Last week, TIME gave Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky its coveted Person of the Year award.
The magazine confers this award on someone (or a group, an idea or object) that, in their evaluation of its editors, “for better or worse…has done the most to influence the events of that year…”
For Zelensky, it is a much-deserved honour. From the relative anonymity of television comedy before he became president in 2019, he found himself this year thrust into the limelight following the Russian invasion of his country.
The comedian quickly metamorphosed, demonstrating a strong ability to lead. The war unveiled the uncanny steel of which he is made, as he steered his country from the despair and uncertainty of an unexpected foreign onslaught.
Unlike people who boast about their military uniforms as a qualification for political office only to turn out to be as shallow as they are hollow, Zelensky has shown the world what true courage, patriotism and statesmanship are.
At no point in the past year has Zelensky proved to be out of his depth. He has led from the front, showing neither weakness nor trepidation, inspiring his people to stand up for their country. This non-soldier has emerged not simply as the face of Ukraine’s outrage and defiance, but the heart of their military and cultural response.
Zelensky has at no point run off to some other country to hide or to stash away a fortune. He has not gone abroad to receive medical treatment or to squander his nation’s resources. He has not sent his wife shopping with funds meant forthe war effort.
That is why, before the cameras and videos of the world, and the penetrating 24-hour searchlight of the mass and informal media, his courage has transformed his people. They have listened to him and followed him. Because of Zelensky’s character, Ukraine has stared down mighty Russia.
While he was being named Person of The Year however, Nigeria’s so-called electoral clown circuit, known domestically as the 2023 campaigns, continued.
In London, the presidential campaign train of the APC showed up in what was described as a Chatham House engagement that sadly ridiculed Nigeria. That is, unless the objective was to demystify and denigrate the traditions of Chatham House itself.
APC presidential candidate Bola Tinubu, choosing to maintain his distinction as a politician who is afraid of politics, again fled from a scheduled television debate in Nigeria to the safety of a sycophants-only event in London. His job in Chatham: to “appoint” underlings who would answer questions for him.
Far worse than an episode of “The Village Headmaster” in its prime, it was ugly to watch. But it is even uglier to reflect on its implications, including that a man who has nothing beyond his ambition has somehow seized control of otherwise intelligent men. I mean, even the children of those who loaned themselves out to advance that humiliating spectacle deserve a better Nigeria.
Unless Tinubu participates in a debate he does not control, it is evident that, as the Esans would say, even if he kills an elephant, he is no hunter. The APC presidential campaign is a charade. A cynical, unpatriotic theatre aimed at the terrifying proposition that a man who cannot answer questions from three or four people can rule 200 million people.
But also similarly stunning in its emptiness is the PDP campaign, going by what was transmitted as a sponsored event on Arise TV on Wednesday. There was really no campaigning going on, just a long line of party officials and egos appearing before a large assembly of microphones to shout slogans, with the occasional blaming of the PDP.
People shouting on television, led by the host Ondo State governor Ademola Adeleke’s clown dance is a political campaign? Most of the time, you could not even see who was speaking because the event was built around cameras and microphones. Nobody thought of a strategy to ensure that each speaker could be seen, let alone heard clearly. And they never panned to the audience, perhaps because it was too sparse.
I thought presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar would speak about himself, given the character questions that bedevil him. I wanted to hear from him why a party that he has himself acknowledged as having done dastardly things when he was Vice-President somehow deserves a vote. Will he combat—or enshrine—corruption? What issues is he passionate about, and how will he fund his policy interests?
He did not address these or similar issues. He did not campaign. He was merely putting in an appearance in something described as a campaign event. Like Jagaban Tinubu, just wants to be the president.
In the end, these are men who are counting on the greed or stupidity of Nigerians to get them into that office. They have knowledge neither of map nor of compass. It is precisely why Nigeria so sorely lacks statesmen and why our so-called leaders can win no international recognition.
Think about it. No Nigerian leader has ever received the Mo Ibrahim Award for leadership. Nigerian leaders win no recognition for service or character. That takes far more than the small, narrow minds of speechwriters. It requires far more than the applause of hired praise singers at their doors or the shamelessness of errand boys who answer questions they were not asked.
Last week, my son died.
To tell you that he suffered from sickle cell disease says very little of a remarkable life that will fill books. Only 38 when he passed, over half of his incredible life had been spent in hospital or rehabilitation beds, and nearly always between sickness and pain.
For him, however, distress was never an option. He always put the last bad news in the past. His calling card included a vibrant personality, seductive intellect, and irrepressible sense of humour. That was how he converted sceptics into believers, and every person he encountered into a friend.
I never told him this, especially since he had started to write a book, but he always reminded me of Harold S. Kushner’s book, “When bad things happen to good people,” because he was evidence that the human spirit conquers all.
Sadly, I did not understand any of it until he departed. When I consider his conquest of time itself, and of the legions of persons who adored him from the moment they met him, or of his ability to touch anyone without touching them, I understand: he was an angel.
It is why neither the sojourn of his pain nor the pain of his sojourn defeated him. He was an angel; we were just not equipped to see his wings.
But you are free now, Osaze Guobadia, my Godson. You were always the soaring kind.
[I welcome public response, in 100 words or fewer, to this column.]
This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials.
- [email protected]