Morality and governance are Siamese twins. You cannot separate the one from the other. Try and separate the one from the other and you lose both of them. Even though they look and act different when grown, they are the left and right eyes of the instruments of governance. Because we know the role that morality plays in governance, those who aspire to rule us are put to the strictest proof of their moral standing and we have always insisted that these rulers must rise up to meet the high bar of that expectation. We want to know that the man or woman with whom we are entrusting with the power to make decisions that would affect our lives and the futures of our children. In most of the instances, we are not usually interested in their Machiavellian antecedents, neither are we interested in their geography. We are interested in knowing that the person in question does not put the needs of his palate and ego and alimentary canal far above us. That was why when a certain speaker of the National Assembly presented fake papers, allegedly from the University of Toronto, and when another was said to have renovated her official residence with mind boggling sums, they were booted from the National Assembly without any prevarication. Matters were even taken to the extremes some time ago over the moral standing of a certain senate president whose name we were not sure of - was he ‘Evans’ or ‘Evan’?
But it is unfortunate that Africa from Cape to Cairo, our leaders cling to power at all costs, even at the risk to their reputations and lives. We are saddled with the Omar Al Bashirs of the Sudan, the Ngueme Mbasosos of the Equatorial Guinea, the Paul Biyas of Cameroon, the Blaise Campaores of Burkina Faso, the Yoweri Musevenis of Uganda and the Joseph Kabilas of the Rep of Congo - people in positions of power who put their ego first, their alimentary needs second and the interest of their nation last. African leaders would rather rubbish our name and image than tread the path of honour, dignity and character. Nobody will ever understand where a Robert Mugabe gets the belief that the office he occupies is a hegemony bequeathed to him from an ancestor or a forebear. These are some of the people that the Mahatma Gandhi once described as the bread and salt neo-imperialists who have taken over from the British to exercise their own stranglehold on the instruments and offices of governance.
When the news of the decamping of the speaker of the House of Representatives from the PDP to the APC broke, I was one of those who swore on my father’s grave that the speaker, Aminu Tambuwal was a man of honour and integrity. I told everyone around me the story of how I had met him briefly at the book launch of a certain journalist, and at the Nanet suites sometime this year. Contrary to what you’ll expect of a very senior public official, Aminu Tambuwal was there on the dot of 10 or 11am when the scheduled event was to hold. He left a lot of us present at that event breathless and in awe of him, that in this millennium when our leaders hold us to ransom for time at events and on the highway, you could actually get one who could keep to time. Therefore, I had sought to know more about him and to put his face on one of my books as a role model for leadership in Nigeria and in Africa.
But aren’t our expectations of leadership in Nigeria and Africa getting sour and commensurate with our disappointments of the individuals who occupy positions of power? By Jove, please try to understand me: the laws of our federation as enshrined in our constitution give every Nigerian citizen the fundamental right to association – the respected speaker, it is being argued, was not made speaker by the PDP – as a matter of fact, the member of the house proposed as speaker by the PDP as speaker lost to the dissenting voices within the PDP who wanted Tambuwal as speaker. Now, when this great majority who made him speaker decamped to the APC, nobody should have been surprised that the Speaker eventually would move and pitch his tent with them.
But having decamped, why hold on to the position of speaker if your party no longer holds the aces in terms of number in the house of reps? There are compelling arguments again that relinquishing that position weakens his power base and invalidates his leverage in the political calculus of the country. But I beg to disagree. Power does not come from an office. Power comes from the people and from God. The minute the speaker decamped to the APC, he became one of the most powerful men ever in Nigeria. Why? He chose the path of honour and character by aligning with the frustrations of those in the national assembly who supported his ascension to the speakerhood of the house. However, with his reluctance to relinquish the position of speaker and consolidate on the popularity that his decamping brought, it weakened him more and diminished his status. His reluctance to let go that office thrust him down that same aisle of argument that has sustained most of the African leaders who have held on to power in Africa for decades and decades. He became puny.
Note my fellow Nigerians that a leader and leadership, as a matter of fact is not about the office. Leadership is about character, integrity and honour. The office usually stays behind when the individual leaves, and leaves with his integrity and character intact. When leaders begin to hold on to offices as if these offices belong to them by right, then we are all in trouble. I can imagine a situation where I resign my job in my place of work on a Friday only to resume work again in that same place of work on a Monday morning at my desk as if the office is my living room. And indeed it is such a shame that our once respected speaker is in court seeking to hold on to his position. The circumstances in Africa where leaders seek to perpetrate themselves in office are usually strengthened by those who use the law to promote illegality. These carpetbaggers usually come up with strong arguments of moral relativity – they say that good is bad and bad is good, and therefore see nothing wrong in a politician seeking to hold on to an office that has become illegitimate. They see in the controversies that arise from disputes in politics an opportunity to make a quick buck.
In 2013, a major reason why organisers of the Mo Ibrahim Award for leadership was not awarded to any African leaders was because organisers said they couldn’t find one who had ruled democratically and stepped down at the end of their tenures. The Mo Ibrahim African leadership organisers look for African leaders who have used their positions to promote cohesion rather than divisiveness, those who used their positions to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, and those who have used their offices (not those who cling to it) to promote safety and rule of law, citizens participation in governance and human rights, sustainable economic activity and the development of the human potential. Because Nigerian politicians hardly pay any attention to these pillars of democracy, our country is number 37 out of the 52 nations on the scale of the Ibrahim Index for Africa Governance, IIGA. Why Nigeria is 37 on a scale of 52 is not because of Mr. Tambuwal’s hold on public office but because across board, our politicians, those occupying positions of president, those at the National Assembly, Councilors, all see these offices as their pension, and where they get their bread and butter.
Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku is editor in chief at Bob MajiriOghene Communications, Abuja.