“The President I Want” by Chimamanda Adichie is a direct address to President Goodluck Jonathan, in which she slams his response to the abduction of over 200 girls in northern Nigeria.
The writing consists of a long inventory of actions, attributes, and dispositions she expects from the President of a nation such as Nigerian—a Nation in the state of unrest.
But what I find most striking about the text is that it reads like a liturgy or an incantation.
If you picture Adichie kneeling in a shrine and speaking the following words into cowries held tightly in her hand, you’d hear an earnest and beautifully cadenced supplication to the gods. But like all prayers, Adichie’s chant is half plea, half command—“I want…
The repetition of the phrase, “I want,” and the word, “President,” clearly unifies the piece and transforms it into something that is more lyrical than an essay, something poetic perhaps.
I reformatted the essay to make its poetic/ incantatory rhythm more audible. Enjoy!
The President I Want by Chimamanda Adichie
(a political canticle)
I want President Jonathan to be consumed, utterly consumed, by the state of insecurity in Nigeria.
I want him to make security a priority, and make it seem like a priority.
I want a president consumed by the urgency of now, who rejects the false idea of keeping up appearances while the country is mired in terror and uncertainty.
I want President Jonathan to know – and let Nigerians know that he knows – that we are not made safer by soldiers checking the boots of cars, that to shut down Abuja in order to hold a World Economic Forum is proof of just how deeply insecure the country is.
I want the president to slice through the muddle of bureaucracy, the morass of ‘how things are done,’ because Boko Haram is unusual and the response to it cannot be business as usual.
I want President Jonathan to communicate with the Nigerian people, to realize that leadership has a strong psychological component: in the face of silence or incoherence, people lose faith.
I want him to humanize the lost and the missing, to insist that their individual stories be told, to show that every Nigerian life is precious in the eyes of the Nigerian state.
I want the president to seek new ideas, to act, make decisions, publish the security budget spending, offer incentives, sack people.
I want the president to be angrily heartbroken about the murder of so many, to lie sleepless in bed thinking of yet what else can be done, to support and equip the armed forces and the police, but also to insist on humaneness in the midst of terror.
I want the president to be equally enraged by soldiers who commit murder, by policemen who beat bomb survivors and mourners.
I want the president to stop issuing limp, belated announcements through public officials, to insist on a televised apology from whoever is responsible for lying to Nigerians about the girls having been rescued.
I want President Jonathan to ignore his opponents, to remember that it is the nature of politics, to refuse to respond with defensiveness or guardedness, and to remember that Nigerians are understandably cynical about their government.
I want President Jonathan to seek glory and a place in history, instead of longevity in office.
I want him to put aside the forthcoming 2015 elections, and focus today on being the kind of leader Nigeria has never had.
I do not care where the president of Nigeria comes from. Even those Nigerians who focus on ‘where the president is from’ will be won over if they are confronted with good leadership that makes all Nigerians feel included.
I have always wanted, as my president, a man or a woman who is intelligent and honest and bold, who is surrounded by truth-telling, competent advisers, whose policies are people-centered, and who wants to lead, who wants to be president, but does not need to – or have to- be president at all costs.
President Jonathan may not fit that bill, but he can approximate it: by being the leader Nigerians desperately need now.