The Fireside Critic
Letter No. 7
An Open Letter to President Umaru Yar’Adua: Words of Encouragement in a Time of Illness
Dear President Yar’Adua:
Good morning. For several days now, stories have been circulating about your health. The rumor mill has gone into overdrive with all kinds of speculations, including the one that you are at death’s door because you are suffering from a very pernicious form of pericarditis, as well as the chronic kidney ailment that you have had for some time now. As a former sufferer of pericarditis, who now lives a very healthy life, I felt that the least I could do for you is to offer you words of encouragement.
Mr. President, I admit that I have never engaged in such a gesture before – writing a letter expressing feelings of empathy to a Nigerian head of state over his health situation. Indeed, Mr. President, I also admit that what made the difference in your case is that at a now historic moment in the nation’s narrative, when you were expected to take the often-trodden path to unleash death and destruction on a beleaguered people, you chose life over death, compassion over terror, and empathy over authoritaniasm. Mr. President, you chose the unbeaten path.
Mr. President, had you not chosen the unbeaten path, the Niger Delta today would have been a theater of the systematic destruction of life and property. Village after village would have been falling under the onslaught of our nation’s military. Town after town would have been being sacked. Man, woman, and child would have been being cut down by rampaging troops.
And on the other hand, Mr. President, the militants with their backs to the wall, would have been unleashing their fury on the nation’s oil infrastructure. In the zero-sum end game, the forces of the central government, vastly superior in training and firepower, would have won a pyrrhic victory: the systematic destruction of the militants at the price of an oil industry in total ruin, of decapitated flow stations, gorged out pipelines, and to rephrase Samuel Taylor Coleridge in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, oil, oil everywhere, but no oil to export.
Mr. President, you were perceptive enough to see this dismal vision and you took a step that has saved the village maiden from rape, the old man from going to a bloody death before his sun set, the children from orphanhood, and the grandmother from weeping for her departed husband, children and grandchildren. Mr. President, you also saved the nation’s economy from total collapse, and the already savaged environment of the Niger Delta from blanket destruction.
Furthermore, Mr. President, whereas previous rulers of the nation, in defiance of what is just, in defiance of what is true, in defiance of what is empathetic, rejected out of hand the legitimate demand of the people of the Niger Delta for at least a measure of control of an industry that has caused so much harm to their environment, means of livelihood, and even health, and very often met that demand with violence, blood, and destruction, you have initiated a process to transfer ten percent equity ownership in the central government’s joint venture partnership with the oil companies to the oil-producing communities.
Mr. President, even though many in the Niger Delta still grumble that all things considered – the thirteen percent derivation revenue to the oil-bearing states, and the funding of the Niger Delta Development Commission and the Ministry for Niger Delta Affairs – the measure neither amounts to full resource control nor bring the derivation revenue to the fifty percent that the nation ceded to its federating units at independence, nor the twenty-five percent that the Technical Committee on the Niger Delta recommended as a starting point, the measure is no less a revolutionary step, an act of courage, justice, and empathy that at worst can serve as a placeholder for whatever plan of more equitable sharing of resources that is to come.
So, Mr. President, I wish you the quickest recovery from your pericarditis, as well as your kidney ailment. I fervently hope that you will overcome both conditions and get a new lease on life. And in your moments of deepest crisis and perhaps despair, I urge you to encourage yourself with the thought that where death and destruction were asked of you, you offered life, and having done so, fight the fight to live. In the sentiment of Dylan Thomas, I urge you: Do not go gently into the night of your ailments, rage, rage for life, and rage, rage for health, and live.
With very warm regards,