Pope, Monarchy, Leadership and Nigeria

20 Feb 2013

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Following the sudden resignation notice served by the head of the Catholic faith, Pope Benedict XVI, Catholics now have to fathom how to manage a retiree Pope before Easter which is a few days after February 28 when the Papal Lord promised to go into retirement.

In a surprise statement on February 11, the Pope announced “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, l have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Perrine ministry.  For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom declare that l renounce the ministry of the bishop of Rome.”

Undoubtedly, this must have been one of the most difficult speeches written by the Pontiff and most critical decision he ever made which might turn out to be one that would extend his life on earth by a few more years.

At this juncture, let me crave your indulgence to skip details about the turmoil which the holy father’s resignation has caused in the Catholic world and ask to be excused for not joining in the debate on chances of the tiara resting on the heads of Cardinals John Onaiyekan of Nigeria or Peter Turkson of Ghana -the black African front runners because I’m anxious to dwell on the sheer will power and uncommon leadership quality which Pope Benedict XVI exhibited in making a decision to give up such enormous power without external pressure.

As the leader of Catholics across the world which is estimated to be in excess of one billion people, the Pope’s responsibility as a leader can be equated to that of the Chinese Premier which along with India’s prime minister are the only two heads of countries managing population in excess of one billion. In addition, the Pope, as the head of the Vatican, which has the status of a nation state and one of the richest in the world, wields financial power comparable to that of the president of some of the wealthiest countries in the world.

The illustration above is to highlight the incredulous power; authority and affluence, which Pope Benefit XVI voluntarily renounced, which is a rare and inspiring act of leadership.

Although the position of a “person requiring homage” is alluring, the Pope was also bearing the burden of office comparable to that of the president of an average size country in Europe in terms of wealth and population wise, China which probably informed his decision that his strength is no longer able to sustain the burden that the Papacy could be exacting on his frail body at an octogenarian age of about eighty five.

While still trying to recover from the thrill and awesomeness of a mere mortal suffering from arthritis giving up the glorious throne which he is entitled to retain until he gives up the ghost, it suddenly dawned on me that we are talking about the Pope, God’s representative on earth.

By now, as a leadership scholar, it should be clear that my perspective on the Pope’s decision to renounce the seat rather than being religious or spiritual is obviously from the prism of leadership.

Writing on the topic “ln Search of a Global Leader” in Harvard Business Review -LEADERSHIP IN A CHANGED WORLD, Fred Hassan, Chairman/ CEO of Shering-Plough, noted that “The CEO/leader has to see himself as the chief developer of talent, no matter how large the company/organisation”. The Pope can be said to have wittingly or unwittingly applied that leadership principle when he embarked on the recruitment of new cardinals from strategic regions of the catholic world a few months before he announced his stunning decision to excuse himself from the Petrine ministry. 

For instance, Cardinal John Onaiyekan’s recent elevation by the outgoing Pope underscores the fact that the pontiff might have been giving Africans- with the third largest population of Catholics in the world, a good chance to have a shot at the revered position of the Pope, which cardinal Arinze narrowly missed out about eight years ago.

Also noteworthy is the fact that the last time a Pope abdicated from office over six centuries ago was due to external pressure to avoid a breakup of the church due to internal conflicts, but Pope Benedict is doing so voluntarily-a leadership quality which is rare particularly in the parts of the world.

The only other living legend in my view to have made such a noble leadership decision is Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa.

Unarguably, Mandela owes his apparent extra time on earth to the decision not to run for a second term as the president of South Africa by humbly passing the mantle over to much younger Thambo Mbeki.

Had he not possessed the strength of character to resist the allure of power and affluence even when it was within his constitutional power to run for a second term, perhaps we would be talking about Mandela in past tense like late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of Nigeria who, due to underlying health challenges, died in office apparently as a result of the pressure of his presidential duties.

Incidentally, some of the political books currently floating around in Nigeria’s literary firmament suggests that the late President Yar’Adua actually discussed with one of the prominent emirs in the North his thoughts about stepping aside on account of his deteriorating health but unfortunately he was unable to make the decision before the debilitating illness incapacitated him.

Other presidents in Africa who died in office due to pre-existing poor health conditions worsened by pressure of work are President John Atta Mills of Ghana and President Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia.

Who knows, if these leaders of blessed memories, realising they had life threatening illnesses, made that difficult leadership decision to reduce the burden on their failing health by stepping down or opting not to run for a second term in office like Mandela and renouncing the papacy like Pope Benedict XVI, perhaps they would have lived long enough to savour the pleasure of the company and warmth of their children and grandchildren which is currently Mandela’s favourite past time.

Back home in Nigeria, the astute leadership qualities exhibited by Mandela and the Pope in stepping aside rather than die in office is instructive for the likes of Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State who until mid-February was away in a London hospital for a whopping 140 days or over a quarter of a year for cancer treatment.

Obviously, the rumours of his purported death in an Indian hospital that was awash in the mainstream and social media until his sudden appearance last week must have damaged his self-esteem and caused preventable anxiety and political tension for the good people of Enugu State.

The same applies to the governor of Cross River State, Liyel Imoke, who till date is ostensibly on a long vacation since last year but allegedly managing his failing health abroad like Chime.

Although, the duo of Chime and Imoke may not have breached the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria because they observed the due process of taking extended leave of absence from work, they need to be reminded that it is exemplary leadership quality, respect for their lives and moral duty for them to consider stepping aside if their ill health would be exacerbated by the burden of office and if their long absence from work any time in future would cause avoidable anxiety to their family, friends and political constituents.

While Pope Benedict XVI might have renounced the Papacy on account of failing health, King Edward VIII of England did it about 77 years ago for love-something monarchs don’t do.

Interestingly, there is a resemblance which the abdication speech by King Edward VIII on January 12th, 1936 bears with the renunciation speech of Pope Benedict XVI, February 11, 2013.  In a radio broadcast, the king announced “l have found it impossible to carry on the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge the duties of king, as l would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman l love.”  The difference in the speeches is that while King Edward abdicated the British throne for love of a lady, Pope Benedict is renouncing the Papacy due to advanced age and love of the church.

According to history of the English royalty, the abdication paved the way for the king to marry the love of his life, Mrs. Wallis Simpson, an American socialite who was previously divorced and married to Mr. Simpson. The king’s brother, Bertie, took over the throne but when he died, as he had no sons but only daughters, and Edward had no offspring, the eldest daughter of the late king, Queen Elizabeth II, became the queen in 1952.This perhaps, explains why a queen instead of a king is the monarch in England today.

Similar to Pope Benedict’s situation, the British Prime Minister at that time, Stanley Baldwin, felt that the monarchy’s action threatened to weaken the monarchy like the Catholics are now concerned that the Holy Father’s renunciation is taking the church into paths unknown in over six centuries for which the Vatican is in quandary.

Coincidentally, like King Edward VIII, who historians testify “just wanted to be like everyone else” by falling in love and marrying a two time divorcee, who could have become the Queen of England had he not been forced to abdicate, Pope Benedict XVI might have made a decision to concentrate on his intellectual and scholarly life as he is probably the only Pope in contemporary history to have written a book thereby relieving himself of the monumental task of administration of over one billion Catholics worldwide which being the Pope entails.

Then again, we may never really know until and unless the Pope in retirement authors another book detailing the reasons for making the amazing decision.

Be that as it may, it seems to me that the decision by Pope Benedict XVI to renounce office due to incapacity arising from advancing age, is a leadership decision which all leaders and indeed men and women of goodwill across the world must strive to emulate for the good of the organisation, entity or government that they lead.

Cardinal Arinze put it succinctly in his reaction to the Pope’s resignation by saying on Youtube: “Pope Benedict may be teaching us more than we realize”. How true!

•Mr. Onyibe, a development strategist and futurologist, sent this piece from Abuja

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