Many Nigerians gloated over the invasion of the United States’ Capitol by President Trump’s supporters because they subliminally found solace in it. The solace being that, if the oldest and most stable democracy in the world can be plagued by such political upheaval, we can justifiably excuse away the abysmal social and political standards, and political bungling, of our fledgling democracy. But, in that episode, there are lessons, not alibis, for Nigerians.
Despite the congeries that have been associated with civilization, civilization is most importantly about what the ancient Greek writers called, “taming the savageness of man and making gentle the life of this world”. Over thousands of years, different cultures and countries of the world succeeded, in varying degrees, in taming the savageness of man. Western countries are the most successful in this civilizing enterprise. More than the other peoples of the world, they evolved the most genteel and just societies, and made “gentle the life of this world”.
It is tempting to attribute this feat to the genetic superiority of the races that inhabit the West. However, as Harry Barnes rightfully noted, “All efforts to prove the superiority of one race or sub-race of man over another turned out unsuccessful”. It is not a race, but culture, cultural skills and attitudinal disposition that are most significant in determining human development. The differences in social accomplishment and human development between races, for example, White and Black, are more cultural and attitudinal than genetic. Race is strictly a physical matter that has no relation to intelligence and cultural attainment.
In every human soul, no matter how barbaric or civilized, lurk conflicting proclivities for savagery and civility History has demonstrated that even amongst the civilized, wealthy and materially efficient, savageness has sometimes triumphed in this duel between savageness and civilization in man. No wonder, Donald Trump, a billionaire, superlative achiever in business and politics and the president of the world’s oldest, greatest and wealthiest democracy can be a barbarian.
The election of Trump president in 2016 was a backlash to eight years of Barack Obama presidency. The election of Obama as the president of America, a predominantly White country, with its entrenched and intractable racism seemed impossible and was an unpardonable affront to White Supremacists and other racist and ultra-conservative White Americans. Trumpism gave expression to some of the deepest instincts of these Americans. Trump is an epitome of White American implacable racism and hard-core conservatism. For a delusional narcissist that expects to always win, Trump alleges rigging each time he loses. So, quite naturally, to him, because he lost the November 4th, 2020 presidential election, the election was rigged.
It was leadership as personified by Trump that awakened the dormant savagery in his supporters and channeled it to exceedingly disruptive ends. His supporters fenestrated their sense of demureness, respect for the law, reference for the popular will and democratic institutions; and desecrated the ultimate citadel of American democracy, the Capitol. They breached security, scaled walls, broke down windows and doors, entered offices of congressmen and senators, strewed official papers around, carted away artifacts, and planted pipe bombs. Their willful and ruthless destructiveness was repulsively redolent of the vandalism of the Vandals in 5thCentury Europe.
Following the 2015 Nigerian presidential election, leadership, as personified by Goodluck Jonathan brought out the best in Nigerians. Many Jonathan supporters were ready to reject the election results and slug it out with the opposition. They were roiled and ready for trouble. It was the words of Jonathan that engendered the triumph of decorum over savageness in that inner duel among his supporters. With his concession speech, he restrained his crestfallen and agitated supporters, and stunned and sobered his overjoyed opponents. And, inescapably, peace reigned.
Is the lesson not obvious? It is all about leadership. The power, influence and consequences of leadership are so enormous and all-encompassing that it literally defines a people, nation or country. The words of a leader unleashed anarchy in America, a civilized, efficient and orderly country, and the words of a leader brought peace to Nigeria, a vast scene of confusion, renowned for its dysfunction and anarchistic propensity. By their words and actions, leaders shape the country: bring about peace or war, poverty and prosperity, rule of law or anarchy, etc.
Invariably, Nigeria is in its present disgraceful state because of the irresponsible utterances and dishonorable actions of our leaders.
It is therefore high time we paid painstaking attention to the quality of men and women we elect to power in every stratum of our governments. We must carefully scrutinize them, meticulously pore over their education, mindset, credibility, patriotism, commitment to the collective good, etc because the quality of a leader must invariably reflect on the people/country he leads. And for those already elected to office, we have to continually engage them: demanding accountability, responsibility, elevated morals and ethics, equity, and social justice.
The #EndSARS protest was very exhilarating because it was a major attempt, in a very long time, to hold the Nigerian power elite accountable. Lamentably, it was not sustained: it fizzled out once soldiers opened fire on the protesters. To expect a reformation of the Nigerian government, and subsequently, the transformation of the Nigerian society without loss of lives is quixotic. It is starry-eyed optimism and infantile naiveté. Just, as there cannot be birth without loss of blood, there cannot be national re-birth without loss of blood.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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