Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe must have made quite an impression on my father: in the days when I still had the pleasure of his company as a child, he always told certain stories of the erudite and oratorical prowess of the Owelle. As a tough political activist himself who mostly fought in the trenches for the actualization of the then Midwest state, and in his capacity as the then Secretary-General of the Midwest State Union, he presented a welcome address to the Owelle when he showed up in Benin City or Oleh (sorry folks, I can’t quite remember the name of the town). T’was in the year 1950-something and I was not born then. But I’m sure of this because I’ve seen the foto: my father was dressed in the traditional Delta costume of an Okpo, a Stetson, and a flowing wrapper draped across his shoulders. He was what you would refer to today as a lekpa or a letter ai. The Great Zik just stood there, a smile planted on his face as though captivated by the fiery calls for the creation of a Midwest state being made by the young ‘un before him.
But my father said that the Great Zik of Africa was very creative in the articulation of his political manifestoes. He said that Zik had a way of wriggling out of very impossible situations by grafting local lexicons of both Ibo and Yoruba into the Queen’s English in such a manner that left his political enemies and admirers speechless. Take this as an example of what my father said the Great Zik did to outwit another great son of Nigerian nationalism, Obafemi Awolowo. In their days as champions of the National Youth Movement, Awolowo had employed all the oratorical antics at his disposal to dissuade Zik from leaving the Movement. When Awolowo was through, all felt that there was nothing left in Zik’s bag of themoreyoulookthelessyousee that could in any way hypnotize or mesmerize them.But the Great Zik mounted the rostrum all smiles and smiley. He spoke just a few words, concluding by telling his audience that there was a certain odinmarity in what he proposed to do. At this, my father said there was some silence, a long silence as people seemed to be in a trance, considering what the great Zik meant by odinmarity of what he proposed to embark upon. When they actually recovered from this unusual fusion of local lexicons to express the expediency of his move from the NYM, the Great Zik was already walking away, with the ululation Zik! Zik!! Zik!!! rending the air. Unfortunately for the great Zik of Africa his kinsmen were not all that impressed with his oratorical prowess, preferring that he did the same kind of magic with the development of the East as with the development of an ingenious lexicon.
We should not visit the actual verse and chapter of the book of life to be reminded of that paradox that has it that out of the bounty of the heart the mouth speaks. A speech by a leader or one who aspires to lead should galvanize: it should inspire confidence in all who listen to it and chart a course of hope in an otherwise hopeless situation. Words in a speech by a leader or one who aspires to lead are the nail that a carpenter uses to hold the various curves and dimensions and the consciousness of his people together. When a real leader opens his mouth to speak to his people something gives.
As far as I can remember, there have been leaders who have led their people not with guns or with subterfuge but with the words that come out of their mouths.What all the other institutions of government do is ratify the words of these leaders. Churchill egged his people on with his mouth when the Luftwaffe reduced London to rubble. The words of a Kennedy, a Lincoln and Roosevelt today remain etched in the hearts of men and on marble and people use them as a compass to chart political courses or use them to hoodwink the simple. It was the words of a Chairman Mao or a Kim Il Sung that established the philosophical framework upon which the former lambkins of Asia stood on to grow into what we know today as the Asian Tigers.
Perhaps this was the cue I needed to hold in very high esteem, any leader who could ordinarily express himself in abecedarian terms – abecedarian terms to mean that no matter who that leader is, his ability to use his voice as a tool to express the soul and spirit of his people and of unborn generations is a determining factor in how far this leader may inspire. Let me state it as a matter of fact that any one who aspires to lead and is unimaginative in the way he deploys his words is nothing but a fluke. Words are living organisms and have powers we are yet to imagine.And over the years, believe me, we never really have had a leader whose words edify us.
I have listened to Flight Lieutenant Rawlings before and after his sojourn in the corridors of power and I wished he was Nigerian. I have heard Martin Luther speak and all of those times, my blood gets refreshed and cleansed from the impurities that we often listen to in our country. Even Adolf Hitler, even Mussolini and even a little of IBB had the gift of making even stones come alive with words. That is the problem that I have with those who aspire to lead and are leading now. Some being the hallow shells that they are, when they open their mouths we hear all sorts of garbage and barb. There is nothing edifying or ennobling or rejuvenating or inspiring or dignified in the things they say. The words we often hear from leaders from other lands edify and rejuvenate and inspire and dignify but those from this country lead us to a point when they devalue our psyche. Take for example how Chairman Mao’s words in China became known as Maoism, the words from our leader’s mouth have aptly been daubed Babaism in tandem with the very low esteem that they project our national patrimony. It is a sad thing. My suggestion in this wise is not for our leaders to manufacture their own lexicon simply because they want to floor political opponents; our leaders should sometimes try to reach deep down in the recesses of their souls and speak to us with some respect. It is also important that those who have an interest in rulership employ language experts as chaperons if they are deficient in that area, to clean them up a little bit before they meet us.