By Douglas Anele
In his masterpiece, the Republic, Plato made the remarkable claim that “the human race will not see better days until either the stock of those who rightly and genuinely follow philosophy acquire political authority or else the class who have political control be led by some dispensation of providence to become real philosophers.” At first sight, Plato appears to be saying that only those that studied philosophy in institutions of higher learning can be trusted to provide sane and responsible political leadership in any community.
That interpretation is not only misleading but false as well, for Plato did not think of the need for the philosopher in politics as a requirement for people trained ad hoc in the professions of law-making and public administration. George Sabine in A History of Political Theory, correctly interprets Plato’s claim as a recognition that good leadership is anchored on the “need for men [and women] in whom an adequate intellectual training had sharpened the perception of the good life and who were therefore prepared to discriminate between true and false goods and between adequate and inadequate means of attaining the true good.” In otherwords, Plato hoped that those that aspire to lead, that is, the philosopher-kings, should have appropriate intellectual, emotional, and moral qualities that are indispensable for good leadership.
Judged by Plato’s lofty standards, and making allowances for the inherent weaknesses of human beings, more than ninety-nine percent of Nigerian political leaders are not qualified to lead. For instance, since independence, Nigeria has been led either by military officers with mediocre intellectual, psychological and moral qualities or by well-educated Presidents without some important mental attributes for discharging their duties efficiently in a dysfunctional, multiply plural neo-colonial state. It can be said, justifiably, that the most intractable problem of Nigeria since October 1, 1960 is the continuous production and reproduction of bad leadership at different levels of governance.
When the All Progressives Congress (APC) was cobbled together with the sole objective of wresting power from the arrogant and oftentimes deluded leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), millions of Nigerians were deceived into believing that the new “coalition of pretenders” would provide a more efficient and responsible government vastly superior to the PDP. To that end, APC’s propaganda machine organised a very effective and deceptively compelling narrative of discipline, integrity and incorruptibility around one man, retired Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari.
Bola Ahmed Tinubu, after accurately identifying the “expired leadership” inertia which a possible Buhari presidency entails, later changed his mind around 2013, joined forces with disgruntled prominent members of the PDP and began to project Buhari as the messiah that would rescue the country. APC’s message of “change” was so persuasive that a sizeable number of top academics and professionals uncritically jumped into the bandwagon of “Buhari the saviour” and ignored repeated warnings that Buhari is too old, too nepotic, rigid, too beholden to some of the most morally bankrupt politicians in Nigerian history, and intellectually alienated from the complexities of contemporary democratic governance to deliver on his sugar-coated campaign promises.
It is therefore not surprising that now, after over two and half years of incompetent leadership, an increasing number of buharimaniacs are beginning to recognise that APC and the PDP are basically two sides of the coin of poor quality leadership. In my opinion, the PDP is slightly better than APC, because the level of hypocrisy and deliberate mass deception by APC is worse than what obtained under PDP, especially considering APC’s promise that Buhari was going to achieve what the PDP could not achieve in sixteen years. Ironically, APC kingpins shamelessly talk about fighting corruption and regularly blame the PDP for almost running the country aground because of bulimic corruption. Yet, Buhari’s 2015 presidential campaigns were funded largely by alleged PDP looters now in the APC. Of course, despite the powerful blizzard of buharimania before the 2015 presidential election, I was very sceptical of APC’s change slogan; the bulk of prominent APC members were turncoats from the PDP looking for a different platform to continue their Machiavellian political praxis. A leopard does not change its spots easily, no matter the forest.
Rochas Okorocha is a political chameleon who decamped from the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and joined APC after being elected governor of Imo state. When Okorocha was elected for the first time, he embarked on a demolition frenzy, which some of my good friends interpreted as a sign of an “action governor” motivated to work for his people. As usual I was unconvinced because Okorocha’s background seemed to me, to put it mildly, like a hole in a black wall. Though I have not met him in person, based on his activities reported by the media and testimonies of people known to me who worked with him, the Imo state governor is a fairly clever but intellectually unsophisticated individual with a pedestrian understanding of leadership. His uninspiring shambolic style is a lamentable caricature of what good governance should be.
To begin with, Okorocha has completely emasculated the local government system in Imo. Instead of working with the state’s electoral commission to organise credible local government elections as stipulated by the 1999 constitution, he co-opted members of the Imo State house of assembly to act as supervisors of their respective local government areas, thereby weakening the legislature. At the moment, local government administration in Imo is comatose; it has been completely hijacked by Okorocha’s cronies, and the legislature is so impotent that it cannot demand accountability from the governor.
In terms of infrastructural and industrial development, Okorocha has performed below average. There is hardly any thriving industry established by his administration. Virtually all the construction works in Imo since he became governor, especially roads, seem to be executed by third rate construction companies. In addition, Okorocha does not believe that a labourer deserves his wages, because he habitually defaults in paying the emoluments of civil servants and pensioners, to the extent that salary and pension arrears of six months and above are commonplace in Imo state these days. Okorocha is so insensitive to the plight of workers, both serving and retired, that he proposed some outlandish methods to swindle them of their meagre earnings. One of such methods is reduction of the work week from five days to three, with the remaining two days reserved for farming; another is the policy of paying them a certain percentage of the arrears after which the beneficiaries would be required to forfeit the remainder!
In terms of education, Imo state is steadily losing its leading position, judging by the dwindling performance of its students in school certificate and university entrance examinations. Chief Sam Mbakwe, governor of old Imo state, for very good reasons proudly proclaimed that education was the major industry of the state. Mbakwe knew that availability of competent human capital is the most important factor in the development of society, and he did his best to make Imo the knowledge factory, the intellectual hub, of Nigeria.
Unfortunately, Okorocha operates with a different mindset. For him, erection of statues is justified because it is the best way to attract tourists to the state. Okorocha’s statuemaia indicates that he is intellectually and temperamentally unfit to govern a ward, let alone a whole state. To add insult to injury, the governor has surpassed President Buhari’s nepotic style of governance: he has turned my home state into a private estate for his family members, relatives and in-laws. By appointing his sister commissioner for the bizarre ministry of happiness and purpose fulfilment, the governor justifies late Prof. Adeoye Lambo’s recommendation that those seeking political offices in Nigeria should be subjected to psychiatric evaluation before being considered for such positions.
Clearly, my state governor is not a philosopher-king. If he really knew that happiness is a shifting complex emotional state, the by-product of wholesome fulfilling activity rooted in good physical and mental condition, he would have realised the absurdity of establishing a ministry for it. Perhaps, Okorocha is not a simpleton; but his style of governance projects him as one. Meanwhile, he has pocketed the state legislature, which is constitutionally empowered to check his excesses and make him account for his actions. Or else how can one explain its appalling failure to call him to order? Worst still, Imo people seem to have lost the capacity to organise in order to halt the slide into the black hole of arrested development. It is a pity that Governor Rochas Okorocha and the sycophants praising him do not understand that leadership is about service to the people, that misuse of power by appropriating public goods for selfish interests is an abomination, and that no condition is permanent.