The Toothpicker By Seun Kolade
By Admin 4 months ago
It has often been said that the recent history of Nigeria is a case of a people deserving the leadership it gets. This has almost become an accepted wisdom, but perhaps it is high time we interrogated some of the assumptions underlying the saying.
I’ve written already about some of my encounters in the recent trip to Nigeria. I remember one of our invited speakers in our Abuja workshop expressing surprise that I was a southerner, given the level of interest and the focus of the research project on internally displaced peoples in Northeast Nigeria. To be honest, it has never really occurred to me, until the person mentioned it, that it was a noteworthy thing that I was a “southerner” spearheading that sort of research project. For me it was a project aimed at addressing a fundamentally human, and humanitarian, issue. This is a feeling that is very well shared among the rest of the members of the team. The researchers in the team did not see as a mere academic issue, but something much more fundamental- and practical. And so did our non-academic members from the NGOs and the media houses.
Our main co-investigator from Nigeria is a minority Northern Christian. You could see from the passion and commitment to bear how much the issue meant to him as a human being, and how he wanted to see the millions of displaced people- whatever their ethnicity of religion- get the help they needed, and how the state can find a lasting sustainable solution to the problem. As it happened, he was actually introduced to me by another friend I first met on Facebook. He’s probably reading this now- I’ll call him Dr GI. I’d approached GI, a northern Muslim, about the project. He simply told him that another colleague of his was best suited, and he linked me up with him.
One of our invited participants is another minority Christian from the North. Now in her thirties, she started working with an NGO when she was about 20, first as a volunteer. She brings incredible passion to bear in her work among the displaced, and you could see without a shadow of doubt that her work meant much more to her as a job. She is a walking encyclopaedia of local knowledge, and quite the raconteur to boot.
And there is the gentleman who had remained at epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency, at great personal risk, to set up schools for children affected by the insurgency. They are mostly children of victims, but also children of slain Boko Haram members who needed the help and support they needed to find a positive direction for their livesRelated: Nigerians Disagree Over Kalu's Sentencing As Former Governor Gets Set To Appeal Ruling
In the South, I had a lengthy conversation with a friend and brother who is running a growing business- providing critical services for smallholder farmers. I was awed by the resilience, the ingenuity and the sheer force of the will he has brought to bear to make things work in a uniquely turbulent environment where the institutions are weak, the infrastructure is derelict, and government is mediocre. This man, like many others like him in Nigeria, have to effectively provide their own security, their own power supply, and their own insurance, and still have to grapple with roads that are really death traps, and governments that continually demand more and give little or nothing in return.
Against this backdrop of these uplifting and inspiring stories of human solidarity, resilience and ingenuity, you have the disturbing optics of the “toothpicker” who projects a message of defiant indifference at the very time that the nation faces several crises on many fronts. There is nothing wrong with picking your teeth, or indeed with an image of someone picking their teeth. But this, as far as I am aware, is an official photo released by the president’s aides. It certainly sends a message- and that message has to be taking together with the rest of the president’s recent action, inaction, and words.
This government has been accused of flouting court orders in respect of citizens it had detained. More recently, it had swiftly arrested a campaigner for citizen protest on charges of- what for it- terrorism. In the same breadth, this government has failed to do anything about the horde of criminals actually terrorising communities with brutal murders and kidnappings. Many eye witnesses have described many of these as herdsmen. Not one of these herdsmen criminals, as far as I’m aware, have been arrested or prosecuted. In instances where the more publicised cases have been brought to the attention of the president, his response has been a study in apathy. This government is chasing swiftly and brutally after unarmed citizen protester, while cuddling with the real criminals butchering innocent citizens every day, in broad daylight.
While millions of Nigerian citizens are busy exercising themselves, against the odds, to make this nation-space work, the toothpicker says, in effects, that he can’t be bothered. He doesn’t care that his government is seen as champions of crude nepotism, fanning the embers of ethnic hatred. He doesn’t care about thousands of families bereaved of loved ones by rampaging terrorists in the villages and on the streets. He is there, and he just want to pick his teeth- in peace.
Is this the leadership the people deserve?