By Paulus Utser
Self-incriminating words do not dignify silence; they defile it. The logic of this common sense is embedded in the Miranda warning to any suspect who has been arrested: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court.”
But in today’s world of social media, sedatephobia (the fear of silence) seems to have become endemic, and people are hardly able to remain silent, even when saying nothing appears to be noble and more helpful.
The recent Christmas message of the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto diocese, Most Revd Matthew Hassan Kukah, presented Nigerians with a golden moment for silent reflection. But sedatephobia disorder ignited a chain of reactions; and while some of the reactions usefully attempted to help us further understand the magnitude of the already-known painful reality captured by the Bishop, others decided to embrace the self-incriminating defilement of the golden moment for silence. Surprisingly, the response tweet by Lauretta Onochie, Personal Assistant to the President on Social Media, registered itself as an example of such violation of silence from a highly recognized podium.
Understandably, Onochie was being active in her line of duty as Personal Assistant to the President on Social Media. Unfortunately, she seemed to have been caught off guard by the naked reality of government ineptitude captured in Bishop Kukah’s message. Or, perhaps, instead of responding with the same quality of substance that formed the Bishop’s message, she chose to represent her official responsibility as a national joke.
In her “wailing” tweet, in response to Bishop Kukah’s message, she wrote: “They’ve met more than once. So, what is the problem? Baba no dey drop! He is rebuilding a nation battered by greed, political and religious favors. Buying the support of traditional/religious/political leaders is no longer on the table. Rebuilding our nation is the main focus.”
Many have interpreted the tweet as an insinuation that Bishop Kukah’s criticism of President Buhari’s administration was an outburst of personal disappointment due to the fact that the Bishop could not lure the President into giving him pocket money or material favors. Probably, that was the point Onochie was also trying to make.
And such insinuation may convince some people, but I had difficulty relating her logic to the context and content of the Bishop’s message because of some critical questions. Is there a way to make people with political offices in Nigeria to embrace the wise counsel of the former US First Lady, Michelle Obama, who said: “when they go low, we go high”?
Every time a serious issue is raised about governance in Nigeria, government officials begin to go low with ridiculous defense mechanisms. But sometimes the humility to accept defeat is superior to an attempt to stage a porous defense. Former President Goodluck Jonathan was on the political procession to be baptized as one of the worst Nigerian presidents in history. But when he graciously conceded losing election to President Buhari in 2015, many Nigerians changed their perspective about him. Is it impossible to accept failure now?
If, as Onochie indicated, Bishop Kukah and President Buhari have “met more than once,” in what capacity was the Bishop received by the President? Was he received as a regular citizen or as Bishop? What had been the agenda of their meetings? Or should we take it from Onochie that pocket money request has been the main agenda of those meetings? In that case, if exposing corruption has been a key agenda of the Buhari administration, why has the Bishop not been exposed since after several meetings of “loose change” request?
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Or was there some difficulty in establishing any corruption charges against the Bishop for a report to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission? Are all the prominent Nigerian figures, like the Emir of Katsina and the Sultan of Sokoto, also disappointed “pocket money” hunters? Was pocket money also the basis for the EndSARS protest by the Nigerian youths?
Is Buhari the only President Bishop Kukah has ever criticized? Is Cardinal John Onaiyekan (Emeritus Archbishop of Abuja), the Catholic Bishops Conference and every single religious leader, all voicing dissatisfaction or offering crtical reflections for the same reason of pocket money? Was it because of pocket money or material favors that some of our soldiers in the battlefield were complaining in the combat against Boko Haram?
There is little hope to imagine that Onochie has answers to these questions, given that she also wondered: “What’s the problem?” What else can better affirm the “lack of direction” of the Nigerian government than such “official” expression of lack of knowledge about what is going on?
But then she went on to suggest some knowledge in the tweet that our nation has been “battered by greed, political and religious favors,” and that the main focus of President Buhari is to rebuild “our nation,” not to buy the support of traditional, political and religious leaders. Hmmm! Who then remains part of the “our nation” that is being rebuilt by Buhari, if Nigeria is truly a nation where the influence of religion, culture and tradition cannot be reasonably dismissed?
Or, is the “our nation” indicative of the Nigerian First Lady’s suggestion some time ago that her husband’s administration has been hijacked by a certain cabal? Moreover, who says that support must be bought by pecuniary or material favors? Many Nigerians like myself are supporters of some football teams in Europe, do we get money or material favors from those teams in exchange for our support?
Onochie had the right to remain silent, but moved by a “difficult” determination to defend the charges of government failure against Baba, she decided to violate the “right to remain silent.” In the process, she fired a thoughtless shot that was both suicidal and patricidal, killing herself and Baba President, by ironically stating the irredeemable fact: “Baba no dey drop!” She is absolutely right. That has been the frustration of Bishop Kukah and many Nigerians with their President. Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, recently wondered whether President Buhari is not interested in understanding or is unable to understand the situation of the country.
A simpler explanation, sometimes in few words, enhances a better understanding of complex emergencies. Yes, it was easy to understand the Nigerian political events in the simple expression of the Nigerian singer, Idris Abdulkareem: “everything jagajaga.”
Now, thanks to Onochie, we can best understand that all the biting issues affecting Nigeria at the moment are due to the fact that our Baba President “no dey drop!” But we cannot fairly blame the President because he had already told us from the very beginning: “change begins with you.” The best way for every Nigerian to understand those words in the present context is to know that: “you are on your own!”
But that should not be considered as the end of hope for Nigeria; we are only placed in a classroom of hard lessons. So, change must now “begin with us” instead of “with you,” since the one who says “with you” does not consider himself part of your problem. Every Nigerian of good will must become part of the solution for a better Nigeria. I believe that the EndSARS protest was inspired by the “with us” spirit of togetherness.
Hunger, killings, kidnappings and poverty are “with us.” And a big lesson can be drawn from the great German theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein, who defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We must maintain our faith that miracles do happen, but Nigerian youths also need to sustain an enduring determination, even if it hurts, to end the insane era of recycling old leaders and expecting a different result for a better Nigeria. Retirement age should be respected!