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Jonathan As Nero: A Misplaced Analogy

By Ikeogu Oke
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The ability to plan for the future even in desperate times is also a mark of good leadership; not only the ability to secure the present, and to learn from the past and apply the lessons to improving the present and the future. But those who have criticised

President Goodluck Jonathan for 'jetting out' to Rio de Janeiro 'amidst violence in Kaduna and Yobe states,' which unfortunately has claimed scores of lives and wounded many, do not seem to realise this. Predictably, some of such critics, through posts on social media, have compared the president to Nero, the Roman king who reportedly played the fiddle while Rome burnt.  

     First, let me put this analogy in its place as groundless. Nero, for those familiar with that intriguing event, whether as scholars or dilettantes of world history, was suspected of setting off the inferno. Two Roman historians, Setonius and Cassius Dio, actually favour him as the arsonist, even if controversially, so he could build a palatial complex on the grounds razed by the inferno. So it follows that the account of his playing the fiddle, or more appropriately the lyre, the instrument with which he was associated as an avid musical performer, as the inferno raged, is meant to convey his deliberate lack of concern over the disaster and for its victims, apparently owing to his culpability, preferring to engage is a pleasurable activity, comparable to attending an owambe party, in the midst of the tragedy.

     Now, when a bomb exploded at the United Nations building in Abuja, wounding and killing many, President Jonathan visited the scene of the tragedy. Again, he visited the scene when a bomb exploded at the This Day office in Abuja, wounding and killing many as well. With such precedents, I dare say that no one who wishes to be fair to him will try to insinuate on him the character of an uncaring, let-the-dead-bury-their-dead leader, as suggested by the recent criticisms over the Rio trip. Besides, the comparison to Nero might have fitted if the president's trip to the former Brazilian capital is conceivable as connected with the search for pleasure. But who doesn't know what the Rio trip is about, that it is about work, not play - even diehard critics of the president and such detractors of his whose preoccupation, it would seem, is to trawl every circumstance for a bad name to give a dog in order to hang him?

     Rather than the Nero analogy, I would compare the President to a man whose wife goes into labour simultaneously with a violent death occurring in his family. And the best response, I think, would be for him to plan to ensure the safe delivery of the new baby, and welcome it as a symbol of hope in the midst of tragedy, while not neglecting the need to mourn the dead as appropriate. And I cannot see how the President's trip to Rio with other world leaders to ensure the birth of a better world which would include Nigeria necessarily precludes his responding appropriately to the victims of the Kaduna and Yobe violence, especially if one is willing to see the big picture.

     To be sure, what is taking place in Rio de Janeiro, from June 20-22, is a planned United Nations conference. A relevant documentation of the United Nations gives its official title as 'The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD)' or the 'Rio+20 Conference' for short. It adds that the conference is 'being organized in pursuance of General Assembly Resolution 64/236 (A/RES/64/236) … to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), in Rio de Janeiro, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg.'   As for its objective(s), the documentation says: 'At the Rio+20 Conference, world leaders, along with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups, will come together to shape how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet to get to the future we want.'

     Interestingly, some have blamed social inequity and poverty for the Boko Haram malaise responsible, through well-coordinated bombing campaigns, for the violence in question and similar incidents being witnessed in the northern part of our country. One is surprised, therefore, that the critics of the president do not seem to see how his participation in the Rio conference can contribute to stemming future violence of the Kaduna and Yoba type, should he return from it with ideas on how to 'reduce poverty' and 'advance social equity' in our country. There is also the prospect of the president signing an MOU with Electrobras, the Brazilian power giant, during the trip. This engagement, expected to benefit the reform-bound Nigerian power sector, makes the trip more directly beneficial to the Nigerian people and their future.

     Besides, no one who really cares about the survival of the human race, threatened as much by environmental degradation as by poverty, social inequity and terrorism rolled into one, can fault the President's trip to Rio de Janeiro. In a world where a single burst of a violent wave, in the form of a tsunami, can flatten whole cities, and the depletion of the ozone layer has been linked to the rising incidence of certain types of cancer and to the obvious and insidious threats of global warming, I think it is proper that our country shows solidarity with the rest of the world through our president's participation in the conference to seek solutions to such problems.  

     And let me state clearly that I am not writing this as an apologist for President Jonathan or his administration. For I also think the administration needs to do more to ensure adequate policing of our public security 'corridors,' besides working harder to create jobs and reduce poverty nationwide. I believe it is easier for terrorism to find work for an idle hand than a gainfully employed one. And the administration can ensure improved security policing by employing the right types of personnel from our hordes of jobless youth. And need I add that the $620, 000 Farouk Lawan bribe money can pay the salary of 226 of such youth for a year at twice our current minimum wage?   

     The death of any human being, by any means or for any reason, is a tragedy that should be mourned by all. It is in consideration of this, I think, that the English poet John Donne says of himself: 'Each man's death diminishes me.' And the deaths resulting from the recent bombings - in Kaduna and Yobe states - which may well have been orchestrated to wrench and disable the wheels of our nation's progress under the Jonathan administration - can be no exception. They actually evoke the need for right-thinking people to feel diminished, to mourn, at two levels. One, at the universal level implied by Donne's autobiographical remark; and at the particular, desperately unreflective and unconscionable level of the otherwise sane citizens of any country taking great pains to contrive such violent death for their innocent compatriots, and instigate socio-political unrest, in the presumed interest of a religion whose name literally translates as PEACE!

Yet, no country should allow its future to be held captive by its past or its immediate circumstances; and whoever permits such captivity is not fit to be called a leader.

Ikeogu Oke, a writer, poet and public affairs commentator, wrote from Abuja.

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