January 30, 2023

Jacinda Adern’s example


ON Thursday, January 19, 2023, Mrs. Jacinda Adern shocked New Zealanders and the entire world. The zestful and charismatic Mrs. Adern, who assumed office as New Zealand’s Prime Minister at the age of 37, announced at a meeting of the caucus of her country’s governing Labour Party that she was resigning. She had presided over the affairs of her island country, which has a population of 5,209,286, according to United Nations data, for five and a half years.

Mrs. Adern had announced to a stunned world: “I’m leaving, because with such a privileged role comes responsibility. It is your responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and when you are not. I know what the job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.”

If her compatriots and the world were shocked, there was, expectedly, an outpouring of tributes by world leaders. Notable among them was Anthony Albanese, the Prime Minister of Australia. Albanese, who is said to have had an inkling of Mrs. Adern’s resignation, gushed out that she had written a new rule book for leadership. He proceeded to pen an op-ed underscoring her shimmering qualities. Said Albanese: “Through the sheer power of her example, Jacinda Adern has reminded us all that kindness and strength are not mutually exclusive. Even more importantly, she has shown that a true leader possesses both.

Three major accomplishments stand out for Jacinda Adern in bold relief. And they have prompted this avalanche of praises: her superlative handling of the COVID-19 pandemic; her robust and relentless campaign on climate change; and her deft, sensitive and compassionate handling of the terrorist massacres in Christchurch (city).

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Jacinda Adern shut down tourism. She introduced the highest level of lockdown measures in New Zealand: offices, schools and non-essential services, including bars, restaurants and playgrounds were closed, and non-essential services, including bars, restaurants, and playgrounds, were closed. This transformed her country into a hermit kingdom.

The upshot of this strict and massive lockdown is that New Zealand suffered only 1,409 COVID-19 cases and eleven deaths. She, and the other five female leaders at the time (Angela Merkel of Germany; Thai Ing-wen of Taiwan; Katrin Jakobsdottir of Iceland; Sanna Marin of Finland; and Erna Solberg of Norway) were adjudged the best handlers and tamers of the pandemic.

Mrs. Adern  has been one of the staunchest and most formidable champions of a green world and the fight against carbon emissions. She has compared public skepticism about climate change to “weapons of war” from which people must be protected.

On March 15, 2019, New Zealand experienced one of its worst terrorist attacks. Its Muslim community in Christchurch was attacked as it prayed in two mosques. Fifty-one people were killed. The attacks were live-streamed on social media by their heartless perpetrators. Her calm and compassionate handling of the aforementioned massacres was reassuring. They were praised around the world. Mrs. Adern became a household name in the Muslim world, and she was touted as a likely winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. In the wake of the massacres, her government outlawed semi-automatic weapons in New Zealand.

Apart from these landmark accomplishments, Mrs. Adern must be lauded for her rare wisdom and candour. She has demonstrated an uncommon knack for knowing when to exit the stage. Wisdom, a sage once remarked, consists in knowing when to stop. By the same token, a consummate actor departs the stage when the ovation is loudest. By resigning at the age of 42, when Mrs. Adern believes she has burned out and has no value to add to her country, she has demonstrated rare integrity and prudence, qualities not given to politicians. And in a political world given to duplicity and spin, Mrs. Adern has not behaved true to type. She was unusually candid and forthright.

More importantly, her departure from the helm of New Zealand’s affairs explodes the “Apres Moi, Le Déluge” (after me disaster) myth, a tendency once championed by the French leader Louis XV. Instead, it validates another French statesman, General Charles de Gaulle. When fawning bootlickers urged him to hold on to power interminably, De Gaulle retorted: “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.”

Jacinda has truly changed the leadership rule book by underscoring that no one is irreplaceable. She has validated what most progressive people have always argued by her rare courage and sterling example: Women, by dint of their unique endowments, have a lot to bring to the table in terms of development. Mrs Adern and others before her are eloquent proof. Woe betide the country that foolishly drives women to the margins. This is because by sidelining them, such a country shortchanges itself and deprives itself of the benefit of their God-given talents.

In spite of all these, the shining example of Jacinda Adern must come across in our misbegotten climate as some kind of paradox and a comedy of errors: For while someone at 52 years old (who has exerted herself dutifully and diligently for her country) is hankering after a well-deserved rest, our beloved tired, and spent forces are desperately jockeying for power—and at the end of their earthly existence.

This stark and poignant contrast should instruct us. It should inform our choices in the impending general elections next month. Nigeria, with a population of 230 million, has 46 times the population of New Zealand. If the leader of such a country could suffer exhaustion and throw in the towel, should a gerontocrat dare in Nigeria? Could such a daring not be akin to the proverb, to wit: “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”? Nigerians must ponder the edifying example of Jacinda Adern. They should vote wisely.

*Dazang, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Abuja via: [email protected]