By Ekerete Udoh
One of the defining features of most American political office holders is the manner thy have de-mystified power and render it ordinary, accessible and the placement of accent on the primacy of the people as the source for political power. Elected leaders as powerful as they are, have always known that the source of that power emanates form the people and they-the people should always be cultivated and befriended and not treated with condescension. A major ingredient why some leaders get elected and others rejected in spite of the platform they run on is always predicated on the degree of likeability the electorate has developed for such candidates and how comfortable they feel about his or her disposition and demeanor. Haughtiness, condescension, patrician tendencies are usually punished by the electorate. If a given electorate considers a candidate to be distant, unfeeling or displaying attitude that is not in sync with the majority of the people, such a candidate invariably is defeated at the polls, even if he or she had the most upbeat and visionary of programs.
In 2000 presidential elections, Al Gore, the sitting vice president had the awesome power of incumbency as a second half of the consequential Bill Clinton presidency that had given America the best peace time economic prosperity and growth in almost 50 years. He had a set of programs and platform that polls say majority of Americans agreed with. He was above and beyond the intellectual pay grade of then Texas Governor George W. Bush, the Republican challenger. The tail wind of electoral success was at his back and most Americans felt he was a shoe-in to win the election. And…then came the debates, and Al Gore blew all the advantages he had when he came across on national TV as a snippy, condescending and dismissive hectoring bull. His repeated sighing and hisses presented him as being un-presidential and right there and then, his edge in the battle ground states unraveled, leading to the unlikely election of the intellectual light weight –George W. Bush who had fumbled his way through the debates but won the hearts and minds of the American people by his earthly and genial manner. Al Gore lost an election he was primed to win handily because he was NOT liked.
In 2004, Senator John Kerry had all but measured the drapes in the Oval Office. All the polls and the momentum pointed to a John Kerry victory. Then President George W. Bush had taken America into two wars –one of necessity in Afghanistan and the one of choice in Iraq. The mood of the American people had soured on the cost both in treasure and in lives of the two wars. Domestic polices of non-regulation and tax cuts for the rich- and crony capitalism had created a huge chasm between the American people. The election was going to provide the platform for Americans to send George W. Bush back to Texas and his cowboy tendencies. But alas! John Kerry showed up at the debates and the optics he presented about himself was not reassuring. Political pundits began to descend to the trivial level of asking voters who, between George W. Bush and John Kerry they would love to have a beer with, and the majority say they would, Bush. The rest is history as George W. Bush went on to win an improbable victory, not based on the brilliance and profoundness of his policies but on such a mundane issues as likeability.
Here in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the richest New Yorker and the 10th overall richest person in America worth an estimated 25 billion dollars according to the current Forbes magazine listings of billionaires in America. His office is about the most visible, possibly after the American president, given the fact that he is the mayor of a city that is the center of American media, financial and cultural hub. As awesome as his power is, Mayor Bloomberg has completely demystified power. Instead of riding to work in those gleaming and bullet proof SUVs with a phalanx of security details, Mayor Bloomberg instead goes to work riding the NO 4 train that runs through his Park Avenue private residence. I was shocked once when the mayor boarded the early morning rush hour train and the whole car (coach) was packed full with commuters. Someone offered his seat for the mayor, but he politely declined and offered to stand, like most other commuters. He carried his own bag and had just about two security detail with him. Such simplicity can only do one thing: help bring him closer to the people, so much so that in a city that is almost made up of 99 percent Democratic electorate, he has won three elections as a Republican.
I have gone to the extent above to provide a background on an important aspect that Nigerian political leaders appear to have neglected, but which thankfully, a number of elected governors seem to have embraced – the likeability factor and how leaders relate to the people. In my dealings and interactions or observation with elected leaders, I have been hugely impressed by two governors whose attitude and the manner they carry themselves in spite of the awesome power of office they are elected to, have inspired love, devotion and loyalty of the people who elected them. They have shown that tough the office they occupy afford them incredible power, they are still accountable to the people and that the people matter in their scheme of things. Governors Goodwill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom and Mallam Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State exemplify this tendency.
It is a known fact that Governor Godswill Akpabio is one of the most likeable governors in the country today. Friends will attest to his earthly disposition and how he would sometimes stop in the middle of a motorcade to greet a friend he may not have seen in years. He is known to give a shout –out his friends at state functions. Last February- a day after receiving his ‘Man of the Year Award’ from The Sun Newspaper, he shocked his security detail when he emerged from Eko Hotel and Suites where he had gone for a meeting, and instead of entering his official car, decided to walk and greet the dozens of admirers who had besieged the place to catch a glimpse of him.
During my recent trip to Nigeria, I was privileged to be introduced to Mallam Isa Yuguda, the eternally dapper and handsome Governor of Bauchi State by a mutual friend. Prior to my meeting the governor, all I had known or heard about him was that he had been working real hard to change the fortunes of the good people of Bauchi and that he was one of the most popular leaders Bauchi had ever produced. I had also been told that he was one of the most accessible governors in the country who deeply believes that a leader is the servant of the people and that part of being a good leader is to listen to the concerns and the voices of the people. And the Governor Yuguda that I met on that warm evening was exactly a representation of the above.
As I was ushered into his presence, he radiated geniality, warmth and a welcoming disposition. “Diasporans like you should think of bringing your skills set back to Nigeria to help our transformational initiatives” he had told me. For the next two hours that I was with the governor, he displayed such simplicity that deeply impressed me. Here was a man who wielded power, but who obviously did not allow such, to define him negatively. The manner he talked to his aides was so collegial and devoid of the screaming order that most times define how men and women of power talk to their aides and my love and admiration of him just shot up through the roof.
“Power belongs to God, and we should always recognize this” he had told me when I asked what keeps him so grounded. “We came to serve the people of Bauchi state and to change their material circumstance and so far I think we have been able to achieve that, and the people recognize our efforts and appreciate our dedication. The level of development we have brought to bear in the state since I came in 2007 is simply astonishing. I leave you to come and see things yourself, and I can assure you will be simply amazed, given where we were before I came in.”
Last week, in Oakland, California, Governor Yuguda signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Oakland and Bauchi State to establish a Sister City relationship. By this agreement, hundreds of youths from Bauchi would be sent annually to acquire valuable skills and training in industries relevant for the 21st century-especially in areas of Information Technology. The signing ceremony was attended by Mayor of Oakland-Jean Quan and members of the City Council, notable Nigerian entertainment stars such as pop singer, Onyeka Onwenu, Nollywood star, Segun Arinze, and Noah Dallaji, the President of African Children Talent Discovery Foundation. The hundreds of Nigerian Diasporas who turned up for the event were heard commending the governor for his simplicity and the presentation that was made attesting to his achievements in Bauchi State. “He is one of the silent performers in Nigeria. I was very impressed by what he has done for the people of Bauchi. He should publicize these achievements more because based on what I saw; his achievements are grossly under-reported. People like Governor Yuguda gives us hope of a better Nigeria that is evolving” Raymond- a Nigerian from Abia state had concluded.
Given what had happened in 2011, where President Jonathan’s likeability was a major reason people voted for him across ethnic, religious and ideological lines, and given the fact that President Obama, in spite of all the overt and covert racist darts that are being thrown at him by the Republican Party and their lunatic fringe is still going to win a second term because the American people like him, it is my hope that elected Nigerian political leaders begin to demystify power and realize that the people ultimately determines who gets power. Governor Isa Yuguda understands this, hence the soaring popularity he enjoys in Bauchi state.
Aliko Dangote: An epitome of the new Nigerian spirit
While in Nigeria, I attended a party at the invitation of my good brother and friend-Alex Okumagba-the intellectually astute CEO of BGL, hosted by the MD of United Bank for Africa (UBA)-Mr. Phillips Oduoza to celebrate the investiture of the national honor of Commander of the Order of Nigeria (CON) on the erstwhile CEO and Chairman of UBA- Mr. Tony Elumelu by President Goodluck Jonathan. The party was attended by the cream of the financial, media and corporate Nigeria. Someone had jokingly remarked that if something untoward were to happen that night, the bulk of financial, corporate Nigeria and media establishments would have been whipped out. Mr. Tony Elumelu was the picture of conviviality and all present –from the Special Adviser to the President on Strategy and Documentation-Mr. Oronto Douglas who gave a soaring speech agreed that Mr. Elumelu indeed has had a consequential and impactful effect in the evolution and consolidation of the Nigerian private sector, thus the recognition by the President.
Africa’s richest man and the Chairman of the Dangote Group of Companies-Alhaji Aliko Dangote also attended the party, and as stated in my piece above, came across as a man who is not defined by wealth. Alhaji Dangote exuded such simple demeanor that continued to impress me. At the party, he would stand up and bow gently to greet admirers and his general demeanor did not scream wealth, even though he personifies it, but a good natured person whose life and spiritual platform are not determined by dollars and cents, but with an abiding love for the people. The Aliko Dangote I first met and interviewed in 1990, in his then expansive office in Apapa, was the same Dangote I met 22 years later. Nigeria sure needs more of the Dangotes and the Elumelus. They represent the new Nigerian spirit I wrote about three weeks ago.