2013: The year of letter wars

When the year 2013 is chronicled in a few years’ time, it is likely to be most memorable as the year of letter wars, a year that ballistic verbal missiles were hauled front, back and centre by those who could have better managed their “family affairs”.

Though there are many other open letters flying around about the same issues in contention, first raised by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in his famous 18-page letter, the real letters of the year, apart from Obasanjo’s, are those of Senator Iyabo Obasanjo and President Goodluck Jonathan.

I had already highlighted the profundity of Chief Obasanjo’s letter and the frankness and harshness of its tone. Besides, in line with the requirement of doubt as one of the core requirements of ascertaining truth, I was among those who initially doubted the authenticity of the Iyabo Obasanjo’s offensive letter to her dad. The mere fact that there has been no world press conference to dissociate herself from the letter is enough evidence to be convinced she wrote or knows about the letter.  “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end up with certainties”, Francis Bacon said.

The letter is unfortunate, to put it mildly, because it is a travesty of our cultural and religious norms. There is no evidence of a cultured Yoruba woman in Iyabo’s letter to her father, whatever the circumstances. In the Yoruba cultural milieu, it is a taboo, an abomination of the first order, to address one’s father the way the former Senator did, regardless of the circumstances. Those who rationalise the letter would also not want such a missive to be penned to them even in private by their own children, regardless of their failings as parents.

In our religious traditions, to insult one’s parents is to commit sin against God. In the Qu’ran, the Last Testament, parents come next to God in the order of importance. Allah says, “Worship Allah and join none with Him (in worship); and do good to parents” (Q4:36); “Say (O Muhammad): ‘Come, I will recite what your Lord has prohibited you from: Join not anything in worship with Him; be good and dutiful to your parents’ ” (Q6:151).

Both the Qur’an and the Bible are unequivocal on what our disposition to our parents should be: “And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And that you be dutiful to your parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them but address them in terms of honour” (Q.17:23). “Honour your father and your mother that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).

The damage of Senator Obasanjo’s letter is incalculable and at her sober moments, she will continue to rue it, except she makes amends and seeks forgiveness. The letter in bad taste also offers abundant lessons to parents that their vaunted worldly successes are ultimately a pack of cards if their domestic life is a failure. Many “responsible” parents only toss money at their children like bones to mangy dogs and fail miserably in bringing them up according to the dictates of our cultures and religions. It is vanity upon vanity after all if ultimately, “successful” children become bastards of their familial, cultural and religious values.

Moreover, President Jonathan’s response to Chief Obasanjo’s letter is really a delightful piece to read. The caveat of not addressing all the issues raised is acceptable but the most fantastic thing about the letter is the quality of language used. While the tone of Chief Obasanjo’s letter, as  mentioned on this page last week while charging the President to reply, is frank and harsh, President Jonathan’s tone is serious but measured. There is a reconciliatory tenor around the letter despite the mostly indirect hard tackles given Chief Obasanjo in it.

The use of “Baba” in addressing the former President is also a mark of respect and no one loses anything by being humble, a trait that has endeared the President to many people. Only if he can encourage those around him to imbibe the same quality! The assurances given on some of the issues raised are welcome as the President leaves no one in doubt, judging by his letter, about his commitment to Nigeria’s corporate unity and harmonious co-existence.

There is a lot bile and venom all around us and it is better Nigerians wake up to the imperative of working together to avoid escalating the tense situation. Those in South Sudan who had hoped that all their problems were caused by the “oppressive” Sudanese in Khartoum now realise that their celebrated “freedom” is not a visa to peace. As things are, only serious commitment on the part of political stakeholders and foreign powers, Nigeria inclusive, can prevent an all-out civil war in the newest world nation.

Much of the crises rocking the nation and the whole world can be curbed through moderating our use of language. In their book, “A Dictionary of Communication and Media Studies” (1993 p. 169), James Watson and Anne Hill quoted Simeon Potter, whose words have always stuck to one’s skin, thus: “Men frequently find themselves at cross-purposes with one another because they persist in using words in different senses. Their long arguments emit more heat than light because their conception of the point of issue, whether Marxism, democracy, capitalism, the good life, Western civilization, culture, art, internationalism, freedom of the individual, equality of opportunity, redistribution of wealth, social security, progress or what not, are by no means identical.  From heedless sloth, or sheer lack of intelligence, men do not trouble to clarify their conceptions.”

In the letter wars between the former godfather and the former godson, the score sheet is “no victor, no vanquished”. Chief Obasanjo gave a deadly shot and through his letter, President made a nice save. We should assume that the two leaders have national interest at heart though they adopt different methods, rightly or wrongly. It is a draw.

However, if the weight of Senator Iyabo Obasanjo’s stinker, which counts against his father, is added to the score, Chief Obasanjo is the loser in this letter wars. The damning letter of his daughter might not have arisen without his own December 2 letter.

As this is the season of love, forgiveness, favour, goodness and blessings, let the two elephants of this letter warfare embrace each other and close ranks in our collective interest.  Let them save us the trouble of reading more letters. Let them rather work together to promote justice, which is lacking in all facets of our national life, peace, true democracy, security and unity because there life still continues after today.