“And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”
When President John F. Kennedy of the United States of America made this statement in his inaugural address on 20 January, 1961, he was fired by vision of a world where man would live free and in liberty. He saw a world of bridges not walls, he saw possibilities that transcended the normal, and above all, he was committed to contributing his part and making the necessary sacrifices to enable it work.
Decades later, in my beloved country, the injunction comes to us, “Fellow Nigerians, it has come to our notice that some unscrupulous elements are trying to destabilize our nation… Any attempt or attempted attempt to hinder the sacrificial attempts of well-meaning Nigerians shall be met with stiff resistance. Enough is enough! A word is enough for the wise!”
I wasn’t suprised, therefore, that quite a number of Nigerians were fired up to contribute their own quota, make great sacrifices and do great things for the nation. And, as you should expect, SACRIFICE- like every other word in Nigeria- would always have a different and special meaning from those known and used in other countries of the world.
The people who sacrificed the most, of course in their own eyes, were a majority of public office holders. I happened to be on the same plane with one of these people I would now call ‘RULER’ and he made quite a convincing case for the sacrifices rulers made for their motherland Nigeria. That was one memorable flight I won’t forget in a hurry.
“Rulers make great sacrifices I tell you,’ he began, adjusting the voluminous folds of his àgbádá. ‘But very few take notice. For example anyone who owns just one car knows how difficult it is to maintain a vehicle. But we rulers sometimes have up to thirty or forty cars that we have to maintain. Isn’t that sacrifice? Then some of us buy private jets. The same logic applies. If it’s expensive to maintain a car, how much more a jet. Do you think we enjoy this? But we do it for the good of the nation.
“In addition to that, we are accused of having several landed properties in choice locations around the world. We do that for efficiency. And acquiring those houses dig big holes in our pockets. Do you like holes in your pocket, young man?”
I said no. He continued.
“But we are willing to do it because it is a sacrifice for our beloved nation. Again, Uthman Dan Foster once said conscience is an open wound, only truth can heal,” (ehn? I thought it was Uthman Dan Fodio that said that…) “but I tell you,” he jabbed his finger at me, “our consciences are not injured. Our consciences are dead. I’m not sure you’d love to lose a loved friend or family member would you? But in service to our dear nation, we lost our consciences. We exhibited the kind of faith Abraham showed on Mount Sinai and sacrificed our consciences on Mount Sinner!” he said emphatically.
Has this guy ever read a bible? I’m thinking in my mind. But he’s not through yet.
“When you see us on TV risking our lives, throwing chairs and tables at ourselves in the hallowed senate chambers, do you think that is fun? That is dangerous! That is sacrifice of our health for our nation. Or don’t you remember that my colleague- may his soul rest in gentle pieces- that my colleague whose heart finally surrendered while he was on a table in the senate, cavorting and shouting ‘INTEGRITY, INTEGRITY!’
“You also accuse us of globe-trotting from country to country but you don’t consider we’re risking our lives because at anytime a plane might crash, and where would- ” he broke off mid-sentence because at this time the plane jerked roughly.
“You see what I’m saying?” he asked after his big, round eyes had lost some of his terror of a possible plane crash.
“Do you have children?” he asked.
I answered that yes, I had spiritual children. He told me to shut up. He wasn’t talking about spirit wives and spirit husbands.
“I have children that I love so much. Yet I have to send them to faraway schools in America, UK and RUSSIA. They might feel I don’t love them but I do. And I miss them too. However, I’m sacrificing the chance for family togetherness so I can send them to the best schools so that after they graduate, they can take over from me and sacrifice for their country too.
“I have to move around with wailing sirens and mobile police attachments all around me. The noise can be really annoying. And what if one of these days, one gun accidentally discharges and secures a bullet in my head? That is risk. That is sacrifice. I am the target of political enemies who want to bring me down, riff-raffs and selfish people who do not know the sacrifices I made to get to where I am! Let me tell you. Let me give you a slight glimpse.
“I was ordered by a strong Baba to sleep with a mad woman in the graveyard, in the dead of the night. I was ordered to carry some sacrifices on my head to a particular T-junction and then to the market while naked and in the middle of the night. I was asked to sacrifice my son, one of my only begotten poor. But if God could do it, who am I to refuse? Sacrifice for the nation.
“Who likes to be cursed? Nobody. Yet everyday, millions of curses are heaped upon our poor heads, day after day by both the young and the old. Yet we bear it because of sacrifice for the nation! You tell us that we grow fat when we assume office. Who doesn’t know that fat people are more likely to get a heart attack? All for my beloved country Nigeria.
“I believe you’ve seen garbage men picking up dirt from the streets. That’s a dirty job but they do it. You hear many saying that politics is a dirty game. Yet here am I doing it even though it’s so dirty because they’re too clean to do it. Who likes being dirty. But the job’s got to be done. That, young man, is a classic case of sacrifice. While the citizenry eat iced-fish and ‘pomo’ I eat imported fried chicken. I’m risking my life or haven’t you heard of bird flu?
“My esteemed colleague married a young girl of 13 years old and everybody went up in arms, protesting without fully trying to understand his perspective. That honourable man was willing to marry an under aged child so that he could lower his thinking standards to that of a juvenile. He was in desperate need of ideas and, you know rightly, desperate means call for desperate measures. That was sacrifice, supreme sacrifice of common sense.
“Whenever we go to visit colleagues in other states to discuss matters of national importance, we are often offered assorted refreshments and entertainment. It would be undiplomatic to refuse such good-intentioned hospitality. One such entertainment is the all-night service of university girls. We know the risk of sleeping with these ‘aristos’, AIDS, ‘gono’ and all, but we want to hear first-hand what goes on in the university system, so we ignore the risk and hump on.
“To make it worse, those incorrigible mongrels called pressmen are constantly hounding us and misquoting us, painting us in unflattering light to the populace. See the way they misquoted that my other colleague who said a bomb should be dropped on the whole of the Niger Delta to exterminate the offending roaches and vermins. Couldn’t they tell he was only joking in the hallowed senate chambers? But they were too dimwitted to understand.
“They say with more money comes more problems. That means we have the most problems in the nation so why are you complaining if we’re not complaining? We love to sacrifice.
“Anyway,” he said as he was winding the talk to an end, “at the end of the day, like Abraham Lincoln said, if everybody accuses me falsely, I will know I did no wrong if my conscience does not attack me or condemn me!”
As I got up to leave, there were some questions niggling at my mind. Didn’t he say he had killed his conscience? So which type of dead conscience was going to attack or condemn him? Do dead consciences talk? Or do rulers have two consciences? But I didn’t ask because I was now convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that we should be grateful for having rulers who care and are willing to sacrifice.
Sacrifice is fun after all.
AKPOVETA, Valentine ’t