By, Tokunbo Awoshakin
Part of a recent statement from Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, special assistant on Public Affairs, to President Olusegun Obasanjo, which states, "If you feel that your country does not deserve to honor you, then you certainly do not deserve your country.” does sound credible. But I would add that it all depends on the kind of people giving out the honor on behalf of the country.
The logic behind the reasons given by Prof Chinua Achebe, for refusing the award offered by President Obasanjo of behalf of Nigeria seems based, at least partially, on the adjunct to Chief Fani-Kayode’s or was it president Obasanjo’s thesis on citizenship.
Beyond the initial appraisal of the statement however, one does begin to wonder about when one becomes deserving of one’s own country and perhaps honor from it. An alternate but equally interesting thought sired by the statement from the presidency is the one that centers on governance, citizenship and honor in Nigeria.
A comparison of Prof Achebe’s letter of rejection and the reaction of the Obasanjo government allow a peep into the soul of both Nigerians. Achebe in rejecting the award, which is the second highest after the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on the list of Nigerian national honors stated: "Nigeria's condition today under Obasanjo’s watch is too dangerous for silence."
While stating that he was writing the letter "with a very heavy heart" the author of the record breaking novel, Things Fall Apart, which has sold over 11 million copies in more than 50 countries declared that Nigeria too important in Africa, in the black world and in the world as a whole to be ignored, "Receiving awards is not the most important thing. The most important thing is for things to change.
Some relevant questions here are: Do the statements of Prof Achebe make him less deserving of the award being offered by Obasanjo. Funny, that sounds like Democratic Senator, John Kerry saying republican Senator; John McCain is no longer a hero because the latter refused the overture to be his running mate in the 2004 U.S presidential elections? John Kerry has never and will never say that, why? Because he is a smart leader, a smart man!
As for the condition in Nigeria today under Obasanjo being too dangerous for silence, one wonders who would agree less Perhaps the obsequious group of government advisers in Abuja but surely not Adams Oshiomole and the bulk of Nigerians who participated in the last 4-day national strike.
Even though President Obasanjo, according to Chief Fani-Kayode continue to retain the highest degree of respect and admiration for Professor Achebe, it is painfully obvious to Obasanjo that Achebe is not fully conversant with the enormous strides and tangible achievement that the nation has made in the last few years. Should we not also add that the bulk of Nigerians who joined the last National strike are also out of touch with the achievement that Obasanjo speaks about?
Under Obasanjo, Nigeria ranks third after Bangladesh and Haiti in the latest Transparency International list of world most corrupt countries. Should we also say that the people at Transparency International are also oblivious to Obasanjo’s giant strides to rid the National assembly of huge Ghana must go bags filled with money?
The swipe at Achebe from President Obasanjo that some of our people are still of the view that the quest for foreign and international awards in places like Sweden and elsewhere are more important or are of more value than an award being given them by their own homeland sound awkward. Firstly why Sweden, I hope that is not an attempt to compare an Obasanjo award to a Nobel award. Secondly and more seriously, whoever wrote that part for president Obasanjo must have missed Achebe’s statement that he had accepted four previous national awards not minding the imperfection in the Nigerian system
Obasanjo’s argument that Achebe’s rejection of the national award is a slap in the face of the Nigerian people and not a slap in the face of the Nigerian government or Mr. President is also interesting. One wonders who between the two Nigerians has been slapping Nigerian people right on the face? Perhaps a relevant question here is: what constitutes a slap in the face?
When a government chooses which section of the law to respect; routinely violates the Constitution and court rulings, is that government not slapping the people in the face? One wonders if a government that was ready and willing to sit at table with rebel forces and treat their leaders to presidential jet, but is unable to find and prosecute the killers of the country’s attorney general, is not giving the people a “dirty” slap?
Achebe’s comment that he rejected Obasanjo’s honor to draw attention to a wake-up call on the failed leadership in Nigeria and the need to act fast because people are losing patience seem a reaffirmation of the way most Nigerians and indeed friend of the country feel. Apart from making GSM telecommunication available in Nigeria one cannot but agree with Achebe that Nigeria is till a country where things do not work.
President Obasanjo knows that the condition in Nigeria is deplorable. At least his spoke man, Fani-Kayode acknowledged that when he said, “ Although the socio economic reforms of the government may be painful, the situation was not as bad as Achebe had painted” One however wonders why Obasanjo did not include the specific steps of progress his administration had taken since 1999 to assure Nigerians and the whole world that we are indeed on our way to the “promise land”
Okay, the Nigerian president is the chairman of African Union and he is at the forefront of brokering peace in Daffour and other places. Alas! The man cannot effectively curb the violence in his own country. Schools, roads, hospitals, water, economy, security and life just do not work right in Nigeria. As a matter of fact, many Nigeria who rushed to acquire mobile phone cannot afford to buy phone credits to make calls. Yet, the Nigerian president is the head of a contraption, which is supposed to make the continent economically viable.
It is increasingly obvious that Obasanjo, as the leader of Nigeria is disengaged from the reality of the mass of Nigerian citizens. One could speculate that Prof Achebe was expecting his rejection of the national award to jolt Obasanjo back to reality. Now that it did not, one can conclude that the Nigerian president is just behaving true to type. I recall that general Alani Akinrinade during his 1999 interview with me in his woodmore estate home in Maryland said Obasanjo had dictatorial tendencies. Five years on and Nigerians know.
So Obasanjo want Achebe to return and join him and his people taking Nigeria to “promise land” even if the respected writer does not share the vision of that promise land. Now that Achebe has rejected the award and will not be returning home soon to join Obasanjo, he has in the calculation of Obasanjo and his advisers become less deserving of Nigeria. Who will decide what is a fair share in the case of the man sharing a piece of meat for two with his own teeth? This is also about honor.