Before President Goodluck Jonathan visited Kano at the hour hoodlums whisked away 276 girls, I had not heard of Azonto, a popular dance rooted in African rhythm and domesticated by local maestros. It gives grace to the body, exercises the limbs and inspires ecstasy on stage and at parties. The old and young can execute its bold turns. Legs and torsos tighten on its physical toll.
What bothered me, however, was the gory dance in town, the dance by the so-called randy goons of God who zipped away our girls. Nigerian beauties lost in the bosoms of defilers.
But the president did not understand what he did. He felt for the damsels in his own way. However, he does not know how to feel for them as a Nigerian leader. Psychologists call it emotional intelligence, the ability to translate feeling into words and deeds. With that armoury, he can inspire a people to action to save the 276 girls.
If he did not know how to feel, how could he have known that he erred in storming Kano before the campaign season kicked off?
The president should understand he is a leader in times of crisis. Rather, he is a leader in crisis himself. He nestles in Aso Rock and routinely summons his service chiefs. The girls can be any of our sisters, cousins, nieces, daughters, friends, neighbours and potential in-laws.
He has not shown leadership by symbolism, acts or speech. When Boko Haram boys shoot, bomb and kidnap kids, a leader does not leave the stage to protests on the streets. He walks onto the stage and inspires. He gives them speeches; he rouses with his eyes, words and other gestures. He galvanises the troops and flashes the light at the end of the tunnel. But the president has responded with lethargy and languor, as if those on top are asleep. Even if he is asleep, he can still wake up the way Jesus did in a storm-tossed ship and reassured his disciples. His many pastors ought to tell him.
We have seen leaders rise in times of crisis and their actions jolted their generations. Winston Churchill is a potent example. England lay prostrate when Hitler’s army blitzed its way all over Europe and cowed the proud French. Churchill defied fellow leaders who wanted England to sup with the tyrant. Bombs fell daily, defacing England and killing droves. The great British Empire reduced to living on rations and in shelters. But Churchill inspired the nation with speeches and his personal appearances in public. He gave speeches that made the great journalist Ed Morrow to say that he inspired the English language to battle. He said England would fight in the land, on the seas, in the air, on the beeches and ended by saying “we shall never surrender”.
Even if despair came, he had words for his people. “But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.”
Whenever he visited rubbles of war in the city, the suffering compatriots eulogised the courage of their hero.
His counterpart on the other side of the continent, Franklin Roosevelt, who sat on a wheelchair because he had polio, roused his nation in times of the Great Depression. Millionaires committed suicide because their wealth evaporated. The poor could not hope for food and bleakness pervaded America. “We have nothing to fear,” he crooned, “but fear itself”. Learning from Mark Twain, he spoke of the four freedoms, including freedom from want. With a sunny face in spite of his personal handicap, he gingered a nation to rebuild an economy and win the Second World War against the greatest tyranny in history.
In the same era, we had Charles de Gaulle, the cocky Frenchman who levitated a defeated country back to its pride. He formed the Free French and gave speeches from outside the country as a tonic of revival to a disconsolate nation. He is mythicised today as the greatest Frenchman, perhaps since the little general.
Mahatma Gandhi, derided as the little brown man in a loincloth, is in the class of all the others. He was not only a nationalist; he was a humanist of the first rank. By self-sacrifice, moral courage and austere dignity, he coalesced a diverse people against the British. He disarmed them by his disdain for violence and as the first practitioner of Henry David Thoreau’s doctrine of non-violence. Without inspiring a shot, he subdued the biggest empire the world had ever known. Once the Hindus and Muslims did not see eye-to-eye and engaged in zero-sum bloodbath. He did not fight with guns or with words, but with a gesture of self-sacrifice. He would fast until the killings ended. Both Muslims and Hindus stopped the butchery so that Ghandi might live.
When Mandela left jail, he met a people on the verge of a civil war. He inspired them not by aloofness, but by engaging each group with empathy. Perhaps hence he said, “Lead from the front – but don’t leave your base behind”.
President Jonathan can also learn from President Bill Clinton. When he confronted a bad economy, he uttered perhaps his best line, “I feel your pain”.
With now 276 girls missing, we need leadership. We need the girls back with their parents and society, to dream and be human again. Images flood the imagination of what might be happening to the girls. Are they wives in bed with hoodlums, washing their dirty clothes, cooking for them? Are some of them being beaten up for resisting or subjected to all forms of bestialities? Are some of them trying to escape, and did some try and were stopped? Have some escaped but are clueless where they are? Are all of them alive? The zealots no longer want their virgins in heaven but here on earth.
In Homer’s The Iliad, the Greeks rescued Helen, a beauty captured by the Trojans. Hector was a great fighter but he fought to keep Helen in the hands of the kidnappers. The Greeks suffered in battle, and they suffered many dead until Achilles came to the rescue and killed Hector. “By trying”, wrote the poet Theocritus about one of the hardest fought battles of all time, “the Greeks got into Troy”.
Those girls are our Helens, and we need Jonathan to play Achilles and save them by providing leadership.
If history remembers his Azonto dance rather than the girls’ rescue, his would be a tragic presidency. He can redeem it with a victory dance when the girls come home.