By Muyiwa Adetiba
It is difficult in normal times, to differentiate those who really care for the people they lead from those who are just glib and silver tongued. It is a lot easier in peace times to mount the soap box and mouth platitudes that you think people want to hear or make promises that will win you votes.
But it is in dire situations that we see the true leaders; the shepherdwho is prepared to undergo all kinds of deprivations, including laying down his life, to ensure the survival of his sheep. That is when we separate the grain from the chaff; the martyr from the traitor; the hero from the villain. Heroes emerged aplenty during the Two World Wars. So did villains.
Recently, heroes emerged aplenty during the Dessert War. We are still counting the villains. And coming home, heroes emerged including unlikely and uncelebrated ones, during the Civil War and June 12. So, as we know, did villains. We had our own martyrs. We had our own traitors. And we had those who ran with the hare and hunted with the hound.
Exasperated by the attitude of some leaders, including some revered monarchs, who became turn coats and even spies during the June 12 struggle, SinaOdugbemi, a friend and colleague who was then at the Guardian editorial board, wrote a scathing article titled ‘The Shearer Cometh’. He talked about hitherto respectable people whose veneer of honour was sheared off like wool, by June 12.
There were many government apologists who owed their stations in life to government. June 12 exposed them. Some shouted during the day and went behind to beg during the night. June 12 witnessed them. There were also many silent heroes who made unimaginable sacrifices. June 12 showed the mettle in them. It was only last year that I knew the man who housed Abiola during the weeks Abacha and his gulag were looking for him. It turned out to be a man I had always known and respected. He was an unlikely person to have taken such a life threatening risk given his quiet disposition.
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I hope he will get to write his version of the betrayal of Abiola and June 12. Some of the active participants of June 12, if not the Civil war, are still around, strutting their stuff. Many of them have benefited from a struggle they helped in sabotaging. For all their pretences, they were never good leaders in the mould of the good shepherd and will never be.
We are in the throes of another struggle; a war by another name. A strain of coronavirus, called COVID-19 is ravaging the whole world. The US is proving defenceless against its relentless attack. Yet compared to China and the US, our defences are pitiable.
As the disease was penetrating the world, I watched as sons and daughters of different countries rose up to be counted. I watched as companies adapted their lines to produce critical life-saving goods. I strained my ears and eyes to catch something meaningful, something inspiring, something sacrificial from home.
What I saw were churches and mosques holding assemblies in defiance of government directive – perhaps to have one more payday. What I heard were pastors, including a prominent one, urging congregants to pay tithes and offering online; even when churches elsewhere were distributing money and food to the poor in their midst. I watched as the Senate made a fool of itself with shallow discussions.
None of the members showed any form of leadership, only self-preservation-I heard some ‘honourable’ members even refused to be tested on entering the country.I watched as Aso Rock became blurred to my vision – I couldn’t see it to look up to. I strained to hear from that seat of power. It was deadly silent – like a grave yard. I winced when I heard that Executive Council Meetings had been suspended.
Just when fear was gripping the land and desperation was tensing the nerves, leadership slowly emerged. It started with the Governor of Lagos State, Mr Sanwo-Oluwho gave hope and direction to Lagos State and to the country. His Health Commissioner, Prof Abayomi, had this air of competence and professionalism that was reassuring.
Then as I was going to press last week, I was stopped in my tracks with the news that GT Bank had equipped a whole new, hundred bed isolation centre. So elated was I that I almost tore up my script to write another one. But I am not the young man I used to be and the energy is not there anymore.
I was so proud of its CEO; proud to know something of his pedigree- his eldest sister who is my sister-in-law’s godmother, sits in front of me in church; proud of the men and women on the board who made it happen; proud of what the gesture signified in a country with a dearth of heroes. Then Aliko Dangote, the billionaire who continues to inspire with his vision, strides and social conscience, rallied his elite group of fellow billionaires to shed some weight.
Many disparaging remarks have been made about their contributions. We must remember that they are under no obligation and there are many rich men who have done nothing till date. Besides, their billions will go a long way in fighting the scourge and providing some cushion to the poor. The action of Dangote and GT Bank has led to a cascade of sorts as more individuals and corporate bodies became favourably disposed to chipping in something. That is what leadership does.
Speaking of leadership, adversities bring out opportunities. Pains bring gains. The scourge of COVID-19 as painful as it is, will have its own good, its own gain waiting to be discovered. For example, most of the instruments to fight the virus are being imported.
It should not remain so. The health care system should also not go back to what it was before the scourge came visiting. But beyond this, we need people who can think outside the box; who can rally the troops. Many have donated money; many properties; many their time.
They are all very much appreciated. But we also need a pool of ideas which will make us stronger after the scourge is over. We need a new direction. As for those angling for public space come 2023, now is the time to show what you’ve got because we are going to ask you where you were during the pandemic of 2020. We are watching and assessing. Another shearer has come.