My grandmother was a storyteller and a consummate performer of the verbal arts in Yoruba: oriki, ewi, name it. My childhood was thus one of cold, bucolic harmattan nights around her hearth (adogan), listening to her stories and waiting expectantly for the yam she was roasting. Show too much excitement at the prospect of roasted yam and palm oil and you got one or two raps on the head for being a glutton. Some three decades later, there is always something about the behavior of the Nigerian state - the inaction and derelictions of her officials - that appears to have been lifted right out of my grandmother’s expansive bank of morality tales. Time and again, the Nigerian state pirates stuff from my grandmother. They owe her posthumous royalties.
Take the example of one of grandma’s didactic tales about vanity. Tortoise lacks the culture, resourcefulness, and culinary savoir-faire for the preparation of egusi soup. He also has a gargantuan ego and is not prepared to learn from neighbours he considers inferior, never mind that those neighbours are masters of egusi cuisine. Daily, Tortoise’s household is assailed by the sweet aroma of egusi soup and orisirisi that wafts through his windows from his neighbours kitchens. One day, Tortoise prepares pounded yam and calls his wives and children to a feast. When they arrive, they were greeted by the sight of pounded yam without soup.
“Papa, where is the soup now?”, the children ask.
“Simple”, replied Tortoise, “You take a lump of pounded yam and raise it towards the window. I am sure you can all smell the aroma of delicious egusi soup coming from the neighbours. Soak your lump in the aroma and eat. That way, you’ll get an excellent sense of what egusi tastes like! Just imagine the soup on your palates.”
“Papa, why don’t you just ask the neigbours to teach you how to prepare egusi? Why don’t you want to learn from them?”
“Shut up! Silly children. Me? Learn from those small children? You better get used to the aroma of egusi. We may not own the soup, we own the aroma.”
In the last two weeks, President Yar’Adua and his government have gone to considerable lengths to serve Nigerians a delicious aroma of democracy wafting in from neighbouring, much smaller Ghana. Through swift actions and gestures – completely alien to their culture at home – Nigerian government officials ensured that Nigerians raised their risible lumps of pounded yam in the direction of Accra, savoring the aroma of a phenomenon that Nigeria’s political culture will always exclude: genuine electoral democracy.
The tragi-comedy started when President Yar’Adua’s government decided that Nigeria couldn’t possibly countenance a situation where something as trifle as transportation of election materials and electoral officials would create problems for Ghana’s democracy. He immediately played big brother and donated five Toyota Hilux vans to the electoral commission of Ghana. Nigerian newspapers duly headlined the brotherly gesture and thus commenced the seepage of the aroma of Ghana’s democracy into our nation-space. Act Two, Scene Two: Enter Musiliu Obanikoro, the Nigerian Ambassador to Ghana. Prompted by his masters in Abuja, he began to work assiduously to prevent electoral violence in Ghana. Yes, you heard right: Nigeria’s PDP government worked for peaceful elections in Ghana! And Obanikoro was at the centre of that initiative! If President Yar’Adua’s PDP can only conceptualize a democracy of thugs, dane guns, acid, cutlasses, rampant political assassinations, and other do-or-die political ethos at home, the man was prepared to ensure that the aroma of peaceful electoral politics wafted in from Ghana. Ghanaians granted him his wish.
Final act: President Yar’Adua’s congratulatory message to the people of Ghana was the icing on the cake. He was at his effusive best, saying everything that his own shameful electoral heist negated. Somehow and thankfully, he managed to fall just short of taking total credit for Ghana’s success on behalf of his government and the people of Nigeria. Do we have anything to learn from Ghana? Of course not! God forbid bad thing. We are a nation of irredeemable Big-Enders as stated in this column last week. The giant of Africa cannot and should not be seen to be learning anything from small fries like Ghana. Besides, President Yar’Adua is a humble man. He is not greedy. He does not covet his neighbour’s property. Ghana can have and own civilized electoral ethos. Nigeria will own and be content with its aroma!