Or is it then a colonial vestige? Her Majesty the Queen of England is UK’s head of state and also head of the Commonwealth. Her crown alone is worth billions by today’s standard. She is well protected. So is Gordon Brown. None of them uses a ghoulish looking ADC behind them at public fora. Fact is that the US Capitol, Buckingham Palace and the Elysee Palace are all tourist attractions. Openness in governance is not just by word of mouth, it is by action. Government should discard this shameful display of abuse of privilege and begin to mirror its life after civilised communities. That’s one way to move from civil rule to democracy.
Archbishop Onaiyekan confessed to friends recently that on a visit to a foreign country, he never got anyone open the door of his car or attempt to carry his briefcase. He had to do it himself. But in Nigeria, even religious leaders are insulated from their members by escorts who stand guard, either while they preach or while they move around. Our public officials do not carry the files in which their carefully crafted speeches are written they leave that slavishly to their aides. They are also too dainty to move their own chairs. They leave that to protocol officers. They do not open the doors to their own cars. All these stuff of colonial movies, are flagrantly on display in our country. Elected and selected people use sirens to run their voters off the road and erect barriers to block themselves from the people they represent. At one point, the National Assembly wanted to install cameras in Apo Legislative Quarters, to block their constituents who disturb their sleep.
Yet it is a matter of fact that power is transient, even for the worst of despots. One day, you are in government and insulated, the next day you are levelled an ordinary citizen exposed to the vagaries of the society, its uncertainty and the stark reality of its insecurity. Imagine a poor me in the same room with General Yakubu Gowon. As a young pupil, I once was made to walk eight kilometres to stand in the scorching sun flag in hand, waiting to watch his motorcade pass. That is no longer done today in most city streets, but I won’t be surprised if that still happens in some remote areas. We create so much mystery around power and governance that it becomes almost a cult thing. Little children dream of the time they would get their own chances to show off with the perks of office and not service. A young man who became speaker in this land does not want to be addressed by his name among his peers but as Mr. Speaker years after the seat has forgotten him.
Granted, we need to give people in power a wee bit of the respect they deserve by virtue of their acquired status and we do so by offering them seats on the ‘high table’ but they lose nothing if they sit like ordinary people and the ‘security’ is not in flagrant display. I’d give anything to see Mr. President pull up his speech from the pocket of his babanriga; pull his own chair at the federal executive council meeting and make his ADC sit out of public glare overseeing to security rather than sit behind him. I’d love to see those phoney-looking, suit-wearing, bulging by the sides security men who block people’s views at public forum take the back seat and not display their arrogance and dark goggles.
I’d like to see pastors (by whatever title they are called) deliver sermons without guards inhibiting their every move in the house of God. Because, the truth is Nigerians are wonderful people who love the easy life. If there were people in this country ready to die for the country, they are not even in the army, because at the height of the Liberian civil war, officers were known to bribe their superiors to avoid being drafted and those who were drafted were known to cry their eyes out for being sent to their early graves. I do not see any of these phoneys standing in the face of a militant ready to take a bullet meant for their bosses. I’d bet my last kobo if we found one in a battalion. Nigerians are wonderful people who make true the doctrine that everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. They are not suicide bombers. No, look for those in the Middle East. These ones want a revolution but not one that would consume them.
Besides, is governance not supposed to be the highest form of service? Why then do we carry on as if it will never end? If God gives power, how come the man who is thus empowered so obsessed with protecting himself that he is ready to kill in order to keep it? It is the responsibility of today’s holders of power to demystify governance and be seen as true servants of the people, not only in their spending but also in their public carriage.
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