Thursday, 1 August 2013

Mr. President

It was in a dimly lit room.
I sat at one end, you sat at the other and said ‘tell me the truth’
I asked, ‘Sir, do you want to hear the truth or what is politically correct’
You looked at me with sad, vulnerable eyes and said ‘I want the truth’
I looked at you for a long time, wondering where to begin…
And then I woke up.

Mr. President,
Please accept my sincere condolences on the death of your mother-in-law. May the good lord comfort you and yours at this time.

It’s 2.42am in the morning and I can’t sleep. I’m awake, wondering how you do it. How do you carry the weight of 160 million people and retain your ability to function? How do you deal with 43 years of anger and disappointment? How do you manage 250 Ethnic groups that speak over 500 languages? Yours is one of the most complex jobs on earth; I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes in a million years.

I didn’t vote for you, sorry. I wasn’t sold on your Fresh Air tagline. My dad was ill at the time and I needed a good hospital, not Fresh Air.

It’s been an interesting time with you as President and though you have been vilified and your administration second-guessed more than any other I know, I have to commend you for the restraint you have shown and for the progress you have made thus far; achieving 8 of the 14 points articulated in your transformation agenda is no mean feat. Congratulations Mr. President.

Even though it took a while for you to get round to it, your decision on Boko Haram was a good call Mr. President. I sighed in relief and I’m sure a lot of Nigerians did too. I know the battle is far from over but I believe majority of Nigerians support your decision to contain the threat. Maiduguri, a hotbed of the insurgents, now boasts a ‘civilian JTF’, spirited young men who have found courage to defend their city because of your decision to send in the troops.

We may not have the best of Africa’s rail network or infrastructure yet but the resuscitation of rail transportation; one of Nigeria’s most crucial transport systems after decades of neglect is highly commendable.

Thanks to the activities of the Trade and Investment ministry, Nigeria has become the highest investment destination in Africa with over $7 billion foreign direct investment in 2012 alone. To achieve this despite Boko Haram and the constant negative reportage from international media is nothing short of extraordinary.

I also have to acknowledge your spirited effort to create employment for the teeming population of young Nigerians. Igniting the spirit of Enterprise via the YouWin platform and facilitating graduate placement is encouraging.

Bold steps you have taken. Bold steps you are taking Mr. President. I understand you are going back in time to fix decades of disrupted development; problems you didn’t create. In spite of all these and so much more I’m sure you are doing, despite your very best efforts, its inadequate and the average Nigerian is angry. Still.

Our distrust, cynicism, apathy and sarcasm are all rooted in anger. I was at a unisex salon when you came on air. You know what a barber did? He hissed, picked up the remote and changed the channel. And everyone laughed. Even I was shocked by how strongly he felt. Like a jilted lover he has personalized the disappointment of Nigerians who feel cheated and used and taken for granted. And please don’t get it twisted, we have. We feel betrayed by the system and you Mr. President; bear the brunt of our condensed, deep-seated anger.

My father died you know? And to make matters worse, the General Hospital in my local government where his body was deposited didn’t have electricity. We were nicely told by the Mortician to ‘do the needful’ if we wanted a fresh corpse for burial. So we did the needful. Having to come to terms with such a loss and worry about the freshness of a corpse is something I don’t wish for anyone. 

Twice I have been failed by the Nigerian healthcare system. The first time my mother died. The second time my father died. Both deaths were needless. But hey, I can’t complain. It will be unfair to the millions who have had it worse than me. This is the plight of the average Nigerian and we bear it with uncanny, enduring dignity.

We don’t want much Mr. President. All we want is a country that works. If you really want to make that happen, concentrate your energy on:

The Fight Against Corruption and The Recovery of Stolen Monies: Corruption is the most pervasive disease in this country. It has eaten into the soul of every Nigerian. From Government to the Private Sector, from the gateman to the CEO, from the bit reporter to the editor, everyone demands a cut, something for the boys. Everyone has a price, well, almost everyone. Corruption is the cause of Nigeria’s insecurity. it is the reason why the power sector, in spite of all the investments, has refused resuscitation. Corruption has crippled Nigeria’s health sector; it’s the reason why the refineries don’t work. It has rendered our public institutions ineffective and eroded the standards of Nigeria’s educational system. Corruption has made politics attractive and swallowed those with lofty intentions for this country. Corruption Mr. President has singlehandedly brought Nigeria to its knees.

We are being stolen blind with impunity and brazenness as I have never seen anywhere else and nothing is being done, Mr. President. Not one thief has been brought to book. They walk freely amongst us and oppress the decent with their ill-gotten wealth. This country should be made unbearable for those who have stolen from this country, from those whose sweat and blood produced what they looted. Since independence, over $400 Billion (That we know of) has been stolen by Nigerian leaders, $31 Billion during your tenure alone. Nigeria cannot afford corruption. Recover what has been stolen and Nigeria will lend to nations. Don’t try to fight corruption Mr. President. Fight it because it undermines the legacy of your current achievements.

Power: This shouldn’t come as a surprise to you Mr. President. Lack of electricity is the number one vexation of every Nigerian. Fix power, you fix everything, or almost everything. Our industries will thrive, new ones will springe up, investors will troop in, businesses will prosper, cost of living will reduce, standard of living will skyrocket, there will be jobs for our teeming youths, we will be a less aggressive, more productive people, the environment will be quieter, greener and more eco-friendly. Fix power and you fix the bane of Nigerian’s economic development.

Education: It has been said that to predict a country’s future, assess its present educational system and forecast 25 years. If this saying is true Mr. President, we are a doomed nation. The current rate of WAEC failure stands at 65%. 1599 teachers from Kaduna state were given tests meant for primary four pupils recently. 1300 of them failed. 1300 Mr. President! Nigeria’s tertiary institutions churn out graduates nobody wants and yet we dedicate just 8% of our budget to Education. Compare that to Ghana’s 31% and tell me Mr. President, are we really serious about fixing the problem?

Tackle these three issues and everything else will fall into place. Create an enabling environment and a system that functions and see Nigerians work magic. We are a business-minded, resilient and hardworking bunch. Despite the perpetual frustration that life in Nigeria is, we have survived. From music to business, we have created opportunity in a country that constantly truncates one’s efforts at enterprise.

I’m of the opinion that leadership isn’t rocket science. It is not the preserve of a chosen few. All over the world, ordinary, everyday people have turned out to be extraordinary, visionary leaders. Your No Shoe Campaign may have been an underhanded attempt to connect with the ordinary Nigerian or it may have been genuine. Irrespective of either, the fact remains that you weren’t borne into privilege and therein Mr. President lies your greatest strength. You have lacked; you have suffered. You know how it feels. You understand.

What were the things you wished for as a little boy? Well guess what? Its what the ordinary Nigerian wants too. Nothing has changed. Leadership isn’t some abstract, it’s staying true to who you are. It is remembering how far you have come. It’s reliving the constraint, the absence of opportunity, the bleakness and then using that as a springboard to create the desired change.

As commendable as your current efforts are Mr. president, it’s like washing the dirt off the leaves of a diseased tree. Nigeria is one hell of a sick country; it will take more than your transformation agenda to create sustainable change. If we keep fixing symptoms and not root causes, it’s only a matter of time before it all comes crashing down.

There’s grace available to you by virtue of your responsibility as President. Reach out and receive it. No one expects you to be perfect but we have to see that you are giving it your all. No excuses, no blaming APC. It doesn’t matter what you were handed down. What matters is what you do with it. It is said that history makes the heroes and the villains and like pawns on a chessboard, we are just players. I disagree. You are more than just a player Mr. President. You have the pen and you have the paper, you are writing history at this very moment. Every policy, every appointment, every decision is a letter, a word, a paragraph; an entry carved into the annals of time.
It’s been so long since we were inspired Mr. President. You can make that happen. Forget the apathy and cynicism and drama, deep down we love this country. We want it to work. It’s all we talk about from market to beer parlour, from workplace to salon. We wouldn’t if we didn’t care. We need you to go back to the drawing board and map out a future for this country. Your agenda is good but what happens after 5 years when the next president is sworn in? Focus changes and we keep going round this mountain, 43 years now and counting.

Enough Mr. President. It’s time to move with purpose. Africa needs Nigeria to act like the grown up that it is. Nigerians need Nigeria to behave like the grown up that it is. We need our pride as a nation restored; we have held our side of the bargain, we have not killed ourselves in spite of our glaring incompatibility, keep yours. We want to travel with our green passport and see people turn green with envy, no pun intended. We want to sing the national anthem and feel tears well up in our eyes. We want to be faced with death and wish we had done more for this country. We want to stop relocating to other countries out of frustration. Some of us in diaspora want to come home. We want to give 101% knowing reward will be based on merit. We want to bequeath a better country to those coming after us and we want all these more desperately than we let on.

There you have it Mr. President. The truth like you requested in the strangest of dreams I’ve ever had. Since I couldn’t very well show up at the Villa and tell them I dreamt about you, my writing would have to do. I hope you put it to good use. It cost me hours of well-deserved sleep after a really exhausting day.

As you prepare for the burial of your mother-in-law, may we all be reminded of the urgency of the change that must occur, the realness of our mortality and the frailty of our collective existence. May it teach us to number our days and apply our hearts to wisdom, so that posterity may remember us with fondness.

One last thing Mr. President, don’t you think you should come out more? Come out some more, we’d love to engage you, I mean; it’s our future you’re planning right? Take a trip to Gwagalada and hang out with the students. Not now though, after the strike. Come to Lagos and have a Town Hall like you used to. You seem walled in, out of reach, cordoned off; like a crime scene under investigation.

Remember, beyond the whispers from those who surround you is a real world. Beyond the brown envelopes that sometimes change hands and the stories that subsequently jostle for space in the media, there’s a real world. Beyond the slimy, ruthless world of politics and power there’s a real world out there and the only way to keep from becoming conceited, from assuming you know where it hurts, is to maintain your connection with it.

You should come out some more Mr. President, for your sake. Because even you are beginning to look like you could do with some Fresh Air.

With Kindest Regards,
Naomi Lucas


Ikemefuna Chiedu said...

Awesome! I don't think I could have expressed it better. Thanks for not sleeping... we're blessed for it. Now how do we get this to him??

Naomi Lucas said...

Thanks 'Uncle' Iyke. You're the first person to thank me for insomnia :D He will get it, it's just a matter of time...

dianne henry said...

I love your write up its full of hope. Unfortunately I really believe Mr President bit off more than he can chew, he is being strangled by his own people and has no idea how to remove their grip. We will give every leader the benefit of the doubt but it's sad that in Nigeria no matter the spiel during their campaign, as soon as they are cocooned in that villa the devil of incompetency, insincerity, greed and inability to deliver on their promises takes over. I wish him well as a human being but the cost of his presidency has been too high for Nigerians and so I don't hold out much hope for him, especially him being married to a woman who is a hindrance to his progress and not a catalyst

Naomi Lucas said...

Dianne you are so right!the problem actually starts once they are cocooned...thanks for stopping by :)


Naomi! That's all I can say. Some things are better discussed than written, else I will give you another blog to read.

Anonymous said...

I typically do not comment on blogs - But Naomi, this is AWESOME. Very well written and captures the issues succintly. I hope it gets to the President somehow and to everyone in leadership. Even the followership needs to read it and be better followers/ prepare to be better leaders in their own sphere of control. Well done!!

Naomi Lucas said...

Thank you so much anon and sorry my response is belated :)
I hope he's read it by now. I hope it makes a difference too...

Naomi Lucas said...

The sound like an old man, lol. Now how do I decode your encrypted message?