Parable Of The Tortoise


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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Parable Of The Tortoise



Pekulia Meesi



culled from NEWAGE, May 03, 2005


I would have said that President Obasanjo would not be foolish enough to succumb to any idea from any quarter whatsoever suggesting that he should find a way to prolong his tenure beyond 2007. But who am I to second-guess the president? The wiry ex-general has confounded us on many issues in the past to the extent that one must be careful not to assume that he has the capacity to perceive reality from our own lenses, nor should we presume that he is a good student of history. No leader has any right to alter the terms of his contract with his people – unless he does not mind suffering the fate of those who had so behaved in the past. History tells us that many slaves of ego and greedy ambition who found themselves in positions of power and authority have met their doom while overstaying their welcome. People can tolerate any kind of elected leader because of the prospect of another round of elections. When an elected leader’s time is up, then his time is simply up. He should quit the stage. The same people who had put him there will, in their wisdom, elect another leader to take his place. Nigeria did not crash after Balewa. It did not crash from Ironsi to Abdulsalam Abubakar to Obasanjo. It will not crash after Obasanjo. That fabled person who can be considered indispensable has not yet been born. Nor ever will.

Perhaps we can learn a lesson or two from the never-never world of folk tales. As usual the tortoise always occupies centre stage. From time immemorial, the animal, which Mother Nature has gifted with its own unique armoured tank, has always fascinated man. Slow, sneaky, uglier than sin, enigmatic in a strange kind of way, the tortoise is thought to be a harbourer of many an existential secret. But if you think the tales are just about the shell-backed animal, you need to wake up. No folk tale was ever told without a didactic intent. Here goes: There was a party in skyland to which winged animals had been invited. Not one to be left out of any kind of merriment, tortoise negotiated with the birds to take a bunch of feathers on loan to enable him fly with them to the party. On reaching skyland, tortoise announced that he had changed his name to ‘All-of-you’. The birds laughed at him not knowing what was coming. When the stewards brought a giant tray of food, they told the visitors that the food was for ‘All-of-you’. Tortoise grabbed the tray and wolfed down the food. Next came drinks for ‘All-of-you’; then dessert and take-away, all for ‘All-of-you’. Tortoise grabbed everything. At this stage, the birds saw through his trick. In anger, they retrieved their bunch of feathers from him and flew back to earth. Featherless and friendless, tortoise had no option but to fall back to earth. His shell broke into a thousand pieces but he was still alive. He begged an army of termites building a mound nearby to come to his aid. They proceeded to start re-assembling the shattered pieces of his shell. While they were at it, tortoise wondered aloud if any of them had fouled the air. They said no. He then asked why they smelt so badly. Astounded by his ingratitude, they decided to assemble his broken shell in ridges, thereby ensuring that generations of the tortoise would forever rue the day their ancestor opened his mouth too wide. Didn’t one sage say that an ingrate is but a robber in disguise? Here is another one related to me by my friend from the land of “sootin star and kusin sia”. In this tale, tortoise had gone to the herbalist to collect a medicinal bowl of porridge to solve his wife’s infertility. The herbalist explained to him that as soon as his wife ate the porridge, her pregnancy problems would be over. On the way, tortoise wrestled with the powerful aroma of the porridge. His taste buds were aglow. He wondered how he would go through all that hassle only for his wife to enjoy the sumptuous meal all alone. Eventually his greed had the better of him. He first took a lick, then a mouthful - and in a moment all the medicinal porridge was gone. Shortly after, tortoise became pregnant. He became a laughing stock in the society. In shame, he returned to the herbalist to beg for an antidote. The herbalist had bad news for him: there was no antidote. Tortoise would have to carry the pregnancy to term. And worse – as he did not have a birth canal, he would slowly die of the burden in his stomach. Only the Heavens know how many mortals have exited from these plains on account of greed.

And then, this: After a heavy bout of drinking at a funeral party, tortoise bared his mind to his co-revellers. “I wish there would always be a party like this every weekend.” The others warned tortoise not to say such a thing because funeral parties could only be held when someone died. Tortoise retorted, “I don’t care if somebody has to die before a funeral party can be held. What’s so strange about anybody dying anyway? I’m not bothered as long as there is a big party where I can make merry.”

The following week, the town crier did his usual rounds of announcing new developments in the community. There would be a funeral service and party over the coming weekend, he announced. “Who died?” asked an elderly man in the gathering. “It is my painful duty to announce the untimely death of Mr. Tortoise,” said the town crier, “May his soul rest in peace.” Didn’t one other wise man say what you wish for others can overtake you? Just this final tale and I would be done with tortoise and his many problems. Tortoise made a noisy preparation and announced that he was going to the market. His curious neighbour, seeing that the day was far spent, asked: “When will you return?” tortoise replied, “Not until I’ve been disgraced.” May it not be so for Olusegun Obasanjo who, by 2007 would have ruled his fatherland for a total of 11 years. And may his Chi not reject this invocation.

Oilxploitation in the midst of plenty
In spite of various entreaties to oil companies operating in Nigeria to stop treating a section of their Nigerian employees as vassals, the iniquitous situation persists. Some workers are classified as permanent staff and they enjoy all the perks of being in the oil industry. Others who are employed on contract with the same (or even higher) qualification as the permanent staff are paid slave wages and are made to work longer hours and do shifts. It is as if they merely escorted their well-remunerated counterparts to the world.

The Nigerian government, at the prompting of labour, has directed all oil companies to abolish the wicked contracting of Nigerians as slaves in their fatherland. The oil companies have observed the directive only in the breach. Each year, to the chagrin of those in their slave camps, they declare whopping profits. There must be minimum standards of labour relations for those operating in the Nigerian oil industry. President Obasanjo, who oversees the petroleum portfolio, should put this issue on the front burner and stop this slave trade once and forever.

British hypocrisy
Recently, the British High Commission announced a ban on young Nigerians who have never visited the UK before, from applying for visa. I am aware that the British Council has been encouraging young Nigerians to study in the UK. Maybe the high commission is working on another agenda totally different from the mandate of its sister organisation. That does not bother me in the least. What deeply grieves me is the deafening silence of the Nigerian government over the matter. Reciprocity is a cardinal principle in international relations. Nigeria should do no less than announce a similar measure targeted at the UK. The ban announced by the British High Commission is not just discriminatory; it is an insult!

Presidential monologue
The standard of the Presidential Media Chat keeps falling with each edition. President Obasanjo is the special guest on the programme. He is also the host. He is the ‘co-discussant’ and probably the director. He doesn’t give anybody else much chance (certainly not the journalists who he routinely intimidates). All that would have been tolerable if the programme was a 15-minute ‘short-and-sharp’ affair. But it is a two-hour programme. Inevitably, it has become an exhibition of self-congratulation and verbal diarrhoea. I can imagine how difficult it must be for the president’s media managers to groom their boss in this specialised area. But who else am I supposed to hold responsible, professionally speaking? Until they summon the courage to stand up to save their boss from himself, we are doomed to the dour two-hour monologue on prime time TV.



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