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If Nigeria had been a pregnant woman

By Bisi Lawrence
If Nigeria had been a pregnant woman she would now be in line for congratulations on her safe delivery. What should have been a routine administrative act was manipulated and inflated into a near-constitutional crisis, which widely demeaned the state of our nation. But, at last, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan is the Acting President.

An issue that dragged a Nobel Laureate, the President of a sub-regional legal body, high officials of religious organisations, workers in the civil sector and other elements of the society, high and low, into the streets, has no doubt given the warning for all time, that Nigeria will not ever stand again for the kind of shenanigan which brought the shameful episode to pass. It is also indicative of how much we can acquire for ourselves if we would only begin to stand up and march for higher standards of life as a people.

Well, you might say the fever is over, at least for now. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is the Acting President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of  Nigeria. But the drums won’t go silent with the drama; we shall continue to hear more about it for sometime, because it all seems to have ended on the note of an aberration. An acting appointment in any position, anyway, signifies a continuance. In that wise then, you might say that the thought of an aftermath may not be far from possibility.

The decision of the Senate to hand over the nation to Goodluck Jonathan, albeit in an acting capacity, was well contrived and, in the circumstances, you might say quite correct. The state of affairs in which the President of a nation is unwilling, or unable, to transfer the authority of his office as it is due, except through the putative meaning of a broadcast statement on a foreign radio station may be faulted if sifted through the niceties of a legalistic interpretation of proper procedure.

Even if the 1999 Constitution accommodates the “transmission” of a notice with the intent of handing over the office, there is still the stipulation that it should be directed to the leadership of the National Assembly. And, what is more, it should be a “written declaration.” But against the backdrop of a nation-wide clamour against a looming constitutional crisis, or worse, the statement on the BBC may be accepted as a welcome relief.

Most of us may wonder why it took so long to resolve this issue, which compounded a logjam on the flow of national life. Not the least of the considerations must be our culture. In every African society, to take any action that presages, or is in contemplation of anyone’s death is freely accepted as a death wish for that individual. Hardly anyone would want to appear somewhat precipitate about pushing the President off the seat of power, especially on health grounds.

So, no one in a vulnerable position would like to “cast the first stone”, as it were.

There was also the matter of the exact condition of the President’s health. Those who conspired to keep it a secret from the rest of us deserve to be prosecuted for high treason – or something like that.

It was a capital disservice to whole nation, and that alone constituted the root of all the problems that were attendant on the President’s absence. But it has been reported that the President’s wife, Turai, was in the know – and in fact, was the mastermind – of this atrocious chain of deception, and that introduces a macabre coloration to the entire episode.

That a woman would sustain such a callous performance over a considerable period, in the face of apparent danger to the life of her husband, to say nothing even about the welfare of one hundred and forty million people, speaks of a twisted mindset that makes Lady Macbeth look like a child still in her diaper.

But it is true that the soft footsteps of ambitious and powerful women echo down the corridors of history, muted by fact that their stories were mostly written by men who put little store by the impact these women had, or might have had, on the course of human existence. Right from Nefertiti, who almost went through a transsexual ordeal in order to function at the highest political peak, and later Cleopatra also of  Egypt, their tenures in power have usually been dogged by a trend of heady intrigues channeled through narrow interests.

There are, of course, exceptions. One that is somewhat close to recent events in Nigeria would be the brave manner in which the wife of Vladimir Lenin, the Russian Communist leader, attempted to preserve her husband’s presidency by hiding his disability compounded by the effects of a stroke. But Josef Stalin, who was poised to take over power from his ailing boss, gave her the alternative to fall in line, or the Communist Party would be obliged to simply appoint another wife for her husband. We don’t have it that ‘part’ in our system.

Anyway, we have to applaud Professor Dora Akunyili, Minister of  Information and Communications. She thoroughly embarrassed her colleagues in the Cabinet, but added much to the essence of the developments. The unfortunate roles played by some members of the Executive Council of the Federation should make their continued presence within the Cabinet untenable. Of course, Akunyili is not one of those. She declared her stand and cleared her name in one bold stroke more for patriotic, one should concede, than personal reasons.

It is patently uncharitable for anyone, least of all (or particularly, if you please) a recognisable member of the “cabal” to castigate her for speaking out against the web of lies so dramatically spun by those who felt they should hold the country to ransom, and to the ridicule of the global public.

And so it had been a very delicate undertaking. Dimeji Bankole, Speaker of the House of Representatives, summoned all the charms of  his swift grin to ward off any charge of undue hesitancy; David Mark, President of the Senate, could hardly hide his bewilderment under a thick wad of bland statements; while the Cabinet grew more and more restive as some of its members became rigorously involved in the game that might be called, “The More You Hear, the Less You Know.”

Both Houses of the National Assembly deserve to be applauded for their comportment on a difficult terrain which demanded a high instinct of balance matched by a commendable sense of patriotism and propriety.
Now, “if  only it were done when it is done”… or how did Shakespear put it?

*I saw a television coverage of the launching of the Anti-Corruption Campaign, and I was disgusted. It was no more than an elementary exercise of an outside broadcast – “OB” for short to the practitioners. That is the vehicle for all broadcasts originating from outside the studios, and that includes all ceremonies – from funerals to festivals, particularly sports.

The deal is to present the event, in vision and sound, with the technical quality that would preserve the best reproduction of the aspects for the eye and the ear, without any distortion, while retaining the natural atmosphere of the occasion.

This means working with the programme schedule, so that the position of the Master of Ceremonies is unimpaired, and the value of the effects – that is the normal extraneous noise associated with such an event – is enhanced.

The professional approach is to create a studio condition in which sound is managed to a comfortable pitch, and the camera is fine-tuned to capture the minutest details which sometimes tell a story all by themselves. That broadcast got it all wrong. It was enough to make even an amateur shed tears.

The Master of Ceremonies was denied any officiating status; guest speakers, the chief of whom was a former Head of State, General Gowon, were bereft of suitable introduction; microphones were tested during transmission; the commentator  was absolutely unprofessional in timing and delivery; the entire output was totally innocent of a meaningful production process. And that was the Nigerian Broadcasting Authority, NTA, in the year 2010.

Such atrocities could never have been permitted even forty years ago. The television station in Nigeria, about three or four of  them in all, had taken off from the existing standards of the radio stations – also about three or four of them – which were very high. Those who were in charge had learnt their art from the masters who came down from the BBC and had pointed them in the direction of excellence. Those halcyon days are gone.

We started from Nigerian names in those days – how to pronounce and give full meaning to the natural sounds. Then we moved to foreign names and foreign words, not just English but also French, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Eskimo, any name from no matter what part of the world.

We were taught the art of presentation and announcement-making – not just stating a remark or mouthing a statement, but observing all the stilted norms. But again knew how to be informal and casual, as occasion demanded. Not any more.

Almost everything is now a throw-away, begging the pardon of Channels, and perhaps one or two others. Commercial broadcasting is said to have been responsible for the drift into the muddy waters in which the electronic media has found itself today.

There is a definite a link with that somewhere. There are also other reasons that may not be so glaring like, for instance, the lack of training, the absence of professional standards, the ignorance which induces hollow imitation, and also makes it acceptable; the distorted perception of the role of the media by the agencies responsible for its regularisation and those who man them – oh, one could go on for ever.

However, I believe that the major reason for the decay in the airwaves is simply due to the fact that the listeners and the viewers no longer care about high standards. No one is really concerned about how you pronounce an English word, no matter where you place the accent, and as for a Nigerian name, anything goes.

And with regard to what is done daily to the American language – and, yes, there is an American language – the phoney accents alone are enough to inflict a stony hardness of hearing on an innocent listener. There is a National Broadcasting Commission, so we have heard. All we can say is that they have to be slightly more committed for any change to be achieved. Or don’t they see that there is so much that calls for a change?

Take the case of speech quality, for instances. There is a meter provided for every console to modulate the sound that goes through it for a clear and distinct output of voice and music. The reception from almost every station in Nigeria is now routinely neglected and the result is unwarranted distortion.

No one complains. No one seems to realise that the standards of our lives as a community, a society, or even a country, are based on what the people are ready to accommodate. The populace cannot understand or appreciate that it is their right, nay duty, to demand a clean broadcast from the television stations. So they are fed with bilge and they lap it all up. Every society deserves the television, or government, it gets.

That is why a group of insensitive opportunists believe it could pull the wool over our eyes to the extent of  keeping the first gentleman of the nation incommunicado for as long as they please, and get away with it. That is why we must begin to stand for our right to receive the optimum of services from both the public and private enterprises; that is why we should, like Dora Akunyili, stand up for what is proper and what is right.

*Abdul Kareem Amu was a great sprinter. He ran the 100,200 and 400 meters’ races so well that he began to represent Nigeria from his school days, just as Owolabi Oduguwa, Akin Ogunbiyi, and Jimi Omagbemi, among others, did in their various events. Who remembers them now? “A.K.” was President of Nigeria Athletics on more than one occasion. He was arguably the best quarter-miler Nigeria ever produced. But this is not about his life. It is a reflection on his death which came earlier this week.

Thanks to old-timer, K.A.B. Olowu, and A.K’s long-time buddy, Femi Okunnu, who arranged for the funeral, which, according to Muslim rites, had to be performed without any delay. Perhaps the AFN will also follow up with what is right for them to do, once they can stop their perennial bickering. May his gallant spirit rest in perfect peace.

*Etim Henshaw was a legend in his time as one of the country’s most famous strikers ever. He captained the first Nigerian team to play in Europe in 1949. He was tall, fast, fearless and the terror of all the goalkeepers of his day. His funeral obsequies started yesterday.

Shall we now remember him at last for the yeomanry services he rendered for this country? It would be more than we did when he was alive. If the NFF can settle on the coach for South Africa, perhaps they shall have the time for such considerations. God rest him.

*Thank God, Moses Illoh is eighty years old today, and still kicking. Happy birthday, Pastor. You have indeed lived a life of muscular Christianity, like the Knights Templars of old. You have preached the “good news”, not only by mouth, but also through your transparent uprightness and open display of heartfelt agape. God grant that you may be remembered in good time, and in a good way.
Time out.


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