“A man of knowledge is free… He has no honor, no dignity, no family, no home, no country, But only life to be lived.” – Don Juan
Fellow Nigerians, one of the most frequently asked questions by friend and foe is: why do you want to be President and not a Senator or Governor? The answer is very simple. You need executive power in the hands of a committed and determined change agent to be able to regenerate Nigeria. The Governors can do as much as the omnipotent and ubiquitous President allows these days. Governors have to pay obeisance to Him on High in Abuja as frequently as possible or face the wrath of the almighty. The lack of proper Federalism has made it impossible for the Federating units to operate at optimal speed and value. Everyone looks at the body language of the President and must know how to decode the subliminal messages emanating from him lest something bad begin to happen to you and yours.
The Legislators also understand the game. In reality they can’t be too independent. They are regularly bullied or compromised by the omniscient executive. Is it not curious that no legislator has been able to reject the atrocious remunerations being allocated to them? That is the bait the executive uses to hook, implicate, placate and tame the shrew. The Judiciary has been struggling to free itself from the stranglehold of the executive arm of government but it has not been too easy. The executive has the power to hire and fire via subterfuge. Everything has become politicised and no institution is too sacred to be desecrated. I do not want to be specific but we are all witnesses to the deluge of contradictory judgments dissembled by our Judges in staccato fashion.
The story of the Fourth Estate of the Realm is almost similar. Despite the preponderance of electronic and print media, most organisations require government patronage to survive in a turbulent market. The situation is worse for the electronic media. You have to behave and tread softly or get yanked off the air. Government remains the veritable source of news in Nigeria. Most journalists have to camp inside and outside various government houses and make sure they are chummy with the government spokesperson or miss out on the goody train. Our job is too delicate. Societal expectations are not often realistic. Everyone goes about their businesses and expect the reporter to be the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the Earth. And when the media organisation dies due to lack of patronage the same society moves on casually and leaves the casualties to stew in their own juices. We’ve seen it too many times.
Where then do we turn? You would say the civil society. Even that is not an easy route. That road is paved and littered with thorns. There is nothing any one can do for his country that the likes of Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), Mr Femi Falana (SAN) and others of their ilk did not try. Gani could not be made a President despite being called the Senior Advocate of the Masses while Femi could not become the Governor of Ekiti State. The principalities that control the levers of power in Nigeria cannot be easily uprooted and upstaged. They have their secret weapons that are so potent and recyclable. If they drop the spectre of ethnicity and it fails, they will drop the bomb of religion. If that fails to explode, they will try the whiff of money or throw all the three aces at once. Trust me, it works like magic. How many people can resist the lure of lucre in a largely impoverished environment? I’m sure these facts are known to you all.
I’ve answered my opening question so many times that I can almost write a doctoral thesis on it. I’ve come to the conclusion that majority of our citizens would love to have a good President in Nigeria. However, I’m not sure they want him even if they find him and recognise him as the one they’ve been awaiting all along, for several reasons I will explain shortly. Wherever two or more Nigerians are gathered the topic of discussion must dovetail into politics. We are all experts in political science and it is strange that we each shout about corruption until we’ve been tested. Those who have no opportunities of getting close to the national cake call everyone in government rogues. I often wonder why it is so easy for radicals of yesteryears to decay and disappear into oblivion. This has made the search for that special leader very cumbersome and frustrating. So where do we go from here?
Let us begin with definitions to be sure we are all on the same page. Who is a good Leader? A good Leader is that man or woman who was born to lead or acquired the skills along the way. He is not a Saint but possesses saintly inclinations. He loves unconditionally. He’s detribalised. He has religious tolerance. He has the ability to manage people and resources. He is a man of vision with a sound mind to see what most people find difficult to decipher. He is a man of modest means who has managed his life prudently and is humble in success. He is very educated not by just going to school but by being exposed to great knowledge about the complex world in which we live.
He is God-fearing without being a religious bigot. He is an ideologue who’s flexible enough to consider other principles of governance where applicable. He is charismatic and must be a good representative of his country wherever he goes. He is eloquent and can communicate with his people effortlessly. He is inspirational and can galvanise his people into dreaming big. He is trusted to the extent that his people are ready to make any necessary sacrifice required of them. He is a man of the people, in short.
Why do we need that one leader and not many leaders? The answer is simple. No nation is governed by a multitude but by one powerful and clear-headed leader whose ideas and ideals percolate down the entire fabric of society. He knows his onions and is ready to risk his all to succeed glowingly where others failed woefully. Other leaders would naturally queue behind him to tap into his uncommon wisdom, determination and resilience. History is replete with stories of such monumental figures.
My favourite example is Mao Tse-tung, former Chairman of the Communist Party of China. He was a revolutionary who’s often referred to as the founding father of the People’s Republic of China. The irony of his life is that he was never born poor being the son of a wealthy farmer who was greatly influenced by Marxist-Leninist theories. It is interesting to note that Chairman Mao declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949 under the control of a one-party socialist movement. Against all odds, and after several cultural, economic and political battles, he was able to build a new China into a super power. The lesson in his life is that change can never be a tea party. A leader who is only interested in enjoying the paraphernalia of office would never be able to transform his nation. The population of China alone was challenging enough yet he was able to put China on sound footing.
My next example is Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. Like Chairman Mao, he is also regarded as the Father of Singapore and was its first Prime Minister. At the time of his attaining power, Singapore was a miserable Third World Country but through discipline and determination he was able to rebuild a dilapidated nation into a First World country and a remarkable Asian Tiger. The lesson again is that a true transformational leader must be ready to put his nation above earthly treasures and pleasures. The story of Lee Kuan Yew is a must read for all aspiring politicians who wish to make the much-desired difference.
Mahatma Gandhi’s name can never be omitted in world history because of the sacrifice he made for the emancipation of his country. He was the major promoter of nonviolent civil disobedience and led India to Independence in August 1947. Interestingly, his birthday which is now a national holiday is on October 2. The man practically starved and fasted himself to death while protesting against man’s inhumanity to man. He was imprisoned on several occasions in India and South Africa. His was a life of sacrifice for the betterment of his larger society and humanity in general.
Please, endure one more example in contemporary history, The Great Madiba, Nelson Mandela of South Africa. Everyone is fascinated by the life history of Mandela yet we can hardly point at one African leader today who is willing and ready to make the necessary sacrifice for his country like he did. All those who went to shed crocodile tears at his funeral forgot his legacies as soon as they returned from the photo opportunity. The man would not have suffered in vain if his painful existence gave birth to others like him. Such is the irony of life.
Long before all these leaders, the world had men who became deified and whose names continue to reverberate globally. Prophet Mohammed and Jesus Christ remain the biggest iconic figures in religion. It is noteworthy that many of us call their names but easily forget what they stood for in world history. Their lives reflected how one tree can make a forest. The essence of my preamble is to demonstrate why we must continue the search for that elusive man or woman with the true capacity to transform our country from its penurious state to a prosperous haven.
Is it possible to have such a leader in Nigeria? The answer is yes. We tend to think our liberator would have to descend from heaven. It is never going to happen in that manner. The kind of man we want exists already but we are too blinded by many primordial sentiments that we can’t even see or identify such a person. Indeed, several of them exist. I will go into our sordid history to pick a few examples of how we missed the boat in the past and hoping such mistakes would not be repeated over and over again. The choices I’m going to pick will be controversial but so be it. In a country where everything is quotalised, I expect many people to kick but my choices are by no means exhaustive. They are just glaring glimpses of missed opportunities due to our collective myopia.
I will also endeavour to prove that apart from our wasted heroes we have many heroes wasting away at the moment. Until we unburden our souls and purge our minds of long-held prejudices, that man we need would continue to elude us. The land is filled with bitterness and volatile anger. Is this the solution? I sincerely don’t think so. Many are saying the country should break up. But this is a worse option. They tend to forget that the greatness of China, India, America and several others stems largely from their substantial population. The secret of America is in absorbing and tolerating people of all races. Our intolerance level is abysmal and extremely dangerous. We hate our next door neighbour with such venom and only God knows who would restore peace, love and joy to this land of great men and women.
I believe all hope is not lost. My duty is to pursue the line of argument that Nigeria has many great men and women who can lead her to greatness. Most times, politics is a game of trial by error. There are no hard and fast rules. Until you try a particular leader you may never know his capabilities.
I shall start with the living generation of potentially great leaders simply because they can make a difference whilst we can only rue what might have been regarding those that have passed on. Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola of Lagos State epitomises one of such miracles and positive accident of Leadership. He has confounded all those who queried the wisdom of the then Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu when he backed him with all his might. We must give Tinubu some credit more than his critics are willing to do. He knows how to identify good materials.
Our search for that man of our dreams must begin with seeking our best materials with a fine toothcomb. We must find and encourage them. Gold is usually rough before it is polished. We have a unique opportunity to turn ourselves into miners. If we do not participate in one form or another, we have no reason to lament later.
We shall continue our analysis next week, by God’s grace. The change may be closer than we think.
Chief Dele Momodu published this article in his PENdulum column on THUSDAY.
Views expressed are solely the author’s