Columnist

If only our political leaders read

Tope Adaramola

From time immemorial, notable leaders have come to be known by their ability to inspire followership through their rich reservoir of knowledge which, in most cases, comes from a life dedicated to reading. There is an aphorism that admission of superior knowledge by a leader from other parties is surely the first point towards acquiring more knowledge. The extent to which many could eat this humble pie becomes the big challenge.

According to John Maxwell, “an educated person who does not read is simply not different from an illiterate”. This saying underscores the pivotal place that reading occupies in the lives of the individual in every society. Needless to aver that the development of any nation is inextricably tied to the knowledge power extant in such society; hence only nations that are poised to be perpetually backward would have its people habituating to life averse to reading.

World renowned leaders in history, especially in advanced climes don’t pay lip service to reading and writing of books. They rather live by it. Needless to mention that the meteoric rise to prominence of such legendary men like Mahatma Gandhi, Bill Clinton, T. R. Roosevelt, John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, et al, was pivoted on their penchant for knowledge and scholarship.

Followers buy into these great men on the strength of their knowledge. Whether in or out of public glare, books were usually authored by these men to captured their vision, background and orientation which they share with other men. To those of them with strong political inclination, such pool of knowledge becomes a potent selling point to the electorates and their followers.

In contemporary times, it is on record that the book “audacity of hope” written by Barack Obama, gave more than little impetus to his high wire campaign and subsequent victory as US President, partly true too of the mercurial Donald Trump whose books sold a great deal of him before he contested for the topmost position of US President. Former US President Bill Clinton will continue to be remembered for some of his books, particularly “My Life” which captures his odyssey prior and during his stay in the White House.

As a Nigerian, it was strange to behold Obama clutching to a novel in the course of one of his rigorous electioneering campaigns for the United States Presidency. I immediately attempted to figure out a similar campaign in our country and leave you to guess what is likely to be handy within our own campaign arena. Furthermore, it is easy to make copious references to literatures authored by Mohandras K. Ghandi, called (Mahatma Gandhi) which means “the great soul” and Nelson Mandela.

I was most fascinated by on-line media reports that immediate past President of USA, George W. Bush retired into his Crawford country home, to pursue two principal projects: build a befitting library and put finishing touches to his memoir that would capture events of his eight years tenure as President. He is definitely not alone in this tradition.

Outspoken President Theodore Roosevelt, described by British Historian, Hugh Brogan as “one of the ablest man to occupy the White House” was a man of letters and intellect. For his great knowledge, he was able to square up to the numerous problems confronting his nation at that time. Among other things, he helped America develop the best Navy; he saw that the Panama canal was built and negotiated the peace between Russia and Japan-winning a noble prize in the process. On January 6, 1919 when Roosevelt died in his sleep, they found a book under his pillow. Up till the very last, Roosevelt continually read and improved himself. I leave you to guess what the shocking discovery would have been at that point if he was one of our Naija leaders!

The fact is that writing of books is borne out of penchant for reading and quest for knowledge. It also reflects the priorities and opportunity costs that these leaders attached to scholarship above other competing interests. Generally speaking, reading refreshes the soul and gives the reader the rare privilege of insight into the lives and experiences of other great men whom they ordinarily would not have been able to know.

The ilks of the late Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikwe, Ahmadu Bello and Anthony Enahoro, gained rapid ascendancy to respectable heights in the hearts of the people partly when they lived due to their positive inclination to a disciplined and studious life style. In their prime, these men, in spite of the challenges of their time, stood like colossus in whichever side of the divide they found themselves politically.

Whether in the opposition or on the saddle of government they radiated abundance of candour and intellect. Their words were weighty and laden with profound wisdom to the extent that you could only ignore them at a great or incalculable peril. They were variously touted as “prophets” or “philosophers” of their age because of their sagacity.

These leaders pride themselves more in their intellectual power above any other pedestrian acquisition. It was easy for them to raise protégés after their kind who were ready to die rather than turn coat from the ingrained ideological orientation that they have had, after all, every tree bears fruit after its own likeness. The theatre of politics at that time was that of knowledge and superior arguments above all things. However, all that has changed. The political leaders of today have devised clever ways of circumventing knowledge acquisition, unlike their predecessors.

There is a total re-ordering of priorities in such a way that depth and knowledge is no longer the yardstick for political consideration. Nomination of candidates and consequent victories at the polls are based, first of all, on patronage, sentiments of tribe and more ferociously religion as well as other laughable conditions. The most unlettered and unread fellow, who has what to offer in terms of naira and kobo to the parties’ inner caucuses and gluttonous electoral collaborators, have a surety of coasting home with sweet victories.

To hell with what you know seems to be what every one is saying when it comes to attaining political power. It is of little wonder that our nation is now bereft of ideas and vision required to surge ahead in an increasingly sophisticated global environment.

The apparent lack of vision and direction being experienced at all levels of governance today represents the sad effects of our new ways of life. Political office is no longer perceived as an avenue for service, rather it is seen as a means of pillaging filthy lucre to the detriment of the wellbeing of the masses. At the slightest show of “magnanimity” to the electorates through construction of roads, bridges, public toilets, provision of electricity transformers and other mundane projects, drums were usually rolled out to celebrate the so called “dividends of democracy”.

One keeps wondering whether we need to have democracy to have some of these basic amenities which most are a given even in undemocratic nations. It could be assumed that lack of understanding and poor knowledge of most of our political leaders usually rob them of what should normally come across to them as democratic “dividends”. Deep minds would rather reckon with indices such as existence of rule of law, human capital development, free and fair elections, and strong institution building as “democratic dividends”.

But the big question is: how can anyone give what he does not have? Every man is limited by the length and breadth of knowledge that he possesses. A leader that is “reading-averse” cannot give the desired leadership that would inspire quality followership.

Genuine and sustainable development may continue to elude us as a nation until we have complete re-orientation of our value system and get our priorities right. God will never bend his rules; the learned will always have upper hand over the unlearned, irrespective of how much the latter strives. This is not applicable to individuals alone, but also to nations and ours is not likely to be an exception of this universal rule.

As 2023 elections are around the corner, this has become apt. Our politicians are already getting out of their shells to recite banal slogans and campaigns to woo uninformed electorates. Of course, we could not expect more, they are only drawing from the abundance of their hearts. Too bad!

Tope Adaramola is  a PR practitioner and public affairs commentator.

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