OPINION: Beyond Apology; Oshiomhole, Save the Poor. By Omozuwa Gabriel Osamwonyi
I love Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo state. Yes, I do. However, I am not a hero worshiper. If anything, I seek to be a hero helper, one with the kind disposition of those in classic Greek mythologies. So, this piece is written in the spirit of an aspiring hero helper, not of a veteran fall-down-and-die prayer warrior, or that of a wilfully blind, see-no-good critic.
Edo state is renewing her greatness. The self-styled Comrade Governor has done pretty well in his attempt to restore the pride of the Edos. Before his advent to the cockpit of Edo’s statecraft, the largely agrarian state was becoming a huge skid row, a throwback to the Stone Age. It was a hotbed of cultural, social and political corruption. The state was under the siege of armed robbers and sex workers. Her youths were plagued with poverty of aspiration; they could not imagine living the good life without migrating to Europe. Social infrastructure bore the marks of criminal dereliction. It was a nightmare living or travelling to the acclaimed heartbeat of the nation.
It is difficult to tell how elated I was the last time I visited Edo state. The roads were better. Traffic flow around Ring Road was smooth. The streets of Benin were not as dirty as before. My joy soared when I went to the prestigious, Our Lady of Fatima College, my alma mater. The school was wearing a new look, transformed from a hellhole to a 21st century centre of excellence. Her exotic ambience says her glory days are back. Interestingly, this is not an isolated case. Public schools have enjoyed massive renovation. In the same way, public health service in the state is getting better.
Oshiomhole captured public imagination and rose to the crest of political power in Edo state, because of his stellar reputation as an incorruptible advocate of pro-poor policies. As a life-giving and death-defying labour leader, many economic policies of the Federal Government perceived as anti-people were upturned. Economic growth that could not enhance people’s wellbeing was an anathema to him. In policymaking circles, the fear of Oshiomhole was the beginning of wisdom. His skilfully choreographed mass protests made him an inspiring symbol of citizens’ power. He had the temperament and toga of a people’s hero.
It is in view of the above that my Comrade Governor’s encounter with an indigent widow is both puzzling and troubling. His posture in that drama of executive arrogance suggests he is oblivious of the gruesome plight of female-headed households. If he is aware of their plight, then, it is safe to infer from the video (that has gone viral) that there is an empathy deficit in his strategic approach to development. Puzzling! It should be said, it is not statesman-like to preach the capitalists’ homily of prosper or perish. Occurrences like this bring to mind the saying, “great men do not stumble over mountains, but pebbles.”
Speaking graceful words in moments of pressure is one of the truest tests of refinement and civility, a vital quality of humane and effective leadership. Venomous speech wrecks people. It is a disservice to leadership. At all times, the words of a leader must arouse hope, stimulate positive actions, provide clear-cut direction and inspire the best in people. A leader must be tactful in speaking, bearing in mind the words of Winston Churchill: “Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.”
Dear Comrade Governor, we know it is not tasking for you to respect and identify with someone that looks like you, who is successful like you, in your intellectual and ideological league, who is well-off and in your political circle. What is extremely tasking is to identify with and respect the humanity of a poverty-stricken widow who is not sure of her next meal, who has no voice, who is enterprising but has no economic support system, whose posture of supplicant, penitence and awe of you and soulful cry of “epa, epa” should have elicited mercy instead of anger. When you start to love the seemingly unlovable and bestow honour on people fate has robbed their dignity, then, you will transcend the threshold of good leadership to the stratum of iconic leaders who undyingly live in hearts.
One of the reasons history honours Alexander the Great is because his spoils of success did not change his essential care-giving temperament. He presents a picture of a high-achieving and empathic leader. It is said that in one of his insidious campaigns, many of his heroic fighters died out of exhaustion, thirst and sunstroke as they journeyed through the wilderness. When water was brought to him by his scout in a half-filled cup, he poured it on the ground. Then asked; “of what use is it for one to drink when others are thirsty?” That was the magical key that opened the hearts of people to him.
Non-empathy driven leadership is insipid, void of constructive power and incapable of ultimately creating higher order of lived reality for the underclass. It is wise for us to constantly reappraise the essence of power and why it derives its meaning from empathy. I guess because we do it less often that is why Nigeria’s public space is somewhat a theatre of dehumanising encounters with power. It is worth reiterating: Power with human face is likely to fulfil our utopian quest for heaven on earth. Power is a gravedigger when it mocks the poor. Doomsday arrives out of the blue when the arrogance of power is unchecked.
Executive stress and political exigencies can make leaders lack the luxury of time and nimbleness of mind for reflection. This is dangerous. It does not take profound psychological insight to know that it could make leaders impetuous, and ultimately experience compassion fatigue and victory disease.
The damage done to the mind of a widow in a single moment of anger can take a lifetime to fix. To restore this widow to the path of self-renewal and wholeness, it is morally wise for the much-esteemed Comrade Governor to properly apologise and be the last best hope of the poor. This episode reinforces the sentiment that in our clime, “Laws are like cobwebs. They strangle little flies. But destroyed by big birds”
I am persuaded that history will consider Oshoimhole’s “go and die” command to her as a venial slipup. Not necessarily on the strength of his apology, which was reported like a lame rationalisation of an indiscreet act, but if he intensifies efforts to ameliorate the plights of widows and other classes of vulnerable people. This would require empowering them to go and prosper by creating access to credit and robust spaces for enterprise to thrive. In addition, my Comrade Governor should eliminate the structural flaws that instigate economic injustice and undue income disparity. It will be salutary if reducing youth unemployment by providing strategic support for the creation of industry cluster is at the top of his agenda. Finally, Governor Oshiomhole should endeavour to create a balance between enhancing urban aesthetics and extending spaces that bolster human progress.