Nigerian Leaders And The Ephemerality Of Power -By Prof. Mike A. A. Ozekhome, SAN
POWER AND MAN’S DOMINION
Power is as old as the creation of the world. The first expression of power was by God – when he created the Heavens and the Earth. [Genesis 1 v. 1 – 2]. The Qur’an states that ‘Allah created the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them.’ [7:54].
God proceeded to create man in His own image and likeness when he said, ‘Let us create man in our image, to our likeness. Let them rule over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, over the cattle, over the wild animals, and over all creeping things that crawl along the ground.’ [Genesis 1 v. 27]. This means that man looks like God and possesses the attributes of God – with absolute dominion [power] over all things created by God. Psalm 82 puts it poignantly: “I said, you are “gods”; you are all sons of the MOST HIGH”.
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POLITICAL POWER AND ITS ABUSE
In the labyrinthine corridors of political power, a captivating dance of death unfolds- where the mighty ascend to the throne with the grandeur of illusion and tall promises, only to find themselves ensnared in the maze and quagmire of their own making. Such is the hypnotic and seductive tale of power and its ephemeral grip on those who wield it. In the Nigerian political landscape, this narrative has played out time and again, as public officeholders have succumbed to the allure of authority, often leading to the abuse, misuse and disuse of power.
Edmund Burke was on target when he admonished that “the greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse”. The reason is that in the words of Paul Harris, “personality has power to uplift, power to depress, power to curse and power to bless.”
LIFE ITSELF IS EPHEMERAL
The ephemeral nature of power, as highlighted in religious texts such as the Holy Bible and the Holy Quran, emphasizes the transient and fleeting nature of human existence and the potential pitfalls of wielding power in a capricious, whimsical, arbitrary and unconscionable manner, without humility, righteousness and due regard to those at the receiving end.
In James 4:14 of the Bible, it is expressed that humans do not have control over what will happen in the future. Life is compared to a vapor that appears for a short time and then vanishes away. Hear James: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” This metaphor conveys the brevity and fragility of human life. It also suggests that power, like life itself, is temporary and also dissipates rapidly. Similarly, the Quran, in verse 28:76, narrates the story of Korah, a person of power during the time of Moses. Korah abused his authority and tyrannized his people. He was granted immense wealth and treasures that “even their keys would burden a group of strong men”. So, his people advised him, “Do not be prideful. Surely, Allah does not like the prideful.” The supremacy of divine power surpasses the transience of mortal power. God stands as the ultimate force to be acknowledged, while humanity’s existence is temporary. As they say, “Soldier come, Soldier go, Barracks remain”.
The Legendary musical icon, Prince, once said passively that, “But life is just a party, and parties weren’t meant to last.”
The historical Chinese politician and poet, Li Shang-yin, also told us that, “And a moment that ought to have lasted for ever has come and gone before I knew.”
The much celebrated Indian author, Krishna Udayasankar, also echoed this, “No empire lasts forever, no dynasty continues unbroken. Someday, you and I will be mere legends. All that matters is whether we did what we could with the life that was given to us.”
I once a read mesmerizing poem that is engraved in my everyday thought of action. It was a poem written by the highly celebrated English poet, Percy Shelly– “Ozymandias”. This was the first foremost metaphor for the ephemeral nature of power. It was written in a parlance – depicting a traveler telling the speaker a story about two vast legs of stone standing without a body, and near them, a massive, crumbling stone head lies ‘half sunk’ in the sand. The words on the statute read thus: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair! But today, the statute is broken and even decayed, where is the self-acclaimed king?”.
Even Methuselah reputed to be the longest-lived human whose lifespan was recorded as 969 years in Gen 5:27, still kissed the dust. When man became swollen-headed and too sinful, God cut his age to a maximum of 120 years (Gen 6:3). This God’s ceiling of human lifespan is why the oldest ever recorded Guinness Book of Records human being is Branyas of Spain who lived for 113 years and 364 days.
YET, GOD CONTROLS MEN WHO CONTROL POWER
With this observation, a compelling pattern emerges a thought-provoking notion that everything, as if orchestrated by the hands of time, may eventually and inexorably reach its transient conclusion.
The terrific Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylonian, reigned for so many years. After his great fall, and having come to true repentance, acknowledged the unlimited and unending power and greatness of God, thus: ‘The matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the Most High ruleth in the Kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever HE will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.’ [Daniel 4 – 1].
WHAT REALLY IS POWER
What is power? An American writer – Robert Green, popular for writing international books on human nature, all power-related, was asked the meaning of power. This was his response: “Power is the measure of the degree of control you have over circumstances in your life and the actions of the people around you. It is a skill that is developed by a deep understanding of human nature, of what truly motivates people, and of the manipulations necessary for advancement and protection”.
Returning to the nucleus of our riposte, let us embark on an expedition through the intriguing Nigerian terrain, shedding more light on the fleeting nature of assumed dominion bestowed upon the fortunate wielders of power.
HERE IS NIGERIA; OUR NIGERIA
Picture this: Nigeria is a land of vast potential and immense diversity, where power dynamics dance like fickle flames in the wind. It is a place where politicians rise to sudden prominence like shooting stars, captivating a tired nation with alluring promises of change, progress, and prosperity. But alas, as the old saying goes, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In this case, it also evaporates like water in the Sahara. In 1655, King Louis XIV of France stood in front of Parliament and imperiously declared, “L’etat C’est Moi” (meaning, I am the State”. This was to accentuate his complete hold on power to the exclusion of all other lesser mortals.
Oh, how we have witnessed the Nigerian political stage transform into a theatre of comedy, tragedy and the absurd; an Odeon where the script is written by fate itself. We have seen leaders sprinting towards power, like Usain Bolt, fueled by sheer ambition and infatuation rhetoric, only to stumble and fall on banana peels of their own making. It is as if there is a cosmic prankster, ever delighting them in the ironic twists and turns of political fortune.
Even an era of authoritarian rule or maximum dictatorship no longer guarantees a leader’s everlasting hold on power. While it may prolong their reign, as seen in many cases, their grip must end. In history, we have seen long-lasting dictators like Nguema Mbasogo, Omar Bongo, Kim ll Sung, Muammar Gaddafi, Ali Khomeini, Sassuo Nguesso, Gnassingbe Eyadema, Paul Biya, Hun Sen, Yoweri Museveni, Omar Al-Bashir, Saddam Hussein, Haile Selassie and Ferdinand Marcos. Dictators’ and rulers’ rule is inevitably bound to reach its end, sometimes through violent means, as witnessed in the fate of certain long-standing dictators. Even King Louis XIV who ruled the kingdom of France for 72 years, 3 months and 18 days, still bit the dust. Ditto Sobhuza II who ruled Swaziland for 82 years and 254 days, same with Min Hti of Arakan who ruled in the Kingdom of Arakan for 95 years. What about Pepi II Neferkare, who ruled the Kingdom of Egypt for 94 years? They all went the way of all mortals. They became dust. Furthermore, the limitations of human lifespan must be taken into account. An individual’s productive years typically fall within the 40 to 50-year range, following a normal distribution pattern known as the “Poisson” distribution. This implies that their most fruitful years span from ages 25 to 75, with the peak occurring between 35 and 65. Considering these factors, the window of power becomes remarkably narrow and encroaches upon the more enjoyable stages of life. Observing some politicians’ desperate and suicidal maneuvers to cling to power forever, one wonders if they harbor the illusion of immortality.
NOTHING LASTS FOREVER
Nothing lasts forever, even this life is vanity upon vanity. [Ecclesiastes 1:2 – 8 KJV]. In William Shakespeare’s epic in Macbeth, Macbeth himself tells, “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Act V, Scene V).
But let us not forget the seriousness of this topic; for beneath the veneer of my foregoing satire lies my profound examination of the fleeting nature of power. In a country brimming with sundry potentials, how do we navigate the tumultuous waters of leadership? How do we separate the genuine statesmen from the artificial temporary showmen? And what does it mean for a nation like Nigeria when ephemeral power eventually slips through the hands of those entrusted with its stewardship?
We must note that the intoxicating portion of power can be a double-edged sword, corrupting even the noblest of intentions. Abuse of power occurs when public officeholders who succumb to their baser instincts, using their positions for personal gain, and turning a blind eye to the needs and aspirations of the people they are meant to serve. Brutus, mulling over Caesar’s rise to power and the stringent calls to crown him, soliloquized: “The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act II Scene I). He feared that though he had not known Caesar to be unreasonable, he feared that power may change him. So, for the common good, Caesar must die. What is therefore easily forgotten is the ‘EMPHEMERALITY OF POWER’ and the temporary positions that the wielders hold. Nothing in life is permanent except for the word of God almighty Himself, which endures forever (Peter 1:25). What we ask again, and again is this: Leaders, what do you want to be remembered for when you leave power? For certainly you must leave someday. If not today, surely tomorrow.
Power to these sit-tight leaders is like opium; it intoxicates; power is an aphrodisiac; an intoxicating liquor. It bemuses. It gives one the delusional ‘Dutch courage’. It can either make or mar the holder. It forces reason to vacate its seat. It is not certain – but – evanescent, fleeting, transitory, volatile and short-lived. (Seehttps://tell.ng/magu-the-ephemerality-of-power-mike-ozekhome-san/;premiumtimesng.com – Ibrahim Magu: the ephemerality of unbridled power, by Mike Ozekhome.2022).
PRESIDENT BUHARI: FROM YESTERDAY’S STRONGMAN TO TODAY’S VANISHING ACT!
In the realm of politics, power is as transient as a fleeting breeze. It is capable of elevating one individual to the highest echelons of authority, only to swiftly deposit them down the drain, into the dustbin of history. As Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari prepares to bid farewell to his troubled tenure, the ephemeral nature of power becomes a glaring reality. Ephemerality rudely stares him in the face. In a race against time, the president now finds himself compelled to attempt making amends so as to leave a good impression of himself in the dwindling moments of his frittered authority.
As the sun sets on Buhari’s uneventful presidency, the weight of unfinished matters, untouched agenda, unfulfilled promises looms large. He is worried stiff. He says he will run and join his kiths and kins in Niger Republic as a safe haven if he is disturbed in Daura. He means it. He has done so much for the poverty-stricken country of Niger, using Nigeria’s scarce resources to develop that country. The ever-watchful eyes of the public have always witnessed the rise and fall of leaders grappling with the complex web of power dynamics that define their poor tenures. Buhari, too, has now experienced the fickleness of authority. He now understands that time waits for no leader; not even for anyone.
In the face of his imminent departure, by constitutional effluxion of time (section 135 of the 1999 Constitution), Buhari is desperate to utilize the remaining days of his vanishing presidency to attempt to make amends and do what he could not do in 8 years. He is now actually aware that his legacy may even be shaped by whatever actions he can take within this remaining short span. The concept of a political “swan song” becomes a rallying call for him, as he races against time; against the clock. He now seeks redemption and a chance to reconcile past missteps and irreparable blunders. Can he do this successfully? I do not think so. Or, do you?
Like a performer on a grand stage, Buhari is now fully cognizant of the fleeting applause and the ephemeral nature of public favour he had enjoyed so far, even while underperforming. The ticking hands of time now fuel his sense of urgency, urging him to seize the opportunity to rectify the grave missteps that have defined his tenure. Yet, the question remains: Can Buhari heal the gaping wounds of a bleeding and beleaguered nation in this twilight of his power? I do not think so. Or, do you? How will he suddenly correct and repair his governance template of prebendalism, nepotism, sectionalism, favoritism and cronyism in a twinkle of an eye? How will he repair his style that made him turn Nigeria into a “Federal Republic of the North”; or “The Northern Republic of Nigeria”; or “Republic of Northern Nigeria and other vassal states”. (See The Cable, “It is illegal for Buhari to Solely Appoint IGP, says Ozekhome, https://www.the cableng; 6/4/21)
As we observe the closing chapter of Buhari’s lack-luster presidency, we are witnessing a leader grappling with the inherent fragility of power. The transitory nature of authority stands as a stark reminder to Buhari that time is an unforgiving adversary. It allows for only a limited window to enact any changes. Buhari’s quest for redemption in this final act is emblematic of the universal struggle to harness the ephemeral nature of power for lasting impact. But, it is too late now. History, a diligent recorder of events, has already closed his chapter. I believe so. Or, do you not?
BUHARI’S LAST-MINUTE BAZAAR OF CONTRACTS AND APPOINTMENTS
The tabloids and front pages of our social media timelines have been abuzz with reports highlighting a common trend of Major General Muhammadu Buhari along with some Governors, engaging in last-minute rushed appointments, humongous expenditures and hasty award of contracts in hundreds of billions.
It was expected that the President and Governors should gracefully wind down their activities and leave certain crucial decisions for their incoming successors. This approach is important to prevent the imposition of projects that may be considered insignificant by the new administration; avoid policy reversals that could negatively impact various stakeholders; and maintain a stable and predictable investment and business environment.
Unfortunately, this ideal scenario now appears forlorn and fading away faster than politicians’ vainglorious promises soon after elections. Such hurried decisions often create predicaments for the incoming governments.
Imagine the shock and angst of a Nation discovering that, a mere 19 days before President Buhari was set to depart office, reports emerged on May 10, 2023, revealing his request for Senate approval of an $800 million loan from the World Bank. The purpose? To finance the National Social Safety Network Programme, allegedly aiming to soften the blow of fuel subsidy removal! Gosh! Did I hear well?
Apart from the undeniable fact that such a loan would further burden the country’s already towering debt, the timing of the request, so close to the expiration of Buhari’s regime, raised eyebrows and sparked concerns among many Nigerians. It appears to be an act aimed at placing cherry on top of his presidential sundae just before handing over the baton.
One cannot help but wonder if this trend of last-minute borrowings is an attempt to leave a lasting legacy, or simply an act of great mischief, reminiscent of a student pulling an all-nighter to finish an assignment due the next morning. Either way, it certainly puts more suspense and uncertainty on the minds of an already drama-filled realm of Nigerian politics.
Renowned legal luminary and foremost Educationist, Aare Afe Babalola SAN, CON, LL.D, the esteemed founder of Afe Babalola University Ado Ekiti (ABUAD), has expressed strong disapproval of President Muhammadu Buhari’s proposition to the National Assembly regarding a fresh $800 million loan allegedly aimed at funding the National Social Safety Network Programme (NSSNP). He wondered how Nigeria can be declared bankrupt and still borrow more money. He advised the NASS to reject the request. I am also wondering. Or, are you not?
Furthermore, during a meeting chaired by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo on April 19, 2023, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) granted approval for numerous contracts amounting to over N100 billion.
President Buhari and his ministers have also authorized contracts exceeding N3.7 trillion in the final stages of his administration, specifically between March 20, 2023, and May 14, 2023; and these after the conclusion of the general elections. Only few days ago, Buhari wrote to the Senate to approve the said $800 million from the World Bank to allegedly finance the National Safety Net Programme – to support poor and vulnerable Nigerians through bank cash transfers. Mr President sir, why not leave this for your successor? Where have you been these past 8 years sir?
Only in December, 2022, the NASS approved Buhari’s #819.5bn request for domestic loan. And just on May 4, 2023, the agama lizard “yes sir” and “Take-a-bow” worst Senate in Nigeria’s legislative history, since the time of Nnamdi Azikiwe and Dr. Nwafor Orizu, readily approved Buhari’s #22.7 trillion, CBN’s “Ways and Means” loan request just 26 days before quitting! I am horrified. Or, are you not?
In a display of this negative consistency, President Buhari has been skillfully curating an ensemble of individuals to occupy various esteemed positions. Just last month, he skillfully reassembled the Board of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, unveiling James Akintola as the new Captain at the helm.
Not stopping there, he cunningly selected the retiring Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Garba Baba Umar, to take on the pivotal role of Senior Security Adviser on International Police Cooperation and Counter-terrorism in the Office of the Minister of Police Affairs. It is almost as if President Buhari possesses a knack for handpicking the “finest” talents in his twilight.
And just when you thought his appointing prowess had reached its zenith, news broke out of the appointment of Toyin Madein as the new Accountant General of the Federation, following the vacancy for a year due to the suspension of the former AGF, Ahmed Idris, amidst allegations of a staggering N109 billion fraud.
On May 23, 2023 (less than one week to go), President Buhari not done, has formally communicated with the Senate to approve humongous sums to settle judgment debts amounting to $566,754,584.31, £98,526,012.00, and N226,281,801,881.64; all allegedly owed by the Federal government. Promissory notes are the means of payment. This is well over N500 billion. Where have Mr. President and the Attorney-General been all these while? Who are these judgement creditors? Which courts gave the judgements? Were there any appeals or agreements entered into? Why now for God’s sake? Why not leave these to the next administration since government is a continuum? Why? Why? Why?
As the curtains draw inexorably to a close on Buhari and the Governors’ tenure, the circus-like atmosphere has begun to fade. The contracts, the loans, the appointments, and the sudden remembrance of existing “debts” due, all remain as reminders of a complex dance between fleeting power, strategy, and public perception. Only time would reveal the true impact of these hurried last-minute decisions and whether they would stand as a testament to effective governance, or a captivating, yet ultimately hollow performance. Do you know the impact? The lives of Nigerians yet unborn have been mortgaged. I am worried. Or, are you not?
BUHARI’S MIGRATION FROM ONE ‘NIGER’ TO ANOTHER
President Buhari’s threatened migration from Nigeria if he faces too much disturbance after his tenure reminds us of the ephemeral nature of power. Buhari’s audacious proclamation to leave Nigeria if “disturbed too much” after his tenure is reminiscent of a fleeting magician who mesmerizes the audience with grand illusions, only to vanish when the curtains fall. It begs the question: does his commitment to the unfinished Nigerian project only extend as far as his political reign? True leaders stand with their nation, through thick and thin, rather than making flighty escape plans. Is he afraid of the apparition of his woeful, below-average performance? Is it not this same Buhari that one Mr. Dahiru Buba trekked from Lagos to Abuja to celebrate his victory? Is it not the same President Buhari that Suleiman Hashimu rode a bicycle from Kaduna to Abuja to herald his victory? Oh, how the cookies crumble! How the mighty are fallen!
President Buhari’s offhand remark about leaving Nigeria if disturbed after his tenure reveals the transient nature of his power and its tenuous grip on the nation. Leadership requires steadfastness, resilience, and an unwavering commitment to the people. By hinting at an escape plan, Buhari inadvertently highlights the frailty of his connection to Nigeria. It raises serious doubts about his dedication to the challenges that lie ahead for a nation he has helped to be prostrate. In the end, a true leader must weather the storm. He must stand strong and firm, rather than evaporate into the ephemeral mist of fleeting power. President Buhari fails again and again to rewrite his poor history of governance.
- POWER IS INDEED EPHEMERAL
There is no man that has ruled forever. Every King must have an heir; because nobody is immortal. If we can view life as power, then we would know that one day, just like life goes, power must disappear. The rise and fall of great empires and powerful men should teach us about the ever-changing nature of power.
- LEAD FOR THE PEOPLE AND NOT SELF
Leaders now seek power with the mindset of enriching their family, friends and generation. For many, it is, “Let us go and take my share”. This is an ignoble practice and ideology to follow. A study of all people-oriented leaderships usually end well with great appreciation from the people. Little wonder some politicians are not re-elected on several occasions.
- LEARN FROM THE MISTAKES OF PAST LEADERS AND NOT YOURS
It is only a fool that would want to get his finger into the fire after witnessing his neighbour’s get burnt by the same attempt. History is important. If you do not study history, you cannot shape the future. We should always endeavour to read the antecedents of past leaders and their mistakes so that we can correct our paths. Albert Einstein once theorized, “We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created the”. Leaders must also imbibe this great philosopher and precursor of the Law of Relativity when he dilated thus: “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
- THE LAW OF KARMA IS REAL
Whatever goes around comes around. Whatever you sow – so you shall reap. It is a natural law. Men of power have always reaped what they sowed. We should learn that those who sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7).
- POWER INTOXICATES
Flannery O’Connor (Author of “A Good Man is Hard to Find), illuminates: “Apart from the occasional saint, it is difficult for people who have the smallest amount of power to be nice.” I would say no more on these.
It is not a mistake that God gave us dominion over the world and everything in it. We must be wary of power. We must strive to exercise it for the benefit and survival of humanity. Power is ephemeral. It does not last forever. It comes and goes. Therefore, men of power must try to acknowledge this indubitable truism and guide against power inebriation. Power has made and also marred many great men and women. We must accept this truth or face the bitter aftermath of our actions and inactions.