Thursday 26 May 2011

Editorial: Pretentious Righteous Indignation

The Nigerian Youth

Facebook once again presents the context of this editorial where I got involved in a conversation that pertained to an invitation that soon to be inaugurated president of Nigeria extended to the youth to join him for lunch.

There are many easy angles to the story but one should attempt to concentrate on the important points.

The election season of April 2011 showed that the youth of Nigeria who make up over half the population of the country are an important constituency to whom politicians vying for office have to give some serious attention.

They represented the bulk of electoral officials as members of the National Youth Service Corps that were recruited to first register voters and then man the polling stations in what generally can be considered freer, fairer and more credible elections than many conducted before.

Recognition and participation

In a patriarchal society where the youth are usually, berated, belittled, patronised and ignored as incapable, inexperienced and neophyte, they showed they could be organised, assertive, sensible, innovative and facilitators for change.

One can say that the President has recognised as much about this pressure group to have decided that they lunch with him.

Amongst the many effusive with praise, genuflecting with nauseating annoyance and plumbing the depths of sycophancy, one spoke with deference but candour with the subtext that the president had a responsibility to clean up politics and that he was being watched.

That should have been the substance of the discourse and how to press the president and his good office into the service of Nigeria for its betterment and prosperity.

He has the reins

Goodluck Jonathan, whether we like it or not, is de facto, de jure and bona fide President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, until disputes abrogate the declared results, he has right and licence to exercise the office of President for a full term of four years.

Criticism and opprobrium might be rained upon him but in a winner-takes-all projection of power, he holds the reins and whilst many might disagree with him, nothing is gained in being disagreeable, denigrating or carping excessively with condemnation, complaint and abuse.

The least every Nigerian should hope for is to have him perform, deliver and excel, there is just no time for the politics of rancour, division and calumny when what Nigeria needs the most is for anyone, anybody, everyone, everybody, someone or somebody who has the power to do something to get on and do it – fortunately for some and unfortunately for others, that person is Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan.

However, it goes without saying that some were annoyed with those who somehow earned the privilege to dine with the President.

The patronage system

At the end of the lunch, it transpired that a decision had been made to generously defray the travelling costs of the invitees, in the process, those who travelled from within the city of the event received a certain sum and others from outside the city received a greater sum of money.

Nigerian politics is one of patronage and it probably was to be expected that a largesse will be doled out, it does not then mean that recipients should suddenly lose nerve and become supine; receiving a generous gift does not a supporter make, those recipients should be accorded the benefit of doubt that they have not sold out or sold their souls to a cause they might in principle want to challenge long after that lunch was over.

The rights and wrongs of this are debatable, the ideal would have been for the attendees to submit an expense claim covering the costs of attending the event but that would have constituted a generally logistical headache for lazy apparatchiks, it was easier to just dole out the money.

We must not forget that the invited guests who might not have been people of means could have declined the invitation and been otherwise engaged in their professional daily activities.

Pretentious Righteous Indignation

An observer of the discourse put all the controversy generated down to righteous indignation to which one could only add the sense of pretentiousness that arrogates to the Nigerian system a set of Utopian standards of uncommon idealism.

The fact is Nigeria is a system that needs to be worked; it is a beast that isn't easily tamed; and a leviathan to be led by cunning.

The clamour for change to certain absurd practices that have become part of the Nigerian sub-culture and tradition of doing things is timely and applauded but it cannot be done by irrational protest, opportunistic challenges to authority or by ignoring the context, environment and setting to make statements meant to ostracise, castigate and deplore.

Working the system

The power distance index that is lower in the West and helped by the use of English in most cases for international communication but does not obviate the need for civility and deference – that index is still quite high in Nigeria and hence it requires wisdom and discretion to convey a rebuke to those whose office confers on them leadership, power and the sometimes the absence of humility for the greater expression of hubris.

It is in light of this that one appreciates the meeting with the youth and the offer of an allowance to those who were available to receive it without any slight to the person of the President – it was also convenient than no one was present to be ungracious to publicly reject the offer in protest.

The contrariness that became the exchange was very uncharitable and malevolent; a predilection for controversy so unbecoming of those of whom much more was desired.

Understanding the system

In all, for the many issues that face Nigeria, this was a storm in a teacup that has unreasonably developed into catastrophic natural disaster, the intention of instigators of the discourse cannot altogether be said to be altruistic, but then, one was left with analogy shared on Twitter.

You do not burn the bridge over a crocodile infested river just because the architect built a wobbly bridge – if that bridge was all you had to cross the river, you carefully negotiate it for both your safety and that of others or risk the welcoming jaws of the crocodiles below.

Even if a new bridge had to be built, that wobbly bridge might well be the inspiration for a better one, the system called Nigeria is changing but it will take some time and sadly, the impatient will fail to see the little changes taking place and eventually they will be left behind when the tide has completely turned.


Chude Jideonwo delivered the speech that should have been the focus of the interaction of the President with the youth but its importance was sadly relegated to the background of sensationalist but unhelpful opinion peddling.

It was titled We are watching you, Mr. President and published on the Y! Naija website.

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