Dear Mr. President, tell me what to do
In a 1999 Nollywood movie, which name I cannot remember now, the opening credits featured a song that struck a chord with me and which I never forgot to this day. The first line of the lyrics went “Oga Obasanjo, when you reach Aso Rock….”
It was basically an appeal song by a tortured but hopeful soul in touching pidgin English, to the then newly elected President, OBJ, asking him not to forget the masses when he assumed office, and further outlining measures he should take to improve the socio-economic situation of our dear country.
If only the singer of that song knew how good we got it then relatively; OBJ went to Aso Rock, and nearly transformed it into Olumo Rock, choosing to make a fortress out of the presidential villa by seeking a 3rd term. He was later banished to his chicken farm thankfully.
More than ten years later we are still singing the same tune. Now we are belting it out, while using spoons to create a beat on our empty plates, in NEPA induced pitch darkness, cowering from religious bigotry, kidnapping and a the new threats of bomb attacks.
Any Nigerian on the street could outline what areas of the country need our new President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s urgent attention – power generation, security, job creation, the Niger Delta question etc. History has taught me that when we clamor for certain things from our government in Nigeria, we get something radically different.
As for me, I believe that everything we require the government to take action on can be summarized in 3 simple words – Bread, peace and freedom. By bread, I mean food on every Nigerian lunch table and the development of agriculture. Peace refers to the Delta militancy, the rise of religious bigotry, kidnapping and the breakdown of law and order. By freedom, I am talking about socio-economic emancipation, a truly laissez faire economy with state and individual rights so that businesses can boom, and entrepreneurship and private enterprise is encouraged. My own list below touches the little things, the economists, the opposition, social critics, government watchdogs and political lobbyists fail to pick up on.
I have decided, like any long suffering Nigerian citizen to voice my grievance and draw up a list of things that GEJ must take care of during his 2nd stint in power. I have decided to draft a letter to the president, and copy his wife Ms Jonathan. We too, need shelter from the rain under the national umbrella. Maybe my list is better off under my pillow, with my broken tooth, as I wait for the tooth fairy.
- The government should provide free milk to young kids at school. I grew up a Samco and Ribena baby in the 80s, and this has shown in my orobo build today. The situation has changed as Nigeria tethers on the brink. I was in the east some years back, and witnessed a toddler in being fed unapologetic akpu (fufu) for breakfast! He also had that for lunch/dinner as well. Sadly as a result, he never grew taller than M.I. as he is in his teens now.
2. Aso Rock should be reconstructed so that at least it should be accessible to the public, at least for viewing. Pardon the use of irony, but Aso Rock should not be more than a stone’s throw from the main street in which it is located on in Asokoro. Government should be visible to the common man, and every Nigerian should be able to point physically at the apex seat of the executive arm of Government; Martin Luther King once staged a March On Washington, all the way to the White House. We should be able to match on Aso for peaceful demonstrations. We would also like to have excursion trips for kids to Aso Rock. Heck, we could even have a hit TV series based on Aso Rock, like The West Wing was for the White House. We could call it the North Wing, or the South-South Wing. And Jim Iyke would play the president – I know he would love that. Now if only we could just see the damn place!
3. The ingredients and nutritional content of all food products made and sold in Nigerian should be listed on the product wrapper itself. Yes that includes pure water sachets. Though I fear that I may not like what I may find – H2O, dirt, particles, the worker in the pure water plant’s hair, salmonella, everything – 200 calories. On the flip side, you may not really want to know what animal some of the suya you eat is from. Ignorance may be bliss sometimes.
4. Do something urgent about potholes, road infrastructure, flooding of rivers and over flow of lakes and erosion problem in many parts of the country. By the way Mr. President, could you build a 2nd Niger Bridge across Asaba and Onitsha? When I was a kid, taking road trips to our home-town in the east during Xmas in our family car, whenever we crossed the Niger Bridge, I and my siblings used to recite the names of all the major rivers in Africa, in a famous kids song at the time “Nile, Niger, Benue, Congo, Orange Limpopo, Zambezi.’
Now I could just imagine that if I took kids of today, and they decided to do the same they would sing clueless about the bodies of water ‘Lagos canal, flood behind my house in Lekki, lagoon near National Theatre…’
5. Ban NYSC or revamp the youth service program. The sad deaths of youth corpers lynched during the recent elections should be the final nail on the coffin of this monolithic program. NYSC does have some merits though but it should be about security of life first. During service, I saw some of the worst examples of corruption, ‘tribalism’ and nepotism in our dear nation.
First of all, the leader of our platoon misappropriated the bulk of platoon money in his care on beer and cigarettes at Mammy Market. Then just before the bonfire night, the Yoruba and Ibo girls in another platoon fought about who should cook the rice given by the Commandant and Zonal Inspector to each platoon to celebrate the bonfire night. The Ibo girls spitefully said that they do not want ‘ofe mmanu’ (oil stew), as a racial slur towards the Yoruba girls. The Yoruba girls retorted that the Ibo girls would cook mass-production ‘rice pottage’, as Ibos normally do. The boys in the platoon intervened, and so all the girls decided to prepare the meal together. I am sure you have heard the saying that too many cooks spoil the broth – these ones murdered it. The outcome was mass production rice pottage floating in a sea of oil. Corpers still chopped it sha.
In its place, a program should be created where youths who graduate have the option of working on huge Federal funded modernized plantations and dairy farms growing food and cash crops. Here, we can solve the unemployment and food problem in one fell swoop.
The government should keep the NYSC anthem, by the way. I loved that song – ‘Youths obey the clarion call, let us lift our nation high…..’ *Sing with me*
6. Abeg Sir GEJ, create a Social Benefit plan for older people in this nation. My grandmother until recently when age overwhelmed her at almost 90, had to fry and sell groundnut in the village to supplement her income. We her grand-kids do chip in as well, sending her favorite crates of Guinness Stout and provisions to her in the village. She is of the opinion that very bitter things absolutely prevent diabetes and sugar build up in the body, so she drinks stout like water. She also likes watching wrestling – bless her. Many old people are not so lucky in Nigeria.
7. Outlaw child abuse and hawking. About two years ago, I was driving back home from work in very slow Lekki traffic around 6.30pm, when I saw this kid of no more than 8 or 9 crying loudly on the side-walk. You know this type of cry where the person has his mouth open, with snot dribbling down his nose.
8. For some reason, I felt very worried, so I wound down my window and asked the child what the matter was. Pointing to his sparse tray of 3 oranges, he explained that he had run to make a sale to a customer in a car, and by the time he had returned to his tray of oranges, someone had stolen all but three. He was wailing because he was afraid of what his guardian would do to him if he came home without the full amount of money for the sales. I asked him how much he would normally make for the whole tray. He replied N250!!! I then gave him N400, and told him to go straight home.
Relieved and very thankful, he took it. As I drove off, I looked in my rear view mirror, and saw that he just moved to a spot further down the road, to keep on selling the remaining 3 oranges. My heart bled for Nigeria that day. How could N250 (1 British Pound or $2) make a child cry like he had just been beaten up. His mates in developed countries are probably surfing, roller-skating or at home playing video games on Xbox Live with their friends.
9. Government should promote measures that foster unity and neighborly love among different ethnicities. The recent riots in the North really sadden me. Abroad in some neighborhoods when a person moves in, your next door neighbor comes over with muffins, pudding or a steak/kidney pie and welcomes the new person to the neighborhood. I dream of a time when we could do the same. I can imagine a Fulani man moving in to a street in Warri and an Urhobo woman taking over Starch and Palm-nut soup to introduce herself and welcome him to the street.
Or maybe, government should give a tax exemption and a stipend to couples who inter-marry from different ethnic groups. If say, an Efik man marries an Itshekiri lass, they should get some cash payment or tax holiday from the Federal Government. I swear if that happens, I would just ‘manage’ Tiwa Savage and Omowunmi Akinfesi as my 2wives. Munachi Abi can wait.
10. GEJ, please encourage and promote the production and exportation of local produce. If Nigerians can learn how to ‘package’ our products in a decent and marketable manner with ace quality control, the sky would be our limit. When I was in England, I had 2 oyibo girls ogling me for jollof rice during lunch. They also loved chin-chin too, whenever I brought some to work, like wow it is so crunchy and tasty!
I can imagine Nigeria producing and exporting canned moi moi spam (in a corned beef type tin), Kellogg’s Ijebu Garri with Nuts Cereal, Uncle Ben’s Ofada Rice, Campbell’s Ogbono Soup, Kilishi Beef Jerky.
11. Finally Mr. President, you need to do something about the learning and spread of Nigerian languages and culture. In Lagos, many young people speak English with a phony Lekki-British accent, but cannot say a word or write a sentence in their own dialect. Even pidgin English now sounds very funky and is loosing its ‘pidgin-ality.’ My Waffi roommate in University used to say ‘Abeg, make you give that radio bele’ (meaning please turn up the volume on the transistor radio).
Now I hear polished pidgin on the radio and in general conversations, like No mago mago; no wayo o. Or ‘abeg free me jor’
We had the Goethe Institute promoting German language and literature in Victoria Island some years back; why can’t we have a Benin Institute in say, England. Edo culture is so rich, that it should be up there with the best.
Our languages should not be left to go extinct. I was at a wedding a good few years back where the 2 fathers-in-law went at each other hammer and tongs when it came to the time for presenting and breaking of the kola-nuts at the start of the reception. The father of the bride wanted the reception proceedings conducted in Igbo language as the couple were both Igbo. The father of the groom disagreed as he preferred English, and the two of them grabbed furiously at the microphone. It nearly descended into a food fight, but Nigerians would never waste good chicken wings by tossing them at someone in anger.
The hot exchange between the 2 fathers had gone something like this:
The father of the bride – This is an Igbo gathering, so Igbo should be spoken. Igbo kwenu!
The father of the groom – People of different ethnicities are gathered here, and it would be unfair to alienate them. Besides this venue is in Lagos, so do not turn this reception into your village meeting.
The father of the bride – You are not a true Igbo man. You better remove that red cap and Isi –Agu tunic you are wearing. Any fool will tell you that the kola nut does not understand English or any other language but Igbo’
The father of the groom – See your head like isi-ewu. The kola would not understand your bad grammar either.
Well, at least we the audience learnt a few Igbo expletives that day.
I admire Yoruba movies for trying to promote the language by making the dialogue itself Yoruba and using rich proverbs. Movies like Omo Ghetto and Jenifa come to mind. Game shows of the past like Tan Mu O did well even though I did not understand a word.
But I have a problem with the translation in some of these Yoruba movies. I know Yoruba people are quite chatty, but please explain how in a movie dialogue, an actor speaking Yoruba would rant for about 4 minutes saying something like ‘Ni to ri na, mo fe ka wa lo si ile to gba lo si ya agba tori kpe…”
But the translation would be a very short sentence “Ok we will see later”
I tire oh.
What do you think, and what issues would you include in your letter to President GEJ?
I‘ve been born to represent, for that I’ve been heaven sent/
And I meant, every word, in my letter, to the President/
2Pac (Letter To The President, 1999)
* Picture courtesy of http://www.nigeria-anew.blogspot.com