By DELE AKINOLA
NO language spoken by man compares, in universality, with body language. Not even Chinese (Mandarin) spoken by the largest number of humans on the surface of the earth, does. Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Swahili, Japanese, Bengali and Hindi sparring with Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish – the so-called international auxiliary languages – are no match for body language in a game of universal versatility.
I had the rare privilege, as a 13-year-old many years ago, of witnessing the enormous message-registering power of body language in the humble apartment of a neighbourhood uncle with whom I shared mutual fondness. His “tear-rubber” wife had sauntered into the sitting room while I was savouring the excitement of humour with him. Within 20 seconds, she had recited the line “honey, I’m sure you know I love you” at least three times as she fidgeted in different directions of the room.
Then, without minding the little presence disturbing their romantic peace, radiant smile playing suggestively on her face, she lowered her captivating athletic frame onto his laps and delivered the bewitching line “e tie rerin” as she rubbed the glittering wedding ring on her index finger against his tingling nose.
Uncle and I understood what she recited in English because we both spoke the language. We also got the music she sang in Yoruba, which meant “you are not even smiling!” because we were both speakers. A non-speaker would have needed to be a sorcerer to decipher both. But without reaching for sorcery, Uncle deciphered from her body language that she was about to make a financial demand. So he seized the next available opportunity to sneak out of the house.
And why not? He was well aware madam’s friend who visited earlier had come to sell to her the idea of “aso ebi” uniform for a ladies’ club they had just formed. This was clearly a problem he did not create. Why then should he bear such burden especially with the cost masquerading treacherously on the periphery of two-thirds of his bloody civil servant salary? Unfortunately for him, he would still have to return home later: the day he slotted that wedding ring into her inviting finger, he signed up to confronting and solving problems he did not create.
Similarly, the privileged Nigerian who was later to become Uncle’s president, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the day he willingly took oath of office after successfully seeking the people’s mandate, signed up to confronting challenges and solving problems he did not create. His Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, though, might need the services of a sorcerer, to realize and admit this. So much Abati’s body language suggested to the nation earlier in the year when the cry of the national and international communities heightened against the “kid glove” with which the war on the monster that is mightier than, and in fact is the promoter of Boko Haram, was being fought. The long and short of his defence then, in a newspaper interview, was that “the Jonathan administration did not create corruption in Nigeria.”
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, could not be credited (or debited) with creating the problem either. His body language, though, might suggest he was only hiding in, and test-running his much-speculated but yet-to-be-procured Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) when, recently, he fired a deadly missile at the President. He had carpeted Dr. Jonathan on this same issue of concern for which the heart of the international community bleeds for Nigeria. But it is widely believed in the country that the House which Tambuwal heads is as guilty as the Presidency on the war (or lack of it) against the canker which Malam Nuhu Ribadu would describe as Nigeria’s own terrorism.
Perhaps the hands of both institutions are tied because most of the charges built around the corruption monster, unlike in other climes, are “unknown to law” in Nigeria. But not so in China, for instance! Since taking charge of the reins of state early 2013, President Xi Jinping had described corruption as a threat to the Communist Party’s survival and vowed to go after powerful “tigers” in the land.
Within the last four months alone, at least two such “tigers” have been caged. Ousted politician Bo Xilai was jailed for life in September after he was found guilty of corruption, bribe taking and abuse of power. His appeal was rejected in October, barely a month later, and his life sentence upheld. Also in October, a state official, Ma Linxlang, was sacked for “extravagant waste” after he spent an estimated 1.6 million yuan (about 160,000 pounds – chicken change on Nigeria’s free-for-all corruption terrain) on a lavish three-day wedding for his son. Even from the Vatican, a senior German Church leader tagged the “bishop of bling” by the media was, in October, suspended over his alleged lavish spending. Apparently, in those climes and many such others around the globe, the charges, even if unknown to law, were known to man, and man, armed with the requisite political will, made them known to law.
This is a big national challenge to President Jonathan whose political and media aides, in doing their jobs, have successfully constituted themselves into the main software component powering his body language hardware. If the duties of a leader anywhere in the world were all about solving problems he created, there would be no need for his services in the first place. Nelson Mandela did not create the problem of Apartheid. He was celebrated in life and is also celebrated in death because, putting his life on the line, he comprehensively solved a monstrous humanity problem he did not create.
Tambuwal and his colleagues in the National Assembly would do the nation a world of good with greater sincerity, commitment and political will on their part in the prosecution of any meaningful war on corruption. But the buck, in the final analysis, stops at the desk of the Commander-In-Chief. Nigerians probably voted him into that position believing he would be the most motivated to go after the local “tigers” playing graft with the national resources being produced in his home region. His duty in the exalted position is to confront challenges and solve problems he did not create. That was, and is, his mandate.
*Mr. Akinola, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Lagos.