In January 2019, the Daily Trust newspaper had its Maiduguri office shut down by the military over its reportage on the fight against insurgency. This made me think about governments and the failure of leadership, or, aptly, the king whose subjects saw through him. And so on January 14, 2019, under the title ‘The Military, Press and War Against Insurgency,’ I gave that brief story.
There is this fable of a king who, together with his palace courtiers and subjects, was scammed by a con artist who knew that people, rather than acknowledging the truth, would always be hypocritical if it would ingratiate them with the king.
This man met the king and told him that he would knit him a cloth that would be the most beautiful in the world, but only those without sin hanging on their necks could see it. The king agreed, and befitting accommodation and culinary delicacies were provided for the man.
The more he was “knitting”, the more the king and his courtiers would come around to marvel at the “wonderful work of the master knitter”. In awe and reverence, the king and his courtiers kept praising “the beautiful dress that was out of this world.”
None would admit that he was seeing anything other than that because that would cast him in an unpleasant light, a sinful soul not worthy of being in the company of the pious king.
On the day the cloth was completed, all the king’s subjects were ordered to assemble at the village square to watch the king parade in it.
The king moved around to the admiration of his subjects who kept enthusing, “What a cloth!”, “What a beauty!” Some even talked about the aesthetic beauty of the designs on the apparel, declaring that they had never seen anything like that in their entire lives and may never see anything better till they returned to their creator. None was a sinner! All fake!
It was amid all these pretentious applause that a little boy shouted, “But our king is not wearing any clothes!” And the bubble burst.
The king would have been spared such embarrassment had he been a truthful leader who desired the truth from his subjects. But because his truth was not deeper than his tongue, his courtiers all adopted hypocrisy as a service code and told him whatever he wanted to hear. It took only an innocent boy to puncture that veil of hypocrisy.
Now, even if they saw the boy as the king’s enemy, that perception could not change the fact that the king was naked and that he and his courtiers and followers were wrong. But that did not mean he hated the king, nor did it mean he wanted his downfall. He just stated the naked truth – that the king was naked – despite all the pretence around him.
The above folklore depicts the vaingloriousness of a man so full of himself that he did not see the truth about himself.
Are our government officials spinning tales of success in the fight against rebellion in our country? Why does one have an eerie feeling of déjà vu whenever government representatives open their mouths to speak on issues of insecurity?
Do we accuse our president of being surrounded by those who do not tell him the truth but what they think he wants to hear? When an appointee of the president begins to make up tales, do those around the president join in confusing him that those tales are not spider webs that have no foundation, that the slightest breeze can blow away?
Are they really there for the people or even the president himself? It is quite understandable that telling leaders the truth, especially when one’s upkeep is tied to them, is a somehow dicey proposition, but sometimes they must take some calculated risks and do so. Doing so helps the leader and the people. Perhaps they would have to be diplomatic, but say the truth, they must.
If you really love the leader, then you are not doing justice to him by hiding the truth from him. Conversely, if he loves and trusts you, then you are not being fair to him if you hide the truth from him. Help him, you must, and the best way is by telling him the truth.
Thomas Sowell, 92-year-old American author, economist, political commentator, and senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, admonished that “when you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.” Still speaking about truth, Confucius said: “They who know the truth are not equal to those who love it, and they who love it are not equal to those who delight in it.” And we may add, “Those who delight in it are not equal to those who work with it.”
But if those around our president who should keep him abreast with the truth, for instance, have abdicated their responsibility, Nigeria is not short of those who speak truth to power. People have been talking, people have been writing – every day. So, where lies our problem?
The average citizen is sad because he sees through our leaders and the governments they represent, and what he sees is distressing. Because he sees nothing. Terrorists are gaining ground and their way of life is, fearfully, seductive to our ever-growing, jobless, able-bodied youth.
Gunslingers ride on motorcycles into a town, including the federal capital, operate at ease for hours, pick their victims and move back to their bases unchallenged. When they broke into Kuje prison, they were audacious enough to even preach to the inmates and give them transport fare! Very deliberate, like they knew no one would come to interfere with their mission.
They live a life of reckless abandon in the bushes, taking illicit substances and feeding on roasted meat from rustled livestock. Violating our daughters, sisters and wives they abducted from communities and dancing to the live bands of rogue singers.
Now some women from the towns even go to the bush to service the restless libidos of these marauders. Tell me, how many jobless youth who see no hope in staying straight would resist joining such a life of debauchery?
This is further made sexier by the assurance that if they are arrested, their comrades-in-arms would come and pry them out of government’s hands in a blaze of glory, carting away millions to boot! And the nonchalant attitude of somebody who expected that nobody would come to interfere with their party.
Perhaps that’s why, in the space of two days, last week, Boko Haram, who we still want to call bandits, killed a divisional police officer, assistant commissioner of police Aliyu Umar, in Katsina, forced the closure of about 70 health centres in the state, attacked the convoy of the president and, in the dead of the night, strolled into Kuje Medium Security Prison and liberated their members and many others.
Before our eyes, kidnapping turned into a billion-dollar criminal industry. So many Nigerians have been abducted, and no one can tell the number of Nigerians living in kidnappers’ dungeons, not only because we are a country with a poor record-keeping mechanism, but because these kidnappings have been happening too frequently across the country, both rural and urban areas, that they are now reported as routine stories.
It is galling to notice the lack of interest by the security agencies to track down the kidnappers. Most are left to their fate. One itinerant cobbler from Katsina told me how his wife and sister were killed when he could not come up with the ransom. His face carried the unspeakable anguish that trekked with him every day. He’s a nobody whose story would not make it to the front pages of our newspapers. But it is not so with the Methodist prelate who had to pay N100 million ransom to save his life and those of his co-abducted acolytes. He revealed that during his time in captivity, no security agency lifted a finger to intervene, and that there were soldiers in the vicinity of his abduction. Of course, the military high command gave out their usual sanctimonious denial, but who will believe them when the citizen is now seeing through leaders?
What with our experience with the Taraba kidnap kingpin Wadume (he was, by the way, freed in Kuje prison) for whom soldiers shot dead a crack police team that had gone from Abuja to arrest him!
It is worth pointing out that any kidnap victim that the government fails to secure loses hope in the nation. Many abductees in such a situation now psychologically see strength and glamour in the abductors and their way of life. Some have voluntarily refused to return, adopting a life of being a nuisance to the nation.
But are we aware of what is happening in Nigeria, especially the North? Beyond the usual condemnations by the president or cries of disappointment over the already deteriorated situation, don’t we fear that these people can do more harm in the future?
•Hassan Gimba is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime.