From Mandela to Bode George By Akin Osuntokun
Hold your breath Hanatu, I’m not about to commit the sacrilege of comparing President Nelson Mandela with Chief Olabode George or imply any continuity in their personality profile. The probable consequences of this transgression are just too dire to contemplate. Doyin Okupe, for instance, can bear witness to what becomes of those careless enough to even be misconstrued as treading this dangerous path. Just give me a minute, ok? Let us however remember that the ultimate personification of righteousness- Jesus Christ-approvingly ascended to heaven in the company of two robbers, who were crucified along with him. To disabuse the minds of those similarly inclined as Hanatu, and prove my credentials, I shall, presently, give account of my immediate response to the news of the transition of the one in whom we all celebrate the finest possibilities of our human nature.
One of the unforgettable admonitions of another man who, for us, holds the nearest potential of similarly ennobling the African race-Barack Obama -goes as follows: ‘what you do when no one is watching, speaks more of your character, than what you do when others are watching’. You will never find a better restatement of the principle of moral accountability to conscience and to God.
In prior exhortation of the same principle, Jesus said: “Beware of practising your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven”. In perennial aspiration for refinement and renewal, I always look forward to living the example of this precept. I received the news of the death of Mandela first hand from the announcement of President Jacob Zuma and I was alone, all alone when it broke. I stood up from bed and bowed in reverence and salutation towards the television projection of the one to who such honour is due.
Every compliment and accolade had been paid, and deservedly so, to Mandela and on such occasions I tend to feel that restating what had been repeatedly said would be superfluous. Nonetheless I will essay to recall some highlights of his remarkable personality especially as it bears relevance to our immediate situation in Nigeria. One is the exemplification of the jihadi principle-understood as the ability to transcend personal limitation, justification, circumstances and impulse in the unending quest for the realisation of the best of our human potential. In Mandela, it manifested as the dialectical progression from justified recourse to violent agitation to non-violent civil disobedience; from the dissipation of implacable repudiation to spiritual accommodation and inclusiveness; from combative isolationism to a unifying and universalising ideal. Second is his self-deprecating ability tohumanise and equalise social and political engagements. I remember his first visit to Nigeria after his release from prison, in the company of his wife, Winnie. There, in public glare, he looked at his wife and asked, don’t you think she is attractive, I mean, provocatively attractive!
Before I resolved on the title above, I thought of the option of calling it ‘Mandela is a Christian’. He was, of course, not a Christian neither was he a devotee of the rival monotheism-Islam-and so far as we can speak of him as a votary or practitioner of any religion, it is the Thembu tribe variant of African traditional religion and worship. He was buried as one. As practising Christians we are mandated to accept the scriptural canon of salvation-which categorically states that the precondition for admission to the eternal bliss of Heaven is the acceptance of Jesus Christ as our personal lord and saviour; and that anyone who does not so confess, is condemned to hell, no matter your good deeds on earth.
The problem here is that in terms of human exemplification of the Christian ideal, I know of no man who lived this better than Mandela. ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ is the second most exalted commandment in the hierarchy of the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) and the question becomes-who better personifies this ideal than Mandela? In the Beatitudes (Sermon on the Mount) Jesus proclaimed ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God’. I have interrogated myself over and over again on the fairness of precluding people like Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi from the way of salvation even though both are exemplars of the high moral culture of Christianity. If peacemakers are called the sons of God, how then can we exclude paragons of this virtue from the reward of salvation? In time, I sought and found solace and comfort in the scriptural doctrine of the ‘sovereignty of God’s election’- which attributes God with the discretionary powers to favour and accept any individual he so wishes, regardless of personal religious standing.
And then there is this most fascinating one that enjoins us to ‘hate the sin and not the sinner’. I have yet to come across a more proximate definition of the attitude of Mandela towards apartheid – which translates, in the instant, as ‘hate the sin of apartheid and not
the racist white upholders of the iniquitous system’. There is a lesson here for us all critics who often revel in naked display of implacable hostility and sometimes hatred for the human agents of the objects of criticism; for whom the boundary between constructive engagement and nihilistic criticism is blurred and collapsible; who courts populism through the rough and ready handle of demonisation and criminalisation of fellow mankind; who raises commotion at the sight of the speck in the other man’s eye heedless of the log sticking from their own eye balls.
The scriptures say “Judge not for with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again”. The essential truth of this injunction is the condemnation of the near universal tendency for hypocritical behaviour.
Having earlier rendered contrary opinion against the orthodoxy of the total condemnation of Chief Olabode George, I was keenly interested in the outcome of his appeal at the Supreme Court against his conviction for corruption at the Lagos High Court. On release from prison, friends and political followers organised a jubilant reception for him; and all hell was let loose. My contention then and, more so, now is that the story of the conviction, imprisonment and release of Bode George is a perfect illustration of the thriving culture of hypocrisy in Nigeria.
There is a Yoruba adage that depicts the plight of people like Bode George as prioritising the treatment of guinea worm over the far worse condition of leprosy. The specifics of the corruption charge against him was ‘contract splitting’. In the context of corruption in Nigeria; where billions are literarily and routinely lifted from the public till, this violation would probably rank as a non-issue yet it was celebrated and orchestrated in the media, like no other, by many whose corruption index standing would shame North Korea.
This behaviour hacks back to yet another cynical Yoruba adage that says ‘the thief is the one who has been apprehended, thieves not yet caught remain innocent’. The blessing in this disappointment for George is that the Supreme Court has found him not guilty and ‘wrongly apprehended’ ab initio-which, for me, is a better integrity status than the known big thieves who have managed to elude ‘being caught’ thus far.
To be screened and get certified as free of HIV is definitely a better medical status than suspected carriers who are yet to undergo verification. What I found most unacceptable is the scurrilous attempt in the media to impugn the integrity of the Supreme Court for not joining the multitude to do evil by using the yardstick of political demonisation to determine the culpability of Bode George.
The Supreme Court judgment was typically reported in the media as follows “A panel of supreme court judges has discharged
and acquitted Mr. George claiming that prosecutors at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had no evidence of Mr. George’s intention to commit fraud at the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) where as chairman of the NPA board he was caught presiding over a contract bazaar that bled the nation of Nigeria. The pattern of today’s quashing of George’s conviction was similar to that of a Lagos Court of Appeal ruling which similarly quashed a death sentence conviction of Major Hamza Al Mustapha’s for the murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola in 1996. Since leaving prison a few years ago, Mr. George had been closely linked to President Jonathan, even sometimes openly bragging that his conviction will be upturned.”
Nigerians cry aloud everyday on the sundry ills that bedevil the nation yet we may do well to pause for a moment in sober self-introspection and individually conduct a character means test to determine the level of culpability of each and everyone of us in the hypocrisy and self-destructive streak that contributes a sizable share of Nigeria’s malaise. Of what significance is the conviction or exculpation of Bode George to the President and the highest echelons of government that it would feel compelled to lean on the Supreme Court to pervert justice? Why would the Supreme Court feel obligated to trade off its credibility on such a relatively trivialcase-taking to account the fact that the respondent had served the penalty of conviction anyway? Seeking to play the prosecutor, the judge and the jury is not an attribute of the culture of progress. It is an indication of the emergence of a retrogressive culture of censure and dictatorship-akin to the dictatorship of the proletariat. That is not the way Nigeria should go.
Compliments of the season.
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