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Selfish Interest: The Rule Of Idiots

BY FOLA OJO 

In my high school days in Nigeria, I was a geeked tub-thumper of Irish statesman and philosopher, Edmond Burke. I still am. Among the horde of Burke’s gingering and spiriting philosophical sayings, one stands out strong for me. Each time I think about Nigeria, or when I’m privileged to talk about the nation anywhere around the world, these words barrel through my soul: “Those who will say nothing in the face of tyranny must endure the rule of idiots.” These were the words of Burke.

The word ‘idiot’ is defined as a foolish or stupid person and one affected with extreme intellectual disability. Burke’s allusion is that there are “idiots’ who wield much power in positions of leadership in certain nations of the world. It means that some presidents, governors, lawmakers, and many men and women in whose charge are destinies of millions of people in a country, are ‘idiots’. That is a heavy word-dump from Burke.

Greek mythology and ancient sociology also have an interesting perspective a little bit different from Burke’s definition of idiots in power. While Burke flatly defined idiots in power as stupid, the Greek description asserts that idiots are not mentally deficient, but very private, secretive, self-centred, and selfish people. According to them, idiots in power are pursuers of their own gain and self-interest and they lack public knowledge and philosophy. Idiots in the Greek ‘dictionary’ are upgraded barbarians who have no virtue and character to make meaningful contribution towards the flourishing of a society. The Greek also opined that modern-day idiots in power and leadership use power for their benefits. They pretend to be advocates of the people’s cause, but in reality, they advance their selfish interest. Wow!

When I was putting this piece together, a lot of thoughts ran through my mind about Nigeria. I remember those who led Nigeria when I was growing up. I remember the Balewas; the Azikiwes; the Awolowos; and many other brainy beings who fought through tough enslaving times in the hands of the British to secure Independence for the country and her people. I remember Western Nigeria’s free educational system I was a beneficiary of, and I remember the well-coordinated curricula. I remember the salacious lunch meals we purchased at rock-bottom prices. I remember very well how Awolowo’s free education programme gave us a strong foundation in whatever route we chose to travel in life. And the path we travelled got many young people in my age cohort where we are today. I remember how public policy debates were conducted by men with principle, intellectual deftness, and oratorical prowess who ran our governments. I remember the bursary awards for university students that got to them on time and without bottlenecks. I remember the 45 naira student meal tickets at the then University of Ife. I remember that the voucher lasted a student through a whole month so that his stomach was full to learn, and his brain wide awake to lead. I remember many things about Nigeria I cannot bundle up in this 1,300-word treatise. I remember Nigeria then. And we all live Nigeria now. Like day and night, the two are totally different. Today, progress has stalled, growth has grounded, morality has evanesced; and patriotism is in peremptory interment. Men who took charge of Nigeria especially in the 60s may have had their own weaknesses and failings; but if Edmond Burke were alive today, he will not call them idiots. What do we call the folks in the saddle of our governments today? Amongst them are still great men and women with great ideas. But these few people’s dreams for a better country have been shackled by evil and greedy ogres whose insatiable thirst for power and money is sinking the titanic called the Giant of Africa. The environment in Nigeria today is a stench. In every aspect of our national life, it is all renditions of pain and suffering from top-to-bottom.

According to a report by the International Poverty alleviation body, Oxford Committee for Famine Relief (OXFAM), the combined wealth of Nigeria’s five richest men, which totals $29.9 billion, could end extreme poverty in the nation. The report reads: “The five richest men in Nigeria could bring nearly all Nigerians out of extreme poverty for one year… Between 1960 and 2005, $20 trillion was stolen by public office holders; and multinational companies received tax incentives of $2.9 bn a year”. OXFAM also reports that the richest Nigerian man will take 42 years to spend all of his wealth at 1 million per day. And in one day, the richest Nigerian man can earn from his wealth 8,000 times more than what the poorest 10% of Nigerians spend on average in one year for their basic consumption.

Many present-day leaders are largely arrogant and arrogating. In power, they believe everything including government properties are their personal possessions. Life is all about them and the massive wealth they acquire through corruption. It is why poverty is still alive and growing. It is why crime rate is spiking furiously. And it is why lives of many citizens are stalled and stuck in reprehensible rut. A derelict set of beings who do not understand that the more the number of citizens brought out of poverty into self-reliance and sufficiency, the sweeter they and their children too will sleep at night. A depraved bunch who are incognisant of the fact that the more the people we educate and empowered with skills and knowledge, the bigger the job market that will be created; and the faster the rate of national growth and development. A foolish generation of nincompoops who don’t know that power is transient and God-given. Will you call them idiot? According to the Greek mythology, idiots in power are upgraded barbarians who only pursue their own gain and self-interest; who lack public knowledge and philosophy; and who have no virtue and character to make meaningful contribution towards the flourishing of a society.

Years ago, in Nigeria, armed robbers would write letters to their target-victims that they were coming to rob and loot. The robbers always kept the appointments. Nowadays, robbers have got more sophisticated. They no longer write letters before they rob; they run for elections. And they win. And they loot. And they get away with their spoils. From 1999 till date, a study conducted on Nigeria says that demicracy may have cost the nation close to N250tn to run its engine. But up till now, we are still looking for evidence of the progress made with that annually-budgeted whopping sum. What happened to all the funds? We have leaders who are absurdly lawless; audaciously unbridled, flagrantly foul, and defiantly deviant. Ours is a draining democracy. And where democracy drains, it also drowns. It is only a matter of time.

In conclusion, I swing back to Burke’s philosophy that: “Those who will say nothing in the face of tyranny must endure the rule of idiots’. Just like their counterparts in developing nations around the world, politicians in big democracies like the US are also prone to stealing and killing if the hands of the law are weak. Governments of developed nations are able to make remarkable progress because the people hold them accountable. In Nigeria, unfortunately, the people who should hold thieves accountable become their praise-singers and cheerleaders at the mere brandishing of bowls of rotten rice and dirty five-hundred naira notes hauled at them like beggars. Our people must learn how to hold political office-holders accountable for their misdeeds while in power. If not, they must continue to endure the rule of idiots.

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