Madness and the Succession
ENGAGEMENTS BY Chidi Amuta
In an election season, the briefcases of political salesmen are full of assorted marketing pitches. Not even the most outrageous and unexpected ideas are off limits. Conflicting notions and ideas tumble and clash for headlines in a crowded and confused market place. The public is desperate for words of encouragement and perhaps something new and different from the old worn out clichés of politics.
Someone will end terrorist insurgency in less than three months. One aspirant will chase back Boko Haram and ISWAP to the Sahel and find them alternative theatres of war there. One hopeful will ‘bring back our girls’ except that he forgot the girls are all women now and nearly all proud mothers! Another will eradicate poverty in one term only. Yet another will eliminate unemployment within a year. Somebody has promised to stop Nigerian doctors and nurses from emigrating to better climes. The count is endless and still rising. Behind all the promises, no empirical data, no studies. Just empty promises and vacuous expressions of intention and wishes.
Our present pains and adversity leave us not much choice than to absorb it all. Somehow, the hope endures that perhaps something good might emerge from even the wombs of adversity and the sporadic outbursts of insanity.
Despite the repeated ritual of political promises, the pageant of presidential aspirants for 2023 has yielded something new. In our desperate search for a leadership type that can rescue us from the concoction of ills plaguing the land, the ongoing scramble for the presidential gate pass has yielded a novel leadership type: the Mad Man as president has emerged as a leadership model that the 2023 politicians want us to seriously consider as appropriate.
Incumbent Governor of Rivers State, Mr. Nyesom Wike, in the course of his nationwide campaigns for the presidential candidacy of the PDP had occasion to put forward a case for the Mad man president. In his gubernatorial estimation, our national problems have assumed an insane and other worldly dimension that a normal president may no longer fit the bill. In his view, Nigeria is a ‘crazy country’, a virtual asylum with insane problems. It requires only a mad man as president in 2023 to address these problems in their insane enormity.
Mr. Wike got a bit of the headlines he desired and deserved except that most of the commentators did not find the suggestion quite out of character. Even then, there is a body of opinion out there that would agree with Mr. Wike’s proposition purely out of frustration with present realities and tested approaches to leadership. While a section of the public was sufficiently magnanimous to accord Mr. Wike his poetic license or right of deviant opinion, the mainstream wrote his thesis off as evidence that our politics has now trespassed into the zone of insanity in which major political aspirants may in fact need psychiatric evaluation themselves.
Maybe we should not write off Mr. Wike so quickly. Only last Wednesday, former President Olusegun Obasanjo while receiving another of his numerous presidential aspirant pilgrims in Abeokuta added his voice to the Mad Man theory of leadership. In Obasanjo’s weighty view, the problems besetting the nation are so gigantic in scope and herculean in scale that they need a leader who is both ‘passionate about Nigeria’ and who has ‘a touch of madness’ to get the nation back on the right footing. For him, the next leader must be prepared to deploy unusual methods and do unfamiliar things to solve a barrage of unusual problems.
The trouble with the Nigerian Mad Man doctrine of leadership is not in its novelty. We are sufficiently frustrated to embrace just about anything that shows up in the name of a solution. But the disturbing reality is that there may in fact be a statistical basis for prescribing that we might as well choose a mentally challenged as a communal hero to find solutions to our leadership crisis.
A few months ago, a group of Nigerian mental health experts came up with the shocking revelation that close to half of the Nigerian population (100 million) may be afflicted with one form of mental health challenge or the other. Of this number, 50 million are actually mentally ill in a clinical sense. This is in the sense that they are likely to commit murder or suicide at the slightest inkling. The other 50 million cannot make a precise determination as to whether they are mad, unbalanced, or too dazed by everyday reality in a nation that is prone to drive people crazy.
This epidemic of national madness means that on an average day, far too many people are likely to jump off the railings of the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos and plunge into the lagoon. So many more are likely to commit rape, incest or abuse a minor. Some might even set a market on fire just to have a good laugh.
The trouble with Nigeria’s mental health statistics is that the total number of alleged mentally challenged people (100 million) is almost equal to the population of abjectly poor Nigerians, those living on less than $2 a day. But then, the poor are not necessarily mad. More problematic is the fact that it is these poor folks who are embarrassed by the symptoms and displays of madness among the well off ones. So, the socio economic explanation of the roots of mental illness will not hold water here.
The very poor cannot understand why, for instance, a man or woman who is already rich should be charged with a crime of misappropriating billions of dollars. Ordinary people cannot comprehend whether rich and privileged thieves are necessarily mentally healthy.
Let us not crucify the 2023 emergency political theorists for smuggling this Mad Man leadership theory into our political lexicon or thinking. The Mad Man theory of leadership is really not so new in political theory. It was first proposed and popularized by late US President Richard Nixon. Simply put, it sought to present the US president as unpredictable and potentially insane. His powers are so awesome and powers so overwhelming that he is capable of inflicting the greatest damage to America’s adversaries in a precise but unpredictable manner. It was popularized as part of the Nixon administration’s foreign policy in a bid to deter America’s adversaries especially the USSR and Soviet bloc countries. The Mad Man theory prepared the world to expect the worst from the US president at any time. It worked for a while before it was discarded as the world’s stock of mad leaders increased beyond the borders of the two great powers in opposition during the Cold War.
In the leadership of nations, the Mad Man often comes to power either through normal democratic means or is propelled by non democratic forces of national history. Hitler was elected. So was Mussolini and even Stalin. In nearly all cases, power insanity creeps in as an effect of power absolutism. What is disturbing however is that all instances of the Mad Man as leader in history have been associated with dictatorships of the most vile and bloody kind. Baby Doc Duvailier of Haiti, Idi Amin Dada of Uganda belong in this cast.
The danger in allowing democratic systems to elevate mad men to apex power is the damage they usually do to both the democratic system and the nation itself. Even normal presidents elected through the best democratic systems need to be checked from degenerating into personal insanity because of the aphrodisiac of power. The US electorate adjudged Donald Trump a normal president when he assumed power in 2016. Months after allowing him to exhibit traits that bordered on clinical insanity, a group of over 100 mental health experts had to subject his behavior to psychiatric evaluation and handed down an unsavory conclusion that he could be unhinged. This was not before he nearly destroyed the American citadel of democracy on January 6th, 2021 by endorsing and directing a mob invasion of the Capitol.
It is therefore unsafe for our democracy both in 2023 and beyond for leaders to be advocating for the deliberate enthronement of a ‘mad man’ to ascend the pinnacle of national power simply because the nation’s problems appear crazy. It is quite understandable that the 2023 elections are coming at a time when our national problems have been allowed to degenerate to insane levels.
Yes indeed, our insecurity has grown from isolated Boko Haram sectarian insurgency in Borno state to envelope the entire North East, North West and now parts of North Central. Periodic highway robberies have grown into assured bandit takeovers of major arterial highways all over the country. Annual remembrance parades of Biafra by MASSOB have grown into an armed guerilla movement and bloody insurgency in the South East. Organized crime syndicates in parts of Delta and Edo states have become sophisticated networks of robbery, kidnapping, extortion and voodoo ritual killing syndicates. What used to be restricted to serial fraud letter writing has grown into sophisticated cybercrime networks with thousands of undergraduates and urban youngsters as subscribers and active practitioners.
That is not all. Faith that used to distinguish our peoples in terms of differential beliefs has become weaponized as Nigeria is now divided into religious factions willing and eager to draw the blood of each other to advance the cause of one world faith over the other. The sense of community and unified diversity that has been the marker of Nigeria’s exceptionalism has given way to a landscape of hate and the spontaneous hurling of hateful abuse across all divides.
The politics of factions has degenerated into angry regionalism, tribalism and vicious ethnocentrism. In the midst of the shouts of hate, we can no longer hear each other speak as everyone is howling at everyone. Human life has become trivialized as angry mobs are ever ready to incinerate fellow citizens at the slightest provocation or altercation.
No one dares go towards our economic problems. No one knows now how much we are owing foreign creditors or domestic contractors. Estimates indicate that we spend over 96% of revenue to service debts. Our children that troop out of schools and universities cannot find work for their idle hands and able minds. An informal poverty republic has lodged in place as Nigeria is now globally recognized as the leading home of some of the poorest people in the world, in a republic within a republic of over 100 million abjectly poor people.
Perhaps this is the landscape that has encouraged the new political gladiators to insist that our problems as a nation are insane in dimension. Gigantic in scope and frightening in expanse as they may be, they remain normal economic, social and national security problems except that they have been allowed to spiral out of control in the last seven years.
The responsibility for the state in which we find our nation lies squarely at the doorstep of the outgoing Buhari administration. Never in the history of independent Nigeria has an administration been bestowed with so much hope and trust only to serially fail the people, the nation, the world and the very operatives of the system of government. What the aspirants of 2023 are angling to inherit therefore is an empty shell of a nation. But it can be rescued; not by enthroning a mad man as president.
The impulses that have driven the argument for a ‘touch of madness’ in leadership to rescue the nation lie squarely in the serial failures of the Buhari administration. That abysmal failure stares us in the face in every direction. It demonstrates how a national edifice can be destroyed in just under eight years.
But the failure of the last seven years is not a failure of system. It is a failure of specific operators of what should be a workable system. The mad man theory of leadership assumes a necessity to overturn the system. It allows the new leader to discupt the established order, to breach due process, to truncate the established order in order to reach urgent goals and re-write the rules if necessary in order to get us there quickly. It may even allow for the leader to adopt a purely personal and idiosyncratic approaches to problem solving with the justification that the nation has entered an emergency mode.
The risk of the mad man option is that a personality cult based on the wrong ideas could develop. The established order of governance could be permanently damaged. The General Order of administrative governance, the Financial Instructions that guide government transactions and the observance of due process could be seriously damaged. The personalization of governance could destroy democracy by enthroning an authoritarianism of the mad man as a political deity. In the process, democracy could suffer permanent damage as the new mad man redefines democracy to suit his personalized model. Technically therefore, whatis required in 2023 is not the enthronement of a mad man but the elevation of an enlightened, dynamic leader who can manage diversity, reunite the nation and inspire progress rather than disrupt the system and replace order with rudderless flux.
We do not need a collective of mad men and women either to rescue a nation simply because it is beset with magnified problems of national development and existence. The president we need now is therefore not a mad man but a rational deviant. It is somebody who is enlightened, assured, firm, decisive and systematic. A knowledgeable president who is passionate about Nigeria and its many missed opportunities is the one we are waiting for. He or she does not need to be mad in any sense. But he must be constructively subversive of the present hegemonic order and its conservative bedrock which has brought us to this brutish pass. Nigerians await that personage and that hour.