By Muyiwa Adetiba
Many of us know the words ‘The Good Samaritan’ but may not know from where they originated, and in which context.
The words came up when Jesus was asked the definition of a neighbour by a teacher of the law and Jesus replied with a story as he was wont to do.
The story was about a man on his way to Jericho from Jerusalem – a dangerous and lonely road for many years – who was attacked by robbers and possibly left for dead. As it happened, a Priest – an equivalent of today’s Pastor – saw the man in the throes of death but chose to pass by on the other side. Soon after, a Levite – let’s say an equivalent of today’s Imam – also saw the man but chose to pass by on the other side. They probably didn’t want to be contaminated by a sinner’s blood. But then a Samaritan – let’s also label him an equivalent of today’s despised immigrant because Samaritans were not fully accepted in Israel – showed compassion, treated the wounds, and handed him to an inn keeper for further treatment at his expense.
Then Jesus asked a rhetorical question ‘which of these three do you think made himself a neighbour to the man who fell to the hands of robbers’? The answer of course was the Samaritan. Hence the phrase ‘The Good Samaritan’.
Professor Babagana Zulum, the current governor of Borno State and a man after my heart, will I am sure, have no problem answering that question today if asked who his neighbour is with what he has gone through. Since he assumed the mantle of leadership for his beleaguered State, he had gone to various lengths to seek relief for his people. Recently, he was to confess that positive vibes of help came mainly from Western countries.
Almost all the Arab countries including those who share cultural and religious affinities with his people had been lukewarm at best. According to the report credited to him, he had reached out to all the Middle- Eastern countries that he believed had the financial capacity to help out and he had been rebuffed.
Meanwhile, Western countries had offered aids in various forms. He had found, during his period of adversity, that his brethren were not those who share the same bloodline with him, or the same religion, or the same culture; or that his neighbours were limited to those who share physical boundaries with him. In fact, his problems have been exacerbated if not actually caused, by those who are his physical neighbours. Sometimes, our physical neighbours are our worst enemies.
My response to the question of who I consider my neighbour has been clear for years because of my various experiences over time. I will share only one today because of space. In 1990 when I was publishing a weekly magazine, I had an account with a bank which had a significant northern leadership although it was among the top four national banks at the time.
My Fulani Bank Manager told me he had observed from my transactions that I was paying a particular outfit a huge sum every week. He asked what it was for. ‘My printers’ I replied. He then asked how much it would cost to purchase a printing machine. I told him and he immediately asked me to apply for a loan.
This you must remember, was in an era when Bank Managers had authority and were reasonably powerful. The loan sailed through until the last minute when the Credit Manager, a Yoruba, flagged it and tried to stop it. His reason was that I had not finished paying off an existing loan.
The CEO, another Fulani overruled him and approved the loan. When I called the CEO to express my appreciation, he simply said ‘banking is about relationships. I am confident you would pay back’. Without debating the merit or demerit of the Credit Manager’s position, who would you have picked between the Yoruba and the Fulani as the person who made himself a neighbour at the time if you were in my situation?
This and many other experiences, have made me look at ethnic profiling in a different light when considering ‘my neighbour’ – those I help and those from whom I receive help. It is something to consider at this time when the Fulani tribe is being stigmatised and blamed for every ill in the country. Our issue should be with bandits and those who support them.
The President’s wife if she would be candid, would have had reasons to define ‘a good neighbour’ when her son had a ghastly accident while playing with ‘the big boys’ toy – the power bike. The then Minister of health, a Yoruba, assembled some of the best medical brains available to handle the delicate case. They were successful.
No one gave a thought to ethnic or geographical profiling when deciding the team that would ‘manage’ the life of the President’s son at that critical point. That the President seemingly looks at ethnic and religious profiles when picking his security team is rather unfortunate given the diverse profiles of those who helped him to the presidency.
Nigeria has been moving ‘east’ for quite a while. But the movement in the last ten years has been massive. Nigeria is consuming more Chinese products today than it has ever done and my estate is crawling with Asians. With this level of dependence, one would expect assistance or aid from China when in dire straits. Like now when we need vaccines like yesterday to save us from picking bodies on the streets – apologies to a certain billionaire.
What is China doing in trying to meet our vaccine needs? Or even our medical needs? And on what terms? Is the East doing better than the West in showing concern over our plight? This is the time to know if China sees us as a country to be helped or a country to be exploited. It is time to know if China wants to act like a good neighbour.
Who is your neighbour? These days of ethnic and religious cleavages, someone’s answer might be influenced by other people’s reality or current profiling. I will try to help them answer the question by leaving us with a roughly translated version of a refrain in a Yoruba song. ‘Whoever you are able to help is your neighbour. Remember them.
Whoever you are able to help is your neighbour. Help them’. In other words, we need to break the ice sometimes and reach out like the biblical ‘Good Samaritan’. We can have a good neighbourhood simply by being a good neighbour. Let’s not leave good neighbourliness to others.