In The Audacity of Hope, President Barack Obama told a story that is impossible for me to forget. After his election into the United States Senate in 2004, he joined other senators at a breakfast meeting with President George W. Bush.
After eating to their fill and the meeting was coming to an end, Obama heard the President yell his name “Obama!” after which Bush beckoned on the Illinois Senator to come over for a brief chat.
The account in the book goes as follows: “Come here and meet Laura. Laura, you remember Obama. We saw him on TV during election night. Beautiful family. And that wife of yours – that’s one impressive lady.”
“We both got better than we deserve, Mr. President,” I said, shaking the First Lady’s hand and hoping that I’d wiped any crumbs off my face.
“Come over here for a second,” he said, leading me off to one side of the room. “
You know,” he said quietly, “I hope you don’t mind me giving you a piece of advice.”
“Not at all, Mr. President.” He nodded.
“You’ve got a bright future,” he said. “Very bright. But I’ve been in this town a while and, let me tell you, it can be tough. When you get a lot of attention like you’ve been getting, people start gunnin’ for ya. And it won’t necessarily just be coming from my side, you understand. From yours, too. Everybody’ll be waiting for you to slip. Know what I mean? So watch yourself.”
Obama thanked the President for the advice and the meeting ended. Four years, later, Obama was elected the first African -American leader of the most powerful country in the world as if Bush was clairvoyant.
What I find most interesting about this encounter is the fact, someone elected on the platform of the Republican Party could offer such valuable advice to a politician from the opposing Democratic Party
When I saw the look on the faces of Governors Rochas Okorocha and Olusegun Mimiko of Imo and Ondo State respectively after the Council of State meeting which held at the Aso Rock Villa last Friday, I could not but wonder what was at stake. Apparently finding themselves on opposing sides of the proposal to postpone Nigeria’s general elections scheduled for February 14, these two men came out to address the media wearing looks relative to that of two women at war over the affection of one man.
On occasions like the one I just described, I remember Obama’s story in The Audacity of Hope and wonder if Nigerian politicians would ever come together in the interest of the nation. Is there even anything like national interest in the vocabulary of the average Nigerian Politician? My experience over the years has brought me to the safe conclusion that nothing like that exists. For the Nigerian politician, what matters most is the interest of the self and the interest of his party.
Take the issue of the postponement of the 2015 elections over which Okorocha and Mimiko addressed the media last week for example, it seems to me that the two main political parties which these governors represent, went into the meeting with premeditated opinions which had nothing to do with the overall interest of Nigeria. Not just that, they also refused to be persuaded by any superior argument that may have been presented at that meeting no matter how much in the overall interest of the nation that might be. How can leaders of a nation be like this?
But perhaps, more disheartening and dangerous, than the self-serving tendency of our politicians is the absence of a third/ intervening force in the country. Elder statesmen including former national leaders are so terribly partisan that none of them has the credibility to stand before Nigerians to propose options that may be acceptable to the people.
When you hear that old men like Pa Edwin Clark who was a minister in the first republic and Prof Ango Abdullahi, a former vice chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria are about to address the press, you can bet they would have nothing to discuss other than sectional interests which would most likely set one part of the nation against another. So is the media, so are religious and traditional leaders. We are just a nation that thrives on selfish and primordial sentiments without no thought for the nation.
This is very unlike in the United States, for instance, where an organization like the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation gives the two most prominent presidential candidates during every election year, the opportunity to attend a dinner in a relaxed atmosphere where they take jabs and laugh at each other’s follies during political debates and campaigns. They come out relaxed and friendly in the interest of the nation.
Here political parties are perpetually at war, their supporters are at war, mobilization is war, campaigns are wars, and elections are war. And I am just wondering, how does a country move forward that way?
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