Opinion: Small men in big shoes

by Anthony Akinola

ONE inevitable fallout from our history of incessant military interruption of the democratic process has been the emergence, in positions of leadership and authority, of men and women whose credentials were least known to the public. Most of those in positions of power today were unknown to us until they more or less sleep-walked their ways to where they are now, their views on the organisation of state and society rather concealed.

This was hardly the case with the first generation of politicians who were true leaders of the people. The early politicians fought for independence, leaving no one in doubt that they were for the people and not their pockets. The likes of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Aminu Kano and Anthony Enahoro, among others, wrote monographs and a series of newspaper articles articulating the direction for a new Nigerian nation. Their positions on the structure of political governance, the party system and, of course, the nature of the economy, were fearlessly articulated. Chief Awolowo, for example, had, as a student in the UK, advocated most of the ideas that would later be associated with his successful leadership of the Western Region.

Honestly, one cannot but feel pity for someone like Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who would find himself as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in less than 12 years of involvement in democratic politics, reputed never to have solicited political support on behalf of himself until the presidential election of 2011. Many would attribute his political achievements to luck, even when it should be explained by an inconsistent pattern of political governance brought about by a culture of military interventions. Any of the current political leaders could be assumed lucky, already finding themselves in positions their contemporaries in well-established democratic nations might still be hoping to achieve in some years to come.

Even in the 12 or more years of the political experience we can now concede to President Goodluck Jonathan, there seems to have been little to reveal to us his vision of the society he leads. One would have thought that by now, there would be one or two books we can read about him and the direction of his presidency. We might have been more sympathetic or understanding of his approach to governance were we to have known more of him than his shoe-less days.

As things are today, President Jonathan could be described as overwhelmed by the demands of office without one having to be too apologetic for holding that view. He had gambled on critical issues and the outcome has only left one wondering. His removal of the subsidy on oil has merely led to more greed and corruption at privileged places. There has been nothing to suggest that adequate provisions were made for the management of funds that were so enthusiastically projected. Nigerians were in the streets protesting the removal of the subsidy on oil, but the escalation of privileged corruption would suggest their withdrawal could be regretted.

Of less importance but equally noteworthy, was the manner in which Goodluck Jonathan changed the name of the University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University without consultations and due process. Had our president not been overzealous, he probably would have done things differently and commemorate the historical place of Moshood Abiola without much controversy. The late Chief MKO Abiola could be an historical figure if the current democracy endures, even when wanting to place him in the same historical bracket as Martin Luther King Jnr might have been a grossly over-exaggerated emotion. No Nigerian merits a public holiday in his or her name.

Still on the UNILAG name change, one cannot but agree with the great Chief Afe Babalola that Jonathan, more or less, wants to blackmail our lawmakers into endorsing what a more reflective president could have acknowledged as a mistake. His bill lumping the name change with others seems rather cheap and insulting to our lawmakers, if one must be honest. The assumption that an Igbo lawmaker would accommodate a thoughtless decision simply because it has provided an opportunity for the great Michael Okpara to be also immortalised, smacks of the politics of sentiment, which has held us backwards for so long.

Be that as it may, the lack of adequate preparation for leadership we are experiencing at the centre also resonates in the states of our federation. Not just a few of our governors got to where they are without an iota of political experience, or a variable pedigree of commitment to the emotions of those they now govern. Their love for the economic centres of the world, which now include Dubai, tells us where their hearts are. James Ibori is languishing in a British prison for money laundering. Were it not for the justice system of a sane society, His Excellency would have been trumpeting his ambition for the presidency in 2015.

Why, for instance, would a political office holder not want to declare his or her assets publicly? Why would you want to conceal your wealth if its sources were healthy and there were no issues with tax? The late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua established what could have gone down as a practice to be followed by others when he declared his assets publicly in 2007. Even when not constitutionally-mandated to do so, would it have amounted to a minus for a political leader to let the public know of his or her intention to be honest in the management of our collective wealth?

President Goodluck Jonathan would not give a damn to public declaration of his assets, oblivious of whatever insinuations this could invite. He would seem not to appreciate that he already occupies the most important position any Nigerian can ever dream of achieving, that he is already a chapter in the history of the Nigerian nation. Maybe he needs to be reminded that the greatest honour or privilege history can confer on any individual is for him or her to be leader of their nation. The tragedy of the African continent has been that of too many small men in big shoes, men who are unable to walk the delicate route to political immortality and greatness. Where are the Mobutu Sese Sekos of yesteryears and their loots, except for the stenches that would forever trail them?

*Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija. This piece was originally printed in Guardian.

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