By Segun Gbadegesin
In Luke 6: 45, a passage that has become popularly known as his Sermon on the Plain, in contradistinction from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ declared that “from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” And in a relevant injunction in the Holy Quran, it is emphatically declared: “O you who believe! Keep your duty to Allah and fear Him, and speak (always) the truth”- Holy Quran 33:70.
The referenced passages from the holy books are not identical, but they are related. The Quranic injunction is about truth telling. The Biblical declaration is an interpretation of the connection between the heart and speech, with the latter seen as a true reflection of what’s hidden in the former.
The Quranic injunction may be understood in two or more ways. First, it is a command to be truthful in our dealings with other human beings. We are enjoined not to hide blood inside while we deceptively spit out white saliva. Say what’s in your mind, no matter whose ox is thereby gored. Second, however, it is also an injunction to make our words correspond to the reality that is external to the mind. Thus, we cannot make statements that contradict reality. You cannot claim that the earth is flat because it pleases your mind to say so. These are powerful injunctions.
On its part, the Biblical declaration is a warning to take what people say seriously because it is an outpouring of what is on their mind. Though the Biblical reference is to the heart, we know that the heart is simply an umbrella concept for what is inside of a person and therefore interchangeable with mind. The idea is that just as we know what is inside (the nature) of a tree by the fruits that it bears externally, so we know what’s inside the nature of a person by the words that flow out externally. The lesson is clear. You ignore the words of a person’s mouth at your own peril.
But what about those instances when people violate the Quranic injunction? That is, when they speak good words which are meant to deceive their listeners, while they hide their real intentions inside? Of course, as we see above, such is being untruthful and therefore condemnable. But wouldn’t they have gone away with deception because they have not spoken from the abundance of their heart? The Biblical declaration suggests that such deception cannot last long, thus agreeing with the Yoruba wisdom that compares character with smoke, which cannot be locked inside for long but will eventually break out. The abundance of the heart will come out eventually and the facade of words will show for what they are: fleeting like wind.
One of the hallmarks of democratic elections is the requirement that citizens as voters ought to know the mind of the candidates presented to them to choose from. It is not enough for political parties to present their manifestos; it is more important for voters to probe the mind of the candidates whom political parties will saddle with the responsibility of implementing their well-crafted manifestos. When voters are prevented from hearing directly from candidates in debate settings, they lose out on the most important aspect of candidate probing. They end up voting with their eyes blindfolded. Unfortunately, our system has not been particularly responsive to this important requirement.
We vote and then we expect successful candidates to perform wonders to our liking. But they have their own minds. They have their own motivations and those may be quite different than, if not completely at odds, with ours. And then we are shocked and we want to interact with them even as they have the mandate to govern over us with their premeditated mindset which we suddenly realize is not our expectation. Too bad!
This scenario is not new. We have gone through at least four presidential elections since 1999. None of them featured any serious debates between or among candidates. In none of them did voters have an insight into the workings of the mind of presidential candidates. We were condemned to waiting till after the election and then it is too late. Then, of course, we start to clamor for our presidents to speak to us to reassure us concerning our unwholesome experiences under their watch.
Thus, for a long time, at least since the beginning of his presidency in 2015, when their expectations appear to be unmet on several fronts, Nigerians have yearned to hear from President Buhari. They have clearly not been satisfied with either press releases or presidential addresses which are almost always written by aides. Neither have they been appreciative of proxy statements by presidential spokesmen. Indeed, many have opined that the spokesmen have not being doing justice to the president because it appeared that they were not representing him well in the media space.
In the middle of the most recent spiral of killings, a video posted by a woman who considered herself as a staunch Buhari supporter went viral with a passionate plea to the president to “talk to us now. We are your children.” Her plea appeared to be genuine from the heart, a loyal supporter wanting her president to succeed. That video message may have succeeded in getting Mr. President to give his first major interview since 2019 to Arise TV last week. If so, we must be thankful to the woman whose passionate plea facilitated a rare inroad to the president’s mind, an inroad that was denied voters prior to 2015 and 2019 elections.
The president spoke his mind without minding where the chips may fall (no pun intended). On the part of his fellow citizens who listened with rapt attention, it is left to them to figure out what characterizes the mind of their president. From his answers to the interviewers’ questions, there are plenty of choices to make. Is the president’s mind rigid or flexible, progressive or conservative, compassionate or indifferent, strong or weak, worried or unconcerned (e.g. about unemployment, insecurity etc.)? I am sure that Nigerians would line up on both sides of these various pairs of disjunctions, itself a reflection of our diversity.
But what is the import of knowing which of these, if any, applies to our president in view of the words of his mouth from the Arise interview? We must however not think that one half of each of the pairs of opposites is bad. A rigid mind is not in itself bad or dangerous just as a flexible mind is not in itself good. As Aristotle might say, it depends on that to which you are rigid or flexible. From which it follows that one cannot be rigid or flexible on all issues. A leader who is flexible on all issues doesn’t have a mind of his or her own and may end up being tossed in all directions.
Or take the conservative/progressive pair. Surely, progressives want to conserve the value of democracy, don’t they? Therefore, they have to be conservative with regard to that value. What about conservatives? Would they want to conserve the practice of human sacrifice? If not, then they have to be progressive with regard to that practice. Likewise, a leader cannot be worried all the time. Otherwise, at the smallest sign of crisis, he or she may lose bearing. But there are times when he or she must show concern for the welfare of those under his or her leadership.
The pair that appears to have a cut and dried meaning is the “strong or weak” pair. We want our leaders to be strong, not weak, and there appears to be no relativity to this. Unlike flexibility with regards to some issues, there is no redeeming value to weakness. Weakness and strength suggest absoluteness.
Now, what do Mr. President’s words reveal to the nation about his inside with respect to the key issues of insecurity, open grazing, restructuring, and unemployment? What did we learn about the mindset of our leader in that interview? We will endeavor to address these questions next week.
To be continued