Nigerians on May 5, reacted without any public expression of sympathy to the news that Obinna Obeta, Ike and Beatrice Ekweremadu were jailed for conspiracy to engage in human trafficking.
If there was any compassion at all, it was for Sonia Ekweremadu. On social media and on the streets, Nigerians responded with either indifference or schadenfreude; the conclusion seemed to be, “they got what they deserved.”
This common attitude to the downfall of politicians – whether from sickness, death, or jail sentence – risks making us no better than them. It is to deny the better angels of our nature.
Taking pleasure in the downfall or misfortune of another does us no good. Displeasure with injustice is understandable, what is not understandable or what we may not have thought of, is the effect this hatred or vitriol against them has on us.
At home, school and places of worship, we have always been taught to rise above our crude and sometimes animalistic instincts and do the noble. We’ve been taught to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us not only for their sake but ours because we get affected by either the bitterness or joy we share or exude.
In the case of Ekweremadu, have we done what is noble? Are we acting with our animalistic instincts or acting with humanity, charity, and maturity? It is indeed unconscionable to take joy in the misfortune of another.
If we judge the actions of others in the best light, we wouldn’t feign ignorance about what Ekweremadu did. Under certain circumstances, parents do the unthinkable for their children. We have parents who, because they want their kids to gain admission into a certain primary, secondary school or even university, do unthinkable things. Does it make it legal or justifiable? No. If we understand what can push people to the unthinkable, we can then sympathise and empathise.
Consequences of no consequences
Nigerian politicians, and those connected to them, live above the law. Which is why most Nigerians agree Ekweremadu should suffer the consequences of his actions and for his inactions to better the healthcare in Nigeria.
Nigerian politicians have managed to corrupt and manipulate the system; hence the average person believes that only “karma” or their prosecution in a foreign country can ensure justice. If Ekweremadu was tried in Nigeria, not only would he have gone scot-free, but the victim would also have been further victimised.
Indeed, it will be extremely difficult for the ordinary Nigerian to empathise with our politicians since these politicians are aloof to their sufferings. Truth be told, it may be argued that these politicians don’t need our sympathy, they get it from their fellow elite.
In Ekweremadu’s case, despite his heinous crime, 51 pages of character statements from Olusegun Obasanjo, the past President of the Senate of Nigeria, the Anglican Bishop of Enugu, the Attorney General of the Federation, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and so on were sent to Justice Johnson, the judge. These same persons would hardly or never do the same for a common Nigerian for a less serious offence. Truly the rich always look out for their own.
This shows that Nigerians are more divided across the “haves” and “have nots,” than along religious or ethnic lines.
Failure of leadership fans flames of inequality
Nigerians have every right to be angry at our politicians. It is understandable. As Chinua Achebe said, “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership…the Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership”. If we had good leaders who, used the natural and human capital in the country for the common good, Nigeria would be a developed country.
Ike Ekweremadu is a wealthy man who sought to exploit the poor. Justice Johnson in his sentence said, “The wealth and power inequality and disparity between you and C could not be more marked. You, Ike Ekweremadu, are a senator in Nigeria’s National Assembly.
You have held high political office. You had many staff, including domestic staff, chefs, house cleaners, and drivers. You own multiple properties across the globe – there is evidence of as many as 40. More than £400,000 went into your bank account over a 6-month period”.
These details are part of the reasons, the average Nigerian is not ready to shed a tear for Ekweremadu. Despite being in prison, he made over £400,000 in 6 months, the source of the income isn’t known.
That amount speaks volumes in a country where 2% of 70 million bank account holders have over N500,000 in their accounts, according to the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation. It says a lot in a country where 62.9% of people — 133 million people — are multidimensionally poor, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Poverty here manifests not just in lack of income, but also in the lack of basic amenities such as access to healthcare, education, water and adequate sanitation, clean cooking fuels.
Ekweremadu was deputy president for 12 of his 20 years at the Senate. What did he do to better the lives of Nigerians in those two decades? What did he do to improve the federal teaching hospital in his senatorial district? If the hospital was equipped, his daughter and several other Nigerians would get quality healthcare services.
Ekweremadus need empathy not gloating
Our politicians are clearly not the best. We cannot compete with them on who is worse. When they go low, we should listen to our better angels and choose to do the noble thing. The least we can do is to have sympathy for the family and imagine the impact of having a loved one suffer.
Ekweremadu cut corners, and it is commendable to see most people condemn that act. The focus now should be on us. We should all ask ourselves how we will react if faced with similar situations. Virtue, they say, is a habit developed from the repetitions of good deeds. If we don’t want to be worse than the Ekweremadus, then we must consciously do the right thing.
If we can’t support Sonia with our kidney, we can empathise with her and her family by showing kindness in word and deed. That’s the Golden Rule we have been taught. Let us not change our good behaviour because of someone’s bad nature; we gain nothing meaningful from laughing at the downfall of another.
Nwachukwu, a lawyer and writer can be reached at [email protected]