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Country first

By Rotimi Fasan

FOR almost one week now Americans have been mourning the passing as well as celebrating the life and legacy of one man they believe epitomises the idea that the goal of every citizen, much more a political leader, is to put service to the country first and above any other consideration. Senator John Mccain who died last weekend of brain cancer at the age of 81 is for many Americans that symbol of a leader as a servant of the people.

Nigerian flag

We know of a former state governor who not only proclaimed himself as serving his people but adopted the phrase ‘servant-leader’ as a personal moniker. It is doubtful if the people of that state have any meaningful recollection of that man as having served them in the true sense of a servant-leader. As it was for that former governor so it is for many of Nigeria’s present and past leaders.

John Mccain was a former naval officer and combat aviator who was captured in action in Vietnam and held as a prisoner of war for five years. Nigerians may recall a political leader, a military administrator who referred to civil leaders campaigning for the restoration of civil rule that his principal had ordered arrested during the Abacha dictatorship as prisoners of war.

That is our own notion of war- a situation where armed state personnel or authority figures turn on civilian elements and citizens, round them up and casually throw them into jail in the name of national interest or state security which President Muhammadu Buhari a few days ago told us should be of more concern to us than respect for the law and, apparently, the constitution. But John Mccain was a true war prisoner who bore the scar of that experience in one of his hands that was permanently damaged due to long torture he suffered in the hands of his abductors.

He was a war hero whose father and grand-father rose to the top of the American navy as admirals. He came from a distinguished pedigree of military leaders. It was his work as a naval adviser to the Capitol after his time in the navy that led to his political career. He did not have to plot a coup and shoot his way into power. His shot spell in the House was followed by a run for the Senate which he joined in 1987. He served for 31 years as senator after serving two and a half decades in the military. Altogether, Mccain gave six of his eight decades on earth to service to the American people.

Twice he contested for the presidency and twice he lost to both George W Bush and Barack Obama respectively. But he did not on account of that become a bitter man. He continued to serve in the senate to which he was elected six times. Even after he started treatment for cancer he still made it back to Washington to vote against his own party’s attempt to ‘repeal and replace’ the Affordable Health Care Act (Obama Care as it is better known). How many Nigerian politicians can take a stand against their party in pursuit of principle? How many can join their opponents ‘across the aisle’ to work in the interest of the Nigerian people?

Donald Trump that has never hidden his diabolic desire to unravel everything Obama stood for had forced the Republicans to make the move to repeal Obama care without any credible replacement. Mccain who was one of the very few American political leaders to stand up to Trump and had made clear he would not want him at his funeral acted against the position of his party in the larger interest of America. The same way he went around the world re-assuring America’s allies of the US support after Trump chose to spit in the face of their traditional supporters.

Mccain was known as a maverick but he was a maverick who stood for a cause higher than his own interest or the group interest of members of his party. He forged bi-partisan alliances that served the interest of America. He was not known for his fleet of state of the art cars despite serving in the senate for more than 30 years. Nobody read or heard anything of his many houses and offshore bank accounts. His preferred haven, the home that gave him immense pleasure, was one that overlooked the hills in a rustic part of Arisona that he called his ‘cabin’.

In Nigeria the label of maverick was reserved for a businessman-turned-politician who employed his immense wealth and much weaker political influence to thwart the democratic aspirations of Nigerians. He and his ilk played a major role in the annulment of the June 12 election of 1993. He went against the grain of public opinion for nothing other than the sheer nuisance value of his action. He was a disrupter of the polity who acted but only to boost his own ego. His eccentricities were employed merely to cause confusion. That was not the goal of Senator Mccain.

The polity is yet reeling from the gale of defections from one of the two major parties in the country to the other. It has not been difficult tracing the action of the defectors to an urgent need to protect their turf and fight for their personal interest. There have been accusations and counter-accusations as to why the major players in the political parties are either for or against defection of party members. Everything points in the direction of positioning for control of the political space. Their followers have not found it necessary to ask questions. Rather they have followed their pay masters in the true fashion of animals being herded to slaughter.

John Mccain was a known opponent of ‘earmarks’ and ‘pork barrel spending’ Americans own near-equivalent of what our politicians put under the omnibus term of ‘constituency project’, the invidious execution or location of projects by politicians in their own areas. He stood for principle and took responsibility for his action. He did not hug the political space for the fun of it even as he did his part to mentor younger politicians in the overall goal of handing the baton to a new generation of American leaders. He knew when to work and also knew when to call it quits.

Many have commented about his modesty and his desire to serve. Hence they celebrate him across party lines and ethnic regions for his dogged pursuit of the American ideal- to serve the country first. Just a section of the American Senate in which his office was located is now being proposed to be named or renamed for him. Far more than we can say for our political leaders who claim everything for themselves.


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