By Rudolf Okonkwo
Dear Mr. Bola Tinubu
I am writing you regarding your recent comment about church rats and our penchants for eating poisoned Holy Communion.
Usually, we, the congregation of active, reformed, and retired church rats ignore humans like you when you slander us to feel good about your miserable lives. I make an exception today because, as our elders said, any gesture of greeting that surpasses the elbow has become something else.
Your statement about the poverty of church rats hurt us so deeply. If not for our parents, who bred us properly to be polite to others, we would have shouted at you to shut your mouth. But we are too civilized for that kind of gutter language.
You alleged that we were lazy and incapable of using our six senses. By extension, you made us all look like lunatics who eat poisoned Holy Communion because we are hungry. We consider your statement malicious, defamatory, and unfounded. You have intentionally damaged our hard-earned reputation.
I am writing to correct the unintelligent perception that poorly educated giants like you have been carrying around in your big-for-nothing empty heads for so long. We, the church rats, are not as dumb as we appear. Alright? We may have little vision, superstition, and conceptualization challenges, but who doesn’t? That we do not step out of the church and go to the house next door to look for food does not mean we are stupid.
Like everyone else, we start smelling the Jollof rice while the chef is mixing the rice with the stew, and we perceive the aroma of moimoi boiling under the firewood. That we look up to the cross and the mystery of filling our stomach with unleavened bread is a testament to our trust in our faith and our faithfulness to our creed, which required us to “do this in remembrance of me.”
Unlike you, we are not greedy. We are contented with giving our bodies the exact amount of nourishment they deserve. We are not in the business of acquiring loads of stuff to be transported via a bullion van and stored in floors of hidden basements under our house and at offshore tax heavens for our children and our children’s children. Maybe they did not teach you this in your mosque, but we take that core prayer seriously- to seek just our daily bread, as in “give us this day, our daily bread.”
Secondly, you may need to update your knowledge of the state of the church. The English people who first came up with that silly expression “as poor as a church rat” have stopped using it. They now call it a cliché, meaning it has outlived its usefulness. I know you have not been to a church in a while. If you have, you will notice that churches now serve breakfast made of bagels, coffee, doughnuts, and akara. And on some special Sundays, more varieties of food are served. Your favorite, agbado, corn, and cassava, are standard on the lunch table of many churches these days. It is one sure way to attract hungry humans like you to church. What it means is that there are leftovers for us after church services. Also, after presiding over funeral rites, large coolers of scrumptious Semovita, ogbono soup, rice, and stew are brought to the parsonage. They guarantee a delicious feast at midnight when the pastor and his household are asleep. So, we are not that poor anymore.
Because of your blatantly false statement, you have re-traumatized some of us who have been reformed. Your statement triggered even our members who have retired. You once again exposed us to abuse by mean-spirited individuals who take delight in crushing the underprivileged among them. By your words, you have created an unsafe environment for us to live our lives in peace and harmony with other members of the animal kingdom, of which you are one.
Time has shown us that you are not smart like that. The Lagos that you brag about is the least livable mega city in the world. It is unlivable for us, and if you are honest with yourself, unlivable for you and your folks, too. That tells you all that you want to know. Go to New York, London, and Paris, and you will see that we thrive in those cities but not in your Lagos. Lagos State, with a population of 15.3 million, has a GDP of about $33.67 billion. It is equivalent to Rwanda, with a population of about 12.9 million and a GDP of $18.2 billion, plus Botswana, with a population of 2.35 million and a GDP of $16.9 billion. But the quality of life in Rwanda and Botswana is ten folds better than that of Lagos State. It begs the question, what have you done with the internally generated revenue?
You have always said that you were the brightest crayon in the box. We chuckled when you suggested that grandstanding is your solution to dealing with the West on climate change. What was going on in your head when you said this about the West? “If you don’t guarantee our finances and work up with us to stop this, we are not going to comply with your climate change.”
Whose climate change is it?
You complained that the West wants you to plant trees. Who are you planting trees for, eh? Is it for the West or your grandchildren? I bet you do not know that the desert encroachment fueling all your social and political conflicts has something to do with the lack of trees. Maybe you are just like your forerunner, Buhari, who thinks that the unending migration of armed herders from North to South is in search of some ancient grazing routes.
You complained that you are being advised not to keep burning firewood. Are you not ashamed that your folks still use firewood for cooking in the 21st century? Have you looked for firewood recently? Have you noticed that as forests disappear, firewood is becoming so scarce? Have you ever wondered who owns the trees cut down to make firewood? Do the trees belong to the West?
I am just an ordinary rat. I do not know the answers to these questions. The world will forgive me because I did not attend a fancy Chicago school. All I know is that you people have serious problems and you need serious minded-people with up-to-date information to solve them. How did Albert Einstein put it? “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
You, Mr. Bola Ahmed Tinubu, are still wallowing in the same level of thinking that created your problems.
Whatever you do, please cease and desist from using church rats as a cover to mask your lack of understanding of the contemporary world and the thinking that drives it.
We, the church rats, do not eat poisoned Holy Communion because we are hungry. We eat it because we are still mesmerized by the mandate, our mandate, your mandate. The mystery of the mandate is so powerful that it makes “emi lokan” sound like “it is our turn.”
This reformed and retired church rat writes from St. Simon’s personage.
Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo teaches Post-Colonial African History at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He is also the host of Dr. Damages Show. His books include “This American Life Sef” and “Children of a Retired God,” among others.