By Barr. Gloria Mabeiam Ballason
The sun had gone down but he was waiting for the black sky to overcome the moon. He sat listening to the tick-tock of the clock and the chirming on hours. Time seemed to stand still in defiance to the gnawing and palpable ignorance of his mind. Nicodemus was well versed in the exponents and letters of the Law. He knew the legal rituals by rote, the precise number of sections and subsections in case laws and treaties but his knowledge of the width of the fringe and the form in phylactery reminded him of one fact: He knew nothing.
Afraid of what his audience would do and abashed at his knowledgeable ignorance, he made a sneak peak walk to the One who could teach him of the new nature, new perspectives, new principles and modes of affairs. At this moment, he was not willing to put out his credentials or experience but put the red “L” sign of a learner, conscious that he may reveal his ignorance but hungry to learn. He asks so many questions but especially this one: ‘How Can these things be?’
The answer Nicodemus got led to what Max Lucado describes as the Hope Diamond upon which the foundation of Easter sits. So deep must have been that experience that at the death of Jesus, Nicodemus, the prominent and respected Pharisee leader and Joseph of Arimathea were the two who financed and led the internment rites of their teacher and friend.
Nicodemus is a character that should challenge us not only at Easter but with the leadership style in Nigeria as in Africa. How much do our leaders know about leading people and how much more can they commit to learn? Few weeks ago, my friend Davina Kakao of Uganda decried President Yoweri Musaveni’s arrest of Stella Nyanzi for what was termed ‘Cyber harrasment’. Nyanzi, a mother of three, has repeatedly criticised both Museveni, who has ruled since 1986, and the first lady. She has taken aim at the government’s failure to fulfill its commitment before the 2016 elections. Nyanzi joins a list of others such as Swaibu Nsamba Gwogyolonga, Robert Shaka and their likes all of whom are victims of a crackdown in social media comments.
The story is not very different from the situation in South Africa or Sudan, Cameroun and yes, our own Nigeria. Increasingly, our leaders are failing to learn that leadership is about the collective as opposed to the one who sits in the leadership seat. They fail to realize that a democratic chair is not a throne for which all subjects must bow to their biddings. Clearly, some of them lack the basic idea of what politics is about- that it is, in the words of Siphumle Yalezo, a contestation of ideas to drive progress and development and that criticisms are needed in order to create positive furrows that would lay the foundation for the country and continent we want to see.
It would appear that the incendiary effect of power in the hands of power drunks is not a plot that plays out in Africa alone. In 1984, English author George Orwell published his literary political fiction and dystopian science-fiction, Nineteen Eighty-Four . It is a fiction which describes official deception, secret surveillance, and manipulation of recorded history by an authoritarian state.
The superstate was placed under the control of the privileged elite of the Inner party, a party and government that persecutes individualism and independent thinking as “ thought crime”, which is enforced by the “Thought police”.
The tyranny is sustained by the character known as Big Brother who is the Party leader who enjoys an intense larger than life ambience, but who may not even exist. The Party “seeks power entirely for its own sake. It is not interested in the good of others; it is interested solely in power.” Winston Smith who is the protagonist of the novel, is a member of the Outer party who works for the Ministry of Truth. His job is to rewrite past newspaper articles, so that the historical record always supports the party line. The instructions that the workers receive portray the corrections as fixing misquotations and never as what they really are: forgeries and falsifications. A large part of the Ministry also actively destroys all documents that have not been edited and do not contain the revisions; in this way, no proof exists that the government is lying. Smith is a diligent and skillful worker but secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother. He falls in love with Julia,the heroine of the novel, only for political reasons.
Today, we see a replay of Nineteen Eighty Four in the things we see which are crafted to confuse us. A whistle-blowing policy was curiously put in place only to set in motion scenarios of moneies found in curious spots which have no owners. The executive picks and choose what judicial orders to obey and when to use the courts to legitimize an illegal process.In many states, local government elections have not held and though we scream hoarse that it cannot be said that we have a democracy if the third tier is fiddled with by governors as they deem fit, no one seem to listen. The heat has returned, carrying with it the scourge of the dreaded Meningitis.While hundreds die in avoidable circumstance, a Governor Yari reminds us: that sin, especially the sin of fornication has brought its judgment upon the people.
In Kaduna, my home state, the Governor makes a bogus claim of getting it right in security only for him to order schools closed in Southern Kaduna since December 2016 and to tell traditional leaders and all who care to listen that were parents interested in education, they would not let their children create an insecure environment. On Easter eve, twelve people were reportedly killed in Asso-Gwong, Jema’a local government in Southern Kaduna and while the governor sends an Easter message serenading ‘hope, liberation and common humanity’; he makes not a single mention that people were killed in his state and at a place where security was purportedly deployed. Still in the Crocodile state of Kaduna today, there are many people who have been thrown in jail by express executive fiats and in gross violation of the Rule of Law. Legislations are created to fit the spleen of those who want to craft mischief. There is with it a new equation: for any voice of dissent that goes up, a hard, cold prison floor or a pull down of houses awaits. Give me an Orwell to write the Twenty-Seventeen revised edition!
But like our friend Nicodemus, we cannot always assume that people know. Wearing a title does not make a leader any more than a wig make a lawyer. What however is unpardonable is when people saddled with the responsibility of leading others do not ask “How Can These Be?” There is no shame in admitting ignorance. On the contrary he who does not know but fails to admit that he does not know becomes a plague to the people and a pain to humanity.
Do our leaders know that they will render account before our Creator? Do they know that power is transient? Do they know that human blood is so powerful that it cries out for redress? Do they know that people are hungry and dying? Does El-Rufai know that blood is still flowing on the Southern Kaduna soil? Does he know he is jeopardizing the future of thousands of students who have had to waste away at home by his executive orders? Does he care that Shiites now sit on the edge and that in Kaduna, the people are fast becoming victims of his government?
I don’t know if he knows but if he doesn’t; he might as well do what Nicodemus did: Set aside the status, get into human turf, put his feet in the shoes of the led and just ask: How Can These Things Be? Happy Easter everyone.