That’s a quote by Chinua Achebe. I learnt about this the hard way. Here’s my story: I was President of the Students Union Government that year. I was fast asleep in my room that night in 1998
Suddenly, I heard a loud bang on my door and a commotion outside. I opened the door to see one of my set-mates who was all emotional with a little crowd of students gathering. He narrated his story- we all knew he was a self-sponsored student who drove a taxi after school
That was how he raised funds to pay his fees. He was on his taxi round that night when a policeman stopped him for a broken tail light. The policeman wanted a bribe from him and all his plea that he is an indigent student fell on deaf ears
His ID card and the taxi cab were impounded until he can raise a bribe for the policeman. That was his story. I was livid with rage. I quickly mobilized students and led an aluta that night which continued till the next day
We took over the town and there was an uproar- especially since the University was non-residential. The following day, the Sole-Administrator (those were Abacha years and the University had a Sole Administrator instead of a VC), the now late Professor Akinola Salau sent for me
The Paramount Ruler of the town was on the phone. The whole town was in panic mode. An urgent meeting was called to resolve the issue. I attended the meeting with some selected members of my exco and our guy whose taxi caused the brouhaha
And I now heard another angle of the story that made me look very foolish. It turned out that truly, our guy was stopped by a policeman for his broken tail light. But that was the only part of the story that was true
The policeman who stopped him was the Divisional Traffic Officer who had a well known reputation for his integrity. At that time, he was one of the leaders of the Deeper Life Bible Church in that town.
He was at the meeting and to my shock, he told me he took money from his own pocket the moment he realized the guy was a student, gave it to him to buy the broken tail light and come for his car which he truly impounded once he buys the tail light.
He told us he impounded the car because it could cause an accident. I looked at our guy and asked if this was true. Did the DTO give you money from his pocket? So you lied that he demanded a bribe? Silence. I screamed at him and he acknowledged what the DTO said. I became weak
So, I was fighting a wrong battle for more than 24 hours. I had put my life and that of hundreds of students at risk because we heard only one side of the story and took one person’s truth as the truth. I was so ashamed of our behaviour and I’ve never felt more foolish in my life
We had been teargassed at a point during the aluta. I had to offer profuse apologies for our behaviour having known the truth. That incident brought me closer to the Area Commander at that time who was so fatherly that he closed his eyes at some of our indiscretion.
That’s one lesson I’ll never forget in my life. There’s a reason the Good Book says, “Be swift to hear and slow to speak”. There’s a reason we have two ears but one mouth- so we can listen twice more than we speak
Many people rush to judgment here forgetting that most times you never know “the” truth- you know “a” truth. I like the way Proverbs Chapter 18 verse 17 puts it in the Amplified Translation: “The first one to plead his case seems right until another comes and cross examines him”
So, if you must fight on someone’s behalf, look at the matter very well. Don’t be hasty and don’t rush to judgment. Avoid being embarrassed. Not every battle should be yours. Sometimes, it is wise to stay aloof.
Choose your battles wisely. Not every struggle should be your struggle. Some struggles are just foolish. Make haste slowly. “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion”. No be me talk am. Na the Good Book in Proverbs 18:2.