By Muyiwa Adetiba
I once had an interview with a Miss World. I asked her why she felt she was beautiful enough to be considered the world’s most beautiful girl.
Her answer was a flippant ‘mirrors don’t lie’. To which I responded ‘mirrors could be deceptive. They reflect what you want from them depending on your ego or vanity’. Looking back now, I think I might have been hard on her.
She was indeed beautiful. But her comments reflected the petty vanity I had found in some beauty contestants. I once had a dinner interview with a first Runner-Up in a Miss Nigeria pageant. I thought we could make an evening of it and had hinted at a movie afterwards.
But she spent the entire dinner whining about how she was more beautiful and more suitable than the winner. She even went to the extent of stating that her ‘pointed nose’ and ‘height’ would have made her more competitive internationally.
She wasn’t bad looking and indeed the jury was divided on her and the winner. But I had seen better looking girls who weren’t that vain about their looks. I was glad when the dinner was over. The idea of a movie afterwards quickly became a bad idea.
In a way, a beauty queen and a politician seem to have certain things in common. There is the ego, – politicians like to call theirs self-confidence – the showmanship, the love of klieg lights, the vanity. Both try to use their platforms to launch themselves into fame. Both preen on stage. Both are sore losers and will do anything with body and soul to win.
Both live in a world of subjectivity while pushing intangible points to promote superiority or electability. The question I asked the Miss World I interviewed could be asked any politician going for an elective office. What makes them feel they are good enough for the job – President, Governor, whatever. Their answers will probably be as self-promoting, grandiose and vain. Something akin to ‘look at me. I can deliver. Mirrors don’t lie’.
What makes Nigerians go into politics? The answer could be as varied as their levels of honesty – or dishonesty. Many will talk about wanting to make a difference, or helping to change the system, or wanting to fight a societal ill.
Some will say their communities or people pushed them into it. Some of these might be true to an extent. But when you ask them later about the system they wanted to change, or the ill they went there to fight, the answers become incoherent and you hear comments bordering on entrenched cabals or godfathers. You then wonder why they didn’t leave to serve their country, community or conscience in other ways.
After all, Oprah Winfrey once said, correctly in my view, that there are other ways to serve humanity outside of politics. Then there are those who see politics as the last stage in their career; the final bus stop in their journey of life. You finish school, get a job, get married, become a top or even middle level manager, make money and retire into politics.
Despite the intrigues, the dirty fights, the back stabs, the mind boggling corruption, very few people leave politics once they enter. The lure of power, influence and easy money is probably too strong. An example is a friend with a media background who was invited to be part of a presidential campaign. One party stalwart had offered a building as campaign headquarters. A figure of over a billion naira was mentioned for renovations. My flabbergasted friend nudged the fellow next to him and asked how much it would cost to buy the building. He was simply told that was how things were done. He couldn’t hold himself when he called to tell me about it. He has since learnt ‘how things are done’ in other areas as well. Although he complains, the surprise is that he is still very much into politics as we speak. Politics is like the hit song ‘Hotel California’. People check in but hardly check out. It is like heroin. Once injected and you are forever hooked.
I realise there are people who genuinely desire to serve and have made personal sacrifices in the process. But it is hard to find people who leave political offices in Nigeria and are poorer for it. Just as it is hard to find people who do not end up being compromised by politics. It is however important to have a reason other than love of money and power for getting into politics. Hillary Clinton who has spent a lifetime in politics alluded to women empowerment which started from her college years at Wellesley College, her fight for equality as a lawyer and her quest for a better and more just society as a politician as parts of her driving force.
Then she mentioned something which resonated with me when she talked of being part of something bigger than you as another driving force. I felt that as a professional when I was part of a small group of people who gave life to the Daily Punch. I felt that at Vanguard Newspapers when so much depended on me to provide leadership to a fledging project. I certainly felt that at Prime People when I was the promoter with the knowledge that the idea might not go beyond conception or could end up in a still birth.
This weighed heavily on me. Being part of something bigger than you humbles you. It subsumes you. It enables you to make sacrifices you might not otherwise have made. But it also gives you something money can’t buy. It gives you hope and vision to see beyond the obstacles to a better place; to see beyond the night clouds to a brighter dawn. It gives satisfaction. Those who have never seen themselves as being a humble part of a bigger project have surely missed out.
Those who go into public service especially politics should envision themselves as embarking on something bigger than them and be prepared to make sacrifices for its success. That was how the countries we now look up to evolved. Nigeria is not beyond salvage.
What she needs are people who want to build and not divide; a crop of determined, detribalised and committed people who see Nigeria as a project to be developed and not plundered. As something bigger than them they want to contribute their resources and talents towards. Many things in life are more valuable than money. A life of service is one. Service is a debt we owe society. Privileged are those who are able to pay it.