Edifying Elucidations By Okey Ikechukwu. Email, firstname.lastname@example.org
An aggrieved citizen who once played host to Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State erupted thus: “Your Excellency, I am sorry to say that you have no right to do this to me. I have already said that you are welcome, so you cannot say that I am not happy to see you. But it is my duty to be honest with you as a friend. If others are afraid of you I am not. Mr. Governor, you are spoiling the office of governor in this our Anambra State. Others have held the position before you, so there are people who can give you ‘expo’ if you don't know how to be a ‘real’ governor. I consider it an act of wickedness that you should allow me to diligently tell all my friends that you are visiting me today, only for you to sneak in here like a houseboy who came to pick charcoal from the fireplace of a kind neighbour. No sirens, no frightened chickens desperately scrambling out of the way as evidence that a governor is passing with his convoy? Nothing! Mr. Governor what have I done to you to deserve this humiliation and how will they know that you came here if the life of the entire community is not disrupted by you and your entourage? I must tell you, hoo-haa, that you have no right to do this to some of us, Mr. Peter Obi.”
In the case of Dr. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, his people watched him for a few weeks and then took time to plan properly and send a delegation to him. They needed to understand from him, their son, what they had done wrong. They had seen governors come and go, so they know ‘how it works’. They prayed for decades that one of their own should one day become governor. If and when that happened, the other towns and villages would know that it was then their turn. But what have they got? A well-bred son of theirs who does not know how to be ordinary governor, like many others before him? They were scandalised because they now had nothing to brag about to the surrounding towns and villages. The latter do not hear the blare of sirens. They do not see the signs of ‘power’ and the general pandemonium they expected from their son in power. (It is quite possible that some may have even rehearsed how they would happily flee into the bushes on such occasions. But Fayemi to fail them!) The people sent a delegation because, according to traditional wisdom, it is sometimes useful to consult with someone whose actions look like outright insanity; just in case he wants to pretend that he knows what he is doing. Besides, you will not be blamed if questions arise in future about whether anyone tried to call him to his senses.
The story of these two governors, like that of many other people who set out resolutely to improve the value and octave of governance in different spheres, captures the dilemma of many political office holders in Nigeria today. That is why public office could become a death trap for people who lack the strength of character to stand forth and affirm that leadership has the responsibility to insist on doing the right thing. The world leadership graveyard is littered with the cenotaph of many failed leaders who went into public office with only good intentions. They were then confronted with the predatory orientation of their would-be co-travellers, whom they simply could not recognise anymore.
The Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal A.S. Badeh, is another interesting personage for our consideration, in speaking of people who set out to introduce new paradigms, based on their commitment to doing the right thing. Badeh is approaching institutional and values change from the angle of strengthening the core functions of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) and promoting the most civilized standards of officer conduct, comportment and professional effectiveness. His thesis is that the service is part of a cocktail of institutions that make up our modern society and that it has a duty to fit into society with the right level of etiquette and professional efficiency. The goal is to avoid everything that could undermine its image, or draw negative attention and comments from the civil populace. His officers are to consistently showcase NAF as a modern institution that can hold its own against any other such institution in the world.
Not quite content with just saying so, NAF put together a most revealing workshop designed to help NAF’s image making officers and commands deploy the best global standards of military/civil society synergy to transform NAF into an institution whose image and integrity derives from the pedigree and conduct of its personnel. His general ambience at the event held late last year was saying something like: “It is not empty swagger that makes the respected officer, so let’s contribute to the transformation of values in the society by conducting ourselves with propriety, social decency, dignity and grace.” His personal vision for NAF targets operational effectiveness, result-oriented research and development, fleet and infrastructural enhancement, personnel motivation for excellent performance and an effective force structure. The NAF’s investment in human capital development could be seen from the pedigree of officers at the event. These were informed and knowledgeable gentlemen, who should probably be stolen from NAF because they can add value to so much outside the service. Commodore Anas and all the others were a civilian’s delight; combining intelligence with professional competence and good grooming. Someone like AVM Chukwu, for instance, will make an absolutely unimpeachable university vice-chancellor, or a minister of education. But for their uniforms, all the officers could very well pass for decent, polite and well-bred neighbours.
In the above instances of leaders who are working to entrench new values, we can see that none of them has his head in the clouds. They are taking concrete and measurable steps towards achieving the goals they have in view. Nothing is more destructive of society than a leader who brings only good intentions and unguided idealism to the table. Change agents must have the right understanding of the operating environment, or give themselves up as dead. That is why many good and focused leaders sometimes find themselves the greatest enemies of the very people they are trying to help. That is also why the leader who means well could be attacked by the very people who once complained about bad leadership, but who turn around to make demands that can only be met by bad leaders.
Many people would have been very happy with Governors Obi and Fayemi if they had followed the usual style and misapplied their offices. Badeh, too, may have got more than his fair share of kudos if he projected and promoted the wrong professional profile of “an officer” in uniform. As leaders, governors and office holders are role models. They enjoy the greatest visibility in public consciousness and are often the reference for many of the young ones. Imagine a future generation bred by leaders who drive against the traffic, who personify impunity and who drive at the breakneck speed of 160kmp on a busy road or in crowded neighbourhoods! The custodian role of the leader, in relation to the values of sustainable humanity, must make such conduct look silly as a defining motif for power and leadership. Aspirants to leadership who are bred on the reprehensible template we see in many places will not see leadership as service. They will be social predators who treat the rule of law with contempt, who denigrate the culture of rule keeping; and who make presumption and impudence the major raw material for public administration.
Leaving NAF to focus on Anambra and Ekiti, their stories would have been different today (not really different, but consistent with what exists in many other states) if the respective governors had toed the usual lines. They remained unmoved, instead. In both instances, many ‘stakeholders’ publicly expressed genuine concern and misgivings about the sanity of the governors in question. The very people with whom they planned how to use power to bring development became the ones they had to fight and try to remind that power is for service. Some have even said that Fayemi’s problem is that he takes the entire thing too seriously, whereas they thought that the joy and pomp of office would cure him of his love of grammar and activism. Worse still the very constituency they hoped to swindle, using his tenure, is the one on whose side he had been all along.
For Obi, many have since given up. He buys his own air ticket and never charters planes, even though he could personally have bought a private jet if he wanted one over a decade before he became governor.His state produced the best candidate in the last NECO and SSCE examinations; and from a public school. It was hell when he handed over the schools taken over from religious organisations by government to their original owners. Everyone cried foul but, today, academic performance and discipline have improved. The competition is now between the various new school owners over who would produce the best-behaved students and the best academic outputs. But that is a matter for another day.
Managing change is not the same thing as mouthing it. Genuine commitment to a better society is not proven at rallies. It is not to be found in fiery speeches and crowded lecture rooms, sometimes populated by never-do-wells who will proceed from the rally to carry out a robbery operation. The bane of many social activists is that they are too busy complaining about what is wrong that it rarely occurs to them to design a template for remedial action. There is also the challenge arising from the fact that a good number of them cannot be described as among the best educated or informed, even on the very issues that are supposed to be their forte. This is all very sad, because unkempt hair, a permanent state of self-agitation and bad manners cannot replace rationality in human affairs. The activists who are success stories are always the ones who work for results – those who understand power.