Arthur Brisbane, 10th century American journalist and writer was credited with the statement, “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words. ”He could not have been more apt. The picture featured on this page today is that of the Nasarawa State Governor, Abdullahi Sule condoling a crying boy crouched beside the grave of his deceased father. It happened last week at the cemetery where Sule had gone to bury his 36-year-old eldest son, Hassan. “It was the helplessness of the boy in his grief-stricken state that caught the attention of the governor,” according to the report being circulated on social media. “The strength in Governor Sule even in the embrace of such huge loss of a son is legendary. It takes one with stoic embrace of faith to have this kind of attitude.”
The writer went further to wax lyrically: “United in same tragedy, the boy and the governor found solace in each other. Just when you think your woes are (the) worst, you are reminded of the more gripping woes of others. Stricken by the death of his first son, the governor saw a boy enveloped by the loss of his father. While the governor may be comforted with the existence of his other children, this boy will never have another father to call his again.”
I wager that the person who posted both the text and the photo must be a friend (or perhaps staff) of the governor. But I cannot fault him. Especially given Sule’s admission that he lost his son barely 24 hours after condoling someone else. “I see this as a test from God. I was the person consoling somebody that lost his nine children and 70 cows yesterday, and today, God decided to test me, to see whether I was sincere in consoling that bereaved father,” the governor told visitors who went to commiserate with him. “My son grew up carrying all his siblings along. It’s only God that has the power to take him away. He was the one taking decisions on our businesses.”
While cemeteries are where important lessons can be learnt about life, there is something in the photo of that grieving boy that commands greater attention. It is not every bereaved child that goes to the cemetery to wail beside the grave of their father. We can only conclude that he had lost someone who made a lasting impression on him. The issue here is about the legacy left behind by his father. And it is also something we can personalize.
Legacy, according to Susan Bosak, is about taking stock of our accomplishments and failings and striving to do better for ourselves and the society we are in. “Legacy is fundamental to what it is to be human. Exploring the idea of legacy offers a glimpse not only into human relationships and building strong communities, but also the human spirit,” Bosak argued. “The idea of legacy may remind us of death, but it’s not about death. Being reminded of death is actually a good thing, because death informs life. It gives you a perspective on what’s important.”
We can extrapolate that to politics. Death in the political context is the certainty of tenure. For instance, President Muhammadu Buhari will leave office on 29th May. He is not coming back to power as Nigerian president ever again. What follows will be memories and the legacy he may have left behind. In the context of power, that boy can then be seen as representing the public. How will the president be remembered when his job is done in a matter of weeks from now? That is a question that should concern Aso Rock handlers.
I commiserate with Governor Sule on the loss of his first son just as I commend him for having the presence of mind to show empathy for the boy that he found at the cemetery in such a time of grief. It takes character to do that, and it is the hallmark of leadership. But the story does not end there. Meeting the boy may have been a chance encounter, but perhaps the governor should also see it as an opportunity to learn a few lessons. Whether we are young or old, poor or rich, powerful or powerless, beautiful or ugly, the cemetery is where all our stories will end. Such reflection will help politicians to understand that pursuits of power are meaningful only to the extent in which they advance the public good.
When an elderly person dies, the popular saying is that we lose a part of yesterday. When the deceased is a young person for whom one cared, we lose a lot of tomorrow. The irony in this story is that it is the governor who lost a lot of tomorrow in his late first son while the boy lost a part of yesterday with his deceased father. Neither yesterday nor tomorrow can be retrieved in circumstances that end in cemeteries. But for the boy, his tomorrow is still before him. Therefore, Sule should ask his aides to look for the boy he left at the cemetery. Is he in school? Does he see the death of his father as the death of hope? And these same questions can apply to thousands of young children in Nasarawa State.
Sule is a first term Governor who is seeking re-election. I have not been to Nasarawa State, so I do not know about his stewardship. But I met the engineer a couple of times when he was working for Alhaji Aliko Dangote before he contested for public office, and I found him engaging and warm. I believe it would serve him to reflect on that encounter with the boy at the cemetery on the day he went to bury his son. When his assignment is done in Nasarawa State, how would the people feel about his stewardship? Put simply, what legacy is he working to leave behind?
In a society where there is so much obsession with acquiring power and money, without much thought about advancing the public good, that question will also serve the rest of us.
Understanding The ‘Japa’ Generation
The report that no fewer than 159 Nigerians renounced their citizenship in 2022 elicited several comments by those who seem to look for negative things about our country. While I am concerned by the rate at which too many of our young professionals appear to be trooping out of the country, we must understand that it has nothing to do with renunciation of citizenship which, in any case, is a global phenomenon.
Ordinarily, renunciation of citizenship is a voluntary loss of citizenship. Every country has procedures for how it is done. There are also countries that do not allow renunciation of their citizenship. In Argentina, for instance, citizenship is akin to a Catholic marriage: It is irrevocable. In Singapore, citizenship cannot be renounced until the completion of military service. Despite that, as many as 1,200 Singaporeans renounce their citizenship every year with the total number of renunciants in the decade (2001 to 2011) put at 10,900.
But let’s go to the United States since that is where most Nigerians like to draw parallels. A February 2017 report by Phineas Rueckert in the Seattle Times revealed that “More than 5,000 Americans renounced their citizenship in 2016, a 26% increase over 2015 and 23 times more than in 2008.” According to Rueckert, “While 5,000 people in a country of more than 300 million is by no means a mass exodus, the number of Americans renouncing their citizenship seems to be growing at an exponential rate.”
The interesting thing is that the reason for renouncing their citizenship is purely economic: Americans who live abroad pay taxes. Most Nigerians at home don’t even pay tax while expecting all the goodies of life. But that is not the issue for today. And in the case of the Americans who ‘Japa’ because of tax, they are mostly elite citizens. “It’s all super highly educated individuals I’m hearing from — masters, Ph.D.s, doctors, senior business executives,” a Vancouver-based immigration lawyer told the Seattle Times. “They’re foreign-born, and quite frankly they’re afraid of your country now. They want out.”
The point here is that whether in Africa, Asia, or the Americas, we are dealing with what Patrick Gilligan has described as the ‘No Nation’ Generation whose members “are breaking ties with their birth countries and seeking a more affordable and better standard of living overseas,” as I once wrote. That’s because globalization has created a generation of virtual citizens whose attachment to national space and cultural roots now counts for less than material fulfillment.
However, I must also stress that in the case of Nigeria, dwindling opportunities resulting from mismanagement of our affairs amid a population growth that far exceeds our resources accounts for why many of our young citizens are leaving the country. I explained this in my 1st October 2016 Platform Nigeria presentation, ‘If we stay here, we die’. Therefore, the challenge of the moment is how to win back the loyalty and patriotism of these young people who feel betrayed that a nation they call theirs has failed to provide them with a fighting chance to prove themselves or justify their skills and training.
I hope those who are currently seeking power (both at the centre and in the 36 states of the federation) in the general election that is now upon us are paying attention.
Ojuelegba’s Bridge of Death
The string of untimely, and sometimes brutal, deaths from preventable causes that have become our lot as a nation is a sad commentary on the value we place on human life in Nigeria. Last Sunday, nine bus passengers were crushed to death when a 20 ft container-laden truck fell at Ojuelegba bridge in Lagos. Barely 48 hours later, on Tuesday at Ikotun, a Lagos suburb, two people were killed and four others (two pregnant women and two children) were injured when another container fell on a tricycle. And as I was going to press last night, another container fell on commercial buses at Oshodi, one of the most densely populated areas of the state. I cannot count the number of times we have witnessed this recurring tragedy that has claimed dozens of lives and featured prominently in a 2017 series I wrote on ‘Made in Nigeria Tragedies’.
Nigerians may have forgotten but in September 2015, in the same Ojuelegba, a trailer fell off the same bridge, crushing two private vehicles – a Toyota Corolla and a Nissan Sunny whose occupants were immediately killed. Also in April 2019, a container-laden truck rolled back on the bridge, damaging seven cars in the process, although no life was lost. Perhaps the most tragic of these incidents occurred in July 2018 when 14 students of Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye were crushed to death on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway by an unlatched 20 feet container which fell from a fast-moving truck that lost control. At about the same period, a trailer carrying a container which was poorly latched fell on a female pedestrian along Berger axis of the same Lagos-Ibadan expressway. In June 2013, a manager at SLOT, a phone retail shop with head office in Ikeja, Lagos, was on his way to work when suddenly the driver of a truck lost control and the container on top fell, instantly crushing the man to death.
In the bid to stop these needless deaths that have been with us for decades, the Lagos State House of Assembly in January 2012 enacted the Road Traffic Law stipulating the period such articulated vehicles could move within the state. According to the law that has stringent punitive provisions, with the exemption of tankers, articulated vehicles should not be seen between 6am and 9pm daily. However, the law has been observed more in the breach. Indeed, a few weeks after the law was passed, about three people were crushed to death when a truck carrying a 40-foot container hit a pothole, tumbled, and crushed a Mazda car on the Lagos-Badagry Expressway.
Following Sunday’s tragedy, we have had the usual noise from those whose serial failure to enforce their own laws continue to lead to avoidable tragedies. But talk is cheap. What the situation demands is accountability. Measures must be put in place to ensure that innocent Nigerians do not continue to die needlessly.