“The only thing that walks back from the grave with mourners and refuses to be buried is the character of a man. What a man is survives him, it can never be buried.”
A man’s true nature is revealed on the platform of power. Power is both an aphrodisiac and an intoxicant. A privileged position where a measure of authority, control or power of execution is conferred on people exposes the underbelly of a character deficiency. Take an office environment. I am sure you would know one or two people who used to appear nondescript and self-effacing before they assumed supervisory roles. Suddenly thereafter, in what appeared to be a total volte-face, they became intolerant, oppressive and absolutely uncharitable in relating with their subordinates.
The colonial masters in Africa understood this principle and used it well in subjugating their colonies, especially during the slave trade era. All they needed to capture the people in any of the colonies was to get a few of the indigenes, empower them with a uniform and ammunition, giving them the power of life and death over their own people and the deed was done. These locals were then sent off to villages to capture their own kind and bring them to the slave traders in exchange for more ammunition, some alcoholic beverages, mirrors and sometimes, coral beads. In time, these local raiders became larger than life and their presence sent more jitters down the spines of the locals than the presence of the colonial masters. Arriving the plantations in Europe or America, a few of them were selected and put in charge of the other slaves for the purpose of whipping them into line if they ever dared to misbehave. These ‘emancipated’ slaves became more terrifying than the actual slave-owners as they left none of the other slaves in doubt about who was really in charge.
Check our political landscape. Most of our elected representatives at various levels of governance who won our hearts because they “spoke our language” and identified with our miseries and dreams as well as our discontent with the power status quo, often appear like they dropped from Mars soon after they are voted into power. Their capacity for megalomania, oppression and corrupt enrichment seems to be on overdrive! The one who could hardly maintain one vehicle before being elected now drives everyone off the road with an interminably long convoy and buys choice properties in choice locations far away from the people he was elected to represent. This reinforces the assertion that most oppressed people never desire to be free so that they could empower others for liberty but so that they could replace the oppressor!
Money is a potent revealer of character. There are few things in life as tempting as being in charge of money that you could spend as you wish. According to a Yoruba proverb, when a man is poor, he assumes another person’s character. It is easy to act humble when you have no resources to back up any display of arrogance, especially if such display could land you in big trouble. Like power, money is amoral. It has no character. It only takes on the character of the one currently warehousing it. There is no dirty money or blood money. Only dirty or murderous people handling money.
Some years ago, the late evangelist Reinhard Bonnke was in Ibadan for a crusade. I served as Chairman of one of the Hospitality Committees. Each committee was to be funded by Bonnke’s ministry. Our committee was saddled with all arrangements for hospitality for the Bonnke team as well as for other dignitaries that would be attending. Members of my committee were stunned when I told them that we would not be taking any money from the crusade office since the body of Christ in Ibadan was the host of the event and we were all volunteers for the cause of the gospel. Rather, like good hosts, we would raise money from the various collaborating local ministries to fund our committee’s budget which was a tidy sum at that time. I spoke to various Christian leaders in the city and got them to realize that it was improper for a visitor to fund his own hospitality in our own home especially if it was a visitor who was coming to add significant value to our work. We were able to raise more money than we required, enough to host Bonnke and his team to a Welcome Dinner and gifts for him and his team. Do you remember the picture of Bonnke in a red traditional outfit on stage? That picture became his signature picture for subsequent crusades in various parts of Africa. It was part of what we presented. After the event, we had money left over. What I didn’t know then but later found out was that the pattern in previous crusades was that committee membership was a way for some unscrupulous people to get some money as whatever was not spent by some committees was usually shared by the members after the crusade. Some people in my team were visibly disappointed when I told them that rather than share the money, we would return it to the purse of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria. We did and got a receipt for it. The PFN would later give me a plaque in recognition of the gesture.
I recall an incident in Enugu in 1989 when I was Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Publishers’ Association. The AGM of the association was hosted by the Eastern zone and was naturally scheduled for Enugu, base of the President at that time. After the meeting, we were hosted to a reception in the President’s house. At about 11 p.m., I saw a bevy of gorgeous-looking and dressed-to-kill young ladies walk in. I later learnt that they were undergraduates from a university in town. Knowing that I was the coordinating person, the President’s staff who brought them came and whispered to my ears, “The girls have been arranged for you guys to keep you company for the night. So, you and the other guys, make your choice so that we can take the others back to the campus.” Great opportunity. The ladies were drop-dead gorgeous and well-shaped. I was a young man in my thirties and the youngest of the delegates. Nobody knew me in the city. My wife was several hours away. I stood up and simply told him to inform the President while I requested that a driver should take me back to my hotel. I did not even bother to say goodnight to anyone!
Note that none of these things makes the man. They are only amplifiers of conduct. They reveal who we have become. When faced with these circumstances, we manifest who we have become. Integrity is not known by what you do when someone is breathing accountability or authority down your neck. It is manifested in the crucible of situations that demand virtue and responsibility from you even when there is no fear of external reprimand or censorship.
Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!
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