A week ago – or slightly above a week ago – I saw the online story of Vanguard newspaper which the newspaper’s crime editor, Emma Nodozie, reported in respect of what our soldiers are experiencing in the north east where they are campaigning against Boko Haram. Actually, it was a telephone conversation that transpired between the crime editor and a Nigerian unnamed officer who spoke from Sambisa Forest. (I hope the dreaded Sambisa Forest is known to the majority of our compatriots and to the majority of the readers of this column). The said telephone conversation, which assumed the colour of an interview, as it progressed, centred on the military, no, on the war predicament, of our patriotic officers and equally of our soldiers, non-officers, who day by day fight and fight and dare and dare the dreaded and dreadful Boko Haram warriors and cannibals, who are in firm control of the north east – contrary to the claims and alleged bloody lies several military experts of agitprops in the Nigerian Military High Command breed every now and then.
In the alluded to conversation/interview, the anonymous officer rejected the negative picture Lt.-General Tukur Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), painted of the fighting soldiers in the north east. (The COAS has since denied the “demoralising comments” the war-front officer attributed to him – which is plainly fair and fair in the spirit of I should hear the other side before crafting and passing judgment). By the way, this newspaper wrote, on Monday, July 1st, that is, last Monday, a frankly audacious editorial on the security problems and challenges in our country relating to the unnamed officer’s raised issues and other pertinent matters. Plainly, and without vacillation, I endorse in toto the judiciously audacious editorial.
But my primary concern here now relates to the “grammar” or sentence or phrase that was more than a phrase employed in the appeal of the courageous and beleaguered Sambisa war-front officer. What did he say? What potent words did he employ in his appeal and request to the Military High Command? : The COAS should “Do the needful.” What was new in the expression? What is new in the expression? And why am I interested in dwelling on this supposedly innocuous brief, apt and cogent expression? I am sure that all of us – or the majority of those who read this column – remember the vivacious and bounteous Stella Oduah? Once upon a time in the very recent past she was our Minister of Aviation under President Goodluck Jonathan. The imperial Princess of Ogbaru Kingdom in Anambra State is also an emollient and at the same time a redoubtable two-term senator of the Great Republic of Nigeria! (Her second tenure began after she won the last senatorial election in her district). She is also my kinswoman by virtue of her erstwhile connubial relationship with my kinsman who, I gathered, allegedly wronged her immeasurably. Not long ago, a dear, dear son of hers was untimely wrenched from her by “The President of the Immortals,” and her ex, my kinsman, father of the son, made an allegedly troubling media controversy out of the sorrowful event – allegedly, again, to the discomfiture of many. But no fault or judgment is being apportioned. (This column deletes all flippant details of the event, and now wishes her and him its condolences – even though belatedly).
Why almost this full-length biography of this effulgent senator? (Or do I say this effulgent senatress?)
The reason is simple really. She is an inventor of terms. She is an inventor ( or do I say an inventress?) of terms, who invented “Do the needful,” a coinage that has since gained currency and universal appeal in our country. She owns the ‘patent’ which we and our central government are denying her. In the military (as we have just made manifest), in churches, in human rights circles, in media houses and platforms, including the social media, in the universities, in the civil service, in the banks and other financial houses, in several professional circles, including the Nigeria Bar Association and Nigerian Medical Council and Engineering bodies, and market gatherings, and beer parlours and pepper soup joints, name, name and name them, “Do the needful” has assumed in usage the status of a gospel truth and fact. I am certain that in Aso Rock and the presidency as well as in the house of reps and senate and our respective state congresses the term must have cropped up in their discussions and deliberations. Indeed “Do the needful” is in vogue everywhere. Our linguistic researchers should do a research on its wide usage in the country.
Naturally, we have, the fake people that we are, forgotten how the inventor, how the coiner of the coinage, came about her coinage, which we have since wrenched from her, and out of context, out of her context of coinage and usage. But I, let me underline my submission, have never ever used the coinage – and never will, despite my new admiration for Princess Stella Oduah. “Do the needful” does not mean to me “Do the rightful.” It does not mean that I should do the correct thing. One can “do the needful” without necessarily doing the right and correct thing. When ex-minister Stella Oduah coined the term by way of an instruction to her subordinate in her ministry (or under her ministry) allegedly to set in motion the machinery for the purchase of vehicles whose prices were allegedly over-inflated, she (as well as her subordinate) knew what she meant, and what she precisely meant is not what every user of the coinage now attributes to it. I always tell people – and I always insist on it – to “Do the rightful.” Those who know me as they should can testify to this. Yet it is remarkable that ex-minister Stella Oduah’s coinage and contribution to our lexicon of coinages and words and to our respective professions’ lexical terms will not be diminished by time. She has overtaken Mbonu Ojike (coiner of “Boycott the boycoyttable” and K.O. Mbadiwe ( coiner of “timber and caliber”), flamboyant fellows and nationalist-politicians of our First Republic, who were gifted with the power of words. (She and many Nigerians obviously were yet to be born when these men, Igbos, held the nation spell-bound with words and words and their coinages.) We should recognise this and give Stella Oduah her deserved due (and maybe forget and forgive her alleged past trespass.) This is the source of my new admiration for her, whether or not we correctly apply well her usage of her coinage in our every day affairs.
And very importantly, we must cease plagiarizing her. We must acknowledge her duly and profitably, I reiterate. What I perceived to be her “obiter dicta” which has since ceased to be her “obiter dicta” after she cleverly turned it into an occupatio, should be allowed its vogue and appeal symptomatic of everyone’s values. Stella Oduah should take this from me, finally: Every critic or ‘hater’ is a potential admirer. Conversely, every admirer or liker is a potential enemy. Maybe she should present the latter line to Mr. President as a gift to give him a deeper, more meaningful understanding of himself, our military, our politicians and our country. Sycophancy is worse than psychosis. Mr. President should do the rightful and make himself the great emollient of our country’s common ills. Princess Stella Oduah should tell him so. And in the senate she should at all times do the rightful. She should not follow her party’s line always to “Do the needful.” But her coinage will out-live her.