Reading ‘A Man Of The People' By Chinua Achebe
Professor Chinua Achebe’s published 'A Man of the People' in 1966, after Nigeria's independence in 1960 from the British as a colony. I urge all Nigerians who can read, as matter of urgency, to read the book and interpreted in their native languages because of its current relevance to today’s Nigerian politics. The book is a political narration and about madness of our politician’s post-independence politics in Nigeria. I read the book in my teenage years, and did not understand much of the political connotations and undertones. Now, into my senior years, I am beginning to get the message and what Achebe was trying to convey to Nigeria and its people about 40 years ago. Has much changed in Nigerian politics?
I take my clue of what makes sense about Nigeria from many sources, including Professor Chinua Achebe’s word of wisdom. When he laments about the demise of Nigerian education, I know we are in trouble. Achebe was right; if one follows the decays of our educational system and what sort of people various institutions have produced. It is not the faults of the pupils or students that they came out of those institutions poorly educated. Why are Nigerians surprised or shocked when armed robberies, kidnappings, political thuggery, political assassinations, and riots are rampart, or planes are falling off the sky…. The undermining of education and consequent high unemployment create a vacuum of ‘blank-minds’ for unconstructive activities and lost of hope in people. Many Nigerians feel they are not represented; their wishes are ignored; and they can do nothing about the situation.
There is now less opportunity and poor environment for learning. A student needs a peace of mind to learn. Strikes and or lack of learning equipment contribute to poor education. Achebe also lamented on the political chaos in Anambra State when two of its sons were fighting each other at the expense of people of Anambra. When Dr. Chris Ngige and Chief Chris Uba were ‘yabbing’ each other, government functions almost came to standstill; the people of Anambra took sides instead of reconciliation. Reconciliation by the elders has been the tradition in Igbo-land for settling dispute between individuals or community. Professors Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka are now quiet about the current political madness; they must be getting tired because people no longer listening to wise advice and words of wisdom. Nigeria is in deep troubles!
The current shenanigans in Nigerian politics are nothing new. We as a people and as a country have not learnt much lesson since the so-called ‘independence’ in 1960. Our politics is still elementary. Election, in its real political definition, means a free choice between two candidates for an office, no insults or fights. Politics and elections in Nigeria are a forum for exchange of insults, harassments, or killing of opponents. The introduction of selection of successor infuses element of hereditary hand-me-down or dynasty in Nigeria's political system, which is a recipe for chaos. The chosen one may receive less respect from the people, except from the courtiers, because s/he is imposed on people, not their free choice or the ability of the leader to command authority become limited, producing ‘eye service' and ‘yes’ men and women. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) vice-presidential candidate, Dr. Jonathan Goodluck in the forthcoming 2007 election may face some rebellion from his legislators because of perceived selection or anointment of his own nominees, Chief Francis Doukpala and Dr. Boladai Igali to occupy the Beyalsa State governorship seat.
In ‘A Man of the People’ Chief the Honourable Minister, Doctor, Micah A. Nanga, M.P. is the archetype of today’s Nigeria politician. Some of Nigerian politicians are full of pomposity and inflated egos with little to show for their service to the nation except to help themselves to the nation’s wealth. They acquire titles, claim or enhance their qualifications (Toronto-syndrome) to receive some acknowledgement or respect. Some chieftaincy and honourary doctorates are now so cheap that every Tom, Dick, and Harry with few naira can obtain one. Why would anyone want to use the title ‘Dr.’ if s/he is not a qualified doctor nor has a honourary conferment from an institution for the service to the community? If Nuhu Ribadu earns a honourary doctorate of law for his work in fighting corruption in Nigeria, that would be much appreciated and respected than one who has donated money to an institution and is rewarded with the honour for that reason. Or, why would I wish to be addressed as ‘Chief,’ if I do not command the people's respect (a man of timber and calibre)? Honourary doctorates and chieftaincy titles are now common... three for a kobo; some of the holders are to be laughed at because they look undeserving. On one hand you have the unrefined character and braggart in person of Chief the Honourable Nanga, M.P.; and, on the other, Mr. Odili Samalu (a school teacher) an idealist and of a new generation who wishes things are done the right way for Nigeria to move forward.
A good politician or public servant does not need to be false; his/her passion and dedication to serve are more than any ‘false’ qualifications. Many of Nigeria first-republic politicians or public servants have less paper qualifications but served the nation to the best of their abilities, so much that their names remain embedded in our memories. Those who lived in the then Northern Region of Nigeria remember Sir Ahmadu Bello, whose legacies are there to be seen today; Chief Obafemi Awolowo from the West: legend has it that he had sleepless nights thinking how to advanced the Yoruba nation; and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe from the East: a liberal who wished for social integration in Nigeria, respect for each other no matter our background, and coming together to make Nigeria great.
Some of the problems Achebe wrote about in the book include food and petrol prices going up and primitive loyalty: Nigeria is one country why are people fighting for election or selection of their tribal or enclave even if their man/woman may not be the best for the country? We still hear the same old promises of road, water, school, electricity, or hospital. Where is the truth in a local government chairperson promising a road when he or she has no power or resources to build one kilometre? As Mr. Odili Samalu would say, the citizens are “dead from neck up”; they are misled or programmed to be happy for the politicians’ good health and wealth and not for themselves.
Many Nigerians claim to be highly educated and well travelled; how much do we learn from our education and travels? Hausa people have a proverb: “Tafiya Mabudin ilimi,” rough translates as “Travel is a key to enlightenment.” Egyptology is studied in many highly respected institutions in the world with specialists on ancient Egyptian history, which is part of history syllabus in the United Kingdom’s schools. The purpose is to learn history and the advancement of ancient civilisation and use it as a model in Western development, a particular fascination with the pyramid... how primitive people could have accomplished that feat of engineering and architectural design without modern technology? How much do we Nigerians know about the history and development of Yoruba Empire, the Igbo Nation, Hausa history and other tribes? Knowing our history will help us respect each other and work together for Nigeria. There is really no much different between us all, we all want to be healthy and wealthy.
The use and value of education is therefore for sharing and teaching the knowledge for awareness and for development. Education should not be about competition between the so-called North and so-called South. Whoever has the knowledge, let us share it for the benefit of the country. Alas, education in Nigeria is a badge or label of arrogance and licence to abuse and insult others. How else can some people condemn the innovations and achievements of the inventors of "Igbo-made" product or material? Japan started with "Japanese made" and is now world-famous in technology. Japanese people and students travel to Western countries learn and copy models of their technologies, and they go back home with encouragement from their people and government to refine and produce the prototypes. Japan is now highly respected in technology with fewer natural resources compared to Nigeria's vast resources, including steel rolling mills, but yet to produce a toy-car! In my opinion, with supports the "Igbo-made" factories, we can turn Nigeria into a modern technology wonder.
The current debacle in Nigeria suggests much has not change from the past. If we do not change to embrace the modern political and democratic principles, we will continue in the old chaotic ways, and no progress or development will take place nor will anyone from the world community take us seriously. Nigeria can continue to pretend that it is a great country when, in reality, Nigeria is the so-called "giant of Africa with feet of clay." Read ‘A Man of the People’; you will learn about Nigeria's politics of the past and present; and find any similarity and or difference. Ask yourself: Has Nigeria moved forward?
God bless Nigeria.
Abubakar Adamu, MSc, MCILT
Abubakar Adamu is a transport logistician and freelance researcher.