By Muyiwa Adetiba
The French phrase, ‘Nobless Oblige’ has been swirling around my head for a while. The vibes get stronger each time our so called leaders do something untoward. Like when Dino Melaye wore a ceremonial gown to the hallowed chambers of the Senate. Or when he overreached himself to do the ‘Ajekun Iya’ video. Or when Senators pack themselves into a bus to go to court in solidarity with their boss. Or when Judges who are supposed to stabilise the polity through a strict adherence to the rule of law find themselves at the wrong end of the law. It however became a loud buzz recently when three prominent monarchs made news for what many would call the wrong reasons.
For the purpose of clarity and to be sure we are on the same page, let us understand what this French phrase means. According to Wikipedia, the phrase ‘literally means ‘‘nobility obligates.’’ It denotes the concept that nobility extends beyond mere entitlements and requires the persons who hold such status to fulfil social responsibilities particularly in leadership roles.’ The Oxford English dictionary states: ‘term suggests noble ancestry constrains to honourable behaviour; priviledge entails responsibility.’
Since it is a French phrase, this is what a French dictionary, ‘Dictionaire de l’academie francaise says: (1) Whoever claims to be noble must conduct himself nobly. (2) One must act in a fashion that conforms to one’s position and with the reputation that one has earned.’ In other words, anybody who claims to be noble must not exceed a minimum standard of decency. My own definition over the years has been simple. ‘Nobility has its obligations’ or ‘Nobility has restraints.’ What this means is that with power, wealth and prestige come responsibilities. Responsibility to be accountable for your position, your utterance and action.
Let us adopt these definitions as the litmus test for assessing the actions of some of our public personalities. Femi Fani-kayode is a public figure who was sired by a public figure. His father, Chief Remi Fani-kayode was a brilliant lawyer, one of the best in his generation. His courage and exploits in public life got him the pseudonym: “Fani power.” He attained, perhaps controversially, one of the highest political positions possible in his time. Femi himself has attained positions that very few of his age mates have attained. Yet his pedigree and previous positions have not taught him restraint. He talks like a loose cannon. He doesn’t care where the shells land or what damage they do. He is obviously intelligent. But to what end does he employ his intellect; to build or to destroy? To be constant on principles or to flip-flop according to the exigencies of the time? ‘Nobless Oblige.’
Another bird of the same plumage is Ayo Fayose. He might not have the antecedent of Femi or his intellect or his polish but he prides himself as being courageous and speaking the truth no matter whose ox is gored. In reality, he shoots from the hip without the cool, deliberate aim that is required of his status. He talks without filtering his thoughts to assess the impact. He has taken his fight against Buhari to a personal and frankly, an unbecoming level. He is a governor not an opposition spokesman for God’s sake. He sometimes forgets that. He is not just a governor, he is the governor of the State of the ‘Omoluwabis” who place character above all else. His actions don’t reflect that. Instead, he abuses the judiciary when it is convenient, disregards the police when his personal interest is at stake and constantly disrespects the presidency. He has had rude and unkind words for three of the last four presidents; especially Obasanjo and Buhari. Yet he must realise that if he wants to be accorded respect as governor, he must respect other institutions and their occupants. ‘Nobless Oblige.’
President Olusegun Obasanjo has had more impact on Nigeria and what she has become today than many other Heads of State. In fact, many believe he and just a handful others are responsible for the state the country is in today. You would think the twilight of his life would be spent on introspection. Yet he is constantly in the public space. He is scathing and unsparing on other political actors in a way that suggests he is oblivious to the log in his own eyes. Even when the comments were true and needed to be said, one would expect tact and the usage of other channels which are available to him. The result is that his comments don’t always have the weight that his status demands. ‘Nobless Oblige’.
Now we come to those three monarchs that recently crystallised the phrase in my head. The Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi 11 has not been finding it easy in his domain in recent times. His major offence as I wrote two weeks ago, was that he spoke an uncomfortable truth to the leaders in his constituency. I believe what he said about the poverty in the North and the remote causes of it needed to be said. I also believe they needed to be said by someone of stature.
Could they have been said with more tact and in a way that respects the relationship between traditional rulers and de facto rulers? That is indeed the question. SLS as he is known, tends to grandstand and present ‘his truth’ in a way that tends to embarrass the powers that be. His condescending, holier-than–thou attitude can be grating and irritating to those on the receiving side. Perhaps it would not have mattered if he was just another ex-CBN governor, another Soludo sounding alarm bells. But he is now a conservative Emir in a conservative emirate. He cannot and will not be allowed to be radical and conservative at the same time. He should know that. ‘Nobless Oblige.’
Anybody that watched the video featuring the Oba of Lagos and the Ooni of Ife where the Ooni was snubbed at a public gathering would be embarrassed. It was an affront to culture and to decency. Even I as an unknown Mr Joe would be upset to be treated so shabbily. Yet the Ooni is not a Mr Joe. And it was not the case between Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi and Rilwan Aremu Akiolu. It was between the Ooni of Ife and the Oba of Lagos. Our culture dictates that there should be mutual respect and deference to hierarchy. That didn’t happen in that video. It is unfortunate that a beneficiary of our culture and tradition has turned round to undermine it. Oba Akiolu should realise that the respect he gets is because of his crown. He should accord that respect to others who represent their forefathers. ‘Nobless Oblige.’