by our broken health system, with hospitals where the catalogue of patients’ experiences range from the criminal to the unbelievable. We fail to see the irony of so many public officials dying in foreign hospitals. Are the financial and emotional costs to the families of the late Emir of Gombe and Dora Akunliyi not personal? How many have wept from the loss caused by the death traps which serve as our planes and our roads? Too many senseless deaths caused by our governance and political structures, thousands living under extreme injustice and the impact of corruption and many more denied their human rights because of the raw misuse of power in Nigeria and our inability to hold those in government accountable. Yet we should not take anything personal?
I can’t lie, right up there with corruption; sycophancy ranks high as a debilitating national disease. It is this demeaning obsequiousness that creates a bubble of lies around those in power and prevents them from understanding how their actions personally affect us as citizens and as humans. There are too many current and past government officials whom we should all shun in public and in private. Around dinner tables and newspaper vendor reading clubs we all complain about the excesses of our public officers, but the minute they walk into a room we jump to attention and almost wet ourselves from our delight at our proximity to power and the possibility of favour.
We must not confuse good etiquette with taking the affairs of our country seriously. To lose gracefully in any competition and to act like a good sports woman or man is important, but we are not talking about debates and races here. Ruining our country, making life untenable for millions and squandering the future of our children is not something we should take lightly, shrug our shoulders and shake hands gamely with those who are responsible.
In referring to his role as one of the official spokespersons for the President who have been vociferous about discrediting and disrupting the #BringBackOurGirls campaign as a disagreement, Okupe shows us that those in government consider our lives a game. The message is ‘everything is justifiable as just business or just politics.’ But we must ignore this bulletin. This is our country that is being shredded and pillaged and we must show those responsible that we hold them accountable for their contributions to the outrage that threatens and endangers us all. Besides, as Chinua Achebe warns, when you shake hands with a leper, the leper will expect an embrace.
By refusing to take issues around governance and abuse of power personally, we have embraced those who should be outcasts. And if we continue to swallow the poison of politeness out of a misplaced duty to honour the office of those who have no respect for us, we will continue to be complicit in our own ruin and suffering. Taking Nigeria seriously means, we take the abuse and misuse of power personal and match our words with our actions. Today.