The Chronicler’s Burden

October 11, 2020
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By Wole Olaoye

Every chronicler in the public space carries a burden — damned if you’re right and damned if you’re wrong. But correctness and wrongness can be subjective. One man’s meat is another man’s poison, especially in political matters. That, however, is no excuse for muting your horn. If your tune is not fashionable today, it may become tomorrow’s hit.

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Leadership is a sacred trust. I always wish whoever is my leader in any sphere of life, well. Call it self interest. A leader’s destiny is intertwined with that of those he is leading. It is difficult for you to succeed if your leader is a comprehensive failure. I guess that is one of the reasons why the prayer industry is blossoming. Pray for your leaders, we are told, that it may be well with us all.

If I had a say in the matter, I probably wouldn’t have imposed General Olusegun Obasanjo on Nigeria for the second time in 1999. He had been a military president. Wasn’t there a civilian of equal or better stature to take over from the military except Obasanjo? The outgoing government and its political fixers wanted him and so it came to pass. I wished him well and supported his government with ideas which I modestly thought could add value to the administration’s exertions.

I was hoping that Donald Duke would succeed Obasanjo from the rich field of PDP aspirants in 2007, but the wily general chose Umaru Yar’ Adua who turned out to be a blessing in the short period he governed before succumbing to his pre-existing medical condition. When the history of governance in Nigeria is written, when the quality of decisions taken are evaluated against their implications for the future, Yar’ Adua will shine like a thousand stars. Mark my words.

Those who make their living by crawling from one corridor of the mighty to the other wanted to rubbish the constitutional order by preventing Goodluck Jonathan from succeeding his boss, but we rose like one man to defend what was right. Jonathan completed Yar’Adua’s tenure and had another four years of his own. I not only wished Jonathan well, I supported his team with ideas wherever I could. Although I had my reservations about some of the people surrounding him after the first Presidential Media Chat in which I participated, I still nursed high hopes that Nigeria’s first PhD president would break records in good governance.

Now that he is out of power, in his quiet moments, perhaps Dr. Jonathan will be ruing some of the paths not taken, some of the counsel ignored, some of the charlatans he thought were patriots. For those of us evaluating governance from a distance, it is clear that the requirement for political leadership and good governance is totally different from that of any other occupation. As my favourite public intellectual, Bishop Hassan Matthew Kukah, famously said, being a good and holy man is no guarantee that you will be a good president because the set of skills required of a president are more complex than those for any other position.

In spite of being a good man, Jonathan underachieved.

Man is nothing without hope. We wanted a change and Buhari promised just that. In one of the most professionally packaged political rebranding ever undertaken in these climes, Buhari was successfully sold as the face of change and the man who would restore all what was lost in the years eaten by a combination of military and civilian locusts. We not only wished Buhari well and contributed in our modest way to ensure his success, we prayed that for once, we should get governance right for our collective sakes.

This is Year 2020, three years before Buhari ends his eight years’ mandate, but the rat race of succession has begun. None of the political parties is interested in recruiting possible leaders based on any defined set of skills or criteria. All we are seeing are the same cheap tricks by the same actors who have been visible on either of the two dominant platforms (PDP or APC). And those with limited vision think Nigeria’s problems can be solved by simply changing the alphabets of the ruling party from APC to PDP?!

Think, fellow countryman and woman, THINK!

Alliances and realignments are currently going on. All that matters, it seems, is attainment of power by whatever means. There is no set of ideas that separates one group from the other. No philosophy. No shared vision. That is why we have these alphabetical wars every four years.

We must graduate from this stasis. The father of Western thought was an ancient Greek philosopher called Socrates who laid the foundation for Western systems of logic and philosophy. He was Plato’s teacher. He postulated that philosophy should achieve practical results for the greater well-being of society, advocating an ethical system based on human reason rather than theological doctrine. He reasoned that the goal of human existence is happiness and that ultimate happiness comes from knowing oneself. In Socrates’ thinking, a person who had not mastered himself nor conquered his baser instincts cannot be fit for leadership.

Both PDP and APC will suffer internal combustion before the next elections. And the hoopla won’t be about substantive issues concerning the happiness of the people — the same “We, the people” on whose behalf the military wrote and delivered a brand new constitution in 1999. It will all be about how to capture or retain power, sans ideological clarity.

In these circumstances, the chronicler is like a philosopher watching the indiscipline at life’s roundabout where a charging lorry from a connecting road refuses to yield right of way to the car already in the loop. Can the predictable accident be blamed on the chronicler who is faithfully watching and reporting everything from a safe distance?

For all his ground-breaking postulations which went against the grain of the period’s accepted wisdom, Philosopher Socrates, the son of Sophroniscus, was adjudged guilty by the Athenian authorities and sentenced to death by drinking hemlock. The kind of tunnel thinking that earned Socrates the death penalty in 399BC is dead, but the world is still celebrating that philosopher today.

We can disagree on matters of form of government, but the civilised thing is to do so agreeably. The continued call for a restructuring of the Nigerian federation to a more workable entity won’t go away because it is at the heart of our nationhood. Those who want the present unitary system to continue are welcome to their position. The proponents of restructuring, too, deserve no less accommodation. Calling for the unbundling of the iniquitous unitary system is not the same as a call for secession.

And we don’t have to reduce it all to another North Vs South thing. It is a Nigerian matter, no less. After all, veteran politician, Balarabe Musa, whose support for restructuring is well known, is as northern as they come. “We need to restructure the country politically and economically. We need to ensure that power actually resides with the people. The economic and political models we are currently operating only empower a few. Governments must be structured to impact positively on the masses,” he said.

Does that make Balarabe Musa any less a patriot? Does he deserve the hemlock treatment?

It is the painful lot of the chronicler to continually point out that we cannot continue to do things the same old way and expect a different set of results. Though heaven and earth pass away, truth will not pass away.

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