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What is her sin?

In those days every home which had a tap had pipe-borne water. There were no dry taps then. But there were many homes without taps,…

In those days every home which had a tap had pipe-borne water. There were no dry taps then. But there were many homes without taps, so they had to make do with their wells or the services of the water vendor. The local kids tease him with the song ‘dan ga ruwa mai naman keya’ which means ‘the water vendor has a thick muscular neck’ probably because it is assumed that only such extra muscle can enable him the balancing act of carrying two heavy containers of water attached to a stick on his shoulders. This was life in the 70s. So you can understand my shock when I saw it being replayed almost four decades later, and not on the ‘dan ga ruwa’ this time but on a barely adolescent girl, who ought to have things easy because of her age, gender and the fact that she lives in the 21st century.
I can’t tell from the picture, whether the little girl is a water vendor or is just fetching water for her family. The NAN picture is simply captioned ‘A girl fetching water at Gudum village in Bauchi State yesterday.’ But either way she does not deserve her fate. Imagine what her neck and shoulders must be going through, if at this tender age she is forced to go through this horrible torture. Two jerry-can loads of water on her under-aged back and shoulders must have far-reaching repercussions on her health, both now and possibly in the future.
As she walks shoeless in the dusty roads of Gudum village, only God knows what goes on in her mind along with her physical suffering. But her lot doesn’t have to be this. If only her governor will dedicate more time to provision of infrastructure and less to going all over the country to purchase traditional titles, Young Lady X will be able to have a better life. There is certainly enough going to state coffers from the federation account to see to the provision of basic necessities of life. It is just that for some reason our state chief executives are always  ready to prioritize the personal or the unimportant.
Governor Isa Yuguda is no stranger to high-profile personal priorities. His world-class wedding to former ‘first daughter’, Nafisa ‘Yar’adua, is still a reference point as far as ‘state weddings’ are concerned. And some would say his own son’s wedding, a few years later, though less publicized, wasn’t much less grand. Following hard on the hills of these prioritized affairs is Yuguda’s new thirst for acquiring traditional titles and honorary academic accolades. All the newspapers were replete with congratulatory messages for him a fortnight ago. He had just landed another tongue-twisting title from Yoruba land. How far are they willing to go in the search for egotistical pleasures?
Of course Yuguda is not alone in this pursuit of honour and glory from either our commercialized Ivory Towers or our privatized royal fathers. Most other governors and other top political office holders are into the same pursuit. So how can a people so engaged in personal aggrandizement spare a thought to those, like Young Lady X, whose main aspiration is to have pure, pipe-borne water close at hand?
But when will these state executives realize that it is not the accolades they acquired in their public offices that history will judge them by, rather it is what they did in the service of the people that will be their legacy. In the last two weeks we have heard nothing but the virtues of late Nelson Mandela, being sung to high heavens world-wide. Did Mandela get to be such a global hero by bribing rulers and universities in order to get conferred with honours and titles? No, the former South African president got to be everybody’s hero by sheer force of moral authority.
His selfless sacrifice and legendary struggle against the inhuman system of apartheid were his hallmark. He then followed this up with a stainless public office record as his country’s first black president. If he had wanted, Mandela would have had all the traditional titles available everywhere in Africa because all of Africa saw him as a hero when he left prison after 27 years of incarceration. Universities all over the world would have been falling over themselves to grant him honorary degrees if that had been Mandela’s whispered wish, but it wasn’t. 
One of the first debates to have dogged the new South Africa was the issue of remuneration for public office holders, at the beginning of majority rule in 1994. The press and the general public were up against the newly-elected parliamentarians because of what they called their attempt to pay themselves ‘Malaysian pay packages.’ Among the critics of the new leaders’ salaries was Archbishop Desmond Tutu who accused the MPs of ‘stopping the gravy train only long enough to get on.’
While the debate raged, Mandela did the honourable thing to do. He did not call for a downward review of the pay packages because it was his government that commissioned a consultancy firm to determine what was the right remuneration for the new leaders and he knew that the nation was rich enough to pay. So he simply gave a least of charities where he wanted his monthly pay to be disbursed to, leaving a very tiny percentage for himself. His simple reason was that he did not need all that money because the state picked his every bill. He didn’t remind himself that he had children, grand and great grand children who might find all that money useful, rather he sent it directly to where it will serve needy strangers. Isn’t there a lesson here for our governors and law-makers, who get paid outrageous sums, who do not give directly to charity and are still looking for ways to grab more?
Nor was Mandela’s lack of interest in personal wealth attributable to his years in prison, as many are wont to believe. No, it was in fact a trait he had long before he began to serve his 27 year jail term. In her 1984 autobiography ‘Part of my Soul’, Winnie Mandela disclosed how her husband never had a bank account because he always collected his pay in hand and proceeded to the supermarket to buy all the family needed before the next pay. Because he hated to take drugs and believed in preventive medicine, a great part of Mandela’s monthly pay was dedicated to the purchase of fruits and vegetables. The salary itself wasn’t much because the legal practice he shared with Oliver Tambo was more into offering free legal services to poor Blacks who were victims of the apartheid system, than into any profit making high profile cases. But with all the deprivations of his youthful career, Mandela did not avariciously descend on his people’s wealth when he had the chance to do so. Indeed his own earned pay was dedicated to charities.
In the two hours his plane takes him to Cape Town for a meeting with parliamentarians (the country’s legislature was based there while the presidency was in Pretoria at the time) Mandela was often shown on TV sitting at his table, in his custom- built presidential plane, working through his files. In the five years he ruled his nation he utilized every moment in the service of his people. Now compare this with our rulers here who put all issues of state-craft aside for years because they have their sights firmly fixed on winning the next election. I often wonder whether serving the people isn’t the surest way to win the next election, or has it become an obsolete maxim?
It is certainly time for Nigerian political office holders to get their priorities right. So long as young girls (and boys) are subjected to untold social conditions because their leaders do not believe in serving them so long will underdevelopment and insecurity remain with us. And these leaders will vacate their seats and depart this world, not as heroes revered by all but as villains despised by all.   

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