When one of world’s foremost storytellers, Prof. Chinua Achebe, declined for the second time a national award conferred on him this time around by the current administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, most so-called eminent Nigerians failed to learn the simple but powerful lesson embedded in Achebe’s refusal to “join the bandwagon.”
Indeed, one of Jonathan’s town criers and halleluyah chorus boys who, due to slave mentality and unthinking loyalty to his boss, is fond of making reckless statements against critics of his boss, alleged that Achebe, living in the United States, has lost touch with what was happening in Nigeria.
Remember, in a terse statement rejecting the award, Prof. Achebe had argued that since the bugbear of chronic misgovernance and insecurity that characterised Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency was still present in Jonathan’s administration which made him reject the award the first time, he was constrained, as a matter of principle, to reject the “honour” again from President Jonathan.
There is no doubt that Nigeria has been progressing in fits and starts since the incumbent President took over power effectively in 2010. In terms of execution of his administration’s “transformation agenda,” it is clear to any honest observer that the President and his cabinet, together with members of the National Assembly, have achieved relatively little compared with the amount of resources spent in maintaining the apparatus of government.
Two examples are sufficient to justify the claim above. First, the current administration has failed to move against corruption where it hurts most, that is, the larceny committed by former heads of state, governors, ministers, and so on. Second, the level of electricity supply and insecurity nationwide is terribly unsatisfactory – indeed the problems here are worsening – despite the President’s pledge to improve power supply and distribution expeditiously supply and defeat terrorism and kidnapping perpetrated by Boko Haram and other undesirable elements.
Thus, most probably, Achebe must have taken a long hard look at current events in the country and, correctly in my opinion, decided not to lend credibility to the game of musical chairs played by the federal government. Prof. Achebe, as a fallible human being, might not always get it right while responding to the complex issues confronting contemporary Nigeria. But as a thoughtful man of courage who speaks his mind even when it is “politically incorrect” to do so, he is a credible role model for Nigerian youths.
To even suggest that because Achebe lives in the United States therefore he is out of touch with happenings in Nigeria betrays a dishonest forgetfulness of the globalising capabilities of modern information technology. More to the point, many Nigerians domiciled in Europe and America are more informed about the country than a significant number of educated Nigerians living in our towns and cities because of highly developed usage in the West of reliable social media powered by the Internet.
Therefore Achebe lives in America, but he certainly is better informed about Nigeria than Nigerians living in the homeland who do not have enough money to buy local newspapers and newsmagazines on a regular basis and have very limited access to news from various electronic media like radio, television and the Internet because of epileptic electricity. That said, I really admire Achebe for making it abundantly clear that he has zero tolerance not only for incompetent leadership but also for politicians of questionable character.
The same cannot be said for some other highly respected Nigerians. Take Chief Emeka Anyaoku, for example. His claim to fame and respectability stems mainly from several years of holding the position of Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, from where he retired with grace and dignity.
Chief Anyaoku chaired the 2012/2013 Post Graduate Lecture given by Prof. Ade Adefuye at the University of Lagos, and the moderator and guest lecturer both tried to outdo each other in pouring encomiums on the former Secretary-General.
From the way he speaks English and mannerism, one can conclude that Chief Anyaoku is a refined gentleman. However, the retired diplomat appears mingling with politicians of questionable character, a situation that many of his admirers find disconcerting.
To some extent the same is true of Prof. Wole Soyinka, one of the best playwrights and humanists to emerge from the Black world, not just Africa. Soyinka’s courage in confronting military dictatorship in Nigeria is beyond dispute. Of course, his contributions to scholarship are acknowledged worldwide. But some of us that admire the playwright from a distance are puzzled whenever we see him in the company of politicians we think have with strong odour of corruption around them.
Nigerian politicians do not just use “fronts” to launder stolen funds; they also use clever means to burnish their dirty image by clinging to eminent Nigerians, in futile hope that people would forget their bad character and begin to respect them as well.
It usually happens like this: politicians of questionable antecedents either establish a foundation or finance an existing one, probably in the name of a revered deceased politician or accomplished professional, where they sit on the Board of Trustees.
Then they cultivate the company of respected personalities either by instituting awards for them, organisiing birthday-related events, making big donations during public presentation of books written by such individuals, and generally footing the bills for sundry personal expenses of the latter.
Unknown to these highly-regarded individuals, the moneybag politicians are using them to earn respectability by association. For many Nigerians that admire Chief Anyaoku or Prof Soyinka, seeing their idols sitting side-by-side with cash-and-carry politicians in a newspaper or television channel implies acceptability of the politicians involved as men deserving respect also.
In my opinion, individuals whose achievements – intellectual, moral, spiritual or professional – have earned them the status of role models in the society should not be hobnobbing with people of ill-repute. This is because the youths in every society need role models and mentors to emulate. But when those who should play such a role keep bad company, then there is a problem; the young ones would be confused and disappointed. Worse still, they might become cynical and hypocritical, preferring Machiavellism to genuine effort towards exemplary conduct.