Queen Elizabeth II: Lessons from a monarch

Edward Mendlowitz, known as Emeritus Partner in “The Partners Network”, an American company supporting accounting practices in the God’s Own Country, wrote a piece titled: “The Evil Men Do”. The November 3, 2020 publication adapted Mark Anthony’s (Caesar’s best friend and one of the Roman nobles during the reign of Julius Caesar) speech at the funeral of Julius Caesar to wit “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones”.  Mendlowitz, in that piece, counsels thus: “Regardless of who you are or what you do, there will always be someone that will say something bad about you…whether it is merited or not. It’s going to happen, just try to avoid doing too many things that would make them right. Never speak ill of anyone, living or dead. There can be no benefit to dissing someone; and if they or their family find out, which they likely will, you will have a problem dealing with them. Of course, I am not including performance evaluations of people that work for you”. Two things struck me most in Mendlowitz’s submissions here: One, don’t give room for people to be justified when they become acerbic in their criticism of your performances; and, Two: Much as we are not to say anything disrespectful of anyone (dead or alive), we have the right to evaluate people that work for us. In essence, we are to review the performances of those who lead us. This we should do irrespective of how their handlers, or the leaders themselves, feel about what we say.

Calpurnia, a female character in the 1599 tragic drama penned by William Shakespeare, titled Julius Caesar, warns the tragic hero, Caesar, thus: “When beggars die, there are no comets seen. The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes”. The simple meaning of the poetic utterance is that when a commoner dies, little or no mourning is heard, but when an upper class or an aristocrat dies, all the elements (heavens) come together to mourn the passing of the great one. But on a deep structure level, the lines could be interpreted to mean that when the wicked ones die, nobody grieves over them but when the good and loving leaders pass unto glory, the entire universe comes together to bewail their departure.  Queen Elizabeth II exchanged mortality for immortality on Thursday, September 9, 2022 at the ripe age of 96. She became, officially, the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on June 2, 1953. But she assumed the office, naturally, on February 6, 1952, following the demise of her father, King George VI. She ruled for a period of 70 years and passed on peacefully at her Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Her rites of passage, according to the British traditions, began almost immediately. At her interment on Monday, September 19, 2022, in London, over a million people were said to have participated one way or the other. That is huge. At the lying-in-state in London for instance, mourners, estimated to be 750,000, filed past her coffin, paying tributes to a woman, whose life has become a study not just in good governance but in monarchical sustenance. Characterisation in folklore is determined by what the character does, what he says and what people say about him. What the mourners say about the departed British monarch tells much about her life. And this is where our leaders should draw their lessons in life. In a piece titled, “Does The Govt Know That We Know?”, published on this page on November 30, 2021, I made reference to the opinion of people about how impactful or otherwise a person’s life is while on mother earth. The introductory paragraph to that piece reads: “When a man dies or leaves a particular position or office, we describe him according to his deeds. When the Yoruba say of a man that “o se gudugudu meje ati yaa yaa mefa,” they are simply saying that while here on earth or in office, the person was very impactful and left indelible footprints on the sands of time. When, on the other hand, the remarks is “aku  tun ku e lona ogun: aku  tun ku e lona ogbon”-may he die twenty times over and may he die thirty times over again- what the people are saying is that may this locust never visit us again. Every man writes his own epitaph by his deeds, actions and inactions. The same thing is applicable to governments and administrations”.

This Yoruba worldview played out as mourners spent hours catching a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin at her funeral. One of such mourners was Thomas Hughes, a 20-year old, who joined one of the queues that stretched several miles and waited for almost 14 hours to be able to see the woman of substance. Hughes, who was on that waiting list with his brother, said, when he finally had the opportunity to see the coffin: “You do it all because you want to pay respect to this lady… and I think when you put yourself through that, and then you get to the moment you are waiting for, you are just that little bit more emotional. It is a very powerful thing”. The young mourner said he was overwhelmed. Who would not? You only wait for 14 good hours to be able to see a coffin of a leader only when such a leader is a good one! And Queen Elizabeth II was a good leader. At 96, she was still up and doing, performing her official duties, even up to two days before she passed on. Consider her and think about your docile and dozing leaders here in Nigeria – present, dead and aspiring. Some people are simply fortunate. The British are!

In interpersonal relationships, the departed Queen is regarded as a human and loving leader. The testimonies of her aides and employees give us ideas of who the late British monarch was, and or is (if she lives in your heart, though dead). With over one thousand employees, Queen Elizabeth II was reported to have, every year, given each staffer a Christmas gift consisting “a Christmas pudding, a greeting card, and a gift or book voucher loaded with a dollar amount that varies depending on how long the employee has worked for her”. The gifts were said to be handed over to each member of staff directly and personally by the Queen. “A senior officer calls out each employee’s name in order of their rank, starting with the most senior. Her Majesty then hands each gift to the staff members personally. It’s a tradition the Queen has upheld since she took the throne in 1952”, says the account. Ask: how many Executives or CEOs do that in your environment? We have many “His Excellency” “Chairmen”, “MD/CEOs” and other “Captains of Industries”, whose aides or employees cannot go near them not to talk of collecting Christmas cards directly from them. Tin gods in their one-corner empires. But the former employees of Queen Elizabeth II see her as a seminar in humility. There was no airs around her. She was the Sovereign, she knew. But she ended that at the point of proclamation of the British Parliament. Back in Buckingham Palace, she treated her aides as human beings. One of the aides said “the family makes staff feel recognized for their hard work”. Grant Harrold, a former butler to the new King Charles III said this of the departed Queen: “One of the best things about working for the royal family is when you are recognized for your hard work. The family would show this by inviting staff to Christmas parties, tea parties, and balls. A fond memory of mine is getting to dance with the Queen at the Gillies Ball in the Balmoral ballroom”. I once attended a birthday party of a daughter of a billionaire as a support staff to provide logistics. The party lasted till 2.30 am. I suspected they counted the number of “important guests” invited and brought food, plates and cutleries in that number. Most unfortunately for me, where I was detailed to work was the walkway for the waiters carrying the array of foods! It was like an “ojú lo fi ri, ètè re ò ba” scene in D. O Fagunwa’s odyssey, “ Igbó Irúnmolè”- The Forest of a thousand Daemons. What a life, that cold night!

But in Buckingham Palace of all places, staffs were invited to Christmas parties as guests of Queen Elizabeth II. You can imagine how that feels! Simon Morgan, another of the aides from 2006 to 2013 has this to say of the Queen: “You find yourself in places you wouldn’t normally have access to. You are very fortunate to be in these positions, to travel by private charter, or travel first class, or to be on super-yachts, or to eat in some of the nicest restaurants the world can offer”. Speaking on his first meeting with Queen Elizabeth II as an aide, Steven Kaye, who was once Queen’s royal footman volunteered: “She said welcome to the Royal household, I’m looking forward to seeing you next week and she had obviously been briefed about my mother who is a machinist for a company based in Long Eaton where I’m from. They have the Royal warrant of appointment for providing soft furniture to the Royal household and the Queen spoke about how she knew my mother was working for a Royal warranted company. She’s obviously briefed to make you feel at ease and like she knows something about you. It was really lovely”. That is how to remember humane leaders; the ones who have the milk of kindness flowing in their veins. What do we have around us?

Queen Elizabeth II is dead and buried. She would never know what anyone is saying, or has said, or may say about her, again. Posterity is, however, here to record her deeds. We are all living witnesses to what they are saying, at least. Last Tuesday, General Muhammadu Buhari was in Owerri, Imo State, on a one-day visit. He almost cried while delivering his speech. He lamented that his administration had done “extremely well”, but nobody was singing his praises.  “This administration has done extremely well. I have to say it because those who are to say it are not saying it. I don’t know why. Thank you”. He dropped the microphone as one could see frustration written all over him. Why the frustration? Why are those who are supposed to blow Buhari’s trumpets of “extremely well” (done) job not doing so? “Good wine”, they say “needs no bush”. Buhari’s frustration in Owerri is akin to what my people call: “ eni to ò ku tó únrûn” – he that is not dead but already decaying with odious smell. What is going to be the “ àtunbòtán” (hereafter) of the Buhari administration if when he is still alive, nobody is identifying with his “extremely well” done job? When eventually the bell tolls for him, will there be mourners’ queues like we had in the case of Queen Elizabeth II? Nigeria has a reference point here. On June 8, 1998, the military dictator and former Head of State, General Sani Abacha expired in Aso Rock Villa. Never in the history of mankind have we witnessed the kind of jubilation that greeted the news of the death of Abacha. Nigerians’ response to that sad-good news remains a lesson in how bad leaders who run aground the fortunes of the people are treated in death. Something similar awaits the present locusts ruining and flattening our destiny as a people. We shall remember them for who they really are when the embellishments and colourations by their paid propaganda machines come to an end upon leaving their exalted offices or when the Grim Reaper comes calling for them. That is as certain as the existence of Hades which awaits all bad leaders.

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