From the political tragic-comedy that unfolded in the political topography called Nigeria, in the year 2017, the prevailing harsh economic situation in the country, a state of depression (or is it a recession) designed by yet to be established architects, and unfulfilled change premised, I published a piece in August that year, titled; Caging the demagogues in our political space. Essentially, the piece in question was inspired by new orientation and shaped by fiscal, sociological, political and communal happenings in the country; coupled with the pockets of ethno-religious upheavals and misgivings from one region against another or powerful personalities against each other. It reads in part; they were voted to provide good and qualitative leadership; elected to bring the nation’s economy out of the woods and were chosen to bring democracy’s dividends to the people.
But, instead of providing the lavishly promised and highly expected leadership, they visited the masses with cluelessness and utopia. Instead of reviving the comatose economy, they threw it further down into recession and instead of bringing dividends of democracy, they democratized poverty, institutionalized unemployment and ‘governmentalized’ hopelessness and frustration. They are not authentic leaders but demagogues. After about four years the piece was published, the questions that are as important as the piece itself are; how correct were those assertions/ issues/and concerns rose in the said piece? Have those factors that impeded political and socioeconomic development of our nation complained by the piece still alive and active? Do we truly have demagogues masquerading as politicians/ public office holders? Are all politicians in the country guilty as charged? Observably, apart from the fact that those Nigerians who were initially deceived by the change mantra of the present administration have finally come to the realization to the effect that nothing has changed, the greater reality Nigerians now worry about, going by commentaries, is the way the present Federal and state Governments approach the job of leadership.
Predominantly, it has become obvious that greater number of the so called public office holders crave to be worshipped by everybody even when their impact is not positively felt, and their office devoid of service and almost responsibility free. This unrealistic expectation, wrong appreciation of leadership coupled with disordered approach designed to stand democracy on its head and undermine a government of the people by the people and for the people that are supposed to be generally open to public scrutiny, has created political shortcomings in the country . It not only disjoints the nation’s amalgams but weakens the masses reverence for public office. But there is an exception as there will always be an exception. From the ashes of leadership hopelessness and bye-gone years of strident public office hemorrhage in the country, came Samuel Ioraer Ortom, the incumbent Executive Governor of Benue State, a much more charming personality with singleness of purpose.
The Governor has been in the news not as a demagogue but an authentic leader that daily demonstrates a passion for his purpose, practice leadership values consistently, led and protected the people of Benue state with his heart as well as his head, established long-term relationship with his people/followers and have the self-discipline to get results. At the moment, before diving further into comparative analysis to establish what qualifies him as exceptional among the bunch and why this opinion got fixated by his leadership qualities even at a time that the nation is going through the pangs of, and ravaged by security challenges (terrorism, kidnapping and banditry), it is necessary to first, underline who a demagogue is and what differentiates him/her from an authentic leader. Demagogue as defined by Wikipedia “is a person or people who seek political support by appealing to the popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.
Merriam Webster sees a demagogue as a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and purposes in order to gain power. From the above, one striking take is that demagogues are not restricted to our 774 local government areas or the 36 states of our federation, the demagogues are littered all over the earth’s surface. They share one common denominator. They do not have the interest of the people at heart. They do not contemplate providing security and robust economy which are the two major responsibility of any democratically elected government but engrossed with holding on to the people’s commonwealth. They are reputed for using people to further their own ends, their antics involve intimidation. Being sly, getting things done by lying or other dishonest means. They could be likened to an evil wind that blows no nation or state any good.
The only attribute that is Nigeria-specific is that the ones that operate here are hyper unrefined, non-constructively brazen and stunning in audacity. With this fact highlighted, the piece moves away from attributes that constitute a demagogue to finding particulars that stands a creative leader like Ortom out. Fundamental is that at a time that everyone is keeping quiet in the face of the deteriorating security situation in the country, Ortom has become reputed for speaking the truth about the true picture of security situation to the government at the centre. He decided to be on the side of the people as he more than anything recognizes that sovereignty belongs to the people. The reasons why this action by Ortom must be documented and celebrated by the watching world is barefaced. First, it is coming at a time when someone outspoken, with a different set of ideas, values, or organizing techniques, is often viewed as ‘the enemy within’.
Also making Ortom’s action historic is that it is happening in a country where constructive debate is often seen as unnecessary, messy and divisive, where debate over differing political ideas and strategies is perceived as destructive to the nation’s interest. Most essentially, by rising in stout defense of his people of Benue state from the hands of killer herdsmen, at a time when other state Governors have become more conservative and conscious in their political utterances and strategies, when open discussion is seen as a challenge to the nation’s leadership hierarchy, Nigerians and of course the global community have come in agreement that Ortom has become an institution where the world can now learn the art and science of public leadership. In truth, the name Ortom now means different things to different people.
For other state Governors, the lesson Ortom is handing down to his contemporary is that bearing the tag ‘Excellency’ does not confer excellence or greatness to anyone, but requires hard work for excellence to be outstanding, demands consistency for star to shine, and persistence for stardom to be recognized. In the same vein, while Nigerian youths, presently see him as a leader that they can trust and look up to emulate that the virtue which makes up values are the things we must exhibit in our behaviour, attitudes/character such as; love, discipline, tolerance, respect for human life, peace, non-violence, honesty, integrity, loyalty, fairness, fidelity and other ethical values that promote mutual co-existence, the people of Benue state on their part, view him as a unifying factor; particularly now that he has succeeded in uniting all the tribes/ethnic groups in the state against their common enemy-the killer herdsmen. To some socio-political commentator, he is ‘Ortom the Tough’ For me, I have learnt from the Benue state Governor that ‘human relations must be encouraged in the right direction. That any act of negation or denial can lead society to anarchy, chaos and unwanted societal conflict which of course, would be detrimental to human peaceful co-existence’
. • Jerome Mario-Utomi, is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;jeromeutomi@yahoo. com/08032725374.