Man, Power And The Sit-Tight Syndrome! - by Fola Ojo

During the second term inauguration ceremony of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as President in 2003, a brother and friend invited me to visit the Presidential Villa, the official residence of Nigerian president in Abuja as a witness to the event. One evening, I met with the former president in his home, and the second time was in an early-morning prayer session where a handful of the Peoples Democratic Party juggernauts including the current Imo State Governor, Rocha Okorocha (now in the All Progressives Congress), Special Assistants Oby Ezekwesili and Femi Fani-Kayode, Special Adviser Jerry Gana, and a few other party stalwarts were in attendance.

The opulence and elegance of the villa are unforgettable memories; the vastness and sprawl of the “palace” where a seasonally-recycled platoon of men and women routinely run up and down to serve one man in authority over millions of people and huge deposits of resources can’t just easily get deleted off the storage room of my brain. I had never seen a place like that even here in the United States and in my many travels around the globe. Troops of visitors were coming in and out even until late at night. Representatives of different regions came seeking the attention of the Head of State. The attention presidents receive daily, and the control, authority and the monstrosity of vested power they exercise must be gladdening to their hearts. With what I observed in the sumptuous edifice of Aso Rock, I concluded in a soliloquy to my soul that it will take God for any occupant of the house to voluntarily choose to go back to his village and not seek continuity, even if that village is Las Vegas in the US. It will take God.

Some men have glided to power when they never thought it was a possibility; some have coasted to power contrary to all human permutations and expectations; some were on the brink of death and moved from prison to become the leader of a free people. There are many who were given a shot at power by popular demand; and many men who exercise enormous power and authority today probably never thought yesterday that that much authority would be bestowed on them.

Togo’s Gnassingbe Eyadema rose to power from a peasant family background to become president in 1967. He ruled for 38 years and ran the nation as a personal business. Togo was heavily militarised under Eyadema; and his mother was imposed on the people as the first-and-only holder of the office of Mother-of-the-Nation before whom Togolese citizens had to bow and tremble. Eyadema trained 1000 beautiful young women to dance before him as they gushingly and riotously sang his praises. Anytime the siren blasted on the streets of Togo, it was always assumed that Eyadema was passing through the neighbourhood, and the people had no choice but to drop whatever task they had going and clap in praises of a passing brutal dictator who killed opposing voices at will. In 2005, when his time was up in the eyes of God, he died of heart attack as he boarded an airplane in Tunisia on his way to a medical appointment. We all have a beginning; and we must have an end, we just don’t know when.

Before Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was shamefully and ruthlessly slaughtered by his own people in a civil war in 2011, he was and till today the longest serving African Head of State. The son of a goat-herder seized power through a coup d’├ętat in 1969, and had no intention of relinquishing it. He ruled Libya for 42 years. The fear of losing power made Gaddafi hop and skip between huts, caves and his many houses. No one could predict where he would lay his head at any particular night. When he was killed, it dawned on many that any leader who attempts a perpetuation has already lost out in the game before it begins.

Robert Mugabe was in the frontline of a triumphant and courageous fight for independence from white overlords in Zimbabwe. In 1980, Mugabe became the Prime Minister and then the first executive black President of the landlocked Southern African country seven years later. He manipulated and falsified the results of many elections organised in the nation while members of opposition parties are killed and maimed by his administration. Mugabe has perpetuated himself and has refused to relinquish power that was given to him by Providence. Not too long ago, the 91-year-old Mugabe came out of an event when he tripped and fell like a humpty-dumpty. The security men and women scampered to pick him up from the ground he will one day go under. He has grown older, weaker and frailer, yet, he latches onto power. When his current term runs out in 2018, it’s already in the works that his wife, Grace, may become his successor. Why men perpetuate themselves in power in a world that promises no one tomorrow still beats me.

These men turn the government house into a family compound, public properties become their personal inheritances, members of the opposition are either killed or silenced, and the polity gets heated up. These ignorant men keep sitting tight on a seat that has got too tight for them to sit. At the end of it all, they are either disgraced from office, or death shovels them into ignominious history they wrote in their own handwritings.

When a leader’s sagacity is sagging, he sheepishly and erroneously believes that power that never began with him has to end with him. But if he knows that life is like an electronic audio gadget with a “start” and “stop” button; then he must also know that whatever is designed to start is designed to stop. There is a time to stay on stage, and there is time to get off the same. Men will shower praises in a loud ovation on him, but if he is wise, he must have an understanding of the times. Ovation, my friend, is like a vapour that appears for a season and then disappears as if it never existed.

I draw a daily inspiration about how Homo sapiens ought to approach power when the Vatican announced the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI February 11 2013. The Pope was the first to do so in 600 years. Modern era popes have held the position from election until death. Pope Benedict gave as a reason a declining health due to old age. With the wealth and worth of the Vatican, the Pope saw something more precious than power. He gave it all up. So did Nelson Mandela of South Africa who chose to serve only one-term of five years as the first Black President of the country. If Mandela had chosen to perpetuate himself, he probably could have got a global approval because of the sacrifice of 27 years behind the prison walls he had made on behalf of millions of South African Blacks who are today free men and women. But, he too gave it all up!

Whether it is political, royal, business or otherwise, man is not the inventor of power; he only exists to take advantage of it for the good of humanity as yielded to him by his Creator; the sole controller of power. Power is not an exclusive family right or an unending lineage entitlement. When you have it, you must not cuddle it as a phenomenon that will last eternity. Power may be scheduled to last one day, one month or 10 years; but its evanescent nature is incontrovertible. There is no man who can outlive or outlast a community of people over which he holds a temporary control and authority. Power, when it runs its full course, has a terminating point. It is transient and God-given. I still wonder why men choose to sit tight.