Sometime in the month of July 2022, I watched how the video showing a Nigerian Politician being recorded in a public eatery in United States of America (USA) generated a lot of hullaballoos across social media space. Some camps were screaming for, while others were shouting against the recording episode.
These anonymised comments are sample responses for and against the video which I got sent by persons who sort my thoughts on this Nigerian Government Official versus a Nigerian Citizen encounter in the USA. One stated “So many people have been to the USA or the United Kingdom (UK), including your good self, Loretta. Honestly this is a violation of individual right. His Excellency Aregbesola has a right not to give answers to someone questioning him about his identity. That man had no right to trail him for further embarrassment. What the man did amounts to private nuisance which is actionable.” Another wrote “When you are a public servant…get ready to be recorded anywhere and everywhere. The day you take up a Political or Public appointment, you have accented to an erosion of your boundaries. Boris Johnson for example, is recorded everyday here in the UK and questioned on camera in every corner shop he is recognised in. He does not act as startled as our Excellency acted in this recording when the video happy Nigerian man first said hello to him.”
However, I do not write this, to defend the “rightness” or “wrongness” (surely you will permit me to call these words into existence in this scenario) of the recording. The slippery slope argument of right or wrong is irrelevant in my opinion and of course, we are each entitled to our opinions. Furthermore, for those of us, quoting right, wrong, duties, responsibilities, and values, we must remember that The Law is not black or white….it is largely grey. Besides, where one person’s rights end, another’s duties begin.
Rather, I wish to draw our attention to how situations like these should be handled when they happen as well as the sociocultural mindset of Nigerians behind it. I will quickly point out here that the reality is to expect more of these scenarios to become copious in today’s world of improving techy-savviness and evolving “citizen awokeness” of our teaming youths. Any Nigerian in Public office or aspiring to one at any level, should actively seek interpersonal and communication skills of global best practice, on how to de-escalate the kind of situation Aregbesola found himself in last month. OUR RULERS need to understand TRUE LEADERSHIP. In fact, our entire sociocultural leanings in Nigeria require a huge paradigm shift for us all to come to terms with “an awoke” citizenry – which is what played out in the video.
Trainings abound on how to manage these kinds of scenarios that we can all subscribe to. I watched the video and the initial very startled non-verbal response from the Excellency which followed the initial hello from a Nigerian Citizen was interesting. The more I watched and listened to the choice of words from the Minister, the more the general lack of soft skills in our society became glaring to me. “On whose authority are you recording me …”. When the better question may have been: ” I have not consented for you to record me you know? However, young man, you are already doing it. Nonetheless, how may I help you? A savvy mind, versed in soft skills and steeped in leadership would go the next step and take the intruder’s (fellow Nigerian Citizen’s) questions. After answering about 3, you nicely say…can I enjoy my meal now? By the way, do you care to join me?
Here in the United Kingdom, we are taught de-escalation at all levels but most especially at management level in the National Health Service (NHS). Communication is taught from top to bottom and bottom to top. Effective and civil communication is made a lifestyle. Juxtapose this with our beloved Nigeria, where we are “naturally rude”. Oh yes, I know we are because I am one of us. The only difference is that my Father made intentional effort right from my childhood to submerge my “natural rudeness” and intentionally liberate my “civility”. Our natural rudeness came to the fore in my recent experience when I went to a big departmental shop in Abuja to purchase a Deep Freezer and said a bright hello to the lady at reception. She did not answer me. Instead, she kept addressing the man who was with me. When I confronted her about this, she said to me “But you are not the one paying for this Deep Freezer anyway. It is the man with you who will pay. So, I really do not need to answer any greeting from you. Besides, it is not normal to go around greeting with such happiness” I was pleasantly surprised and impressed at the lady. Recalling this incident is making me giggle so hard that the people around me here are wondering why I am typing and laughing at the same time. Trust me to request for the manager of the store– and she got her full measure for her verbal diarrhoea but let us leave that story for another day. I brought it here to buttress our natural rudeness as Nigerians. It is from this pool of naturally rude people, that we draw the lot and pick our Rulers or rather that they are imposed on us via shambolic electoral processes. Imagine, a naturally rude mind elevated to Rulership, without an intentional unlearning and retraining of his or her mind to actively imbibe the meaning of “conquering self, serving-leadership and mastering soft skills.” Our major problem in Nigeria is that we have a people who once they are “Rulers”, thrive on exploiting and expanding the power gradient rather than closing it. I propose, that in Nigeria, we need “continuing soft skills training” to skew our many Rulers into becoming and remaining true Leaders of the people.
Our solution to this problematic worm, eating out the very core of our Nationhood must start in our homes – right from the family which is the unit of society. When our children question our actions, how do we respond verbally and non-verbally? Do we hide behind the `don’t be rude` toga and escape accountability? Do we adopt the body language which widens the gap of “authority and power” rather than close the gradient? To move forward, we must begin to question “our” conventional wisdom and some of our socio-cultural norms because we cannot do things the same way and expect new results.
Growing up, I cannot remember any question I asked my Father, no matter how challenging it appeared, or how trivial it may have sounded, that he did not settle down to answer. In fact, he encouraged me to interrogate his actions. Today, looking back, I am of the opinion, that he did not fare too badly in the parenting terrain. My father raised me to realise I have the freedom to interrogate processes and people. However, how they react is also their own freedom but more importantly, their verbal word choices as well as the non-verbal communication and not so much the conversation is what he trained me to look out for in deciphering their sincerity to our shared humanity. True leadership is a phenomenon that radiates utmost sincerity, to the people. Genuine leadership is human bridge building. Proper leadership owes a duty to the citizenry at every time “t” inclusive of when they are eating and even in their sleep.
In deciding which of our best foot to put forward between our natural rudeness and our intentional civility, I urge us to reflect on the words of Ernest Hemmingway which used to be one of my Father’s favourite quotes “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self”. I am My Father’s Daughter and I have no apologies about it.
Dr Loretta Oduware Ogboro-Okor is Author of the book My Father’s Daughter