The President I Want, by Chimamanda Adichie

 

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#ChimamandaAdichie is the award winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, Purple Hibiscus, The Thing Around Your Neck and Americanah

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Some of my relatives lived for decades in the North, in Kano and Bornu. They spoke fluent Hausa. (One relative taught me, at the age of eight, to count in Hausa.) They made planned visits to Anambra only a few times a year, at Christmas and to attend weddings and funerals. But sometimes, in the wake of violence, they made unplanned visits. I remember the word ‘Maitatsine’ – to my young ears, it had a striking lyricism – and I remember the influx of relatives who had packed a few bags and fled the killings. What struck me about those hasty returns to the East was that my relatives always went back to the North. Until two years ago when my uncle packed up his life of thirty years in Maiduguri and moved to Awka. He was not going back. This time, he felt, was different.

My uncle’s return illustrates a feeling shared by many Nigerians about Boko Haram: a lack of hope, a lack of confidence in our leadership. We are experiencing what is, apart from the Biafran war, the most violent period in our nation’s existence. Like many Nigerians, I am distressed about the students murdered in their school, about the people whose bodies were spattered in Nyanya, about the girls abducted in Chibok. I am furious that politicians are politicizing what should be a collective Nigerian mourning, a shared Nigerian sadness.

And I find our president’s actions and non-actions unbelievably surreal.

I do not want a president who, weeks after girls are abducted from a school and days after brave Nigerians have taken to the streets to protest the abductions, merely announces a fact-finding committee to find the girls.

I want President Jonathan to be consumed, utterly consumed, by the state of insecurity in Nigeria. I want him to make security a priority, and make it seem like a priority. I want a president consumed by the urgency of now, who rejects the false idea of keeping up appearances while the country is mired in terror and uncertainty. I want President Jonathan to know – and let Nigerians know that he knows – that we are not made safer by soldiers checking the boots of cars, that to shut down Abuja in order to hold a World Economic Forum is proof of just how deeply insecure the country is. We have a big problem, and I want the president to act as if we do. I want the president to slice through the muddle of bureaucracy, the morass of ‘how things are done,’ because Boko Haram is unusual and the response to it cannot be business as usual.

I want President Jonathan to communicate with the Nigerian people, to realize that leadership has a strong psychological component: in the face of silence or incoherence, people lose faith. I want him to humanize the lost and the missing, to insist that their individual stories be told, to show that every Nigerian life is precious in the eyes of the Nigerian state.

I want the president to seek new ideas, to act, make decisions, publish the security budget spending, offer incentives, sack people. I want the president to be angrily heartbroken about the murder of so many, to lie sleepless in bed thinking of yet what else can be done, to support and equip the armed forces and the police, but also to insist on humaneness in the midst of terror. I want the president to be equally enraged by soldiers who commit murder, by policemen who beat bomb survivors and mourners. I want the president to stop issuing limp, belated announcements through public officials, to insist on a televised apology from whoever is responsible for lying to Nigerians about the girls having been rescued.

I want President Jonathan to ignore his opponents, to remember that it is the nature of politics, to refuse to respond with defensiveness or guardedness, and to remember that Nigerians are understandably cynical about their government.

I want President Jonathan to seek glory and a place in history, instead of longevity in office. I want him to put aside the forthcoming 2015 elections, and focus today on being the kind of leader Nigeria has never had.

I do not care where the president of Nigeria comes from. Even those Nigerians who focus on ‘where the president is from’ will be won over if they are confronted with good leadership that makes all Nigerians feel included. I have always wanted, as my president, a man or a woman who is intelligent and honest and bold, who is surrounded by truth-telling, competent advisers, whose policies are people-centered, and who wants to lead, who wants to be president, but does not need to – or have to- be president at all costs.

President Jonathan may not fit that bill, but he can approximate it: by being the leader Nigerians desperately need now.

What are your thoughts? Let us know by leaving a comment…

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4 replies

  1. “President Jonathan may not fit that bill, but he can approximate it: by being the leader Nigerians desperately need now”.

    A very poignant point she’s made. There is no point in us debating or criticizing his leadership at this point. He can still live up to expectations of being a leader by acting now and being ahead of the West. Allowing the US and other strong hold countries to intervene and lead will have a detrimental effect not only on him but on how Nigeria is viewed on a global scale. Spearheading this rescue mission, shows a nation that is unified against terrorism of its own people. I am totally against the West leading this rescue mission as i feel it’s similar to allowing a total stranger to come in and control the domestics of your household.

    Like

    • Thank you SA_Chic

      Allowing a stranger to take control of your domestics is unwanted. However, when a country has repeatedly demonstrated an inability to manage its own affairs what other action should be taken?

      The need for help seems to have become so great that the country’s reputation has become secondary.

      Let’s hope a solution is found soon!

      Like

      • In this case its simply down to the people of Nigeria and how much more they can bare to take. Look at the Egyptian Revolution/Uprising it was fueled by social media and put into action by the people of Egypt who were to simply put it, fed up of an oppressive government.

        However this is easier said than done but I believe its possible.

        Like

  2. Great article by Chimamanda. This article basically reflects what I believe, the majority of Nigerian citizens want to see from our government. A genuine and persisting effort to better the country. No more empty promises. Unless the government is completely reformed however, to begin to take drastic and genuine steps to better the country I believe requires a president who basically cares more for the country than his life. A president who watches carefully, but is not shaken with threats of another coup or of general so and so. Sad, but It is not easy to suddenly stop the lies, stealing and corruption of a country. It is not easy to suddenly stop giving generals the huge incomes and first dibs on land contracts they are accustomed to. Let’s just say that a grown child that has learned to misbehave will not suddenly learn to behave without difficulties unless there are strict measures and time is allowed..

    We also have to remember that as a terrorist group, the problem of Boko Haram will not easily be solved. This is all political and religious for them, and so I believe this issue in itself should be treated separately, and not as part of the president’s incapabilities of running a country. Combating terrorism is a very difficult task, even for the US.

    In a sense, what this group is saying is that as long as we have a Christian president, or a president that is not Hausa, these attacks will likely still continue, and Nigeria will most likely have still have differences with the North. I also believe if some members of the government do in fact know who Boko Haram is and where they are located, and if they actually do, then they too would delay information.

    Nigeria during next year’s election might very well be dangerous and violent. If president Jonathan does announce that he will run for next year’s presidency let alone even win, I fear this is only the beginning….

    Like

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