By CHINAZO-BERTRAND OKEOMAH
Nigeria will never cease to offend or entertain any curious observer. Thus one sees oneself swinging on the wings of these feelings, purely out of choice, in order to remain sane in the midst of our insane milieu. One of the sources of this ample entertainment or mortal offence is the penchant of our leaders, nay rulers, to play too much politics even as they offer very little leadership. They are full of talk but empty of action. They are full of pomp but bereft of modesty. The Igbo say that it is soiled hands that beget oiled mouth. They hate such wits. So all they do is raise lots of political smoke that choke and confound us, but they fail to build a leadership fire that would drive our growth.
Our rulers love politics as an art of manoeuvring for power or the benefits of power. They love the leeway it gives them to contest for, and confiscate, every available socio-economic space. They love its deceits and chicanery. They love its selfish and megalomaniac mould. They love its kinks of violence and bloodletting. Thus while great nations have a thin coat of political butter on a big loaf of leadership, ours is a big coat of political butter on a tiny slice of leadership. This means that we spurn leadership which is about showing the way, and embrace politics which is about narrowing the way. We spurn leadership which is about attracting followers, while one is in front like a good shepherd, and embrace politics which is about driving followers from behind like a heartless herdsman.
Leadership is about sacrifice. It is about tasting poison before your followers taste it, or drinking milk only after your followers have drunk it. Leadership is about harnessing human and material resources for the purpose of attaining goals that would add value to the lives of others. John Maxwell defined it simply as influence. He said that when you say you are leading and nobody is following you, then you are simply taking a walk. I think this is a fitting metaphor for Nigerian politicians. Most of them are merely taking a walk, not leading anybody.
Most of them have followers today because such people are hungry for food or power, and so feel they can provide them the lever to attain such goals. Such followers see them as the man with big tummy, of whom the proverbial dog says he follows for one of two reasons: either he vomits or he defecates. So once such men lose the capacity to do any of the two, their so-called followers abandon them for those that can meet their needs. This was the fate of Adolphus Wabara, our former Senate president. He once spat: ‘On December 25, I was here with my wife and my only son…. I recalled what the situation was during the previous Christmas when this place was full of people.’ He was impeached as our Senate president. This also meant the ‘impeachment’ of his followers. This is true of most of our politicians.
These men spare no time to brood over the chief demands of leadership – how to be fair and just, how to instil hope and inspire confidence, or how to give the greatest good to the greatest number. They spare no time to crack the puzzle of how to pull us from the mire of the Third World and plant us on the rock of First World as Lee Kuan Yew did for Singapore in record time. They don’t dwell on how to stamp out corruption, which singular act can liberate enough resources to jolt this nation to lofty heights of development. They give scant thought to the need to pull our economy out of its mono-cultural straits in the midst of abundant natural resources. It is while engaged in such exalted exercises that the skills of leadership and the equally lofty art of dispensing them are contacted.
But what do our politicians do? They move at night like timid wild animals in order to set up fire for political rivals or to put out the ones rivals had set up for them as apt nemesis for their perfidy. They hold unending meetings to craft stratagem for attaining or retaining political power. They run from pillar to post looking for foreign investors that are actually out looking for conducive climes to invest in. Is our nation conducive? They device schemes to keep the masses poor so that they can buy their votes cheaply in future elections.
If you ever probe the minds of these men, all you would see would include plots to kill or maim opponents, plots to uproot or undermine rivals, or plots to wangle their supporters into all the strategic positions in their domain. They are full of schemes to win an election or a re-election or attain a better political position. Their minds are cluttered with the desire to have a stranglehold on all political structures in their domain, so much so that no other mortal can dislodge them. They mull over plots to steal as much money as would enable them buy votes to win all future elections, or ensure they remain perpetually relevant by their capacity to sponsor, in future elections, as many candidates as they so desire – even when they come from other political parties.
Nigeria is now a nation where the acts of politicians swing from 90–100 per cent politics to 0–10 per cent leadership. This is one of the reasons we have little or no evidence to prove that people rule over us. This explains why government would come up with a good policy today and it would be scuttled tomorrow. This explains why our numerous probes and inquiries produce zero result. We play politics with everything, including the lives of people, the future of our children and the destiny of our nation. The years 1999 to 2007 were especially woeful. Those were the years Ibori and his ilk reigned over some states. But from 2007 till date, we have had a few men who have made some mark. Such men include Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, Sullivan Chime of Enugu State, Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State, Danjuma Goje of Gombe State and Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State.
But the man poised to beat them all despite the paucity of funds at his disposal is Owelle Rochas Okorocha of Imo State. Many ex- and serving governors hate him. They feel he is exposing the underbelly of their reigns as fraught with fraud and deceit, for he has done in one year what many of them could not do or will not be able to do in eight years. He is today the toast of the masses but not of the political elite nor even of some civil servants, because he has clinically blocked all the holes through which they used to siphon the state’s funds. He cut the state’s security vote (fixed by the man before him) from N6.5 billion to N2.5 billion. He reduced ‘madam chop money’ at the government house by almost 90 per cent. He said he would prefer to be poor that Imo would become rich. He said he would bequeath to Imo, investments that would keep making money for her long after his reign. His is not a case of all talk and no action because Imo is today the greatest construction arena in the nation. I wish other politicians would emulate him. Let them give us more leadership than they give us politics.
(Mr Okeomah sent in this article from Ikeja, Lagos.)