• Friday, July 12, 2024
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Nigeria and lessons from Uruguay


As a rule, this column is mainly preoccupied with Nigeria. We hardly go beyond our shores. This is because foreign policy and international relations are deemed to be luxuries in a column like this. The reason for this is simple enough. There is still so much to be done in this underdeveloped and underperforming country of ours. As everyone knows, we are light years behind other countries. Worse still is the fact that our country has to contend with dealers who posture as leaders. Indeed, leadership here is characterised by untoward features like bare-faced plunder and mindless kleptocracy of mind-boggling proportions. Even then, this is not the end of the sad story. Our leaders are also steeped in various shades of magniloquence, which will shame even the colonial master. They go around in jets and convoys of cars which speak to the stinking opulence that characterises public life. But this self-imposed rule of insularity must be broken today, if only because there are lessons out there for characters who lay claim to leadership status in Nigeria.

Beyond our shores is a striking instance of discipline, restraint, and what can easily be called patriotic frugality. Specifically, my reference here is to Jose Mujica, the outgoing president of Uruguay, Latin America. There are credible reports to the effect that Jose Mujica is one president that most countries would rather have. Rather than live it up, as the president of Uruguay he is steeped in some form of ascetic deprivation. This is a far cry from the crass materialism which typifies political life in a deranged country like Nigeria. Consider the fact that Mujica does not own a car except for an old, weather-beaten Volkswagen Beetle. Now that is quite something when comparisons are made with members of our demented political class.

On this note, I remember one interesting and rather revealing tiff between the Ogun State governor, Ibikunle Amosun, and his deputy, Adesegun. In the course of the quarrel, the latter alleged that he had been marginalised on the grounds that the cars in his fleet were non-functional. The governor subsequently replied that, in fact, there were 12 cars in the deputy governor’s fleet. When it is considered that this revelation is not an isolated case; that, indeed, there are fleets and fleets of cars servicing all the various governors and their deputies as well as our ministers right up to Aso Rock, the reader can then imagine the stupendous price that this country continues to pay for what can easily be called their democracy.

Understandably, what has been sketched above is inversely proportional with the Spartan lifestyle of Jose Mujica. Meanwhile, this selfless lifestyle is also reflected in the fact that our man shunned the presidential palace. Rather, he chose to live in the tiny one-storey building owned by his wife. And for good measure, he works his farm himself. Such is his disdain for material possessions that he gives away 90 percent of his salary to charity because, according to him, he has no need for it. And in doing this, Mujica exclaims: “The world is crazy; people are obsessed with material possessions.”

Of course, Mujica can say that again if only because our so-called leaders can learn one or two things from this exceptional and patriotic president. Mujica goes on to say in reference to other leaders, “All I do is to live like the majority of my people, not the minority. I am living a normal life and Italian and Spanish leaders should also live as their people do.”

There you are! Although he did not say so, our leaders could do something with President Mujica’s counsel. They indulge in lifestyles which stand in sharp contrast to those of the ordinary Nigerian citizens. For example, while the fat cats in the National Assembly reluctantly and grudgingly agreed to the payment of N18,000 as minimum wage to the Nigerian worker, they earmarked for themselves stratospheric salaries and allowances that are deemed to be the highest in the world. This ugly reality has since been complemented by the out-of-this-world pensions which members of the political class have given themselves. The remarkable thing here is that such self-serving pensions have been put in place across the political spectrum. Invariably, this particular phenomenon lends some credence to the cynical observation that the two major parties have in reality been cut from the same cloth.

Happily enough, there is what can be called a karmic touch to Jose Mujica’s lifestyle. As he leaves office, he is leaving behind a stable economy, which is in turn reflected in the social stability of his country. This is at variance with the economic and political turmoil which threatens to engulf the neighbouring giants of Brazil and Argentina.

All told, what is beyond argument is that Jose Mujica has demonstrated in a very practical way the foolishness involved when a man decides to gorge himself on resources that are more than enough to satisfy his basic needs. Sam Aluko, the late economist, rendered what is being said here in more graphic terms when he tersely declared: “How much can a man eat?”

Needless to say, there are several lessons which our own leaders can learn from the selfless president of Uruguay. But will they? The answer is obvious enough since the binge continues.

Kayode Soremekun