• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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The “Ruling” class

The “Ruling” class

The legendary social activist and lawyer, Mahatma Ghandi, best remembered for his non-violent campaign for India’s independence from Britain, once said, “Whatever you do for me, without me, is against me.” Most people use the words’ “govern” and “rule” interchangeably, but there is in fact a subtle difference in their meaning and in the image each term conjures up in one’s mind. The Oxford Dictionary defines “govern” to mean “conducting the policy, actions, and affairs of a state, organisation, or people with authority.”

“Rule” is defined as “having a powerful and restricting influence on something or somebody.” The word “govern” is used most appropriately when referring to a democratic form of administration where leaders are answerable to the people, where the leaders are mere representatives of the electorate who put them there, and the leaders in turn conduct themselves and the affairs of the state in a way that reflects where they believe power ultimately lies: in the people.

“Rule,” on the other hand, signifies a dictatorial form of administration, one where the leader’s word is law and he can, to all intents and purposes, do as he wishes without any recourse to the people or proper consideration of what will best serve the people’s interests. When describing the history of government administration in Nigeria, it is my opinion that they have ruled far more than they have governed, and this is not prejudicial to whether they have been military or civilian governments. The one who governs is acutely aware of the transience of power, as he acknowledges that he only holds it in trust. It doesn’t begin and end with him, and he holds it only for as long as he is deemed to be using it well.

“When describing the history of government administration in Nigeria, it is my opinion that they have ruled far more than they have governed, and this is not prejudicial to whether they have been military or civilian governments.”

Lording it over the people has become the modus operandi of all levels of government in Nigeria. Admittedly, some state governors are far more democratic in the way they conduct themselves and administer their states than others. Several of them have acquired the odious reputation of sending security operatives after citizens for daring to criticise their actions. Many journalists have suffered the fate of being locked up because they wrote uncomplimentary reports, even if factual, about them.

Even though these governors were among those who waxed lyrical about the beauty of democratic rule on the campaign trail as they sought the people’s votes, they appear not to have fully grasped what it truly means. Democratic concepts and practices appear alien to many Nigerian political leaders. The larger-than-life image that our leaders assume once in office and which seems to bestow upon them the “licence” to operate above the law, I believe, is largely responsible for the desperation for everybody to become somebody in our society.

It would be fallacious to say that leaders of developed nations are perfect in character, but it would not be wrong to say that they are usually held to a higher standard and made to account for their actions. Their behaviour is constantly put under the spotlight, and every step out of line is severely condemned by the press and the public. Leaders’ errors are condemned by the press and public here too, but that, unfortunately, is usually where it ends, so no lesson is learned.

Leaders in the developed world live with the consciousness of being watched and the expectation of setting a good example. Recognising that the same people who voted them or their party into power can also vote them out the next time around, they will usually whip themselves back into line. In most developing nations, however, the story is very different.

Nigeria is a country that, time and time again, might have been shown to be right. As much as this speaks of the quality of leadership that we have in our society, it also sadly speaks of the aggregate character of the people. I say this because a major contributory factor to the malaise in Nigerian society can be traced to our penchant to venerate power rather than respect it. When this combines with a general mindset amongst the people of “what can I get away with” rather than “what is right or wrong,” the result is what we now see: leaders who have been made to believe they are the beginning and the end all. Leaders who believe their actions are no worse than what the average Nigerian would do if given half the chance. So, they feel justified. What is that famous saying about power? “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I believe the revered Abraham Lincoln is the one credited with having said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Need I say more?

Lording it over the people and rubbing their noses in it has become part and parcel of Nigerian politics, but it is far from what governance should be about. Governance should be about serving the people and administering the country’s resources in a way that most benefits the greatest number of people.

As Jonathan Bentham, the British jurist, political reformer, and ethicist, put it, an action can be deemed morally right only when it produces the greatest amount of happiness and good while causing the least amount of pain for the greatest number of people (the utilitarian theory).

One does not need to be a PhD holder to know that over the years, “governance” in our society has mostly failed this test, representing what could best be described as the “rule of the few, by the few, and for the few.” And there appears to be a sturdy resolve by the beneficiaries to keep it this way.

Changing the nation, one mind at a time.