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Imo State: Where are the philosopher-kings?

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By Douglas Anele

 

In his magnum opus, the Republic, Plato, one of the iconic triumvirates of ancient Greek philosophy, proposes an ideal state, a model of how the best political community should be structured and governed. In the ideal state the citizens are classified into three categories, namely, the guardians, the soldiers or auxiliaries, and the masses. The three classes correspond to Plato’s tripartite division of the human soul into the rational, spirited and appetitive parts respectively. Further, Plato portrays the ideal community as an embodiment of justice writ large, justice in the sense of allowing each component of the society to concentrate on the job for which it is naturally fitted.

The community must be governed by specially trained philosophers since their understanding of the Form of the Good, the preeminent Form in the World of Forms, will give them greater insight into everyday affairs. Again, members of the ruling class, the guardians, are to be subjected to special intellectual, moral, and spiritual training designed to promote their allegiance to the community. They are to own no private property, their sexual lives are to be regulated by eugenic considerations to ensure that the best are produced for subsequent generations of leaders, and they are forbidden to know who their children are. Plato is unique among ancient political philosophers, including his most gifted student, Aristotle, not only in insisting on some kind of division of labour that also allows vertical movement in both directions among the classes but also in positing that political positions are open to women as well as men, since the physical differences between the two do not necessarily deprive women of the intellectual or moral capacities required for political office.

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What makes a political community ideally just, according to Plato, is the dedication of each of its component parts to the very task for which it is naturally suited and specially trained. For instance, the rulers are ideally equipped to rule; the soldiers are best able to enforce their commands and protect the territorial integrity of the state; and the common people comprising farmers, craftsmen, builders and so on, are to focus on providing the economic needs of the state. As I stated earlier, Plato classifies the citizens of a community in line with his tripartite conception of the human soul.

Accordingly, what makes the soul of a human being just is the same principle: each of its components must properly perform its own task for which it is naturally suited. The aspect of our soul that is capable of understanding and reasoning is the part that must rule; the assertive part that makes us capable of anger and competitive spirit must give our understanding the force it needs; and our appetites for bodily satisfaction and nourishment must be trained so that they seek only those objects that reason approves. Plato argues that it is not enough to educate someone’s reason, for unless the emotions and appetites are trained properly, they will overpower it. Individuals are said to be just to the extent that they have fully integrated these elements of the soul. They do not follow a list of rules sheepishly; instead their treatment of others flows seamlessly from their own balanced psychological condition. And the epitome, the zenith of a just person is the philosopher, for reason rules when it becomes passionately attached to the most intelligible objects there are – the Forms.

This provides the rationale for one of Plato’s most startling claims 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.”

Although there is much to criticise in Plato’s idealistic metaphysics which provides the backbone for his political theory, his conceptions of the soul and justice in the Utopia, reasonable people will agree with him that the best intellectually, morally and spiritually must be the ones vested with political power. Plato, like all philosophers, is a product of his time and immediate environment. Coming to manhood at the conclusion of the Peloponnesian war which perished the imperial ambitions of his beloved city-state, Athens, he was impressed by the discipline of Sparta and did not share Pericles’ enthusiasm for the happy versatility of democratic life. Therefore, although in the twenty-first century several of Plato’s political doctrines do not address the complexities of political life that seem to make democratic government preferable to the kind of aristocracy he envisages in his Republic, there is enough insight in them to help a serious seeker of understanding of politics to interrogate what have been happening in Imo state in the last two decades or even earlier.

 

I usually do not write about Imo, my home state because I believe that my observations concerning Nigeria as a whole are, mutatis mutandis, applicable there also. But the recent ruling by the Supreme Court concerning the legitimate governor of the state requires a response due to its startling audacity and, perhaps, manifest absurdity. But before I examine the matter closely, it is pertinent to observe that since the time of late Chief Sam Mbakwe of the old Imo State, the state has been unlucky with a succession of incompetent military and civilian governors. Chief Mbakwe, in line with Plato’s emphasis on the production of highly skilled ruling elite, correctly insisted that education was the number one industry in Imo state. His achievements in education, agriculture, industrialisation, and infrastructural development remain unmatched ever since.

With the return to civil rule in May 29, 1999, there was nostalgia for the return of good governance in Imo, an expectation that the next generation of governors in the state will strive to surpass Mbakwe’s achievements. But the expectations have been dashed, and it appears that the quality of leadership has grown progressively worse from one governor to the next over the years. Making allowances for the deliberate continuing emasculation of Igboland which, in my opinion, shows that the Biafran war has not really ended, the administrations of Achike Udenwa, Ikedi Ohakim, and Rochas Anayo Okorocha did not add any substantial value to the legacies left behind by Chief Mbakwe. To be candid, in the reckoning of well-informed indigenes of Imo State, Okorocha’s record is the worst. When he first assumed office in 2011, some of my friends spoke excitedly about “how the new Governor is breaking and demolishing outdated roads and buildings and why the whole state would soon become one big construction site.” But I cautioned them not to be optimistic yet since it was too early to conclude about what the governor can do.

As weeks turned into months and months rolled into years, it became apparent that Governor Okorocha is a master illusionist: the more you look the less you see. The initial enthusiasm of an action governor was speedily replaced by despondency: those who praised Okorocha soon realised that he was actually deceiving Imo people with phantom third rate projects, shambolic free education programmes, and that he lacked the intellectual and moral capacity to govern well. To say it as it is, Okorocha reduced governance to a caricature of what genuine leadership ought to be. One of his most outrageous actions was the creation of a comical Ministry of Happiness and Purpose Fulfilment and appointing his younger sister, Mrs. Ogechi Ololo, as the commissioner. It is hard to exaggerate the extent of Okorocha’s frivolous misgovernance and complete misunderstanding of what political leadership entails. At some point, the former governor had two Special Assistants, one for Lagos Affairs and another for Comedy and Entertainment. Virtually all the infrastructural projects executed by his administration were substandard. Some years ago when I travelled for the burial ceremony of my father, I saw contractors working on roads in Orlu and several other places with shovels, diggers and pickaxes! Rochas Okorocha’s penchant for misplaced priority and frivolous spending of scarce resources of my home state is unprecedented. He spent millions of naira erecting statues of prominent Nigerian and African leaders at the Ikemba Ojukwu Centre, Owerri.

Moreover, he literally turned Imo into his family estate or familiocracy. Following the revolting bizarre example of President Muhammadu Buhari, he appointed members of his family, in-laws, and cronies to high positions in the state and beyond. Uche Nwosu, Okorocha’s son-in-law by virtue of being married to his first daughter, Ulomma, served in the critical positions of Chief of Staff and Commissioner for Lands and Housing at different times, whereas Mrs. Ololo mentioned earlier was his Deputy Chief of Staff and Special Adviser on Domestic Affairs.

The person Okorocha’s nominated for the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to represent Imo State, Prof. Anthony Anwukah, is the father of Uzo, who is married to the former governor’s second daughter, Uju. In July 2017, Okorocha appointed Christiana, Prof. Anwukah’s spouse, as the President, Imo State Customary Court of Appeal. According to media reports, Geraldine, one of Okorocha’s sisters, supplied food to Imo government house from her fast food joint, while his elder sister, through a proxy, collected market tolls in the state. Instead of investing funds wisely to improve Imo State University, Okorocha spent billions on what I consider to be a white elephant project, a new university called Eastern Palm University at his hometown, Ogboko. For civil servants his eight years in office was an existential nightmare. They were regularly not paid for over eight months at a stretch: at some point, he unilaterally reduced salaries and asked the workers to go and farm without providing incentives for them to do so. To be continued.

Vanguard

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