The Cult of Power


From all accounts, President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State are staring each other down. For months, the Nigerian press and blogosphere speculated that a feud simmered between the two men. Then Mr. Amaechi brought the whole messy deal out in the open by pointedly accusing the president of being after him.

After close to fifteen years of observing and writing about public affairs in Nigeria, I confess to a certain weariness about the predictable turn of Nigerian politics. It’s frequently about power for the sake of power. It’s seldom about issues or principles. It hardly has anything to do with the vital interests or legitimate aspirations of Nigerians.

In Governor Amaechi’s version of events, it would seem as if the feud with the president was triggered by a vestige of principle. According to the governor, he had incurred presidential wrath for insisting that fuel subsidy fraud be addressed seriously. Mr. Jonathan’s proxies have maintained the fiction that the president isn’t aware that he’s in a do-or-die fight with the Rivers’ governor.

News accounts insist that there’s a real state of war between both camps. And they suggest that it all has to do with 2015 elections. In other words, with power.

There’s little question now that Mr. Jonathan intends to seek reelection. From the look of things, Mr. Amaechi is far from enthusiastic about the president’s plans. In fact, there are speculations that he’s negotiating to be on a ticket to oppose Mr. Jonathan.

The Jonathan-Amaechi tiff exemplifies Nigerian politicians’ governing obsession: the relentless pursuit of power for its own sake. Hardly does one witness a commensurate interest in bettering society, in using power to make their immediate spaces more livable.

Neither Jonathan nor Amaechi has spelt out a plan for reforming Nigeria’s educational system, a chute that churns out more and more functional illiterates year after year. Neither man has articulated initiatives to create jobs in large numbers  jobs that hundreds of thousands of unemployed graduates sorely need. If either man has a vision for tackling Nigeria’s climate of festering insecurity, or instituting a healthcare system worthy of human beings, or lifting Nigerians from the lowest rungs of global measurements of living standards, he has kept it a secret.

Read any Nigerian newspaper and the pages are dominated by news of one political quarrel or another. One day, the opposition consortium pledges to sweep the ruling PDP away come 2015. Another day, the PDP restates its determination to (mis)rule for another hundred years. Neither group respects Nigerians enough to factor them into the debate. Neither side takes Nigerians seriously enough to even sketch out a manifesto. No, we never get from any party or candidate a vision of where they propose to take us, much less a compass or road map for how to get to the destination.

Ask a Nigerian politician why s/he wants political power and you’re likely to get one of three predictable answers. One: “To move the nation forward.” Two: “God/my pastor/my people asked me to come and serve.” Three: “To deliver the dividends of democracy.” Sadly, nobody ever asks the follow-up question: What exactly does it mean to “move the nation forward,” “to come and serve” or “to deliver the dividends of democracy”? My suspicion is that the first person who asks would get an incoherent stutter for an answer. Most Nigerian politicians would actually be shocked to learn that there’s more to political power than self-enrichment.

And the individual as well as collective record of Nigeria’s rulers (and one advisedly uses rulers rather than leaders)  the record is dismal. More than fifty years after Nigeria attained flag Independence, its rulers  president, governors and local government chairmen  are still hard put to it to list any significant achievements. Yet, Nigeria  with its myriad crises and developmental challenges  is tailor-made for great leaders. Again and again, the space called Nigeria yearns for a set of visionary men and women to take up the task of founding a national community within it. Again and again, the call is ignored, the imperative abdicated in favor of self-aggrandized, self-inflated pursuits.

It all brings us back to the Jonathan-Amaechi face-off. I suspect that Mr. Jonathan and Mr. Amaechi are spending many hours in strategy sessions with their cohorts, hammering out maneuvers to out-duel the other. The ultimate victims are the Nigerian people. It is their business that is shunted to the side by their overpaid, under-thinking rulers. Their conditions become bleaker by the day; yet, those in the driver seat have the gear in reverse  and on full speed!

If Nigerian rulers devoted some of their waking hours to meditating on ways of making Nigeria a country truly founded on the rule of law; if they thought deeply about raising their country to the level of some of the foreign nations where they, their families and coterie luxuriate; if they gave a thought to the habits of real leaders, not the ways of insatiable slave drivers  then Nigeria would look and feel like an address for dignified human beings.

Instead, Nigerian politicians invest the resources of time, money and mind in power-grasping schemes. To look into their brinksmanship is to discover how bereft of substance it is. No principle is in play  except, of course, the dud principle that power is an end in itself.

Are there courageous men and women in Jonathan and Amaechi’s inner circles? If there are, they should remind their respective “oga at the top” that history casts a harsh eye on those who, handed opportunities to become leaders, choose instead to serve themselves and play savage power games.###

Okey Ndibe

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