Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Letter to President Obama By Abimbola Lagunju

Dear Mr. President,
Greetings from Nigeria.
Excuse me for addressing you simply as “Mr. President” which is considered rude here under our skies and where our protocol demands that I should address you as “Your Excellency, the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Professor of Constitutional Law, Professor President of the United States of America!” And if I wanted a little political post in your administration (here we say regime), I, as a true Aso Rocker would also have added, “the Father of Democracy, the most Powerful President in the whole world, our Great Leader”. And if I would live true to my Pentecostal zeal, I would also gladly add “General Overseer, Daddy or Papa Obama.” And as you have made some visits to Israel in the course of your presidential duties, I would also have added JP, which in other shores means “Justice of the Peace” but which we call here “Jerusalem Pilgrim”. And your comely wife, would also be addressed as “Her Excellency, Mother of the Nation, Women Leader, Dr., First Lady,” and in true Pentecostal spirit, “Mummy Overseer”. It would be a taboo here to simply call her “Michelle”. And when my imagination runs dry, I would simply add, “All Protocols observed”. Now Mr. President, you may not understand what that means. Do not worry, you are not alone. No one knows exactly what it means. It is one of those parlances that have become a hallmark of importance of a VIP speaker. It is Naija-speak.

But Mr. President, I will not bother you with our obsession with titles and praise-singing, despite the fact that our national protocol and tradition demand that in my addressing you, I hero-worship you as “my great leader”. Despite the fact that you are a great leader of a great nation, I know that true democracy, where the leader is elected to serve and not to be served forbids that I transform myself into your subject, and more so, as a man of many achievements, you do not need a battery of sycophants to remind you of your many accomplishments. Therefore, I say boldly, and without fear of your aides, Mr. President.

You may wonder what your aides have to do with this. Here, our elected officials hide under the layer of many aides. After self (s)elections, you cannot see them, except on scripted events on the television. You cannot hear them except occasionally on the radios. On our shores, elected officials’ aides are more powerful than their principals and they can do and undo in the name of their masters. Overzealous, toxic, dangerous and fierce, these aides read all the letters to their so called principals and allow him access to only those letters that hero-worship him, they read newspapers on his behalf and give him only favorable cuttings, they hold numerous obnoxious press conferences to fritter away whatever little goodwill their “principals” enjoy. 

But Mr. President, I am not writing to you about aides and their “principals”, neither about principalities in high places. In a previous article, titled “What President Obama wants from Nigeria” which you probably saw, I listed a host of good governance and good followership concerns which as a true democrat you would like to see addressed in Nigeria and which probably you would not see at the expiration of your second term unless you do something about it.

Maybe you do not know it, but Nigerians unconditionally love your country, the United States. It is the country of reference for all Nigerians, irrespective of ethnicity or religion (forget about Boko Haram). We so much love the US, that we copied verbatim the constitution of the United States, while the Swiss constitution would have been more appropriate for this nation of many nationalities and interests. Our leaders, both in the private and public sector, and even ordinary folks who have dual citizenships proudly waive their American citizenship in our faces to silence us in moments of disagreement or when they have gone beyond acceptable norms. And believe me Mr. President, they are proud to have substituted their Nigerianness for Americanness. Very often in the press, our rulers make reference to your country – “in the States, it is this or that”. Scratch any Nigerian youth and he will tell you he dreams the American dream and on American shores far away from here. He hopes to substitute his green passport for a blue one. He wants to be diaspora! Heart and soul, we love the United States.

And you Sir, Mr. President, you cannot imagine how much Nigerians love you. One morning, I had cause to visit a private primary school and was pleasantly surprised that the head teacher was talking about you. She told the children, all less than 7 years old to be very proud of you. She told them of your “Yes! We can!”, and how you overcame the odds to become the President of your great country. She told them that “like President Obama, you can reach any height if you work hard”, and she asked them to repeat “Yes! I can!” several times. I had tears of pride in my eyes.

Mr. President, you are an inspiration to all Nigerians, over 160 million of us. You are an inspiration that this present democratic “conundrum” is a phase that will soon be history.

You are an inspiration that this country can and will produce great leaders.

You are an inspiration that rulership will someday give way to leadership.
You can be an inspiration to our current state officials.

You are an inspiration to millions of homes who hang your picture in their living rooms.

You are an inspiration to millions of children across Nigeria who everyday chant “Yes! I can!”

You are an inspiration to people like me of the same generation like you who have read the “Audacity of Hope”.

Mr. President, there is a saying in my language, which says, “One doesn’t abandon a bad child to be devoured by a lion, simply because he is bad”. Sir, think of this country, which experts say will be more populated than the United States by 2050. You can make a change.

Sir, set this nation on the right course. Inspire us with a visit.

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