Written by Ugochukwu Ogbonnaya.
With the November 23, 2009 emergency evacuation of the ailing Nigerian President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua to Saudi Arabia for treatment in a "world class" Saudi hospital, a kind of which the Nigerian government controlled by President Yar'Adua's ruling Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) in the last ten years has failed woefully and continued failing to provide or even dream of providing in Nigeria for the benefit of the citizens despite the country's enormous revenues from crude oil; Nigerians got an immense opportunity as they have never had it ever before in their history to end the plenty arrant nonsense and business as usual attitudes of their rulers which have for so long kept the country in a coffin ready for burial.
When the news broke of Yar'Adua's latest round of ill health and need for hospitalization and quality medical care in a foreign hospital and in a kind of quality healthcare system which his administration and the PDP government in Nigeria since 1999 has repeatedly refused to create locally for the benefit of Nigeria's over 150million people who are in dire need of such quality healthcare system; I thought that the time has come for Nigerians to rise up and assert that it's high time for Nigerian rulers to start respecting the dignity of Nigerians and to stop insulting their collective intelligence, existence and image as a sovereign state under the sun.
However, as the situation unfolds and as the details became public knowledge regarding the scandalous reality of the President's penchant for treatment in world class hospitals which he obviously has not been able to provide at home nor seems interested in providing despite Nigeria having all the wherewithal and despite the man being a sickly president, which is enough to make the issue of provision of quality healthcare system in Nigeria a centerpiece of his administration's agenda; and also as reality emerged about how power greedy the man Umaru Musa Yar'Adua and his wife and close associates are to the extent that he, the President, blatantly refused to officially notify the Nigerian people who he claims to be their “servant leader” about his need to take some time off for a medical treatment and by so doing appropriately empower his Vice President to oversee, in the temporary absence of the President, the affairs of the State in the most appropriate capacity as the constitution of the country stipulates and as even the most common sense would always tell one as being the right thing to do; I for one became concerned that here again comes one important issue which the generality of Nigerians, and especially those Nigerians who have the right powers and prowess of articulation and communication and impact, will rather treat with a very unfortunate Nigerian culture and character of inaction and apathy which derives from a very strange believe system that views problems and challenges as things to wallow and rot in and lament helplessly about, rather than things to be solved with proactiveness and pragmatism.
I'm currently pursuing some further studies in one of the European countries where English language is the first language. And it is my first time of studying alongside so many different people from different nationalities and continents of the world. And some of these fellow students happen to be of pure English origin.
As English is the language of teaching and learning here, I started out with a high expectation towards these Englishmen/women colleagues of mine who are mostly young adults like me. High expectation in terms of their being there to lead in class communication and showing all others the best way to use this precious language of theirs which they must be very proud of, in my opinion, because of their forebears glorious success in making the language world's number one, if you understand what I mean.
Little did I know, however, that one of my first class presentations and a particular word that I used, will open up an interesting conversation and a window of clarity on something I have subconsciously believed in as our African folly particularly being carried on in a country like Nigeria.
The word was ACCESSION. Because of the usual debate over the best definition for any academic subject concept as can be found in almost all the academic disciplines by anyone who has studied in a third level educational setting, I was proposing that I would use the word “Capacity Accession” to supplant for the term “capacity building or capacity development” which are equally bogged down with such usually very confusing definitional debates as earlier mentioned. And my English friends wanted to know what the word ACCESSION means. At first I was shocked and showed it when I joked in my reply to the one who asked the question that he should be the living dictionary in the classroom at that moment. But in their characteristic Western honesty and curiorsity, he said he had no idea what the word means and demonstrated that when he failed the probing guess-what-it-means questioning from the lecturer. Impressed by this impressive English language skills of Nigerians, which he had obviously heard about before but had never experienced first hand, he cornered me for some conversation after class to express his delight, and we got talking.
Of course I told him not to praise me because – and it is true – I don't even know the language well enough and still feel extremely inadequate in spoken English despite the fact that I was born into it and have spent all my school years so far, now spanning over 20 years, learning English. I ended by telling him that if he however want to be really impressed, he should read Nigerian writers especially in the local newspapers or listen to Nigerians at home talk in the media about their country's problems. You will be really impressed at our English language skills, I told him, but this same skill is the greatest evidence of our Nigerian stupidity which has kept us as the very unfortunate, suppose-to-be-wealthy but so-poor-and-devastated country as the whole world currently sees us. And he replied jokingly, “well I'll take that to mean that a Nigerians writer or speaker can write or speak so much good English but actually understands so little about what he, the writer or speaker is even saying in English”. Grand joke!!
The joke wasn't his invention, anyway. In fact, he was only paraphrasing me to show that he understood, this time, what I was talking to him about in parables during our conversation. All that grammar by Nigerians always end up meaning nothing! “We really know stuff in Nigeria”, and I'm coming to appreciate from a first hand international vantage point the possibility that Nigerians might even be “speaking better English than the English people themselves”. Yes, one of the problems we have in Nigeria is this indulgence in showing off that we know how to 'blow' grammar over whatever issue that there is in the country at any particular moment but which in actual sense we ourselves understand only very little, or mean almost nothing of them whenever we talk about these issues with those beautiful English grammar resulting in our ending up doing absolutely nothing beyond our cheap circus small talking in English language about these issues at hand.
So what exactly am I actually pointing at? President Yar'Adua, since you asked. When is he stepping down or when are Nigerians going to assert that he leave office? Not at all with any prejudice towards physical disability but in vital tune with a great fact that this president has not achieved any tangible thing commensurate to the great fortune his administration and democratic dispensation has cost Nigeria so far since his now more than two years in office. This is what all Nigerians, particularly the media and the newspapers, should be saying now, in few words, with very little English, with all vital and huge actions than plenty words. But what are we seeing in our local Nigerian media and larger society today? The same old 'talk talk!' Time again for enough people to come forward only to demonstrate that they had Cambridge and Oxford Distinction in English language. Time to talk it all away and end up achieving nothing again.
(This article was also published on saharareporters.com, on November 27, 2009)