The news of President Olusegun Obasanjo, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chairman of the African Union (AU), and other sundry titles is a very important man by all acceptable standards. His recent adoption of Master Udoh in far away Akwa Ibom state made me wonder at the inside that the man who purportedly carries our collective hopes and aspirations, has of this entity called Nigeria.
Now don’t get me wrong; I will not get into the legal implications of carrying away a minor (13 year old) from the parents without signing the necessary legal papers, and in a situation where they cannot say no. Such news of adoption should normally be claimed and applauded, at least considering the fact that the certainty of a dramatic change of destiny is guaranteed. I am sure many a parent would be ready to attend extended prayer sessions and fast for more than seven days if only such fortune could befall any one of the hopeless crowd of malnourished, illiterate and diseased entities that people most Nigerian homes today. But that is as far as this fairy tale goes.
Going back to the case of Master Udoh, it was widely reported that the president’s milk of human kindness was activated and over flew when he came across this young boy of 13 who could not respond to his simple question of ‘what is your name?’
In his innocent mind, Udoh couldn’t have been intimidated by Mr President’s credentials and antecedents, as the man who has reduced us all to beggers in a land of unprecedented plenty; no, that couldn’t have been the reason. Nor was Master Udoh aware of the gruelling battles that the NLC has fought over irresponsible and irascible price hikes since 1999, the present ‘mother of all battles,’ the Trade Union bill, at the National Assembly. I doubt if he was aware that the question came from the most travelled president Nigeria (nay, Africa) has had in such a short time, in recent memory. No. Master Udoh couldn’t answer because he is illiterate; at least that was the revelation from Mama Udoh, who probably was soaked in sweat as result of embarrassment.
Then OBJ shows an unimaginable alienation from reality by asking an otherwise, I dare say, wrong question: ‘why is he not going to school?’ Only Mr President can say what answer he anticipated from such an awkward question. And because it gives him this indescribably cynical pleasure in hearing the pathetic stories of our lives, he heard it from another horse’s mouth.
This time, I am sure Mama Udoh braved for the moment, probably steeled herself, knowing that millions of parents would not just take a passing interest in her response to this august guest. And in a flourish, she intimated him with the unblemished truth: ‘there is no money…’
In his characteristic military style of acting and questioning later, Mr President, showing off the parent side of his existence, announced the adoption of Master Udoh in order to arrest the situation. And in one full sweep, Mr President missed the opportunity to address a cankerworm that threatens to consume this nation: illiteracy.
Taking Master Udoh away from the denigrating clutches of poverty is a gesture that shoots high into the heavens; but alas, it does not solve the problem. There are thousands, if not millions of Udohs in Nigeria, and I doubt if 1% will be adopted. We see them every day: from the polio consume indigent on a roller board at every traffic light or intersection in all major cities, particularly Abuja and Lagos, to the half blind children in tattered clothes, clutching plastic bowls, a rude reminder of their despicable existence, arms out stretched for the miserly pittance of benevolent passers-by; we see them in the 13 year old bus conductor whose mental capacity has been reduced to the additions and subtractions of N10 and N20 notes; there is an Udoh in the pure water hawker who moves about at traffic jams bare footed, or the little girl selling boiled ground nuts around house corners, at risk of being molested by randy old men in search of quick fixes; there are countless Udohs in the villages who have resigned themselves to a life of planting cassava and yam with little to show for; there is an Udoh in the house help who, conditioned by our collective insensitivity, is condemned to a life of waking up as early as 5am to fetch water, prepare breakfast for the cjildren of the house to eat and go to school, while he/she sits outside like a guard dog, waiting for their return in a brutish cycle of alienation and hate. The Udohs in our society are too many.
Education at all levels, has been relegated to the lowest levels of policy considerations. It is difficult to say where it is worst hit: primary, secondary or tertiary. But I think the consequences of the rot and neglect at the primary level only goes to worsen the situation of the other levels. From the UPE to the UBE, both midwifed by OBJ, the story has been the same: miles of speeches and millimetres of action. The UBE programme, launched in Sokoto in 1999, has seen five year of inactivity all levels of implementation, the reason why the value of life of the Udohs in our midst have been badly battered.
In adopting Udoh, OBJ acknowledged a complete failure of his policies on education, especially the UBE programme. That speaks volumes of the man we have collectively bestowed our hopes and aspirations on. In adopting Udoh, who to me is an evidence of system (policy) failure, instead of formulating a concerted approach through sound policy decision devoid of cheap popularity and puerile politicking, OBJ once again has shown an uncanny misunderstanding of the nigerian question. It is like prescribing ‘Panadol’ to an AIDS patient, instead of administering ant retroviral drugs, that though won’t cure, would increase the immunity of the patient.
Master Udoh is lucky and I don’t begrudge him his good fortune. My heart only bleeds for the thousand others who will remain where they are because we can not provide them with basic educational needs as a result of selfish myopic considerations. Their future would have been mortgaged, condemning them to a life of outright wretchedness and shame…our collective shame.
Mr President, believe it or not, both the rich and the poor alike will be worse for it when these abandoned of the society come back to collect their portion of this ‘cake’ that is wantonly being shared with reckless abandon. Believe me Mr President, they will come not dressed as lawyers or doctors or journalists. It shall be an outing of unfettered criminality, garbed in armed robbery, rape, pillage, occultism, ministers and parliamentarians who will steal the nation blind, ‘419’ pastors and imams, and simply you-and-me-know thieves. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine. Mr President, God is watching us…