Declining Statesmanship: The Implications For Nigeria – By Theophilus Okoro

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Everyone can hold a microphone and voice great appealing words but not everyone has the merit of being a statesman. Statesmanship implies the recognition that someone has the character and understanding to exercise certain virtues in political or state affairs; a political or government leader  whose wisdom, knowledge and integrity, inspires great respect and who is very active and influential in the formulation of government policies.

In our nation, there is much misunderstanding about who and what a statesman should be. Many Nigerians are taking their political models as Statesmen, blindly ascribing such appellation to them on the basis of ‘impressive empty words’ and not by their good actions and deeds. Statesmen are usually a cut above politicians. Today’s politicians as we have observed, know how to deftly manipulate the levers of power to their advantage. They do this by simply exploiting every sensitive issue in the polity for personal gain, but a statesman’s true allegiance is to loftier objectives, especially one that proffers solutions to crisis.  Hubert Humphrey, once stated that the essence of statesmanship is not a rigid adherence to the past, but …a prudent and probing concern for the future.

These days, we hear declarations from notable nationals -that many have blindly ascribed the title of statesmen- that the Presidency in 2015 must come from a specific area of the country, and also that a particular region of the country must have its full two terms of eight years. Some are even threatening ‘fire and brimstone’ if their ambitions fail to materialize.

These worrisome utterances by high profile citizens, who ordinarily should be called ethnic jingoist, religious bigots or destructive forces, have continued unabated and is gradually raising concerns and tensions capable of creating instability in the polity.

 

Some also politicized the emergency rule imposed on the three Northern States of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa and also put up a body language that is sympathetic to the Boko Haram insurgents. Moreover, most Senators have joined the fray  of those lacking attributes of statesmen, when on the floor of the Senate, Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima without any sense of decency and respect for the girl-child, would lure senators’ into taking an indecent resolution on Child-Marriage on the basis of religious sentiments. This indeed, is a show of shame!

 

Genuine Statesmen cannot debase childhood. They are also not prone to inflammable pronouncements and political tantrums that bring divisions and create tension in the polity. Real statesmen are circumspect and temperate in their utterances, they are people who think properly before they make utterances, relate better and talk less, knowing that  today’s battles are fought not with barrels of gun but with wisdom and profound strategy. These made them reputable.

At the present, the formation and registration of All Progressives Congress (APC) have increased tension in the polity. Strange political alignments and negative tantrums and vituperations are on the increase. It is gradually becoming a battle on two fronts; between the old stalwarts of PDP and the emerging APC neophytes; between the disgruntled northern elders who are hungry to regain back power at all cost and the greater part of the south supporting the continuation of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. This untoward desperation by some politicians for the seat of president, has thrown ethics and candor to the garbage and generated large scale confrontation, all for the soul of a nation still facing numerous challenges; wobbling on the dangerous precipice of serious crisis of monumental proportion, exemplified by the theatre of violence that recently took place inside the Chambers of the River State House of Assembly.

 

Sadly, to think that politicians are already talking about 2015 when their first mandate is still unused, amounts to political recklessness and toying with the psyche of our people. This retrogressive, stifling, and narrow-minded ethno-religious politics – that is bereft of imagination and fraught with danger- was the form of politics that was largely practiced in the First Republic which eventually led to its collapse.

 

Some commentators have actually said that there are no genuine Statesmen in Nigeria but hypocrites. If this is truly the case, the implication is that the future of the nation is in great jeopardy. Over the years, personalities like Dr.Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafewa Balewa, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Olu Falae, Ebitu Ukiwe, Alvan Ikoku, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, etc; have distinguished themselves in their fields of specialty. But nowadays, these caliber of men are on the decline; a signpost that all is not well (as it is) with our nation.

Evidently, our nation is in dire need of Statesmen who will preach peaceful co-existence, educational advancement and be beacons of religious tolerance. The soul of our nation can be reawakened in spite of the many years of mismanaged opportunities and resources. This nation can be rebuilt despite the many challenges that bedevil her. But we need men and women who possess the power to persuade people to take right actions; people that can be tough when needed but who never lose their perspective; Statesmen that will rise above partisan politics and protect the interest of the country without being discriminatory; great personalities who have high moral values to influence how the state is run. Men and women who are  knowledgeable about the lessons of history, the role of ideas, and the economics of market-place; personalities that takes the long view of things, and tries to consider what is best for the entire nation.

Many supposedly Statesmen of our time are keeping quiet. They have falling into the favourite and defeatist pastime of passing the buck to the Federal Government over the many wrongs in our society. Most of them have become politicians that pursue geo-political interest alone above nationhood. The consequence is that our nation is today breeding more politicians and less statesmen.  Understandably, some politicians are better than others but it takes something more to rise above mere politics. Emeka Anyaoku once opined that; “If we are to promote our national solidarity, and if we are to succeed in entrenching our democracy, our politicians and leaders of thought must move away from section-based to policy-based politics. Campaigns and advocacy of support for candidates must be based on the manifestos of political parties, outlining policies and programmes for addressing the various challenges facing the country and its citizens.”

Great nations are built not merely by economic resources, not merely by technological advancement, but by the combination of the right values, the right attitudes and the commitment of the people to the promotion of the national interest above primordial sentiments and ethnic loyalties. Winston Churchill was regarded as the lion who roared when the British Empire needed him most.  Historians widely attribute Churchill with being “the greatest statesman of the 20th century.”  Churchill was an effective leader and statesman because of his tremendous ability to inspire people regardless of seemingly ominous circumstances; his unique strategic insight; his relentless passion; and his imperturbable personality. Also, Joaquim Chissano’s political leadership, vision, statesmanship and perseverance steered Mozambique out of bitter conflict toward peaceful democracy and prosperity during his years as President. Under Chissano’s leadership, Mozambique became one of Africa’s success stories. He signed a truce that ended 16 years of civil war, oversaw the introduction of a multi-party political system and helped move his country toward a market economy. He invited foreign investments, tamed inflation and orchestrated an impressive track record of strong, steady economic growth.

No doubt, our nation is still ailing, and there is a ‘moral force’ required to heal an ailing nation. That force as we have seen, does not fall from heaven, but from individuals who overtime have distinguished themselves in their places of work and also made themselves as reference point for incoming generation to model their lives after. We need statesmen who would use their wisdom to give the country the much needed direction and display uncommon commitment to the peace, progress and unity of our country and a long-standing commitment to peace on the African continent.  Men and women who would never imperil a sense of communal living and multi-religious society by the culture of promoting one faith over and above others, knowing that the things that a statesman accomplishes often wind up not only in newspapers, but also in history books; true statesmen who say what they mean and mean what they say; who stands for a principled vision, not for what they think citizens will fall for;  and who are more likely to do what is right than what may be politically popular at the moment.

They are the ones, according to a historian Charles A. Beard, “… who divines the long future, foresees the place of his class and nation in it, labors intelligently to prepare their countrymen for their fate, combines courage with discretion, takes risks, exercises caution when it is necessary, and goes off the stage with a reasonable degree of respectability.”

It is when we begin to have these calibers of statesmen, that the story of the nation will be that of enduring courage, uncommon resilience and abiding faith in the common cause of fulfilling Nigeria’s promise and collective destiny.

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