(Vanguard of Sunday, November 23, 2008)
I had three visitors in my office a day after I wrote Frying Keyamo that was on Monday. They are friends in the advertising trade and their area of specialization is branding. They took me on, on what I said about rungs of a ladder; and before I knew what was happening, we had spent three hours analyzing the illustrations I gave — material, intellectual, and spiritual.
I want here to explain these many rungs of the ladder and would like to apologize to those who may not accept what I say. That would be because they are at a higher rung of the ladder, which every body claims to be at, or at a lower rung, which nobody wants to accept until they have climbed a few more rungs.
My friends were particularly irked about my reference to two names. See what I said, “The Dimeji Bankoles, the Rear Admiral Arogundades and the many others who do things that belong in lower ladders of life should be called to order, not by the regulations they make, because the regulations are part of the problem, but by the people who look upwards to what others have achieved and are ready to beard the lion in its den”.
I did not ask my three visitors why they were worried about my mention of Dimeji Bankole, Speaker of the House of Representatives who is under the searchlight for bossing a House that has problems with buying vehicles at questionable and now questioned prices, or Rear Admiral Henry Arogundade whose naval ratings pounced on Citizen Uzoma Okere in Lagos on November 3 because she did not pull her car out of harm’s way at the approach of the Admiral’s convoy.
Dimeji and Henry and even Uzoma are metaphors. The President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), hit the nail on the head, in illustration of my story of rungs of the ladder, when he condemned the acts of some officials. He specifically mentioned the beating of Uzoma by naval ratings; and the misbehaviour of a prosecuting police officer who confronted a senior magistrate in open court and upbraided her for discharging and acquitting an accused person.
He said, “Despicable violence against the Nigerian civilian population inherent in the culture of our armed forces and the police must be condemned by all civilized people”. Before we start on the illustrations, it is obvious that Mr. Akeredolu recognizes that there is a standard below which civilized people will not fall. So those on rung 9 will be too civilized to fall below rung five; and it would be shameful for those on rung 23 to be doing things expected of those on rung 19.
Let us take the material rungs of the ladder. The wretched of the earth are down the rungs of the ladder in the same place and the same time as the wealthy who are on higher rungs. So, we have the haves and the have-nots. It is a measure of degeneration for the have-nots to continue to pray that those who supply the crumbs be blessed by God to continue to supply the crumbs.
They will be seen to start climbing the rungs of the material ladder when they engage in productive enterprises that will add value to living. And this does not happen by accident, but through a programme of empowerment. You train an architect to build a city, not call on a fisherman to do so simply he is your son-in-law.
While begging is routine here, at Rung 9, no one will look at you when you make begging your profession in places where people went to school and had opportunities created by the polity to be what there is to strive for. I spoke to a governor in one of the Northern States some time ago that something must be done about the people from that part of the country who believe that begging is a virtue.
It will take years to liberate them from this rung of the perception ladder, but when begging is punished and those begging are trained in trade schools to earn a living, then one or two rungs up the material ladder will make them feel ashamed that they ever asked someone to give them alms.
On the intellectual plane, I related a personal example to my three visitors. I told of when I thought I knew everything, when I thought I had all the books in the whole world. (See The Making of Great Columnists, page 476, Vol 2 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary). I was in the primary school and I had gone to visit a friend who was a student of Ora Grammar School.
I burst into tears when I saw a book entitled A Short History of the World on his table. He asked what was wrong and I told him I hadn’t a copy of the book, that I thought I had all the books in the world! He asked how many books I had and I said four. Yes, four books! But that was a level no one could have lifted me from until, moving from one level of instruction to the other, I discovered, for myself, that I had been a fool.
Yes, the discovery that you have limitations at the rung you are at qualifies you to move to a higher rung of the ladder. How beautiful it would be if this recognition dawned on the group, not just one lone individual, which can happen through enlightened, focused and disciplined leadership. The fact is that I belonged in a group at that level when I could claim to own all the books in the world, when I had only four books; and below me were those who did not even go to school, and so had no acquaintance with books.
But looking at them speak with authority on matters in which they have little knowledge, you blame them, instead of locating them at that rung of the ladder where they do not know any better. The only acceptable solution is when there is a deliberate policy to pull them up the ladder so they can see for themselves the limitations that that rung of the ladder had as part of its make-up.
What took most of our time when we were discussing these rungs of the ladder of life was the sensitive question of religious dogma. The people who stoned Prophet Mohammed in Mecca and broke his ankles were at a particular rung of the ladder when they did it, and could defend it. Most of them were idol worshippers and could not accommodate the call to destroy what generations of their people had believed in, had held to be their protectors.
Those who tried Jesus for blasphemy had recourse to a penal code which supported his sentence to death by crucifixion. The prophets of Baal, 400 of them, were confident enough to call the bluff of Prophet Elijah who claimed that the God he served was the only God, and that there was no other who could answer prayers. At the point of reckoning, they could not live to climb the next rung of the ladder of spiritual recognitions.
The victims of the inquisition for which the Pope apologized more than 400 years after were burnt on the stakes to please God! The excommunication of Martin Luther after he presented his 95 theses against the affront on Christianity through the sale of indulgences was well-meant because he was, to those at that rung of the religious ladder, an overzealous intellectual irritant. The only country on earth today that does not accept the coming of the Messiah is the one through which he was downloaded to mankind.
We discussed more sensitive things about religion which I do not want to mention so that we do not go far off the point that you cannot ascend from that rung of the ladder you are ripe or mature for until you have done a lot of work on yourself. But there is more to doing this work on yourself than exerting your own personal effort. The environment for doing so has to be created.
We have failed woefully to create the environment for values mankind is ripe for to blossom. We are children of the soil, and we cannot shake off the belief that we grew up from the soil where we must identify the graves of our ancestors. Even the long journey of mass movements of populations is forgotten because we lay claim to the piece of acre where we get stuck in protection of land whose origin we know nothing about. So, if one child of Bush can be in Texas, and hold office there; and another in Florida, and hold office there; we ask how that is possible.
We look at it from where we are, and wonder how one child of the Esama of Benin can be a native of Benin and hold office there, and another live in Maiduguri and hold office there even if we have, in praising him for his philanthropy, we call him the Esama of the Universe! But while America has moved up the rungs of the ladder of life to accept that being an indigene should be based more on residential qualification than the location of your ancestral totem, their ways show more mobility than the rigidity that getting stuck to your little acre gives birth to.
The summary of what I am saying is that habits die hard, as they say. It is our way to drive people off the roads when big men in office must not be kept waiting in traffic; and who can deny that the people accept it by getting out of harm’s way. Uzoma Okoro is a protester and has drawn attention to the wrong in inconveniencing those who should go about living their lives without officious and official intrusions.
Gani Fawehinmi was an irritant to governments, but his consistency in this posture which sent him to jail many times put governments on guard. Akin Asalu was so effective in protecting the interests of shareholders that companies held sessions before annual general meetings to prepare for questions the growing army of shareholders would ask. Keyamo is an irritant in the legal profession and there are many Keyamos, and there must be many more Keyamos, many more Uzomas, many many more irritating professional gadflies that must sting us at our softest places for us to be forced out of the static rung of the ladder at which we have entrenched the custom of doing evil and celebrating it.
We must climb out of that rung of the ladder where we say because people accessed power, God ordained it even if we are aware that they stole the mandate they glorify God for. Climbing out of the rung we are at, at Rung 9 when America is at rung 40, is taking more time than Nigerians can accept.
Imagine sustaining the same evil for almost 50 years and even descending the ladder to worsen our manifestation of evil at every theatre of life – material, intellectual and spiritual. Forces of resistance must emerge to push us out of the rot we have descended into and gotten used to without any longer smelling the stench. Change may be peaceful if those who moderate it do so in peace. Otherwise…
(Published in Vol. 3 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 205 -210; Lagos, 2011).