As the wind blows the sand from the shore, so must they be driven away. This is the true voice of the people. – Benjamin Zephania
By Femi Asu
When I recalled the reported declamation of President Goodluck Jonathan at the National Christian Worship Centre, also known as the Ecumenical Centre, in Abuja on Sunday, September 25, 2011, it readily brought to mind the biblical story of king Pharaoh and the people of Israel. In that church service, which was to commemorate Nigeria’s 51st Independence Anniversary, he told the congregation, nay Nigerians, that he was not a lion or an army general. What’s more, the President went further to tell us that he did not possess the attributes of Goliath or Pharaoh. He was quoted as saying, “I don’t need to be a lion. I don’t need to be Nebuchadnezzar. I don’t need to operate like the Pharaoh of Egypt. I don’t need to be an army general but I can change this country without those traits.”
Let me crave your indulgence as I take you on a biblical trip down memory lane. Exodus chapter 1 relates the emergence of a new king over Egypt who decided to bring suffering on the children of Israel. He said to his people: “Come, let us deal shrewdly with them…” And they set off their sinister agenda by setting taskmasters over the Israelites to afflict them with their burdens.
In chapter 5, Pharaoh is presented as a self-centered, ruthless tyrant, a maximum ruler who oppressed the people of Israel. Pharaoh refused to hearken to the voice of the people – the voice of God. He understood what was being requested but he was adamantly opposed to the yearnings of the people.
He instructed the taskmasters of the people, and their officers; “You shall no longer give the people straw to make brick as before. Let them go and gather straw for themselves.” The taskmasters immediately went all out to do exactly as they were instructed. To be sure, it was a very bad news for the Israelites who already had been subjected to so much suffering. Their lives had already been made bitter with hard bondage. Their officers reacted to the removal of straws and the attendant torture by going to meet Pharaoh, saying: “Why are you dealing thus with your servants? There is no straw given to your servants, and they say to us, ‘Make brick!’ And indeed your servants are beaten, but the fault is in your people.” But all to no avail.
Not only did Pharaoh viciously attack and cause as much suffering as possible to the people, he hardened his heart, saying: ‘I will not let Israel go!’ He listened to Moses and Aaron, the representatives of the people, but he was crafty in dealing with them. Instead of admitting they had a legitimate point, he accused them of encouraging laziness and rebellion.
It has been said that we may give Pharaoh the benefit of the doubt thinking that he did not realise just how severe his edicts concerning Israel were. He might not have known the degree of misery. He might not have realized the tasks were impossible. But if so, he should have relented when the people vehemently opposed it. He would not relent – pride would not allow him to change his orders. As he began so would he continue. He refused to see the real misery the people of Israel were going through. He was inflexible, arrogant and egocentric. He was a headstrong and hard-hearted person suffering from the delusions of grandeur. He blindly persisted in oppressing the people of Israel.
Like the Israelites, like Nigerians, in a manner of speaking. Over the years, Nigerians have been yearning for deliverance from the suffocating grip of those Pharaohnic forces that have continued to oppress them in their own land. Perhaps it was in their quest for this much-needed deliverance that majority of Nigerians voted for the man, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who many saw as the messiah in spite of his party.
Prior to the April 2011 elections, there were hopes that the ruling party, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was going to be rejected by Nigerians because many believed it has mismanaged Nigeria since the return to democratic rule in 1999. But many Nigerians said they voted for Jonathan, not PDP! They said Jonathan’s humility and personality swayed them in his favour as against his party’s performance. They so much believed he was going to bring about “a breath of fresh air”, as he promised.
Now, the story is diametrically opposite. The man who was then being canonised by many Nigerians is now being demonised by most Nigerians. One may say that the hopes invested in Dr Goodluck Jonathan during electioneering campaigns were as overblown as the disenchantment that now surrounds his less-than one year stay in office. Is it true that he has failed to live up to the standards of his campaign rhetoric? It may be too early to conclude.
Right now, President Jonathan is confronted with what may eventually pass for the most challenging moment of his presidency. I do not envy him. He seemed to have sinned and have come short of the glory of Nigerians, pardon my biblical allusion. He did what most Nigerians consider unthinkable when he removed fuel subsidy on New Year’s Day. Not a few people who supported him during the campaigns are saying they cannot help shaking their heads in regret. They said they expected Jonathan to put an end to the continual assault on the Nigerian citizen and the gross devaluation of their lives by successive governments, and not to add to it.
Perhaps, President Jonathan did not know that removing the fuel subsidy at a time like this was tantamount to Pharaoh’s act of stopping the supply of straws to the people of Israel – an undeserved punishment. Nigerians have been provoked; they want him to revoke what he did on New Year’s Day. Will he?
What interests me in this reflection is not just to juxtapose the experience of the people of Israel in the hand of Pharaoh with the current situation in Nigeria triggered by the removal of fuel subsidy, but to appeal to President Jonathan not to don himself with the garb of the dictatorial Pharaoh by refusing to hearken to the massive voice of the Nigerian people. He told us he didn’t need to operate like Pharaoh to change Nigeria. Of course, he does not need to be a generalissimo or a Pharaoh to transform Nigeria. Now is the time for him to walk his talk.
In my next piece, I hope to be able to repeat what I said in my ‘Letter to President Jonathan’ published in The Nation newspaper, Thursday, July 15, 2010 when he reversed his decision to suspend our soccer teams from all international competitions for two years: “You deserve kudos for reversing the decision… I could not but salute your courage as a leader when you rescinded the decision. It is a popular refrain that ‘to err is human; to forgive is divine.’ Permit me to adapt it thus: to err is human, to realize the error of one’s ways is commendable. It takes courage and maturity. I know you could have, by the powers vested in you as the president, stuck to your guns and damned the consequences – just to save your face. I know you could have behaved the way that gap-toothed generalissimo did some 17 years ago, but you didn’t. I take my hat off to you.”
God bless Nigeria!
-‘Femi Asu is a recent graduate of Accounting, University of Ado-Ekiti.