By Donu Kogbara
The SHIP OF STATE is a renowned metaphor that was coined by the Ancient Greek poet Alcaeus and later popularised by Plato, also a product of the Classical period in Ancient Greece and widely regarded as the founder of Western political philosophy.
In Book VI (6) of his highly influential book, the “Republic” (which is still standard reading for intellectuals today), Plato likened the governance of a city-state (he was a citizen of Athens) to the command of a naval vessel and said that the only people fit to be captains of this ship were philosopher kings: Benevolent men with absolute power and an understanding of what is truly good.
Many writers (including this columnist) and public speakers of all descriptions have subsequently, in the numerous centuries that have elapsed since Plato made his mark, referred to “the ship of state” when trying to make points about leadership, et cetera.
Long story short, it’s a figure of speech that is still used so frequently that some might feel that it has become a cliché.
I am therefore delighted to announce that my ex-pilot friend and fellow Rivers State indigene, Captain Mike Williams, has cleverly modernised and refreshed the theme by likening the governance of Nigeria to the command of an aircraft rather than a ship!
While we were discussing this country’s endless woes, the issues of ethnicity and zoning came up and I said that I would be very angry if the next Governor of our state is not an Ogoni like me because Ogonis are the only Rivers people who have never ruled the roost.
I expected some push back from Captain Williams because he belongs to another ethnic group, being an Ijaw from Opobo of King Jaja fame; and his brethren also have valid grounds on which to lay claim to the governorship. It’s all very complicated, but let me attempt a brief explanation of why both Ijaws and Ogonis feel entitled.
Firstly, even though Ogonis have never been in the hot seat, we are classified as “Mainland”, alongside those of Igbo extraction (one Ndoni and three Ikwerres) who have monopolised the position since 1999.
So, as far as some folks are concerned, we Ogonis should wait until an Ijaw from the “Riverine” part of the state has had a turn.
Secondly, even though Ijaws (King Alfred Diete-Spiff and Chiefs Melford Okilo and Ada George) have been governors of Rivers State, “Ijaw” covers different sub-groups such as Kalabari, Okrika, Bonny, Andoni and Opobo; and nobody from Opobo has ever enjoyed that privilege. Diete Spiff and Okilo were Ijaws from segments of Rivers State that later became Bayelsa. Ada George was from Okrika.
OK, so I was waiting for Capt Williams to argue with me, as so many Ijaws have since I started to advocate an Ogoni governorship.
But he didn’t.
Instead, Williams shrugged and told me that he couldn’t care less who took over from Barrister Nyesom Wike, the incumbent, as long as the individual in question was competent and principled.
Williams even added that he wouldn’t mind if the next governor was yet another Ikwerre, if the yet-another-Ikwerre person happened to be excellent leadership material.
“Think about it, Donu,” he said. “If you are boarding a plane, do you care where the pilot comes? Must he be a pilot from your village or ethnic group? Or are you more interested in the pilot’s credentials?”
Captain Williams went on to tell me that he has never received any substantial support from any influential Opobo person.
“All of the people who have helped me big-time are from other places, so why should I be tribalistically lobbying for an Opobo governorship unless a very special Opobo aspirant presents himself?”
As an educated person who tries to be ethical, I could hardly quarrel with this civilized and intelligent logic!
We also dwelled on leadership/ethnicity issues on a national level and agreed that Niger Delta people had gained almost nothing from the five-year tenure of Niger Deltan President Dr Goodluck Jonathan.
I now regret supporting Buhari in 2015 because Buhari has been such a disappointment and Jonathan turned out to be much better than his successor. But I only supported Buhari in the first place because Jonathan was simply not good enough and I yearned for change.
Another friend of mine – a Yoruba lady from Ekiti – also recently told me that she doesn’t give a damn where the next head of state comes from as long as he (or she?!) can deliver quality governance.
Long story short, the aircraft of state, whether it be a local or federal flight, needs to be flown by anyone from anywhere who possesses the talent and integrity to do a great job for Nigerians.
On reflection, EVERY SINGLE ethnic group in Rivers State and beyond contains smart and decent people who fit the bill, which means that a fair rotation from one zone to another is still possible.
But will the bullies who run the political scene and constantly inflict useless candidates on us allow above-average people to emerge?
I doubt it!
So what next?
Freedom is rarely given and usually has to be fought for. If Nigerians want to be liberated from destructive and inept pilots, they must quit pussyfooting around and develop the cojones to take risks, boldly put their feet down and courageously insist on a better deal.
If we sit back and wait for the aircraft of state to continue on this dangerous course and crash, there will be too many casualties.