Pangolo Junction
Life, arguments, and kunu... with Max, Nat and Zack

Friday, March 07, 2008

I've Got The Power!

(Max, Nat, Zack and Jonah are in the Junction chatting.)

Nat: So Jonah, what's the latest gist around town?

Jonah (with a wry smile): Oh, the usual. Rich men using their power to oppress poor men.

Max (eagerly): Oh? Is there a story you want to share?

Zack (disgustedly): Look at you. You can't even contain your pleasure at the prospect of hearing how poor people suffer.

Max (shrugging): Enough of the party political broadcast already! I'm just waiting for Jonah's gist. If you don't want to hear it, feel free to cover your ears. (To Jonah) Abeg, continue!

Jonah: Well... you guys have heard of Chief Kanganka O. Kanganka, right?

Nat (puzzled): "Chief"? I thought he was a Barrister?

Zack: No - he's a retired Air Vice Marshal.

Max (impatiently): Who cares? Maybe he's all three! Just continue, jo!

Jonah: Anyway, you guys also know Jamiu, right?

Nat (smiling): You mean Jamiu, "the Original Sufferhead"?

Jonah: Yeah. For some reason, he was at Express Bank today to conduct business. Don't ask me what - maybe his usual Demon of Bad Luck had been on holiday recently, and someone had sent him money.

Max (smirking): Given the guy's talent for attracting bad luck, it's more likely he was there to pay a hefty fine.

Jonah: Whatever. Anyway, he had been waiting all day at the bank for someone to attend to him - I think he wanted to process a special transaction and the bank needed the authorisation of some officer or other from another branch, but the officer was not on seat. Anyway, after many fruitless attempts, the teller had finally made contact with the officer to give the authorisation when the Chief entered.

Zack (contemptuously): I suppose he was ushered straight into one of those air-conditioned private rooms they reserve for dealing with big men.

Jonah: I guess he could have chosen that option, but - no. For some reason, he decided that he was going to use the services of the teller. Maybe it had something to do with the fact the teller was very young and very pretty - I don't know. Anyway, he marched to the counter and demanded that she serve him.

Zack (angrily): What!? That's outrageous! I hope the teller refused his request.

(Max lets out a bark of laughter.)

'Refused'? You must be joking! When a lowly teller has to choose between a big chief - who is probably pals with her MD - and a sufferhead like Jamiu, who do you think she will choose? Sometimes, I think that you live in a different continent.

Jonah: Unfortunately, Max is right. The teller curtly asked Jamiu to wait while she attended to the chief.

Nat: Didn't Jamiu complain?

Max (shaking his head): Come on, Nat - do you live in the same fantasy continent as Zack? When confronted with the magnificence, opulence and affluence of the Nigerian Big Man, what do expect the poor man to do? I'm sure he just accepted that as a poor man, it was his fate to be pushed to one side.

Jonah (smiling sadly): And I'm afraid that Max is right again. Jamiu murmured some words of complaint, but it was as though he had never existed. And to add insult to injury, the Chief wasn't even using his time to transact his business - he spent more of the time trying to chat up the teller.

Zack (shaking his head in disgust): Shame on him! Dirty old lecher!

Jonah: Well, the teller didn't look too unhappy at his attentions. Whether it was out of fear of being sacked for not playing ball, or out of the lust for naira, I don't know. Anyway, to crown it all, after wasting thirty minutes doing his business, the Chief left, and the teller announced that the bank was closing for the day - so Jamiu should come back tomorrow.

Nat (sympathetically): Poor Jamiu! It looks like his Demon was only taking a short break today.

Zack (angrily): This is the kind of behaviour that makes me wish that I was ruler of Nigeria. The first thing I would do would be to ban this kind of arrogant behaviour.

Max: Then it's a good thing you're not ruler. How can you start banning arrogance? That's arrogance in itself!

Nat (thoughtfully): Would you really want to use your power like that, Zack? That sounds rather frivolous.

Zack: Come on, you understand my point. What I mean is that I would use my powers for the benefit of the common man. If he was being oppressed, I would stand up for him.

Nat: OK, I'm curious, now. Supposing that your power wasn't just limited to ruling Nigeria. Supposing it was extended to making anyone do whatever you wanted. What would you do?

Max (covering his head as though the ceiling is about to fall in): Ah! If that happens, we're all done for! Zack will make us line up in queues like his hero, Idiagbon. He'll make us sing the National Anthem when we wake up and before we go to bed. He'll ban all foreign goods from the country. He'll outlaw parties and other social gatherings. In short, he'll turn Nigeria into one big, boring graveyard!

Zack: And what is so bad about having order in our lives? You like the disorganised state of affairs where rubbish is left on the streets and people drive anyhow?

Max: Just because you don't like it doesn't mean that other people don't like it. You just want to impose your way on everyone without consulting.

Nat: Come on, Zack. What would you really do if you had the power to make people do what you wanted?

Zack (musing): Well, I would make everyone obey the law for a start. Once people obey the law, ninety-nine percent of our problems would disappear. There would be no corruption, so money would be channelled into the infrastructure projects that it is meant for. And the security situation would improve, because there would be no armed robbers.

Jonah: What about the laws which may not be fair? You're always going on about the law that grants politicians prosecution from immunity - will that be one of the laws that you'll make people obey?

Zack: Er... no. I will go through the entire list of laws and change the ones which I think are unfair. Then I'll make people obey those.

Max (triumphantly): Aha! But how do you know whether a law is unfair or not? How can you decide by yourself? What if the law refers to something you have little knowledge of, like complex accounting procedures?

Zack (getting confused): Well... I will convene a National Conference to discuss all the laws so that the laws that I make people obey will be fair laws.

Max: But you can't say for sure that they will be fair for long. A law that was perfectly reasonable in 1908 would be completely archaic in 2008. What happens when the situation changes and your laws become outdated?

Jonah: Personally, I think you'll end up just making up the laws as you go along. What if they want to pass a law that works against you? I'm sure you'll find it hard to resist the temptation to change their minds. I think you'll just end up being power drunk.

Nat: Not only that - the problem with your approach is that it relies on force. So you would have to use your power all the time, because the temptation to break laws is always present. In the end, they'll just become dependent on you to make them do the right thing - and when you're no longer around, they'll just fall back to doing what they used to do.

Zack: Well, by the time I'm no longer there, they will have grown used to obeying the law.

Nat: Yes, but because they've never really been used to thinking about why they were obeying the law, they won't have the sense to figure out whether they should obey any new laws that are enacted. In other words, they'll just become a population of docile Jamius, ready to be used by the next dictator that comes along to do whatever he wants, instead of independent-minded people who can't be bullied around.

Jonah: What of you, Max? What would you do if you had the power to do what you wanted?

Max (grinning): Me? I don't have any plans to be a Messiah like Zack here. I would just use my powers for personal gain.

Zack (snorting in disgust): Typical!

Max (grinning even wider): Yes. I would play the stock market and make billions. I would then use these billions to live a lifestyle of luxury in which I would relax as my every whim was indulged.

Jonah: I think someone like you who is used to hustling for money would get bored very quickly with that lazy lifestyle.

Max (emphatically): Bored? No way! You'd be amazed at how much fun you can have with limitless wealth. For example, I could hold competitions in which people would compete for fantastic prize money - like Nigeria's Fattest Man, or Nigeria's Biggest Female Backside, or...

Nat (hurriedly): OK, I think we get the picture. What about you, Jonah? Would you get people to do what you wanted? Or would you just get naira to do what you wanted?

Jonah (modestly): Oh, I wouldn't do either. In fact, I wouldn't use the power unless I saw that it was an emergency case.

Nat: But what qualifies as an emergency case? Are we talking about life and death?

Jonah: That's it - just life and death.

Zack: So what about someone who is looting the treasury so that there's no money to build hospitals, and thousands die as a result? Would you intervene, then?

Jonah: Eh... yes, I guess so.

Max: What if someone was helping to rig this looter into office so that he could loot the treasury and cause deaths to thousands? Would you intervene?

Jonah: Er... I'm not sure... how do I know whether he would loot once in office?

Max: Come on! It looks like you've joined Zack and Nat on that fantasy continent. How can someone be rigged into office and not loot - or allow looting - to go on?

Jonah: Well, I don't want to intervene too much in people's affairs. I might end up being a dictator like Zack.

Zack: Well, what is the point of only intervening in one or two cases to save lives when millions more lives are being lost? If you are going to save lives, you might as well deal with the root cause, instead of attacking the symptoms.

Nat: You know, all this discussion has made me think that if I had this power, I would reject it completely. I think it's too dangerous to be in the hands of a single human being. In fact, better than that, I'd use the power just once. I'd use it to make everyone - including myself - incapable of using the power any longer.

(There are howls of protest from the other three.)

Nat: You can protest as much as you like. but I think it's wrong to seek to control your fellow human being. People should do what they do out of their own free will.

Zack (scornfully): I can just picture the scenario now. A man is being beaten up by area boys because he has refused to hand over his wallet. You pass by, and the man begs you to help him. But you respond by saying "I'm sorry, it would be wrong for me to prevent these hoodlums from exercising their free will". Thank heavens you don't run the police force!

Nat: Well, I would rather have a few innocent men beaten up by thugs because I didn't use my power than millions of innocent men enslaved by me after becoming intoxicated with power.

Jonah: You're not being fair. I don't think everyone is liable to become power drunk. In fact, the person who says he doesn't want the power because he fears becoming power drunk is a very good candidate to have the power. That's because they are aware of the terrible effect it could have if they misuse it. It's the same reason why you would rather let a mature adult drive a car than a teenager - the adult is aware that if it is driven badly, the car could kill someone.

Zack: I don't agree with you. Someone who doesn't want power may not know how to use it when he gets it. Look at Shagari - he had no vision, because he never thought that he would ever lead the country.

Jonah (shaking his head): It's not the same thing. You can be a perfectly good leader without having the power to compel people. In fact, you are a better leader if you can convince them to do what you want by persuasion rather than by force.

Max: So Nat, what Jonah is saying is that you should be crowned Emperor Nathaniel the First. But Jonah, don't you think it would be a good idea for Nat to have a Council of Ministers who have to vet his use of this arbitrary power? After all, despite his best intentions, if he becomes intoxicated, then they will be able to reign him in.

Nat (smiling): That's a good idea. I'll then use my power to make myself unable to control people, unless the Council approve. That way, I won't be able to use my power arbitrarily. In fact, this doesn't just apply to me - if anyone is going to be given a great deal of authority, whoever is giving them the authority should also provide a way to ensure that they don't abuse that authority.

Max: And of course, you need to make sure you choose the right people to be on this Council. Allow me to propose the Honourable Jonah Olaleye as the Minister of Gist. (Makes a bow to Jonah.) His responsibility will be to advise you on which sweet stories you should make people spread or not spread.

Jonah (beaming): Thank you, sir!

Max: Then, allow me to nominate the Honourable Zachariah Kwashi as the Minister of Fire and Brimstone. (Grins and makes a bow to Zack, who looks at him disdainfully.) His responsibility will to advise... no sorry, coerce you on which areas to inflict maximum damage through various means - including, but not limited to Fire, Explosives, Lightning, Flood, Napalm, Nuclear Strikes and other Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Zack: Well don't expect me to nominate you in return. After all, there can be no room in the Council for a Minister of Shady and Dubious Deals or a Minister of Lookery.

Nat (rolling his eyes in despair): With all this bickering between two of you, I'm probably thinking that it may not be such a bad idea to assume absolute power after all. And you know what? The first thing I would do with it is to bind both of your mouths so that we could have some peace and quiet in the Junction!


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