"We must accept finite disappointments, as long as we don't lose infinite hope" - Martin Luther King Jr.
It is truly tragic when a country's citizenry is more energized by Senator Barack Obama's performance in the US presidential elections in the past 8 months than President Yar'adua's performance in the Nigerian presidency in the past 18 months. More Nigerians stayed up late at night to watch the US presidential debate than watched Nigeria's debate which the latter did not participate in.
The reasons may not be hard to guess. An ordinary man can not aspire for the highest office in the land, nay even medium to low office in Nigeria anymore. You no longer have a chance merely by having money. You need a godfather and or garrison commander, you need combined forces of thugs, military and police and you need a complicit incumbent to install you by executive rather than elective mandate.
Obama is an ordinary man with neither money, thugs nor godfather. Even though Oprah Winfrey ia arguably his godmother for endorsing him first, the senator refused an invitation to fly on her private to South Africa when they were both going at the same time. Obama vowed to travel on commercial aircrafts so he could remain in touch with average citizens and not be hostage to corporate jet-setters and this principle applied even to Oprah his Chicago constituent and friend.
It is doubtful if any Nigerian leader or politician has fired the imagination of the Nigerian electorate the way Obama has since the pro-idependence era. Zik and Awo clearly had some impact in the clear Black v white dichotomy that pervaded that era but Obama's appeal transcends race dynamics. Abiola clearly was a more contemporary watershed in our history but it was not so much charisma but the imperative need for change that actuated the populace in the June 12 phenomenon. Obama is an admixture of the pro-independence and the change imperative and more.
Obama is also not a big man. On his campaign,he has 5 suits all exactly the same so he can wash, wear and recycle and 4 pairs of shoes (he says he is tired of packing his clothes everyday from one hotel to another.) As senator, he flew back home from Washington every week to take care of his family and perform household chores.
The presidential candidates in Nigeria are all big men who have been big men before and want to renew their bigness or get even bigger. Their concubines alone are far more comfortable and have more servants than Obama. Both President Yar'adua and Vice President Goodluck Jonathan's networth is greater than Obama's. Yet he was a lecturer in America before entering politics while they were lecturers in Nigeria before entering politics. They have been in political office for roughly the same length of time but he is poorer than them in a richer country.
Finally Obama could have been a Nigerian. If anyone could go and study abroad and have a child who could then grow up to run for president then clearly there is hope for Nigerians who are intrepid and indefatigable travellers. Wayward men will be checking their address books now to see if they got someone pregnant during their academic sojourns decades ago who would be the next big thing.
Even now, Nigeria has produced at least 3 mayors of cities in the US, defeating local "born" citizens. Others are commisioners in various state governments in the US. But for the fact Nigerians love home so much and prefer to go back, Nigeria could have produced the likes of General Powell who was an immigrant from the islands who rose to become first black secretary of state, chief of defense staff etc.
There is a poignant paradox in the fact that a Igbo man be a mayor of a capital city of an American state but that same man cannot be a local government chairman in Akwa Ibom state.
What better evidence is there that Nigeria does not treat Nigerians well when the criminally insane have arrogated power to themselves to the exclusion of decent, intelligent, people of integrity and professionalism?
It is the ultimate tragedy that where the older Obama returned to his homeland only to die senselessly in a motor accident and his additional son to grow up in a slum, Barack got an opportunity Kenya would never have afforded him without bloodshed and a peace agreement.
But besides these distinctions, there are some similarities between the US elections and Nigeria's current situation.
The Republican establishment is similarly worried about the succession of the VP because of Mccain's health and age as is the case with the northern establishment in Nigeria. There is no real way out for the party if Mccain is incapacitated as president, since removing Sarah Palin is not an option.
Mccain's wife like Nigeria's VP initially refused to release her financial details but then eventually did after intense media pressure. Like Gov Palin, Gov Goodluck Jonathan's spouse was subject of misconduct investigation. Similarly Goodluck, like Palin had only been governor a year before being offered VP when no one expected either to be the candidate.
For Mccain himself there's a startling similitude to AC presidential candidate ex-VP Atiku on the issue of links to the past 8 years. Just as Mccain is being faulted for his ties to President Bush's policies in the past two terms, Atiku could in the same vein not be extricated from the Obasanjo two terms where he served as a prominent number two.
In the final analysis, the primary reason Nigerians connect so much with Obama is probably because of the sheer audacity of his hope - that an orphan with no big name or bigwigs or money bags is attempting to do what he cannot do in his own father's land. And this is the big difference.
It is that ray of hope that it is possible for one of their own to do it somewhere even if not at home that is so inspiringly addictive. Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya is from Obama's village but it was with bloodshed and serious conflict that he even managed to negotiate a so-so government of national unity.
If Obama had run in the primaries in Kenya against President Kibaki's first lady for instance, who knows whether the truculent woman would not have rendered him a sound slap or two for his effrontery? Worse still because he would have been from Diaspora, he would have been scorned as someone who is "blowing grammar."
Obama is not merely a flag-bearer of the Democratic party in America. He is the hope-bearer of the instinctive democrat buried in the heart of every human political animal whose universal suffrage rights have been suppressed at home - where all political animals are equal but some are more equal than others.
Landing a Black man in the White House is the moral and historical equivalent of America landing a man on the moon. A small step for man, a giant leap for humanity on every continent and in every clime where prejudice and oppression hold sway. This is the audacity of hope and the tragedy of hopelessness if we in Africa do not learn a valuable lesson from our most famous lost son.
If Obama were running in Nigeria, all Nigerians would have given up on him long ago. We would have concluded he was not viable because he does not have money or godfather. Even if he did, he doesn't have power of incumbency. Even if he did, he is not from a certain part of the country. Even if he were, he does not know how to rig - or he doesn't share money.
Visiting Obama's campaign office this week, I saw people who spent their own money to travel across the US to come to my state to campaign for Obama. Some sleep in the campaign office but most accept the housing offered them by other volunteers resident in the locality. People come in during lunch break to make phone calls or type addresses of potential voters. All sacrificially. Only lunch is provided for volunteers - no money changes hands even though I heard of one Nigerian who came expecting them to pay for his hotel.
Any wonder then that the reality of an Obama is only feasible at this point in time in America and not in Nigeria? Hope was annuled on June 12th 1993, temporarily resuscitated in 1999 and finally decapitated in 2007. Our human capacity for faith in the system or hope in the leadership went with it.
Wishes are temporarily horses and for now Nigerians will ride on the backs of Barack.That is the Nigeria Obama connection.
Re: The Nigerian Obama Connection and the "Absurdity of Hopelessness"
Icglobalsystem posted on 11-02-2008, 12:57:41 PM
I can't help it!I laugh all through while reading your write-up.You actually captured the mentality of our Nation...May God in his infinate mercy help us..Our value system is going southward.I'm scared,nervous and hopeless...Because there is no future here...believe me
Re: The Nigerian Obama Connection and the "Absurdity of Hopelessness"
Auspicious posted on 11-02-2008, 13:19:49 PM
Oseun Oooo, Awe Emma Ogebe!
(Tank Yu oooo, Mr. Emma Ogebe!)
Oluwa a bukun re - God Bless You.
Fingers Crossed, 'e go betaaa!