Metaphor for a nation searching for philosopher kings

OVER time, Nigerians have become accustomed to hearing from their leaders, statements and pronouncements that call into question the level of knowledge and understanding of the author. When made in saner climes,if they do not lead to loss of office, such statements are enough to strip leaders of every measure of respect and relevance among their followers. Not here. Leaders at all levels insult and assault people’s sensibility at will, rest assured that no price will be paid for such gaffes and missteps.  In the midst of harrowing pangs of economic hardship ravaging the land following the government of Alhaji Sheu Shagari’s austerity measure inthe early 1980s, a minister in the government had responded to the public outcry against the situation by wondering why people were complaining when no one was yet scavenging from the muckheap. Another minister under a military despot, reacting to public complaint on high tariffs being charged on telephone services by the now defunct state-owned monopoly, NITEL, was quick to remind Nigerians that telephone service was not for the poor. As usual, nothing happened. Both men kept their offices and in fact, the latter went on to become the longest serving Senate President after return to civil rule in 1999.

The culture of public officers never caring to run their thoughts in the crucible of logical reasoning before verbalizing same in public space has long been with us and it is not likely to leave us so soon. Just few weeks ago, the man charged with the responsibility of superintending defence and security affairs in Nigeria, Bashir Magashi, a retired General, came out to say that by not confronting gun-wielding terrorists, Nigerians were playing the coward. His advice, to prove their bravery, barehanded citizens should slug it out with bandits bearing sophisticated weapons. In the warped thought of our honourable defence minister, rather than expecting government to rise up to its constitutional duty of securing lives and property of the citizens, the shortest route towards ending banditry is for citizens to embark on a journey in foolhardy and daredevilry that is sure to have a catastrophic end. What an advice from a defence minister!

If Nigerians thought the statement by General Magashi was the most unfounded and irritable from a government official in recent time, a bigger surprise awaited them. From the hollow, sorry, hallowed chamber, of the national assembly came another blooper from no less a personage than the Honourable Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Idris Wase, who declared that Nigerian citizens living outside the country had, by their choice of place of abode, lost their right to have a say in the affairs of their home country. In his view, living outside one’s home country has stripped one of all the rights and privileges of citizenship been told of the invaluable contribution of diaspora Nigerians to national economy through fund remittance from abroad running into billions of dollars every year. According to a report by Price Water Coopers (PwC), the number of Nigeria’s diaspora citizens in 2018 was put at 1.24 million while remittance figure was around 25 billion dollars. This represents 83 per cent of FG’s budget and 11 times more than the volume of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows for the period. How right and justifiable can Wase and his ilk be in alienating 1.24 million Nigerians making huge contribution to national economy, from having a say in the affairs their land?

Truth be told, such statements clearly bring to the fore, the indubitability of the fact that our land suffers from poverty of quality leadership.  If the Deputy Speaker of our House of Representatives exhibits this level of ignorance of the role of a significant segment of the nation’s existence, does anybody still need any further proof that one of our biggest problems is being led by the wrong people? It is becoming clear to us now that many of those calling the shot in our national affairs have less than kindergarten knowledge of the land and the people over whom they rule.  There have been suggestions in the past that the threshold of educational qualification for our elective offices be raised from what it is presently. In the light of what we see from the likes of Wase and many others in public offices, proponents of this position may have their point, but beyond educational qualification, there may also be need for a mandatory programme of capacity building on various aspects of governance and social engineering for elective officers at all levels. The comatose National Orientation Agency, needs be roused from its slumber. Much more than serving as megaphone for the amplification of government propaganda, the agency may also need to design broad-based programme national orientation not just for the general populace but even for those in high places whose level of ignorance is much more appalling than those of the ordinary people. Abike Dabiri’s Diaspora Commission may also need to have a session with him and others of the same mindset on the contribution of diaspora citizens to national growth.

Like Plato instructed, there will be no end to the troubles of states until philosophers become kings, or kings become philosophers. Rather than bemoaning our fate for having such deciders of our national course, the task is to ensure that the filtration process for the selection of our political leaders is well firmed up such that only philosophers are crowned as our political kings and when a non-philosopher like Wase is found in any of our political palaces, learning to become a philosopher should take place right in the palace so those already crowned as kings can become dream philosophers. Till then, this scourge of poverty of ideas among the ruling class may persist.

  • Adegoke is a Lagos based Communication Consultant and Public Affairs Analyst.

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