By Chioma Gabriel
As a child growing up, I had in my possession, one of the most auspicious letters of all times. It was a letter that for years, I pasted on the wall of my room and committed it’s contents to memory so well that even if I was suddenly woken up from sleep, I could recite it. Beyond committing the letter to memory, I also had a mental picture of the writer of the letter.
I was always moved by his facial expression and the fact that worry lines had etched deep furrows on the forehead of the writer and each time I finished reciting that letter, I renewed my vow never to stress my parents to that level. It was a letter written by the former President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln to his son’s teacher. And it reads:
My son starts school today… He will have to know that all men are not just, that all men are not true. But teach him also that for every scoundrel there is a hero, that for every crooked politician, there is a dedicated leader. Teach him that for every enemy, there is a friend.
Teach him if you can, that 10 cents earned is of far more value than a dollar found. In school, teacher, it is far more honorable to fail than to cheat. Teach him to learn how to gracefully lose, and enjoy winning when he does win.
Teach him to be gentle with gentle people and tough with tough people. Steer him away from envy if you can and teach him the secret of quiet laughter. Teach him if you can – how to laugh when he is sad, teach him there is no shame in tears.
Teach him there can be glory in failure and despair in success.
Teach him to scoff at cynics and to beware of too much sweetness.
Teach him to close his ears to a howling mob and to stand and fight if he thinks he’s right.
Treat him gently; but do not cuddle him because only the test of fire makes the finest steel.
Let him learn early that the bullies are the easiest to tick.
Teach him the wonders of books, but also give time to ponder the extreme mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun and flowers on a green hill. Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if every one tells him they are wrong.
Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd when everyone else is doing it. Teach him to listen to every one, but teach him also to filter all that he hears on a screen of truth and take only the good that comes through.
Teach him to sell his talents and brains to the highest bidder but never to put a price tag on his heart and soul. Let him have the courage to be impatient, let him have the patient to be brave. Teach him to have sublime faith in himself, because then, he will always have sublime faith in mankind, in God.
This is the order, teacher but see what best you can do. He is such a nice little boy and he is my son.”
I had this letter with me for a long time and even through my university days, each time striving not to fail my parents and not to let them have the kind of worry lines I saw etched on Abraham Lincoln’s forehead.
Since Abraham Lincoln’s letter, there have been other letters written by Presidents across the world on dicey issues of their time.
So, the letter of former President Obasanjo to President Goodluck Jonathan should not come as a surprise to many.
Accusations of ineptitude and acts calculated at destroying Nigeria contained in the letter written by former President Obasanjo to Jonathan came just in time as it appears Nigeria is suffering from a system’s collapse. It is also very possible according to allegations by Presidential media aides that the letter is self-serving, hypocritical, malicious, indecent, and very disrespectful of the highest office in the land. And that perception depends on whose side you are! Only time will tell if this letter that is turning Nigeria upside down at the moment is really as reckless, baseless, unjustifiable and of containing “indecorous charges as alleged.
What Jonathan should be bothered about is what to do with the contents of this letter and work out ways to restructure the system. Nigeria is a great country and leaders from time immemorial have rubbished the fortunes of Nigeria on the altar of greed and corruption. Let us forget that Obasanjo is not the best person to accuse anybody let alone President Jonathan of anything because it is the ‘anointing’ that started from the ‘head’. He appointed late Yar’Adua and gave him Jonathan and if Jonathan is everything contained in the letter written by OBJ, then OBJ is guilty as well of the same allegations. He was the teacher who didn’t teach his disciples well. He was the teacher that forgot to teach his disciples that for every scoundrel there is a hero and for every crooked politician, there is a dedicated leader. OBJ forgot to curb corruption by not teaching Jonathan who was his disciple that 10 cents earned is of far more value than a dollar found. Or did he remember to teach him that there is strength in not following the crowd especially when everyone else is doing it and to filter all that he hears on a screen of truth and take only the good that comes through? Did OBJ teach Jonathan that it is far more honourable to fail than to cheat?
But all that has become history now.
Nigerians around the country have read the letter and obviously have their own opinions as regards the contents. I don’t agree with Femi Fani-Kayode that OBJ has finally closed GEJ’s chapter with this letter. Jonathan is not finished.
He can still right all the wrongs or at least commence the process of doing so.
No man is an island. But what really baffles me is how a man in such a position of leadership will surround himself with men of appetite who only speak for their stomachs, telling him what he wants to hear instead of what truly is. Most of the people he invited to ‘come and chop’ are the people running down his government. They have ruined him. There was a grand conspiracy against the Jonathan administration by principalities and men and women masquerading as friends! They hail him at his face and mock him at his back. They tell him what they think will please him and turn around and mock his simplicity.
In as much as one can call the OBJ/Jonathan diatribe a case of the ‘pot and the kettle’ or the pot calling the kettle black, the truth remains that the issues that OBJ raised are too serious to be ignored or be dismissed in the manner the Jonathan aides are doing. Yes, Obasanjo bungled also in his own time and he who comes to equity must come with clean hands. But this is not the time to throw sour grapes at each other.
Insisting also that Jonathan respond to the allegations against him by the man that anointed him will not solve the problem. What we need to do is to rebuild the country. And Jonathan alone cannot do it. If it is possible, what is required will be a total overhaul of the entire system because the rupture in the system is across board. All the sectors are suffering and people in positions of authority are carrying on as tin gods, doing whatever they like and going scot-free! The entire system is a rot. We cannot continue to fold our hands and watch things continue as they are.
No matter how bad it is and on whose side anybody is, the truth remains that Obasanjo has said it even though he is not the best man to have said so.
There are certain things about the letter that ought not to have been made public and I wonder what OBJ intends to achieve by doing that.
In the same vein, Jonathan should know that he needs to do away with certain people in his government and he should be man enough to do just that.
The party, PDP has failed in many aspects and I don’t see the All progressives Congress, APC, as the answer either. A political party where one person owns a whole state, town, markets, bridge and people is not a viable solution to the rot in PDP. It means that given power at the national level, such a person will own the entire country, markets across the country and individuals as well.
It is time for change.
When Obasanjo joins in calling somebody a thief, then that person should remove the ‘finger of a monkey from the pot of soup before it becomes a human finger’.
You may call OBJ anything you like: the biggest hypocrite in the world for expressing his disgust at Jonathan’s modus operandi but the truth has been told. Let the vituperations and counter vituperations pour! Politicians are actors and the electorate must allow them complete their dance of shame. This is not the time to take sides. People are free to ask the usual question of “what did OBJ do when he was president?”
But what an elder sees while seating, a child can never see even if he is standing on top of an iroko tree. OBJ raised salient points. He saw tomorrow and he is scared. The facts and the pertinent innuendos raised cannot be rubbished or brushed under the carpet. OBJ has thrown an open challenge. It is Jonathan’s prerogative to prove him right or otherwise. The president needs to dialogue with the people like he did when he was seeking votes during his campaign for office. The people didn’t bite him then, and they won’t do so now.
Let Jonathan take heart and know that for every enemy, there is a friend. No matter how painful OBJ’s letter appeared, he should also remember that all men are not just and that all men are not true. Motive is ultimate in everything we do. But let him filter the contents of this letter on the screen of truth. And though it made him sad, he should learn to laugh when he is sad and shed silent tears because there is no shame in tears!
Or let him scoff at his cynics.
One also hopes that OBJ has not crossed the red line of politics with this administration. I perceived a crave for friendship with the opposition as pin-pointed in the Tinubu aspect of the letter. Tinubu campaigned for Jonathan. What was the motive in bringing that to the fore?
Only time will tell.