Wednesday, 5 March 2014
A President and His Lady Lazarus By Ogaga Ifowodo
Speaking at last of her hitherto ultra-secret six-week “rest” in Germany, Mrs Patience Jonathan, not known for nuance or circumspection, made a direct comparison to the biblical Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. “I am not Lazarus,” she said, then added “but my experience was similar to his.” Not merely similar but greater, as she soon showed why her back-to-life miracle tops the act by which Jesus sought to prove that he is “the resurrection and the life” and that whoever believes in him “will live” even “though he were dead.” Lazarus had been dead for four days when Jesus raised him from the tomb; our First Lady Lazarus, on the other hand, had been dead for more than seven days. “I passed out for more than a week,” she said. “My intestine and tummy were opened. ... My doctors said all hope was lost. ... God woke me up after seven days.” It was a classic case of assertion by denial.
Since the odd mixture of carnival and pious devotion that characterised the Jonathans’ thanksgiving at the Aso Rock chapel seventeen days ago, many have expressed outrage. Weary of remarking on the first couple’s many doings that display their singular lack of discretion in the use (not to say “abuse”) of power, I initially resolved not to write a word on this latest instance. I found myself only wishing that the attending Man of God at the thanksgiving, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, had been summoned to perform the miracle of healing Mrs Jonathan right from the start. That way, I thought ruefully, the nation would have been saved the huge sums of money poured into her furtive medical tourism trip. Additionally, we would have been spared the saga of speculations by the public and childish denials by the presidency’s spokesperson that ensued.
And, also, the piety party. But then I was enveloped by a sense of sadness over yet another egregious show of contempt for the people on learning of the manner in which the President, through his wife, finally disclosed the reason for her stay abroad. And I kept asking, Why now? Why choose to disclose it to God, who must be presumed to have known all along anyway, and not to the people? Why hadn’t the president thought to address the nation and thank the people for footing the hefty bill of his wife’s expensive treatment; for their prayers? Surely, the people matter in all this, and it is better late than never to acknowledge them—if the great secret is to be (partially) revealed after all?
That was when it dawned on me that perhaps the president, as virtually all of our high political office holders, do really believe the claim they are fond of making: that it is God, not man (the electorate), that personally installs them in office. Until now, I hadn’t imagined it to be a literal article of faith among our ruling class. Yet, there was the President who for six months had treated the cause of her wife’s mysterious disappearance from the country as a hyper-sensitive state secret choosing, when he finally decided to part his lips, to address himself only to God. It is true that the disclosure was made by his wife, but aren’t the two one before God?
For the pious, it is of course an injunction to put God first in all things, though given the constitutionally guaranteed secularity of Nigeria it is not too much to ask our righteous leaders to separate their personal devotions from state matters. After all, as even Christ counselled, there are the things of God and there are the things of Caesar. In hindsight, I suspect that the belief in divine anointment to office is one reason why our rulers do not care for us mere mortals; why Jonathan could say “I don’t give a damn” when asked about the clamour for a public declaration of his assets. Compare that outburst with what Louis XIV of France purportedly said, “L’état c’est moi” (“I am the State”). Louis XIV ruled at a time when monarchs claimed to be the direct representatives of God. And if God is not accountable to anyone, then neither are his appointed representatives.
I confess that I remain shocked by President Jonathan’s latest display of contempt for the people. Five months earlier, he had sparked another outrage by claiming that the masses of people who trooped to the streets last year to protest their further impoverishment through his removal of yet another phantom fuel subsidy were sponsored and manipulated by unnamed enemies. The people, he said, had been lured into risking life, limb and liberty with bribes of “pure water” and street music. Oh, the fools and simpletons he must lead!
If Jonathan didn’t believe that he was specially anointed by God to be president, that come 2015 God will renew the anointing on his head through Pastor Enoch Adeboye, and that the people do not matter a jot in the process, he might just give a damn about insulting them ever so often. It seems to me, then, that among our many political challenges, one of the most urgent is how to make our “elected” leaders imbibe a basic minimum understanding of representative governance and the character, attitude and comportment it demands of them.