January 26, 2023

Knowing when it is time to go

By Ikechukwu Amaechi

ON January 19, 2023, Ms. Jacinda Ardern, the 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand and leader of the Labour Party from 2017 to 2023 announced she would resign both positions not later than February 7, 2023.

Following the unopposed election of Chris Hipkins as her successor, she resigned as leader of the Labour Party on January 22 and submitted her resignation as Prime Minister to the Governor-General on January 25. Asked how she would like New Zealanders to remember her leadership, Ardern said “as someone who always tried to be kind”.

She added: “I hope I leave New Zealanders with a belief that you can be kind, but strong, empathetic but decisive, optimistic but focused. And that you can be your own kind of leader – one who knows when it’s time to go.” Born on July 26, 1980, Ardern is a globally acclaimed consequential leader.

What will a 42-year-old woman, still in her prime, be doing outside the political limelight? She said she had no future plans, other than to spend more time with her family. She has a live-in partner, Clarke Gayford, who she is not yet married to and she gave birth to a daughter, Neve, on June 21, 2018, making her the world’s second elected head of government, after the late Pakistani leader, Benazir Bhutto, to give birth while in office.

She declared she is going back to those two. “To Neve: Mum is looking forward to being there when you start school this year. And to Clarke – let’s finally get married.” I will come back to Ardern shortly. In my interview with Professor Pat Utomi this month, he recounted the story of the fight between the late Argentinian boxer, Oscar Bonavena, nicknamed the ‘brave bull’ because of his unrivalled pluck with the legendary boxing champion, Mohammed Ali, at the Madison Square Garden in December 1970.

It was a fight to finish, each having promised the other hell. And hell, they gave each other in the ring. But there came a time when commonsense prevailed. As Utomi put it: “They were throwing these punches, the great Argentinian at a point in time looked at Ali, looked at himself, looked at history and looked at the punches he was taking and he said no más – no more. He turned his back and walked to his corner.”

That was the end of that brutal slugfest. Ali won. But even in defeat, Bonavena also won simply by knowing when to call it quits. Extrapolating the morals of Bonavena’s action, Utomi wondered why Nigerian politicians find it difficult to call it quits even in the face of debilitating moral albatross.

As he put it: “If we do a good moral job, I expect Atiku Abubakar and Bola Tinubu to step down from the election because they will see that morally, they are on the wrong side of history. And when the stark reality is staring everybody in the face, the greater person for history is the one who says, no más – no more.” 

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, is the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the February 25, 2023 presidential election. To hope that any of them will heed Utomi’s advice is to live in a fool’s paradise. Instead, they are busy throwing the kitchen sink at each other.

As I write, APC is in court seeking Atiku’s disqualification over what it called #Atiku-Gate and Special Purpose Vehicle, SPV, for money laundering. The ruling party accused Atiku of a legion of crimes, including a breach of code of conduct for public officers, money laundering, criminal breach of trust, criminal misappropriation and conspiracy including criminal use of office for gratification. 

The APC Presidential Campaign Council spokesman, Festus Keyamo, Minister of State for Labour and Productivity in the Buhari administration, who filed the suit says if the court refuses to grant his prayers “a grave crime and/or infraction of our laws would have gone undetected”. Expectedly, PDP filed its own lawsuit praying the court to disqualify Tinubu over “criminal conviction and sentencing by an American court for trafficking in narcotics”.

“Nigerians are not unaware of the criminal matter concerning … Tinubu in respect of his criminal conviction and sentencing by a court of competent jurisdiction in the United States over a criminal case of trafficking in narcotics for which Tinubu forfeited the sum of $460,000 to the state,” said the PDP Presidential Campaign Council spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, in Abuja on Tuesday.

While Atiku’s spokespersons are publicly calling Tinubu Nigeria’s Pablo Escobar, the notorious Colombian drug lord, founder and sole leader of the Medellín Cartel, who died on December 2, 1993, Tinubu’s men are busy calling Atiku an unconscionable looter of the public till. Curiously, in all this, neither Atiku nor Tinubu is suing those openly ‘maligning’ them.

Meanwhile, a scandalised international community is watching in disbelief, just as Nigerians are aghast. Why this dance of shame? Do Nigerians deserve this disgrace from their so-called leaders? How can any of these political leaders govern if elected on February 25? Will all these people who are splashing mud recklessly today turn around tomorrow to say it was all politics? Are there no limits to mudslinging in politics? 

A President embodies the integrity and prestige of the collective. How will the international community relate with any of these leaders with all these baggage? In most countries, any candidate whose name has been dragged in the mud as much as these two presidential candidates will step down.

Those conscious of their integrity will sue anyone calling them a thief or drug baron unless they are guilty as charged. In any country other than Nigeria, there would have been the “no más” moment long ago. Back to PM Ardern! Leadership is all about knowing when to let go, which was exactly what she did last week. Without prompting, she declared, “I no longer have enough in the tank to do the job justice.” 

Here is a woman who became the world’s youngest female head of government when she was elected in 2017 at the age of 37. Though national election is not due until October 14, 2023, she quit voluntarily ten months earlier because “it’s time. I’m leaving, because with such a privileged role comes responsibility – the responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not. I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple. I am human, politicians are human. We give all that we can for as long as we can. And then it’s time. And for me, it’s time,” she said.

The Prime Minister said she had reflected over the summer break on whether she had the energy to continue in the role, and had concluded she did not. Though her resignation came as a rude shock to New Zealanders, her fans around the world, and yours sincerely is one them, can’t stop praising her outstanding accomplishments and candour.

Out of office, her popularity even outside New Zealand is having a meteoric rise for simply admitting that she was burned out. In Nigeria, political leaders cling to power on empty tank. As the American writer Elbert Hubbard once observed, a genius is someone who “takes the lemons that fate hands him and starts a lemonade-stand with them.” Nigeria has no such geniuses. Any wonder the country continues to plumb the depths?