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Exclusive: Chimamanda Adichie: The president I want


Exclusive: Chimamanda Adichie: The president I want

By Chimamanda Adichie

Some of my relatives lived for decades in the North, in Kano and Bornu. They spoke fluent Hausa. (One relative taught me, at the age of eight, to count in Hausa.) They made planned visits to Anambra only a few times a year, at Christmas and to attend weddings and funerals. But sometimes, in the wake of violence, they made unplanned visits. I remember the word ‘Maitatsine’ – to my young ears, it had a striking lyricism – and I remember the influx of relatives who had packed a few bags and fled the killings. What struck me about those hasty returns to the East was that my relatives always went back to the North. Until two years ago when my uncle packed up his life of thirty years in Maiduguri and moved to Awka. He was not going back. This time, he felt, was different.

My uncle’s return illustrates a feeling shared by many Nigerians about Boko Haram: a lack of hope, a lack of confidence in our leadership. We are experiencing what is, apart from the Biafran war, the most violent period in our nation’s existence. Like many Nigerians, I am distressed about the students murdered in their school, about the people whose bodies were spattered in Nyanya, about the girls abducted in Chibok. I am furious that politicians are politicizing what should be a collective Nigerian mourning, a shared Nigerian sadness.

And I find our president’s actions and non-actions unbelievably surreal.

I do not want a president who, weeks after girls are abducted from a school and days after brave Nigerians have taken to the streets to protest the abductions, merely announces a fact-finding committee to find the girls.

I want President Jonathan to be consumed, utterly consumed, by the state of insecurity in Nigeria. I want him to make security a priority, and make it seem like a priority. I want a president consumed by the urgency of now, who rejects the false idea of keeping up appearances while the country is mired in terror and uncertainty. I want President Jonathan to know – and let Nigerians know that he knows – that we are not made safer by soldiers checking the boots of cars, that to shut down Abuja in order to hold a World Economic Forum is proof of just how deeply insecure the country is. We have a big problem, and I want the president to act as if we do. I want the president to slice through the muddle of bureaucracy, the morass of ‘how things are done,’ because Boko Haram is unusual and the response to it cannot be business as usual.

I want President Jonathan to communicate with the Nigerian people, to realize that leadership has a strong psychological component: in the face of silence or incoherence, people lose faith. I want him to humanize the lost and the missing, to insist that their individual stories be told, to show that every Nigerian life is precious in the eyes of the Nigerian state.

I want the president to seek new ideas, to act, make decisions, publish the security budget spending, offer incentives, sack people. I want the president to be angrily heartbroken about the murder of so many, to lie sleepless in bed thinking of yet what else can be done, to support and equip the armed forces and the police, but also to insist on humaneness in the midst of terror. I want the president to be equally enraged by soldiers who commit murder, by policemen who beat bomb survivors and mourners. I want the president to stop issuing limp, belated announcements through public officials, to insist on a televised apology from whoever is responsible for lying to Nigerians about the girls having been rescued.

I want President Jonathan to ignore his opponents, to remember that it is the nature of politics, to refuse to respond with defensiveness or guardedness, and to remember that Nigerians are understandably cynical about their government.

I want President Jonathan to seek glory and a place in history, instead of longevity in office. I want him to put aside the forthcoming 2015 elections, and focus today on being the kind of leader Nigeria has never had.

I do not care where the president of Nigeria comes from. Even those Nigerians who focus on ‘where the president is from’ will be won over if they are confronted with good leadership that makes all Nigerians feel included. I have always wanted, as my president, a man or a woman who is intelligent and honest and bold, who is surrounded by truth-telling, competent advisers, whose policies are people-centered, and who wants to lead, who wants to be president, but does not need to – or have to- be president at all costs.

President Jonathan may not fit that bill, but he can approximate it: by being the leader Nigerians desperately need now.

– Chimamanda Adichie is the award winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, Purple Hibiscus, The Thing Around Your Neck and Americanah

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  1. Pingback: The President I Want, By Chimamanda Adichie |

  2. Ijeoma Ogwuegbu Uduma

    May 4, 2014 at 11:22 am

    What more can one say?

  3. Onike24

    May 4, 2014 at 11:47 am

    When Chinua Achebe died, I was heartbroken….. Who will tell our stories?I thought and then came Americanah and I was so comforted and knew my generation had found a voice in Chimanda. Again Chimanda speaks for my generation. Thank you so eloquently said

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  6. John

    May 4, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Very well written. Thanks Chimanda.

  7. Nigerian Angel

    May 4, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    Thanks Chimanda for expressing the views of many educated Nigerians of which I fully agree. Unfortunately on the streets, the views are different and somewhat ignorant. People do not care about these girls bcos they think they’re Northerners or Muslims and therefore have nothing to do with them. When in fact we are ALL Nigerians and we MUST realise that if it can happen to those girls, it can happen to anyone at any given time! Lets stop with the religion and tribalism and start dealing as ONE nation!

    • Uju

      May 7, 2014 at 11:37 am

      No, not true. People care. Over to 80% of those girls are Christians. Chibok is the Christian part of Borno. I even read somewhere that Boko Haram freed the muslims girls among them but forced the Christians to convert to Islam and are being married off

  8. Rick Efa

    May 4, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    Very sad indeed, If only he would listen. Unfortunately, Nigerians are some of the most selfish people and the biggest cowards on earth. They love so much their lives which they know not how it came to being or how it will eventually end. Their wickedness exceeds every imagination, they feel lifted when another man falls. This is the sad truth about the character of a typical Nigerian.

    • Nigerian Angel

      May 5, 2014 at 12:25 pm

      I agree. And this is the very cause of Nigeria’s biggest problems

      • bekeel

        May 7, 2014 at 12:20 pm

        Lets talk solution and not our problems. Do not blame any body rather
        proffer solution to the existing situation. We all will have a place in
        history if only we stand strong with each other in a defining moment as
        this, in the history of Nigeria. If only we can be able to search deep
        within each of us those good norms and values that unifies us as one
        people. Only then will we realise the faith that rekindle hopes, the
        faith that re-modifies our very existence as a nation. That is the faith
        in a nursing mother who believes there is a brighter tomorrow. We need
        each other in moments like this and the President needs our support too.

        • NwaOmoNaija

          May 29, 2014 at 2:25 pm

          Agree with you, Dear Bekeel. Perfect thought. Let’s all walk Chimamanda’s talk. In our daily endeavours, whether in the office, our neighbourhoods, when we drive on the roads, when we make decisions in an employment interview panel, shunning nepotism. We’re all ‘leaders’ in our little spheres. And let’s also all kill that little hypocrite in us.

    • CalisIyke

      May 7, 2014 at 6:27 pm

      I smell the unpleasant air of a ‘speaker’s benefit’, unless you are not a Nigerian. Your use of the third person plural pronoun, exonerates you completely from this “selfish people” and “biggest cowards”. This is both intellectually and pragmatically unfair. You may consider a reformulation of your ideas after you might have reconsidered your formulation here.

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  10. Chiemele

    May 4, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    For a country with such diversity, our political structure is flawed. The over concentration of power and authority at the center, the allure of easy wealth at the back of corruption. Weak oversight takes away the need for accountability. Soon the leader in Abuja is quickly subsumed by political jobbers, sycophants, who gradually cut him off from reality.
    Practice of true federalism is the way out and we should push for it. You cannot build a house on a weak foundation.

    • Ed

      May 6, 2014 at 11:02 am

      Diversity generally is not a good thing, you need a common culture or purpose to unite people.

      • Chiemele

        May 6, 2014 at 3:24 pm

        Well God created the world diverse, both plants and animals. I won’t urge with that. The way forward is what we must seek. Some diverse countries have found a way to foster better relationships, we can.

  11. Emmanuel Emeka Akanwa

    May 4, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    Perhaps (one of) the most realistic and most objective voices in situating the Nigerian
    political/leadership discourse. Chimamanda’s stance on the Nigerian question is
    representative of the yearnings, frustrations, and yet hope of Nigerians in an
    apparently hopeless political landscape. In her very words: “I want President Jonathan to seek glory and a place in history, instead of longevity in office. I want him to put aside the forthcoming 2015 elections, and focus today on being the kind of leader Nigeria has never had.” Thoughtful, insightful, and timely!

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  13. Kingsegun1

    May 4, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    Chimamanda is Nigeria’s ‘sun’, a living proof that indeed something good can come out of Nazareth. I get a feeling of despair and despondency when I listen to most Nigerians, particularly the political class; but Chimamanda lifts the gloom whenever she speaks or writes, she gives me hopes that it is not over for us afterall. The world saw half of the yellow sun and were awed, we have the full sun, we should venerate in adoration. Thank you sis, God bless you.

    • NK

      May 20, 2014 at 4:40 pm

      Thank you Kingsegun. Well said. Chimamanda makes me proud to be Nigerian.

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  19. Denis Kemjika

    May 6, 2014 at 9:12 am

    Chimanda’s piece is intellectually faultless but far from reality. It is utopian.

  20. Ed

    May 6, 2014 at 11:01 am

    Nigeria is a failed state, it’s that simple.

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  25. Lawan Abdulwahhab Lawan

    May 7, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    truly Nigerian. An Intelligent article keep it up!

  26. Elochukwu

    May 7, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    Amanda, I am proud of you.You wrote like an intellectual, unbiased and sincere Nigerian. But I have one regret: your advise might be scrutinised and tagged a SPONSORED piece from oppositions and THROWN to the dustbin.

  27. Dee Jay

    May 7, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    Sweet fiction from an award-winning fiction writer. Now, get down to the realities and you’ll have another think. Attacking the president is not the solution. Educate those who sponsor this madness on the stupidity of their actions, that it does not help them even if they succeed in frightening the president who means well for this country away from Aso Rock. Worse things could come out of it. That’s what you get when you live in the same room with a bull, it destroys all in seconds and you spend years patching up. We should do away with this bull in our life as a nation. All I care now is for a restructured Nigeria, a true federal structure or even a confederation. I don’t mind a breakup either. Enough is enough.

    • NwaOmoNaija

      May 29, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      And where was Jona when Maitatsine was mowing down countless precious lives back in the ’80’s?! C’mon, let’s get real, even as I’m beholden to Chimamanda’s elegant prose.

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  29. OkoAbeni

    May 8, 2014 at 9:46 am

    Chimanda, may God continue to enrich you in knowledge. This is all one ask of President Jonathan! I dont care if he President for 4years or for ever but let him provide the necessary leadership as presently desired. The tragedy of his lukewarmness is that, years after his presidency the whole world will remember his tenure for good or bad but no one will ever talk about the series of loafers around him.

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  31. Akeju Olagbaju

    May 9, 2014 at 9:00 am

    No ,i disagree with the view Chimanda expressed in this well written article. It is very wrong to place blame squarely on President foot when the Governors are the security officers in their respective states.
    How many children are missing daily in Lagos ,Port harcourt,Kano and many of our cities.Why should it be the business of Mr president to concern himself with all these when somebody hold forth as the Governor of state well funded with security vote.
    Let the truth be told,any action from Federal Government is for support,the state concern must take the lead.They understood the circumstance for the abduction and we would count more on this state to help us set the Girls free.

    • NwaOmoNaija

      May 29, 2014 at 2:33 pm

      Chukwu gozie gi. What do govs do with their mind-boggling ‘security votes’?? What, for heaven’s sake? And the so – called opposition have never questioned the rationale of that aberration called ‘security vote’ and the other called ‘First Lady’!! Hmmmmmm.

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  34. NK

    May 20, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    Thank you Chimamanda for speaking for us. You have said it all. You are indeed our new Achebe, as Onike24 said.

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