That caption is not entirely new. It is a derivative of kiss and tell. Those who give and tell are growing in number and effrontery. More and more and more people are now learning how to give to the poor only in the presence of witnesses or cameras.

Politicians and even pastors lead the way here. They give one million naira to the crowd but spend 10 million on pre-event publicity, coverage and postmortem. Somewhere, in the deep south of Nigeria, a sitting parliamentary helmsman once published the list of those he had fed or helped in one way or the other over the course of four years. In that same state, a sitting senator published a private gift to his friend just because the latter made to challenge him during his re-election.

Things had since degenerated beyond be-careful, as my Ibeno friend would say. How much I miss my childhood. I grew up in a Cameroonian fishing port, Bekumu, and under illiterate parents. In fact, in that francophone peninsula, all through the two decades I was there, only .001% of the population were literate.

Yet, it was in that setting I learned values and good conduct, as it were, against the run of play. Those illiterate people of mine were so bright and clean. They gave gifts in secret and frequently, unlike your educated, praise-crazy elite of today who wait until Christmas to feed their own people and in the full glare of the world.

I remember how as a child my parents would ask me to deliver food secretly and respectfully to one family or the other. Other families also honoured us like that. They regularly blessed us with food and such other substances. In all those blessings, human dignity remained intact.

It was considered an abomination to give food publicly, let alone for the giver to tell. Even the poorest of the poor ate to their fill and with their dignity intact, before, during, after and forever. Nobody poked fun at them. But, nowadays, there are snapshots and video footages everywhere of the mouthfuls served annually.

Why are we like this? Why are we in this hole? Can this trend be reversed? If yes, how and by whom?

Let’s attempt to deconstruct the foregoing battery. We are like this because we are like this. We are where we are because we want to be where we are. We shall fix things the day we decide enough is enough.

The way things are, it is easy and quite attractive to point the finger at leaders as those responsible for the ethical and attitudinal cul-de-sac in which a hitherto etiquette-conscious people have lately been stranded. Well, they are the leaders: they enjoy the perks of we-all-know-what. They should also endure the malicious tendencies of envy, ignorance and hate. That’s how life creates balance, right?

Wrong: there’s absolutely no balance (whatsoever) in insisting that only leaders should bear the brunt of the blame for the satanification of philanthropy. We, the followers, also contribute (if not even more) to the decadence. Here in Nigeria, constituents don’t ask their legislative representatives how many bills or motions they have sponsored. No, focus is on how generous they are.

Furthermore, rather than hold members of the executive accountable, for instance, over policy or budget or performance, the refrain from James Town to Nembe Brass to Isuikwuato to Okokomaiko to Kafanchan and to Damaturu is: that man (or that woman) is stingy. Question: other than the public till, from where else would a public officer take the resources to meet the cornucopia of financial requests by followers? Alas, when they steal to please us, we turn around to insult them in the media for having done nothing throughout their tenure. Even more annoying, most of us who benefit genuinely chop and clean mouth (as we say in Nigeria); we collect so much wealth from political office holders but lie with insults how they never help.

As I see it, this situation tallies with the parallel created by Chinua Achebe between the hunter and Eneke, the bird. The hunter learnt to shoot without missing because the bird had learnt to fly without perching. The bird too learnt to fly without perching because the hunter had learnt to shoot without missing. Action can be reaction, reaction can be action.

Whose is action and whose is reaction in the abuse of generosity? Are our leaders wholly guilty of this Phariseelike noisy, public giving, or is the problem we, the followers? Do Nigerian leaders now distribute food and other gifts publicly and on camera to prove beyond every reasonable doubt that they are not stingy? Is it to forestall anybody denying after having benefitted?

Whatever, let God win. Followers should stop calling leaders names. We should stop using generosity as an in-office performance indicator. We should stop chopping and cleaning mouth like people who are permanently on the queue, waiting to be served.

On their part, leaders who intervene as helpers should allow their helpees to keep their pride as well by always giving privately and noiselessly. At all times, helpers must allow their helpees to do the publicity, if they want. Leaders should not bother whether the public think them stingy, because at the end it really doesn’t matter what man thinks. The fundamental truth, which is the only thing that counts, is that reward only comes from God.

God bless Nigeria!

Dirty handshakes

Inspiration to do this piece, which has always been something I wanted to write on, comes straight from my all-time best goalie, Mr. Aaron Christopher Ramsdale of Arsenal FC of London. The young man talked the other day about how his own father never forgot the respect a famous goalkeeper accorded him when he first removed his glove before handshaking him. Nothing is as sweet as being respected, especially by someone who should not (whatever that means).

However, while nearly everybody wants to be respected -some even as a god- a great many don’t know how to accord respect, except only to the rich and powerful -which is a crying shame. One way of conveying respect and, well, disrespect, is -wait for it- through a handshake, which, believe it or yes, can transmit as much as 98% germs. For the purpose of this entry, let’s say we have three categories of handshake: cold, warm, hot.

Don’t get it twisted: cold is bad, warm is best while hot depends but not a bone crusher. A cold or hot handshake can easily fall into the dirty category; that is, if the cold handshake is not by someone in grief or the hot handshake is not out of excitement. A lame or withdrawn or perfunctory or dismissive or cold handshake is powered mostly by the arrogance that in the third world flows from too much unworked-for money or unmerited power or both -and almost always such handshake is given to someone thought below.

The most ready annoying example would be the common one of someone with a car key or stuff in the right hand extending only one or two fingers or the wrist of that hand if not the left for a handshake -with another human being. There are other dirty handshakes, of course; e.g: bone crusher or wet handshake (learn to wipe your hand first, please). Finally, please, note that although warm handshake is the way to go: you still need to learn the art of doing it in business, or to show authority, etc. plus the duration!

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