STRONG PERSONALITIES VERSUS STRONG INSTITUTIONS

Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, and in recent years, Napoleon Bonaparte, Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Saddam Hussein, etc., these were powerful men, strong personalities who wielded absolute or authoritarian powers, and who made waves and shook the world during their own periods.

Nobody could withstand any of these men during their own time. They were next to God, possessing absolute rulers. They had all the power and authority of the three arms of government as enunciated in modern democracy rolled in them.

But as soon as their backbones were broken, as soon as their tricks were discovered, they all fell like a pack of cards, crumbled and fizzled away. They left no good legacies, no good things to remember them. This was because their systems were built on quick sand.

In Africa, we also had our own strong men, strong personalities, like “His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I, the Elect of God, the King of Kings of Ethiopia, Emperor of Ethiopia, and the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah”; “Life President, Field Marshall Idi Amin Dada”; “Life President, Field Marshall Mobutu Sese Seko Nkukku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga” (the Cockerel that never tiers); “Emperor Jean Bedel Bokasa”; “Master-Sergeant Samuel Doe”; “Colonel Muommer Gaddafi”), and so many others.

These were very powerful men whose names were synonymous with their individual countries. They were more powerful, and in many times, richer than their respective countries. For them, what mattered was absolute loyalty to their individual persons and not to the state as an institution.

Nobody dared look them in their face nor attempted to stand on their way. They could crush any such a person and make born fire of him. These were men who put Africa on the world map, not because of their popularity, but because of their notoriety.

Nigeria is not immune to these strong personalities, these strong men in power. She has produced many powerful Presidents, not only during the military dictatorships, but also in our civilian democracy: Presidents who believed themselves to be more important, more powerful than the country itself, who are worshiped or adored as if they were God; who could wake up any day to sack heads of the other arms of government without qualms, and who could seize or withhold local government funds and nobody was bold enough to challenge them.

Under the unitary system of government which we currently operate, our Presidents are very powerful people. They are strong personalities, sole dispersers of government patronages. They own the country and determine who gets what and the manner they would get it. They share the resources of the country according to their whims and caprices, first to themselves, and then to their family members, friends, relations and cronies.

As political philosophers would tell us, “power corrupts and absolute powers corrupts absolutely”. In Bertrand Russell, it is “power”that is the driving force in man. In Karl Marx, it is “economic” that is at the base of all man’s activities. Our Presidents are in love with both Bertrand Russell and Karl Marx in both their pursuit of absolute power and in the primitive acquisition of wealth.

In consequence, they usually would end up not achieving anything, fail to make their marks in the sands of time, save to acquire to build power around themselves and accumulate huge personal resources. Any wonder that twenty-one years after his death, we still talk about the loots recovered from “Saint Sani Abacha”.

The irony is that while our Presidents would be busy accumulating wealth and acquiring power by destabilizing other arms of government in order to build their strong personalities, they ended up not achieving anything for the country, not doing anything even for their own home states.

For instance, what can we say that former President Olusegun Obasanjo did for his own people of Ogun State, in his eight years in office as President? Even former President Goodluck Jonathan, while he was busy building Almajiri schools in the North to please those he thought would keep him in power, he forgot to build the only road leading to his own village.

Today, President Muhammadu Buhari who believes himself to be very powerful, having conquered both the Judiciary and the National Assembly, Katsina State, his home state, is still one of the poorest states in the country, and life very miserable for the ordinary residents of the state, and he could do nothing, as President, to change the situation.

Thus, for us, those who currently advocate for Igbo Presidency under the present system of government as panacea to the Igbo problem do not seem to understand the dynamics of the Igbo problem. The problem of the Igbo in Nigeria is not a one off solution. It is complex and far beyond having a figure head as President of Nigeria, one who would not be able to do anything for the Igbo under the present circumstance.

Have we ever considered why many Igbo who served in various capacities in government had not been able to do anything for the Igbo? It does not mean that these people hate the Igbo or were unwilling to do anything for them. It is either that the system has overwhelmed them, or that they were out to build themselves in power, to accumulate wealth in line with others before them.

When Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was the Premier of Eastern Region, he was very useful to the Igbo. That was the time he established the University of Nigeria, founded African Continental Bank, established Nigercem, Nkalagu, etc., but when he became President of Nigeria and went to Lagos, he became far removed from the people and was no longer as useful to the people as he used to be. Attention then shifted to his successor, Dr. M.I. Okpara.

It was during that time that Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Sarduana of Sokoto, who was the leader of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), had preferred to stay in Kaduna as Premier of Northern Region, than going to Lagos to become Prime Minister. He nominated his deputy, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and sent him to Lagos to become Prime Minister of Nigeria. That time, residual powers were in the regions, rather the omnibus entity called Nigeria.

The point we are trying to make is that the Igbo Presidency would be of no use to the Igbo with the existing unitary structure of the country, where the system would not allow such a President to do anything for his people. Such a President may have all the powers in the world, he may have access to all the country’s resources, to make himself a strong personality, but he would be caged, and not able to do anything for his people outside what the existing law permits, what the constitution allows.

Therefore the Igbo are less interested with what is going on in Abuja than what is happening in Igboland. They prefer the creation or the establishment of a strong institution that will give the Igbo a sense of belonging than the creation of a strong Igbo man, or making one Igbo man President who would not be able to do anything for the Igbo because of the many hedges around him.

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