Perhaps because of my family’s Diaspora location, the issue of how we Africans represent ourselves at home and in the Diaspora is very important to us as a family – children, mom and myself. Sadly, some Africans – both at home and abroad tend to see things differently. To this category of Africans, Africa is a pathology and a morbidity-the more pathological, the more “African” . Sadly, therefore they use Africa to make a living and at the same time distance themselves from Africa. It is only “something inert out there” to be used. Some non-Africans think the same. In other words, Africa is that which is weird and mysterious.
I will explain, and show why Mrs. Jonathan and Alison-Madueke perpetuate the image of Nigeria as a pathology and morbidity through the manner of their exit abroad.
In the course of my vocation as a professional teacher, I once made a presentation at a workshop. I used video clips and pictures of some Nigerian children. These children spoke Yoruba, an African language, throughout. After the presentation, some participants told me either the children in the video clip or pictures were not African or not “African” enough. It took me a while to understand what my colleagues, who were both Africans and non-Africans, meant.
After some conversation, finally, it dawned on me that what they meant was that I did not present the “Africa” they “think” they “know” because they did not see the weird things, unkept children, hunger, animals, safaris, drought, famine, starvation, poverty, systemic failures, NGO activities such as building of restrooms and baths, etc. In other words, I did not present Africa as a pathology and a morbidity because these children in the video and pictures according to them look “too well kept”, “clean” and cared for” to be “Africans” that they “know”. Even when the children speak Yoruba with native nuance, they are still not “Africans” to my friends. And those who think that they are Africans are surprised that they speak Yoruba. Anything African remains a puzzle. This has led me to constantly reflect on the nature of philosophical pathology and morbidity and what these mean for the rulers of our dear country, Nigeria and Africa at large.
Let me make a public disclosure before I go on. These children are my children, and the two pictorial environments in the video and pictures I am talking about are both Nigerian and American. But to my African and non-African colleagues, these children cannot be “Africans” because Africa and now Nigeria, to Africans and non-Africans, is a pathology, the weird, the morbid, the mysterious from which they must distance themselves.
Given the history of colonialism and slavery and our own willing culpability in our individual and collective failings as Africans and Nigerians, I could understand my non-African colleagues, but I could not understand my African colleagues, scholars, ministers, presidents, wives of presidents, husbands of president (I think presently we have just two female heads of state in Africa) who think, act behave, and work as if what is African or what is Nigerian is what is pathological, mysterious and morbid. Living and reproducing our lives in the Diaspora, my family and I quietly, unassumingly, and noiselessly, reject this view with subtle and internal intensity and passion.
With this as our anecdote, let us pay a courtesy visit to Mrs. Jonathan’s hospital bed and ward in Germany where she is recuperating from appendicitis and Mrs. Madueke’s suite in England who through the manner of their exit from Nigerian shores, confirm Nigeria as pathology and morbidity.
In doing this, I recall the “Saul Complex” which one of President Jonathan’s media spokespersons – Dr Reuben Abati alluded to. In view of the image of Africa as pathology, I will like Dr. Reuben Abati to put on formal record what he thinks of the manner of exit of Mrs. Jonathan (to Dubai and to a foreign hospital in Germany) and Mrs. Madueke. Are the manner and purpose of the exits dignifying? If not, why? If so, why and how?
My narrative proceeds with an African fragment about skepticism, humility, caution and grace in discourse and action. In a problematic situation the fragment cautions that: “Gbogbo aláǹgbá ló da inú dé ilẹ̀, a ò mọ èyí tí inú ń run.” This means that, “Although all lizards lie face down, we in fact do not know which of them has stomach ache.” The lizard in the fragment is neither an animal nor a human, but a complex issue, a problematic.
This fragment is a social praxis about knowledge, quest and need for information, ethics, moral and intellectual caution and grace in our human and social practices.
Now these are the delicate facts. We Nigerians heard about the presence of the wife of our president who is also an official of the Bayelsa state, in the hospital of a foreign country from an online news platform. The Nigerian people were not officially told. The good people of Bayelsa whose taxes we presume contribute to Mrs. Jonathan’s pay as a Bayelsa state permanent secretary were not officially told. Our president did not tell us. The presidency initially denied the report. When the report would not go away, Mr. Ayo Osinlu and other media operatives of the presidency confirmed what they initially denied and then informed that Mrs. Jonathan has a “misdiagnosed” “ruptured appendicitis”. Therefore she has to be flown to Germany to be treated by foreign doctors.
On the other hand, Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s case is both similar and different. Neither the presidency nor the ministry of petroleum where Mrs. Madueke works as minister has officially informed Nigerians of Mrs. Madueke’s exit. Given that the presidency is mum at Mrs. Madueke’s exit, it is important to know if she informed the president of her exit to London. If she did why did the presidency not inform us? If she did not why didn’t she? The media reported that Mrs. Alison-Madueke is hospitalized for stress, Mrs. Madueke has denied this. We do not know what is right or who is right. This “lizard” is indeed a complex one full of and pregnant with meanings.
The way Nigerian presidents, their wives, state officials suggest pathology and morbidity about Nigeria and want to make both fit has a long history. Mrs. Stella Obasanjo died in the hands of foreign doctors in foreign hospital in Germany. President Yar adua was brought home brain dead from a foreign hospital in Saudi Arabia. Both situations remain huge and complex unresolved “lizards” in our nation’s history. Senate President, Mr. David Mark recently made a quick dash to see his foreign doctors in a foreign hospital in Israel. The meaning of all these for our dignity and our nation’s security must not be lost on us. No responsible nation put the individual health of its rulers in the hands of foreigners.
I know that health issues can be emotional and personal. But for good reasons and public good, being a country’s president is not personal or private. So my question is: why is it difficult for Nigerian doctors to treat Mrs. Jonathan’s appendicitis in Nigerian hospitals under the watch of her husband, our president, President Jonathan? And why didn’t the president or the presidency inform us about Mrs. Jonathan’s trip, which we must assume, was done with taxpayers’ money?
Given the manner and purpose(s) of the exits of Mrs. Jonathan and Mrs. Madueke, President Jonathan has practically without mincing action told the world that Nigeria is a pathology and morbidity. The First Family has told the world that people should not come to Nigeria to visit because the President, his wife and other ministers like Mrs. Madueke are not themselves proud of what we have and over which the president presides and which Mrs. Madueke ministers over. They do not have confidence in it yet they claim to govern us. It is a moral paradox. How can you minister to and rule over what you do not have confidence in? And how can you attract anyone if you the minister, the ruler do not have confidence in it?
At a personal level, my children are sad about what the Nigerian First family has done to their sense of pride, dignity and esteem. This affects their psyche. In school and to friends, they talk beautifully about their Nigerian heritage just as other American kids talk about theirs. Their friends are proud of them because they are multilingual given their use of their African language. But the presidents of the original countries of other kids-their friends- do not abuse and shred their psyche the way the Nigerian First family has assaulted the psyche of our children. I am sure that other Nigerian children home and abroad are in the same situation.
So, if Nigerian presidents do not think Nigeria facilities are good enough for them and they are not ready to change those facilities why did they contest to be presidents? And will and can Dr. Reuben Abati’s false and disabled analogy of “Saul Complex” explain this observation?
But given our analytical visit to Mrs. Jonathan’s German hospital bed and ward and Mrs. Madueke’s suite in London it is indeed true that “Although all lizards lie face down, we in fact do not know which of them has stomach ache.”
Adéolú Adémoyọ̀, (firstname.lastname@example.org) is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca New York.