By Muyiwa Adetiba
The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo used to intervene in national discourse from time to time. He was not afraid to speak truth to power.
And whenever he spoke, the nation and the powers that be paused to listen. His interventions were measured and precise. They did not blend with the noise around. They stood out. He had the stature. He had the pedigree. He had the diligence.
And because he was not frivolous, many of his comments on the economy came to pass; many of his comments on national politics came to pass; many of his comments on national fabric have and are still coming to pass. His public comments were hardly about self.
They were concerned with the national interest. To be sure, there were many during and after his time, who also aspired to be the conscience of the nation and one must be grateful for their contributions. But few combined the intellect, the diligence, the ascetic self-discipline and more importantly, the moral antecedence that accompanied every public postulation of the late sage.
Yet every country needs a voice like his. America was lucky to have one in Senator John McCain whose remains would be interred this morning. They called him a maverick. But that must be in a better definition of the word. His was a voice for good; a voice for decency; a voice for bi-partisanship in governance; a voice for a more united America.
He had strong convictions, some of which I don’t necessarily agree with, but he lived his convictions. He was true to himself. Twice, he aspired to be the President of his country. Twice he was denied. Part of the reason for his failure is that he refused to waver from his convictions; he refused to pander to public sentiments. But he ran decent campaigns on both occasions.
In doing so, he revealed the inner man. I will never forget how he quickly disabused the mind of that old lady who wanted to attack the person of Obama. ‘No ma’am, you are wrong’ he said as soon as he decently could. ‘Obama is a decent man. He is a good family man. We have sharp disagreements on the way this country should be run. This is what this campaign is about.’
There are leaders and there are leaders. Compare his campaigns with that of Donald Trump. The best one can say about the two is that one spoke to the ideals of governance while the other spoke to the realities of the country. One tried to weld a broken country. The other saw an opportunity in a broken country and put a wedge into the cracks. One focused on issues while the other constantly mixed issues with personalities.
It is poignant that McCain’s two adversaries during his presidential forays would be at his funeral this morning to eulogise him. It is poignant that the sitting President would be conspicuously absent on such an auspicious occasion. Even in death, he did not want his legacy, what he stood for, tainted. With his internment, a ringing voice for good governance, for a better Washington, for a better world is silenced. A voice that was often listened to, like Awolowo’s, is finally laid to rest.
Every country needs a hero. Every team needs a captain. Every corporate body needs a leader. Someone who embodies what that country, that team, that corporate body stands for. A light of knowledge on the hills that seeks to illuminate the path for others. A voice that warns against pitfalls; against mine fields. A selfless man who leads by example.
A voice of reason. A force for good. Look around the country. There are many voices; some strident; some soft, almost a whisper. But very few are sincere. Very few seek the greater good of the country. Very few think above self or ethnic interest. Very few have not benefited from the decay and chaos in the system. Very few have the stature acquired from years of public service and the inclination to raise a voice for the down trodden, for the country.
It is less than a year to the next election. Many of our so called leaders are again positioning for power. And they are doing it in the usual Machiavellian way, visiting tainted and corrupt leaders while uttering inanities. What we need are men of stature who will speak truth, not only to power, but also to the down trodden.
There is a lot wrong with us. But there is also a lot that is good in us. We need people to energise us; to awaken us; to condemn the bad while encouraging the good. We need people who can stand on a moral high ground to address us. We need people like John McCain and Obafemi Awolowo who have strong values and convictions which may or may not be accepted by some people but are not willing to compromise those values. Instead, what we have are people of straw with no ideologies or strong convictions. They defect from one party to the other depending on where their bread will be buttered or their cake sugar coated.
At least the immediate past governor of Delta State, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan was honest when he said he was defecting because his political career was heading for a cul de sac and he needed to revive it. None of that nonsense about needing to move the state or the country forward like the others are saying. For example, a governor, said he was defecting because his state didn’t feel the Federal presence forgetting that the buck stops with him as the CEO when it comes to the welfare of his people.
A Senate President, the No 3 man in the country claims he is defecting because the country was being badly run. And he says it with a straight face. Yet, he must be aware that people have issues with the National Assembly where he presides just as they have issues with Aso Rock.
They have issues with their jumbo pay. They have issues with their attitude to bills that really matter. They have issues with their attitude to dissenting voices. No one has seen a marked difference between his senate and the previous ones on issues that matter to the common Nigerian.
When I see Saraki on TV with that dead pan face, I wonder whether his values truly represent the Nigeria of his generation and all they portend for the country. Just as I wonder whether Donald Trump really represents the true face of the America of his generation.