By Olusegun Adeniyi
Stories abound regarding individuals who have put their lives on the line to save others. These are mostly ordinary people whose extraordinary exploits offer us glimpses of hope, fill us with admiration, and boost our faith in humanity. Such people, imbued with the virtues of bravery and selflessness, are sometimes conferred national honour in many countries to encourage others to do more. They also serve as important role models who the younger ones can strive to emulate. While every nation has a system of recognising, rewarding, and encouraging such citizens, in Nigeria, we have turned the exercise of national honour to no better than the award of chieftaincy titles, most often to often unworthy people.
The idea of national honour was created to celebrate excellence, but we now use such occasions in Nigeria to celebrate under-achievement, mediocrity, and even moral bankruptcy. Indeed, the award of national honour has over the years become yet another platform for bestowing patronage on cronies and pimps. It is perhaps because of such banality that President Muhammadu Buhari has rarely conferred national honour and for me, that is commendable. In the few instances that Buhari has done so, it is difficult to question his judgement on the choice of awardees. And it is in that spirit that I want to recommend to the president someone who I believe deserves a national honour.
Last Saturday, a truck laden with petroleum product burst into flames at Agbarho, Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State. While people ran for their lives, including the conductor who bailed out, Ejiro Otarigbo drove the burning vehicle away from the densely populated area until he reached a place he considered safe. Were it not for his quick thinking acknowledged by many people, including Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, the explosion that followed would have consumed houses and lives in the community. In taking the action he did, Otarigbo knew he could die in the process. He simply felt a sense of duty that the consequences of the vehicle exploding where the flames started would be catastrophic.
True heroism, according to the late African American tennis superstar, Arthur Ashe, “is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” That was what Otarigbo demonstrated by literally driving inside fire. His action was all the more commendable against the background that he was just recently married.
Courage in the face of danger is a public service and a virtue we need. Especially in our armed forces if we are to defeat the forces of evil arrayed against our country. In July 2014, the then Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Kenneth Minimah revealed that a number of army personnel were abandoning the force due to fear. Evidence suggests that not much has changed since then. “Sometimes, journalists ask me questions, saying soldiers are deserting their jobs because they don’t want to be killed in the Northeast. I tell them ‘yes, it is true’. Desertion is part of war. A real soldier is known when he is put in the warfront,” Minimah said during a working tour to Lagos. “The one who is not a soldier would run away and abandon his job. Our soldiers are recruited from the Nigerian society and, today, most people are not called to be soldiers, they joined because they are desperately in need of jobs.”
The absence of courage by those whose duty it is to protect us can be glimpsed from the manner sundry cartels of criminals are overrunning the country. But that is an issue for another day. I am delighted that Governor Okowa recognized Otarigbo’s heroism. To develop our society, we must begin to honour those whose acts of courage promote the public good, even if they never occupied an official position. It is when we begin to institute such a merit-based reward system that we will also begin to build a new nation where every citizen will be proud to make their own contribution and if necessary, the ultimate sacrifice.
I understand the season we are in so there will be those who would be disappointed that I have not written on politics today, especially now that some wives are threatening that their husbands would not access ‘The Other Room’ without PVC (Reuben Abati is my source). But on a serious note, whether we realize it or not, the choices we make in our little corners are as important as those made in Aso Rock. We may see Otarigbo as just a driver. But he took personal responsibility at a most critical period even at the risk of his life. The virtue he displayed is that of leadership anchored on sacrifice, the kind we hardly see displayed in Nigeria. Especially by people in positions of public trust.
As we therefore seek to reposition our country for peace and prosperity, we need such commitment to duty, patriotism and responsible citizenship at all levels of our society. I hope President Buhari will grant my humble request and confer on Ejiro Otarigbo a national honour.
Of Influence, Influencers and Politics
(On Monday in Lagos, I spoke to young adults at the 8th RECALP Conference of the RCCG, Province 19. Below is an abridged version of my presentation)
Let me begin by sharing a story which some of us may have heard but nonetheless remains relevant. A prominent politician was visiting a primary school when the teacher asked whether he would care to lead a discussion on the word ‘Tragedy’ with the pupils. Without hesitation, the politician agreed and asked if there was anyone in the class who could give him an example of a situation that would be considered a tragedy. A little boy stood up, and said, “If my best friend was walking to school, and one of those crazy convoys of politicians hit and killed him, that would be a tragedy”.
“No,” said the politician. “That would not be a tragedy. That would just be an accident”.
A little girl raised her hand: “If some bandits were to invade this school and kill one of our teachers. That would be a tragedy”.
“I’m afraid, that would still not be a tragedy,” said the politician. “That is what we would call a great loss.”
For a long while, the class went silent. No child volunteered. Cool with himself, the politician’s eyes searched the room. “Does it mean there is nobody in this class who can give me an example of a tragedy?” he asked.
At the back of the room, a little hand went up, and a quiet voice said. “If the private jet that brought you from Abuja was hit by a bomb, killing you instantly, that would be a tragedy”.
“God forbid!” exclaimed the politician. But after a while, he added, “You know what, you are actually correct. Now, can you tell me how you come to know that would be a tragedy?”
“Well,” said the quiet voice rather innocently, “It has to be a tragedy because, given the circumstance, it wouldn’t be an accident.” The politician nodded his head, before the girl concluded: “And your death certainly would not be a great loss to anybody.”
I am delighted to be here this morning to share my thoughts and engage young Nigerians at this important session put together by RECALP. I understand this is the 8th edition so I must first commend Pastor Femi Aminu and the entire Pastorate for creating a platform where young people can interact with and learn from one another as well as from people who have also experienced what they are going through. Let me also commend Pastors Bisi Olowoyo and Charles Kpandel for their leadership and for being here this morning to give us their fatherly support.
Meanwhile, I don’t know why I am asked to speak about politics. I am not a politician. I have never been one. I am a journalist. I hope Pastor Femi did not invite me because I reside in Abuja where party delegates gather to decide our future after collecting dollars. If that is the reason, I am sorry, I am going to disappoint this audience today because I am not going to speak about APC, PDP, Labour Party or any of the numerous political parties competing for votes in the 2023 general election.
However, before I go to the substance of my intervention, let me say briefly that it is important that young people be interested in political participation. And by that I don’t mean just getting PVC and voting. You must be interested in how the candidates of the political parties emerge because if at election time you are presented with a list from which you cannot make a rational choice, then your PVC will be of no use. Besides, there is nothing preventing the young people that I see in this room from joining political parties and seeking offices or promoting good candidates. But I am delighted by the enthusiasm being shown in political participation and the campaign to get Nigerians to register to vote.
The 2023 general election is very crucial because Nigeria is going through a period in which we must ask questions of those who seek our votes. We cannot continue to elect those we expect to lead us into peace and prosperity based on ethnic or religious sentiment. We must know how they intend to revive the economy, reposition critical social sectors like education and health while the character of such people is also important. And the person we send to the state house of assembly or to the government house in our state is as important to our collective welfare as the man we send to Aso Rock.
I have said that I am not here to discuss politics. But to the extent that politics is essentially about human interactions and seeking some sort of power to achieve set goals, it is not something we can avoid. It is within that context that I want to look at politics this afternoon. I am talking about those who peddle influence and are called Influencers. I am sure we have many in this room today. People who are regarded as influencer on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook etc. because they can nudge their followers in certain direction. Whether they know it or not, they trade in power and that is politics.
Influence, according to most scholars, is a focused application of behavioral skills that we employ to change the way things are within a given environment. And to the extent that any human interaction with an intended outcome can be considered an attempt to influence, it stands to reason that we all influence daily be it at home, school or in the office. What that also implies is that whenever we have some personal objectives to meet, we have opportunities to influence those around us. In fact, the ordinary meaning of the word influence is the power to provoke action or commitment without any form of coercion.
In the book, ‘Political Influence’ edited by the late Edward Christine Banfield, one of the most respected American scholars who was also an adviser to Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, Influence is said to denote “one’s ability to get others to act, think, or feel as one intends.” To stretch that to the social media, influencers “are people who have built a reputation for their knowledge and expertise on a specific topic,” according to Geyser Werner, founder of the globally renowned Influential Marketing Hub. “They make regular posts about that topic on their preferred social media channels and generate large followings of enthusiastic, engaged people who pay close attention to their views.”
Since influencers possess the power to affect the behaviour of others or the choices they make, that is power. It is politics. Because we are daily preoccupied with so many things such that it is sometimes difficult to make a choice based on our personal beliefs and convictions, until we seek the endorsement or approval or validation of someone else. I am delighted that in Nigeria, young people are now fully engaged in the political process. As we saw with the EndSARS protest, celebrities in Nollywood and music are getting involved in issues, lending their star power to political engagement.
Meanwhile, because we come from different backgrounds, there is the temptation for some of us to believe that influence is restricted to certain categories of people. That is what social media teaches us. But it is not true. I do not want anybody here to imagine that he or she has no influence. The fact of the matter is that we all do, though in different degrees. We are all influencers. Incidentally, there are also people who believe that their sphere of influence is limited and their capacity for using influence to be minimal. That is also not true. To challenge such assumptions, each of us must remember that while we may not be able compel change in the behaviour of others, we can at least change our own.
Research shows that there are several positive influence techniques, ethical ways you can get others to take your lead, to believe something you want them to believe, think in a way you want them to think, or do something you want them to do. The message here is simple: You can, by the powers of personal example nudge others in positive directions. But you must also know that you cannot give what you don’t have. According to what our Lord, Jesus Christ said in Luke 6:39 “And He also spoke a parable to them: “A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit?”
From the foregoing, we can see that Influence is not some magic power only a few people have. Influence is part of nearly every communication. It occurs in virtually every human interaction. Influence is also a skill so it can be learned. But it is important to understand that influencing requires an adaptive mindset and influencing effectively across cultures requires a global mindset. People are watching to see how you react to certain issues so the choices you make contribute immensely to your influence level. What you should always remember here is: People would rather have you display the good qualities you have, than speak to them about it.
Finally, there are some primary keys to influence that you must note. One, the trust of the people is essential and should never be abused. Two, integrity matters and that means you must be consistent with what you say and do. Three, competence is key and that means being good in what you do. Four, if you cannot move yourself to do things effectively, you won’t be able to move the world around you. Five, the most powerful tool for influence is connection. Even when you are the leader, you should always be connected to your team.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, let me now conclude by going back to the story with which I opened this intervention. The politician in question, like all politicians, is too taken in by his own self-importance. But since God in His infinite wisdom has also ordained strength in the mouths of babes and suckling, the pupil had to remind the pompous politician that he was not as important to the society as he considered himself to be. The role played by that pupil is important in every society because some people would have to summon the courage, even at great personal risk, to speak the truth to power. That is our responsibility as young people.
As we move towards the 2023 general election, we must force the office seekers to embrace a new culture of debate. We need to know how they intend to tackle the pressing issues of the moment. We need a conversation on how to wean our economy of oil, reduce the size and cost of governance, revamp the education sector, tackle the security challenge, find an enduring solution to the seemingly intractable power situation etc. Scores of people are being killed daily in different parts of the country by sundry cartels of criminal gangs. What are their strategies for tackling this menace?
For government to best reflect your needs, you must act by engaging the political process and lending your voice and influence to bear on the direction of our country. Perhaps because I am a reporter, I learn lessons from even seemingly mundane things. In the brochure in your hands for today’s programme which I received when I got here this morning, there is an MTN advert at the back. The message there says “Doing doesn’t stop till it gets what it wants. When opportunity calls, Doing answers. When everyone else is still thinking, Doing is already done.” Then the question: “What are we doing today?”
That’s the question I leave with you this morning. The destiny of Nigeria is in your hands. But to change the narrative, you must work for it. No matter what anybody may say, let me tell the young men and women that I see here in this room today…and I want to deploy the language of the moment so that it can sink in: Eyin Lo Kan!
Adieu Raheemat Momodu
I woke up on Tuesday to a Thumbs-up message from Hajia Raheemat Momodu under my last week’s column she had apparently just read. She sent it at 0.49am. So, one could imagine my shock when a message went out in the afternoon of same day that she was dead. I have known Raheemat since 1992 when we both worked for African Concord magazine. We have been friends ever since. Warm, jovial, dependable and a genuine leader, Raheemat will surely be missed by all who were fortunate to have encountered her. That much was evident yesterday afternoon given the mammoth crowd of eminent personalities (from the media, civil society and diplomatic community) that attended both the funeral prayers at the national mosque and her internment at Gwarimpa cemetery. May God comfort the family she left behind.
On Peter Obi…
In the past two years, some people have forwarded to me articles making the rounds on WhatsApp which were credited to me, even though I did not author them. It’s surprising that someone would sit down to compose something yet at the end put another person’s name. But a few genuine articles of mine have also made the ‘WhatsApp List’. One of them is ‘Peter Obi on Democracy Day’ that has unwittingly conferred on me the title of an ‘OBIdient’ journalist. Although it was made to appear as if I just wrote the piece while some attribute it to 2018 (with a paragraph jumbled), the piece was first published on 29th May 2014 (two months after Obi completed his second term in office) to mark the 15th anniversary of the current democratic dispensation in Nigeria.
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