Soul of a Citizen

The job of a citizen is to keep his mouth open.” – Gunter Grass

In 1999, Polish-born, German bred literato, Gunter Grass won the Nobel prize for Literature. He’s an iconoclastic writer that thrives on the allegory of the absurdities of human existence and governed and government relationship. He has for many decades, been an outspoken left-leaning critic of Germany’s treatment of its Nazi past. Often, his statements caused a great stir in the press and unruffled the German establishment.

Today, all manners of complexities and warped configurations that make Nigeria a unique project assailed the sensibilities of the citizenry. For those in government, there was everything wrong in being truthful. The admission of the President on May 29, 2007 that the electioneering process that returned him as President was both flawed and grubby amounted to political apostasy over which the man who aspired to the lofty dream of servant leadership was vilified. His resolve to reform was scuttled.

Tales went round town that the man who brought a handful of decent men and women to feast with the sordid gourmands of power for reforms like his predecessor would be hoodwinked. Through their time-tested abracadabra, great men and women were diminished. When they were not kicking one out to school, they are denying the other the honour of his rectitude and restoration of sanity brought to the master-plan in the Nation’s Capital.

As new brinksmen emerged, the never-do-wells, contrived the plot of one of the major achievers fleeing to an erstwhile regional capital to ‘beg’ the Garrison Commander to be made Minister of Health. That ambition is legitimate flies in the face of realpolitiks. As if they didn’t canvass for votes before their controversial elections, the woman again, was accused of becoming a house-girl to the president’s wife and doubling as valet to the in-coming First Lady. Thank God the traducers didn’t see her violating her marital vows.

“You called some people a cabal but you were a part of it. I have information that you cooked meals for the First Lady”, said a sitting senator. Such scripts resonate with the Hansard of a Students Representative Council in the days of yore, not the Nation’s highest law making body.

Before long, she became the mouth-piece of the administration: a greater burden on her. This was a woman who performed incredible feats of curtailing drug hawkers and manufacturers of fake drugs. Unable to clip her exploits, the woman who was fast losing reputation because being a spokesperson for the government tantamount to being Eric Arthur Blair (better known as George Orwell’s) creation Squealer. Squealer is an intriguing character in Orwell’s Animal Farm. He’s first described as a manipulator and persuader. Orwell narrates that: “He could turn black into white.” Just like when madam ex-information minister was first appointed.

Madam kept talking like Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda for Germany. This would seem inconsistent with Orwell’s satire. But at the fullness of time and in a bid to redeem her fading glory, she returned to the shared value by erring on the people’s side by saying it as it is. That volte-face ruptured the emotional response of people who thought she was called to come-and-chop in the normal Nigerian parlance.

Watching the drilling of Prof. Dora Akunyili made my head spin. What wrong was Kanti Bello counting against the former Minister of Information and Communication? At once, they seemed both specious and provincial. A minister cooking for her boss’s wife? Does it connote hatred, as later alleged by Kanti, or love? Nonetheless, Akunyuli has repudiated that. But who doesn’t know what these people do for power? A former Commissioner in Jigawa was recently sentenced to death for causing the death of two of his own children. Gbenga Daniel hasn’t denounced the statement of calling his henchmen for rituals in Ogun State. Okija is still in Anambra and Gbaramatu is a dreaded kingdom in the Niger Delta. So wherever you turn, the filthy lucre of holding public office stares at your face.

Nothing, again is said of the kind of citizens’ engagement espoused by one of America’s contemporary researchers on holding people in government to account on their successes, foibles and follies through citizens’ responsibility that surpasses other considerations in the evolution of responsible and responsive governance, as envisioned by Robert Greenleaf, the architect of Servant Leadership whose idea the Umaru Yar’Adua government disingenuously plagiarised.

Paul Rogat Loebb, author of Soul Of A Citizen: Living with Conviction in a Challenging Time, forcefully canvasses empowerment of some people who choose to live with social commitment, while others abstain despite all the frustrations and barriers. Dora Akunyuli represents the former, while Kanti is emblematic of the latter. Soul of a Citizen has sold over 100,000 copies in print and St Martin’s will publish a wholly revised edition later this month (April 2010). I recommend it to Senator Kanti and his apologists.

Except there’s something innately wrong, Dora has committed no crime by speaking up that the health situation of her boss (President Yar’Adua) be clarified. It is asinine to subject the main information-giver of the administration to the gale of cloud that the ‘cabal’, appropriating our President subsumed us all under. We have always known that some people would claim to be democrats when they work at cross-purposes with democracy ideals.

Trading accusations over the propriety of full disclosure of the President’s health is not a matter to politick with. Like every mortal, we don’t consider our President to be super-human. He has always acknowledged that. But to expect Kanti wanted Akunyuli to regal the world with tales by moon-light when the provisions of Section 144 is unambiguous about her rights over ‘their expediency” in consonance with progress and good governance of Nigeria. Must she continue to legitimise the illegalities going on?

Would Kanti Bello have taken Dora on or have been assuaged if the Professor had, like some others, tell us that the President was as fit as fiddle and plays squash every morning and evening without anybody seeing him on the court? Has Bello sighted the President, even from his privileged position as Senator, kinsman, friend and loyalist of the ostensibly terribly sick President? Would stopping Dora have restored the health of the President and forge better unity as Kanti espoused in his long, unprovoked verbal diarrhoea in the hallowed Senate chamber on Monday?

Thank God, there were ‘doctors’ in the red chambers to ward off the rampaging Kanti. The Senate President stopped him and Lee Meaba called his conduct ‘unparliamentarily’. Need I say more? Would it not have been in gross national interest for the President to glide down the airport run-way, waving his hands gleefully at a crowd of patently patient Nigerians he had acknowledged in his controversial BBC interview as rendering supplication for his restoration?

The spin doctors have not exhausted the tricks in their bag. It is in our common interest to see them verbalise what they do in their nocturnal times. The lesson of the epic drama for us all- the governors and the governed- is that those who live in glass house do not have to undress in day-time and they shouldn’t throw stones.

Written by
Kunle Somorin
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